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Comcast won't make promises about your cable bill, has no problem with bundling

News flash: Comcast won't promise to tie its cable rate increases to inflation.

In response to questions about its plans to acquire control of NBC Universal, Comcast told Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) that it would not make such a commitment.

"Times are tough, and we are highly focused on controlling costs and improving value for the benefit of our customers," Comcast said. The company added, however, that "we must adjust prices to account for our increased costs of doing business."

Feingold was also met with a negative response when he asked Comcast if after it acquired NBC Universal it would stop the common practice of cable programmers requiring a distributor to "carry several less popular cable channels in together to get a cable channel that they and consumers really want." Known in the industry as bundling, that approach has been criticized by consumer activists and some lawmakers.

Comcast countered that it does not bundle and, while NBC does, it "offers discounts to distributors who agree to carry multiple networks" and that the practice "makes programming more affordable [and] helps programmers launch and distribute new programming services, including niche services." Should the NBC deal get approved, Comcast said it does not have any plans to change how NBC sells its cable networks.

Though that may be true for big media companies that have clout to bundle, such as Walt Disney Co. and NBC Universal, the practice also takes away channel space from smaller media companies that don't have an array of assets to leverage. It is a lot easier for a big media company to launch a network than it is for a newcomer, and bundling is a big reason why.

As for the discount, what that really means is that a big programmer will charge more to a distributor who only wants to carry one of its channels instead of five.

In response to questions from Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), Comcast said it has no plans to offer an Internet-only subscription model for consumers who don't want to subscribe to cable. Though Comcast has a service known as Fancast Xfinity TV that allows its cable subscribers to watch content online, that's as far as the company is willing to go right now.

-- Joe Flint

 
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