Comcast Expanded Its Ethernet Network. Will It Improve Customers’ Experiences?

The company is making big moves in the wake of its FCC fine and the Trump election.

Comcast Center

Comcast Center | Photo by Dan McQuade

Comcast has recently made some major, unprecedented investments in its hometown, and the investments just might be one way the company is working to gain favor with its customer base.

Last week, the cable giant unveiled the new Comcast NBCUniversal Digital Literacy Lab, which will work to close the digital divide for high school students and adults with disabilities. The company donated $20,000 to SPIN [Special People in the Northeast], the community organization that will carry out the lab’s initiatives at its Norcom Community Center in Northeast Philadelphia.

The new lab offers 20 computers and five tablets, and for visitors with limited physical and communication ability, the lab will have eye-controlled devices that allow them to operate tablets and generate messages with the natural movement of their eyes, Comcast said in a statement. Robert Smith, Comcast’s regional vice president of community investment, said the partnership with SPIN would address under-employment and workforce training barriers for people with disabilities.

This week, the company announced a $30 million expansion of its Ethernet network in Philadelphia. The expansion will install more than 50 miles of new fiber optic cable from Spring Garden to South Street and from the Delaware River to the Schuylkill River.

The new network is broad-reaching, Comcast Business’ regional vice president David Dombroski told Philadelphia magazine. “It’s not just for large metropolitan enterprise customers, but we purposely designed this network and rerouted it so that it went past residential customers, those in multiple dwelling units and in town-home developments,” he said. They made the decision to run it past hotels and small and medium businesses as well to provide a brand new fiber backbone that can deliver the company’s newest technology updates.

The expansion is unprecedented for Comcast, Dombroski said. Comcast has expanded its fiber network in the past (most recently during the Democratic National Convention), but it has been rolled out piece by piece over longer stretches of time. The $30 million plan has been in the works for just 18 months and it took the company about 15 months to actually build and install the infrastructure.

So why now and why so fast?

Dombroski said the decision to move so quickly now was largely based on customer demand. New companies were contacting Comcast Business for fiber technology, but without a robust network in certain areas the company couldn’t support them as quickly as they wanted to.

And the speed and level of investment with this expansion is definitely uncommon for Comcast, said Dombroski. “Building and investing at this level is new for us, and it goes to show our commitment to the customer service experience.”

He added, “I think you’ll find this will be the new way of how Comcast will respond, not only in Philadelphia but in Chicago, San Francisco, Twin Cities, Washington D.C. This is how we invest back into our technology and networks to provide the best possible service.”

Just a month ago, Comcast was hit with a $2.3 million fine — the FCC’s biggest cable fine ever — for negative option billing, the practice that led thousands of its customers to be overcharged. In response to the settlement, Comcast said it would proceed with customer service-enhancing changes.

Hannah Sassaman, the Media Mobilizing Project’s policy director who led community efforts to make Comcast’s 15-year franchise agreement with the city more beneficial to low-income people, says Comcast’s latest grant to SPIN and its fiber expansion is a sign that the company is working to make a meaningful impact on the community.

“Comcast should be praised for any efforts it takes to break the digital divide and for investing in its network in a way that will increase businesses’ access to the high-speed internet they need,” she said.

And in the era of president-elect Donald Trump, who may try and roll back protections under the FCC, Sassaman urged that it’s even more important for the community to stay vigilant and continue to push Comcast to expand its reach and improve its service.

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