Comcast is making it difficult for many new customers to avoid paying installation fees—even if they purchase their own modems and are willing to set them up themselves.
Based on our tests, signing up for standalone Internet or TV service on Comcast.com often requires payment of a $59.99 or $89.99 installation fee, depending on where you live. (The fee was $60 in two Massachusetts suburbs and $90 at homes in Houston, Texas, and Seattle, Washington.) In cases where the $60 or $90 fee is charged, the fee is required whether you purchase your own modem or rent one from Comcast for another $11 a month.
The installation fee might be charged even if the home you’re buying service at has existing Comcast service, and even if you order Internet speeds lower than those purchased by the current occupant. That means the fee is charged even when Comcast doesn’t have to make any upgrades at the house or apartment you’re moving into. Internet speed makes no difference, as the fee may be charged whether you purchase 15Mbps downloads or gigabit service.
“We can’t offer self-install kits for residences that we already serve with an existing customer,” a Comcast spokesperson told us. Comcast said it requires professional installations for “complex” cases.
Bundle up to avoid the fee
You can avoid the installation fee by purchasing certain bundles that include both TV and Internet, but the fee is often mandatory if you buy only TV service or broadband individually. The $60 or $90 fee is also charged when you buy phone service only or a “double-play” package of phone service and broadband.
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. 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.
The fee isn’t always required. A Comcast spokesperson provided us with five addresses in different states where Comcast’s online system offers the option of a free self-install kit:
When asked why free self-install kits are available for these addresses, Comcast told us, “These are all homes for sale in our footprint that previously had Comcast services.”
But our tests of Ars staff addresses indicate there are at least two common scenarios in which you’d have to pay the fee. 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.
Secondly, 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. This would occur if you sign up for service in advance when you’re planning to move into a new home or apartment almost immediately after the current resident leaves.
Comcast’s fees vary so much by geographic location and bundle that we can’t be sure that these general guidelines will hold true in every case. 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.
Please complete your order!
A Comcast spokesperson initially disputed our findings—even though they were based entirely on the results provided by Comcast’s website. The Comcast spokesperson told us that a new customer can’t sign up for service online at an address that currently has a paying Comcast customer, because its system has a business rule in place to automatically flag such an address. Comcast told us that in these cases, a new customer would be required to talk to a Comcast agent, who would presumably ensure that the current resident is actually moving out before allowing the new customer to hook up to Comcast’s network. Because of that, Comcast told us that we shouldn’t assume that the installation fee listed on its website would actually be charged.
But that doesn’t appear to be true. I was able to schedule installation appointments and enter credit card numbers in order to sign up for service at homes where the current resident subscribes to Comcast. Hitting the “Submit Order” button would have charged my card $50 immediately, enough to cover the first monthly payment of $30 and part of the installation fee.
I didn’t actually click the “Submit Order” button because I wanted to avoid credit card charges and a confusing situation with Comcast installers. But once I pointed this out to the Comcast spokesperson, the company stopped denying that it would be impossible to sign up for service at these homes without talking to a Comcast agent.
In the ensuing days, Comcast’s automated system sent me two followup emails urging me to complete my order before I unsubscribed from the messages—I was never told that I had to talk to a Comcast agent in order to set up service.
The Comcast spokesperson told us that installation fees vary by market and on whether the company has a promotion running.
Comcast also told us that installation fees may be refunded when it turns out that no special installation was required. But it’s clear that the Comcast website often forces customers to schedule a professional installation and agree to the fee in order to complete an order.
Once you’ve agreed to the fee and paid a deposit, actually getting a refund could be tricky. Because the default setting is a required payment, customers may not even realize it’s possible to get a refund.
Comcast provided a statement for our story:
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. Orders can be completed online, in-person at an Xfinity retail store, or by phone. 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.
Judging by that Comcast statement, you’d think there would be no installation fee when you buy your own modem and are moving into a house that already has Comcast service. But as we’ve shown in this article, the fee is often required in those situations.
More Info: arstechnica.com