Comcast: You can avoid $90 tech visit bill with self-install

Comcast Center headquarters in Philadelphia. Image: Comcast
Comcast responds to an Ars Technica report, saying it offers "two options that do not require an in-home tech visit." (Comcast)

Comcast found itself once again the target of a deeply suspicious tech press, with Ars Technica noting that the cable company charges customers as much as $90 to install unbundled services, even in locations already adequately wired for service. 

“For internet-only customers, we offer two options that do not require an in-home tech visit. A customer can use an Xfinity self-install kit with a modem leased from Comcast, or purchase his/her own modem,” Comcast said in a long statement, responding to the story.

“Orders can be completed online, in-person at an Xfinity retail store, or by phone,” the cable company added. “We’ve worked hard to make the self-install experience simple and easy and it’s a growing and popular way for new customers to connect. When the installation is more complex, we schedule a technician visit. There are reasons that an in-home technician visit may be necessary. For example, if our engineers need to test signal strength and connections in a home that hasn’t been serviced in a number of years, or if the installation is more complicated for products like Gigabit internet or there are multiple services (like home security) being installed. For these situations, we offer competitively-priced options, which vary by market. It’s important to note that we can’t offer self-install kits for residences that we already serve with an existing customer.”

For its part, Ars Technica reported that Comcast makes it hard for customers in some regions to install standalone broadband service, regardless of whether they’re willing to purchase their own modem and use the self-install kit. 

“We tested this by entering addresses into Comcast's online sign-up system and going through most of the process of signing up for service,” Ars Technica's Jon Brodkin reported. “In cases where Comcast requires the fee, we were unable to get to the Submit Order page unless we scheduled a ‘professional installation’ and submitted credit card information. Getting one of Comcast's self-install kits wasn't even an option in these cases.”

UPDATED: This story was updated to include comments and clarifications from Ars writer Jon Brodkin.

Running tests using various staff addresses, Brodkin found several instances in which Comcast customers would not be able to avoid install fees--which vary from $50 - $90 based on region--regardless as to whether they used a self-install protocol. 

"If you live in a house in Comcast's territory but currently subscribe to something else, like Verizon FiOS, our tests indicate that you have to agree to pay the installation fee in order to switch to Comcast," Brodkin wrote. 

"If you're moving into a home that's still occupied and the current resident has Comcast service, you'd have to pay the installation fee," he added, citing a second example. 

Since Comcast policies vary by region, Brodkin concedes that it's hard to tell if these are general guidelines. "But it's clear that there are multiple circumstances in which Comcast will not allow new customers to order service online unless they agree to a pricey installation, even when they have their own modem and could plug it in themselves," he wrote. 

In an earlier version of this story, we wondered if the installation fee might be waived if customers and prospective customers contacted a Comcast rep by phone rather than using the internet. 

Emailing Fierce directly, the Ars writer noted, 'Yes, it's possible that you can avoid fees by talking to a human, but the online system makes paying the fee the default in the circumstances I detailed, putting the burden on customers to try to talk their way out of the fees. And my story detailed three separate instances in which Comcast representatives told potential customers that the fee could not be avoided. 'We currently don't offer free installation' is what one Comcast rep told me."