A Comcastic Mailer

by on June 24, 2009 · 9 comments

I received a mailing (see poorly taken iPhone photo) from Comcast a few days ago and I thought it was worth talking about from a libertarian perspective.

I’m all for companies taking advantage of the digital changeover to make a little extra scratch, so long as they’re honest in doing so.  This mailer never explicitly lies, but it’s not exactly forthcoming about what the digital conversion really means and it certainly didn’t mention the possibility of buying a converter box to continue getting broadcast TV for free.

Instead, the octagenarians who occupy most of the other units in my building were met with this sort of language:

If you use an analog TV with an antenna and did not get the right equipment to receive a digital signal, you lost those broadcast channels after that date.

Followed by:

Q: How do I get my signal back?
A: There are several options, but the easy answer is to call Comcast…

First, I think that’s factually innacurate.  It’s easier to drive 30 miles to a neighboring city to buy a converter box than to setup and then play the waiting game for the Comcast guy, but I guess the people who didn’t catch on about the conversion have nothing but time.  My second beef is that the first sentence, the one about how you “lost those broadcast channels” seems to be awkwardly worded on purpose.  It seems to be written in a way that’s intentially confusing, as thought Comcast were trying to obfuscate the fact that those TV signals are still out there—they’re not really “lost”—and you just need to spend $40, once.

Of course Comcast is in the business of selling people cable, so flauting the advantages of an over-the-air converter box isn’t in their interest.  I don’t feel like anything in this mailing was fraudulent or illegal, but it could be seen as trying to lead people to believe that cable was maybe, just perhaps, the only way to get their broadcast TV back.

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com eee_eff

    This is a problem with Comcast, as I've noted in my post below (which includes the screen shots of their website which are clearly factually inaccurate)

    http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com/2007/10/25/c

    This kind of behavior by corporations is exactly why regulations are necessary.

    Recall Adam Smith, and his discussion of what he termed “dealers”

    The interest of the dealers, however, in any particular branch of trade or manufactures, is always in some respects different from, and even opposite to, that of the public. To widen the market and to narrow the competition, is always the interest of the dealers. To widen the market may frequently be agreeable enough to the interest of the public; but to narrow the competition must always be against it, and can serve only to enable the dealers, by raising their profits above what they naturally would be, to levy, for their own benefit, an absurd tax upon the rest of their fellow-citizens.

    I find it interesting that many of those who cite Adam Smith as a supporter of laissez-faire seem never to have read Smith, or at least have forgotten many of his points. (Amartya Sen made smiilar points in several of his books too)

  • http://www.cordblomquist.com cordblomquist

    I'm not so sure you could really regulate against this sort of thing as it's in a pretty gray area. To be fair to the Comcastic people at Comcast, the portion of their website referenced on paper does give lots of details on converter boxes, but I don't know how much of that is mandated and how much of it isn't.

    All of that said, instead of regulations, why not just write nasty blog posts about Comcast? Seriously, things like this post hurt Comcast's public face and cause people to drift away from them. I think people making choices based on reputation can fill in the gray areas between clear cases of fraud or false advertisement and honest practices. It's more efficient than the courts.

    I've read Smith. The passage above seems to be calling for more competition as a means to tame “the dealers.” I think plenty of people here at TLF, in good laissez-faire tradition have called for smashing the protection that dealers in broadband have erected around themselves. That also works better than regulation.

  • http://srynas.blogspot.com/ Steve R.

    Cord, Good post. We have Time Warner. For a while Time Warner ran TV commercials that did not disclose the whole truth and implied that you should have cable to “solve” this problem.

    Maybe I was having a “slow” day, but in a fit of insanity I actually read Time Warner's insert with my bill on the conversion to digital. Surprisingly, the micro-fine print actually disclosed your options. I guess there is always hope that companies will really be transparent.

  • http://www.cordblomquist.com cordblomquist

    I don't think TLFers are OK with this sort of thing, but I think they'd agree with me that trying to regulate against companies not telling the whole truth would be a very hard thing to do.

    One thing that people seem to neglect in the current political debate is the role of private 3rd parties in market exchanges. Government is not the only entity that can make its presence felt. Certainly the press has a role to play in correcting bad–yet legal–behaviors as do community-based review sites, and just friends consulting friends about what to buy. Reputation isn't federal code, but that doesn't make it a weak force in the market–in fact, it's much stronger in determining business outcomes than regulation in many cases.

  • http://srynas.blogspot.com/ Steve R.

    Can Comcast ever be trusted?

    Dear Comcast: The Idea When You Bundle Is That People Are Supposed To Get A Discount

    Mike Masnick writes “When companies offer “bundles” of the various services they offer, part of the point is that if you're buying multiple packages together, you get some sort of “discount.” It doesn't make much sense to go in the other direction, but apparently Comcast thinks it does.”

  • Satan's Throne

    It's all about the money.

  • http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_sat1.htm Satan's Throne

    It's all about the money.

  • http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_sat1.htm Satan's Throne

    It's all about the money.

  • Pingback: http://www.youtube.com/user/AdvMedCertification

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