By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Comcast never sleeps

Last Sunday I posted a paranoid lament about Media Nation’s wireless- network problems, and wondered whether Comcast’s forced march to digital might somehow be responsible. As it turned out, my issues were easily solved (or would have been if I weren’t such a tech dolt) by replacing our old AirPort base station with a shiny new AirPort Express.

Before it was over, though, I had received comments from no fewer than two Comcast employees, assuring readers of Media Nation that their planet is a benevolent one whose inhabitants want nothing but the best for humanity. (See this and this.)

I didn’t think much about it until last night, when I saw a New York Times story, by Brian Stelter, on Comcast’s dogged efforts to track down negative blog posts and respond to them with warm and happy messages. Pretty interesting. Some bloggers told Stelter they found it “creepy.” I don’t, and I swear I’m not saying that just because I now know Big Daddy Comcast is looking over my shoulder as a type.

Some of the complaints about Comcast’s recent behavior are over a move I have only partly addressed — the company’s decision to shift MSNBC, CSPAN2 and several other channels to the digital tier, forcing customers who want those channels to get a digital box and pay a few more dollars each month. I did as I was told this past Monday.

There are critics who believe the move was made specifically to marginalize Keith Olbermann, whose “Countdown” program on MSNBC is the most outspokenly liberal talk show on television. This Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial, which I found on NewsTrust, attempts to make that case, and does a rather poor job of it.

Media Nation’s working hypothesis is that it’s always about the money. So when I appeared on Arnie Arnesen’s radio show earlier this week to talk about MSNBC, I was pleased to hear that she had hit upon a more likely theory: that Comcast had targeted MSNBC specifically to goad liberal viewers into upgrading and paying for more of those yummy Comcastic services.

This is the reverse of the “Let’s Censor Keith” theory. Rather, it’s “Let’s Use Keith to Choke More Money Out of Those Latte-Swilling, Prius-Driving Elitists.” She may be on to something. As a business proposition, it hits just the right middle ground. Move the SciFi Channel (or Comcast’s own CN8, which it did) and no one would notice. Move NESN, and thousands of torch-bearing Red Sox fans would storm the local Comcast office. Move MSNBC, though, and liberals would simply grumble and pay up.

And, Frank and Jim, I just want you to know that I would never, ever even look at Comcast Must Die, that nasty site maintained by that awful man Bob Garfield. Really. So please don’t take away my MSNBC again. Deal?

Photo (cc) by Steve Garfield, and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Discover more from Media Nation

Subscribe to get the latest posts to your email.


Political blogging and community


How stupid can the Times get?*


  1. Tony

    If Arnie’s theory were correct, wouldn’t they do this with FoxNews too, since it has more loyal, rabid, and more, in general, viewers than MSNBC?

  2. tw

    Coincidentally, the Boston Globe’s Carolyn Johnson wrote about Comcast’s efforts to respond to Internet complaints two weeks ago.

  3. Dan Kennedy

    TW: Ah! I missed that. No disrespect intended — Carolyn writes good stuff. I guess Comcast wasn’t on my mind that week.

  4. io saturnalia!

    As a consumer of those yummy Comcastic services you mention, I can attest that they’re even better and more addictive than painkillers. Television is not only America’s God, it’s also the best drug going.Olbermann on MSNBC, “Witches of Breastwick 2” on HBO (Like the “Godfather” series, one can argue that the sequel surpasses the original) — don’t even try sending me to the rehab of non-digital-tier cable.

  5. Jerry

    I’m less concerned about moving MSNBC to the digital tier (although I will miss it) than I am about moving CSPAN-2 into the high-dollar zone. As I understand it, a few cents of my cable bill (and yours and everyone else’s) goes to support all CSPAN programming, in the name of public service, under some sort of edict imposed by the FCC back in the long-ago. Not that I’m a CSPAN junkie, but I do watch it from time to time. Half a CSPAN is better than none, I suppose. Still, Comcast should be living up to what I consider an implicit covenant to provide the whole shebang.

  6. Anonymous

    I have Comcast and had to do the digital box switch also. However, based on my experience in Marlborough, you may not lose anything that you currently have. After talking to them several times about a broadcast problem that they eventually fixed, the rep said we could keep the stations that are moving into digital by re-arranging the package, and saving $2.99 per month to boot. So far it seems to to be working, but we don’t have the next bill yet and I haven’t checked everything. I know we have MSNBC, C-Span-2 and Hallmark. Did not check for the ESPN channel that we lost. I have no connection to Comcast other than as a customer. So maybe people should check with a service rep.

  7. Peter Porcupine

    DK – and here I thought that getting rid of Keith, Barry Nolan, and saccharine Hallmark was all a present just for me!Tony – I have to disagree with your theory. We are conservatives. We MAY go so far as to pay for enhanced basic, but premium? Nah. We can always stream Fox.

  8. jed leland

    Rest assured, Comcast is all about the money.It’s the dreaded “tiering,” where they rearrange the channel lineups to further their need to satisfy the shareholders.As a publicly traded company. Comcast needs to constantly grow its revenues, either by takeover, or by raising rates, or more commonly, by rejiggering their tiers.The strategy? Find a popular channel (like TCM, Turner Classic Movies, for example), and stick it in a “tier” (ie. grouping) of unpopular channels.Now if you want TCM, bang, $5.00 more a month. But, oh yeah, you get 16 other channels of college frisbee.MSNBC is still part of the basic digital tier, you just have to have a digital box, which is a couple bucks more a month.Comcast have done other kind of insidious things to bump the revenue a little bit. For example, let’s say you have a DVD recorder attached to your digital box. You used to be able to set the cable box to change the channel so you could record Kathy Griffin on Bravo at 10 and something else on a different channel at midnight.Not anymore. Comcast “upgraded” their software so you can’t do that any more. Why? They want you to use their TIVO-like service for another $3 a month.If you think RCN or Verizon are going to be any better, think again – who do you think they hire?Ex-cable guys.

  9. Brigid

    Yeah, I just see it as extortion. I might eventually have succumbed to digital, but this latest move got my hackles up, so I’m sticking with my analog cable. It’s not like I can’t get all the news I need off the internet.

  10. Rick in Duxbury

    Just hope FIOS isn’t like the rest of Verizon. In a conversation with a Verizon Wireless rep today, I complained that a previous rep had lied about buying more minutes automatically extending my contract. When I complained that I had lousy service in the Duxbury/Marshfield area, her response was to get a new phone, (extending my contract yet another 2 years). Every time I see the ad for the Verizon Guy followed by a hundred other people,it’s like fingernails on a blackboard. As strange as it sounds, Comcast is pretty good in comparison.

  11. Jim Hughes

    Hi all. Jim from Comcast’s Boston office here. Jed, the Tune Timer feature you describe exists on most of our boxes, including DCT700, DCT2500 and DCH70 – is this what you have? If not, you can swap your box out for one of these models at one of our service centers. There is no price difference. You can find your nearest service center here, in the Customers section.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén