Comcast varies internet service price by region, Harvard study concludes


Leaving it to the best and brightest to confirm what we already suspected, a new Harvard University study concludes that consumers pay less and have more pricing transparency when they subscribe to municipal broadband services.

The study, conducted by Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society, also concludes—at least to a degree—that Comcast varies its pricing strategy by region. 

“We noted that Comcast varied its teaser rates and other pricing details from region to region,” the study authors write. “Our sample size was small; just seven of the communities we studied were served by Comcast. Understanding Comcast’s pricing practices and their consumer impacts across the United States would require much deeper study.”

(Comcast reps didn’t immediately respond to FierceCable’s inquiries about the cable operator’s pricing strategy.)

Overall, the study focused on 27 municipal broadband providers, competing with not only Comcast but also Charter, Cox, Mediacom and a host of smaller operators. Berkman Klein academics said a lack of pricing transparency in general made their work tough. 

“A lack of accurate and comprehensive data about the true state of Internet access speeds and pricing in communities across the country hampers research into the relative value of community networks, among other public-interest questions,” the study said. 

RELATED: More than half of municipal broadband projects are unprofitable, University of Pennsylvania study says

Again, the largest wireline internet service provider in the U.S. was listed as a primary example. 

“Comcast often does not advertise its upload speeds on pages where it promotes its services to customers. In such cases, we found it necessary to turn to other sources, such as conversations with customer service agents or third-party reports,” the authors added. 

Overall, the study found that in 23 out of the 27 markets surveyed, the municipal service providers charged the lowest rates over a four-year period. Price differences ranged from 3% to 50%. 

“We also found that almost all community-owned [fiber to the home] networks offered prices that were clear and unchanging, whereas private ISPs typically charged initial low promotional or 'teaser' rates that later sharply rose, usually after 12 months,” the researchers said.