By Christian Hetrick
The Philadelphia Inquirer
Comcast is giving the gift of higher cable bills this holiday season.
Tens of millions of Xfinity customers will see their bills rise 3.6% nationwide, on average, the company said Thursday, as it boosts prices for broadband plans and hikes TV fees starting next week.
And as customers flee pay-TV for cheaper online streaming, Comcast is increasing prices for many of its high-speed internet plans, too.
Two fees, in particular, have skyrocketed in recent years. The broadcast TV fee, a monthly charge for NBC, ABC, CBS, and Fox, was $5 in 2016. Comcast will soon bill $12.70 for broadcast television, a 54% increase from the $8.25 imposed this year, according to notices on customer bills from Philly and the suburbs.
The regional sports fee, the monthly charge for networks such as NBC Sports Philadelphia, was $3 in 2016. Under the new prices, Comcast will bill $8.75 for local sports, up 6% from the $8.25 charged today.
Comcast blames rising programming costs to carry content from local network affiliates and other broadcasters. Programming costs have more than doubled since 2006, from $5.5 billion to $13.2 billion last year, according to Comcast.
The company says it absorbs some of those costs, but the rest are passed on to consumers. In the most recent quarter, Comcast’s cable division, which includes TV, internet, and phone services, reported an adjusted operating profit margin of nearly 40%, or $5.8 billion, before nonoperational costs such as taxes and interest expenses.
Comcast is not alone in increasing fees this month: AT&T recently announced price hikes for DirecTV customers, and the streaming service Hulu + Live TV will jack up its monthly price by $10 next week.
“Rising programming costs — most notably for broadcast TV and sports — continue to be the biggest factors driving price increases for all content distributors and their customers,” a Comcast spokesperson said in a statement. “Comcast is fighting as hard as we can to protect our customers from unrelenting demands for higher fees from programmers.”
But not all fee increases are for programming. Comcast is also hiking rates to rent its equipment, notably its broadband modems, which will soon cost $14 a month, up from $13 this year. Fees for TV boxes will jump from $2.50 to $4.60. Even the remote will cost you a little more: 40 cents a month instead of 18 cents.
Comcast is boosting prices for broadband plans, too. The cost of Comcast’s Performance internet plan, with download speeds of up to 100 megabits per second, will rise to $77.95 from $74.95. A “Blast!” plan with up to 300 mbps of download speeds will be $97.95, up from $94.95.
Comcast noted it has repeatedly increased internet speeds in recent years and launched services such as xFi, which lets customers manage their home networks, and Xfinity Flex, a Roku-like device that aggregates streaming services.
The cable giant has been bleeding hundreds of thousands of TV customers a quarter. Despite the cord-cutting woes, the company’s broadband business has boomed, helping lift Comcast’s net profits by 11.5% to $3.2 billion during the third quarter this year.