Sometimes companies forget what businesses they are in and Comcast seems to be the latest media and communication company to do so.
The problem evidenced in the dispute between the FCC and Comcast over its traffic management policies blocking or slowing BitTorret and other files in violation of FCC network neutrality rules requiring open access. Without addressing whether regulators or Comcast are right in the dispute, it is clear from the company’s response that it has lost sight of it core business.
Comcast argues it was engaging in reasonable business practices by limiting the flow of BitTorrent files (often used to download large video, audio, and text files) because they push up the flow of traffic and slow the system. In Comcast’s view, the system and its integrity are its raison d’etre and represent the business it is in. It is easy to understand why the company and its executives might think so.
Comcast spends the majority of its effort and personnel creating and maintaining its system and infrastructure, tackling issues of system capacity and capabilities, and working to ensure system reliability and speed. It provides video, Internet, and voice services via 575,000 miles of wires serving 15 million cable subscribers, 13 million Internet users, and 4 million digital home providers. In the last three years Comcast has spent $13.6 billion in capital expenditures on the system.
Unfortunately, the extraordinary network it operates and maintains—the lines, switches, head-ins, Internet and telephone connections—are not the business of Comcast, they are just the requirements for conducting the business. Its real business is providing customers access to the video, audio, text, and voice communications they desire.
Its central purpose is serving the needs of the end users, including those who want to acquire capacity-eating BitTorrent files. It is the purpose that its executives seem to have forgotten when they decided their network management practices were more important than the wishes and desires of their customers. Their absent mindedness is not completely surprising, however, because the company has long had one of the poorest records of customer service among media firms. Lots of problems develop rapidly if you think it would be a good business if you just didn't have to deal with bothersome customers.