Comcast has made a small, but potentially big change, to a prepaid Internet service it’s testing in the Philadelphia area that suggests a broader rollout could be in the making.
After testing out a sales model that relied on more than 70 local wireless and consumer electronics stores to distribute and sell starter kits comprised of a cable modem, the necessary cables and an activation code good for 30 days of Internet service, the website that promotes the offer has shed the retail option in favor of a new call-in number: 855-75PREPAID.
Also gone from the site are mentions that the offer is limited to parts of Philadelphia, Delaware and New Jersey. But the site does tell visitors that the prepaid offer is not available when plugging in addresses and zip codes in Comcast markets that are outside the Philadelphia region.
A Comcast spokesman confirmed that the trial remains localized and that the MSO added the call-in number to begin tests on a different types of sales channels and the infrastructure that would be required to support them. He said Comcast had nothing to announce with respect to future trials outside the Philadelphia area or plans to deploy a prepaid Internet product commercially.
Still, leading with a distribution and sales model that relies on a central phone number, rather than the establishment of retail presences in local retail outlets, would seemingly make it easier for Comcast to accelerate a national deployment, should the MSO pull the trigger on one.
Aside from the phone number, the fundamental prepaid product Comcast is testing hasn’t changed much since it started kicking the tires on it late last year. The service itself is still capped at 3 Mbps downsteam by 768 Kbps upstream.
The starter kit remains priced at $69.95 and comes with an Arris-made DOCSIS 3.0 modem, connectors and 30 days of service. After 30 days, customers can buy refills ($45 for 30 days or $15 for seven days) by calling the phone number or submitting a credit card or a code from a prepaid card at xfinityprepaid.net.
Taking a page from prepaid models that have been successful for cellular companies, Comcast's contract-free offer doesn’t require customers to submit to a credit check or to supply the MSO with a Social Security number. However, Comcast's offer is only available to households that do not have an active Comcast account.
Comcast’s marketing message for the pre-paid test focuses on the "flexibility" of the product, but it could give the MSO, and possibly other cable operators, a risk-free way to pursue an untapped market of Internet customers that have bad credit or don’t have bank accounts. A prepaid product also would give Comcast another way to add former subscribers that had previously been turned off due to nonpayment.