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Why Comcast boosted internet speed for no cost

Telecom giant routinely upgrades to keep with usage

By Erin McCarthy, The Philadelphia Inquirer
Published: March 16, 2024, 5:18am

Comcast Xfinity customers are experiencing faster internet speeds as of last week at no extra charge as the Philadelphia-based telecom giant rolled out an automatic upgrade.

The move represents the latest in a series of regular speed increases that Comcast has implemented over the years to keep up with rising usage, said Emily Waldorf, senior vice president for consumer internet services.

Some customers saw the change kick in automatically for home Wi-Fi. Others will need to upgrade their router to a model that is compatible with higher speeds.

Comcast had about 30 million residential broadband customers as of late 2023, according to its latest earnings report. The company declined to comment on how many customers across the region have been upgraded and how many needed new equipment to do so.

Here’s what else to know:

How much will my Comcast Xfinity internet speed change?

Download speeds increased as follows for these tiers of plans:

  • Connect (starts at $25/month): 75Mbps to 150Mbps
  • Connect More (starts at $35): 200Mbps to 300Mbps
  • Fast (starts at $45): 400Mbps to 500Mbps
  • Xfinity Prepaid ($45 for the first 30 days, with no contract): 50Mbps to 200Mbps

Comcast’s marketing focuses only on download speeds, but spokesperson Jennifer Bilotta said upload speeds increased from 10Mbps to to 20Mbps on all plans. However, she added, “the majority of customer activity is still focused on download speeds.”

Upload speeds have become more important to consumers in recent years as an increasing number of them work from home, said James Willcox, senior electronics editor for Consumer Reports.

You upload data when you hop on a Zoom call, post on social media, or play video games. Experts recommend a minimum upload speed of 10Mbps for most homes.

Will I notice my Comcast Xfinity internet upgrade?

It depends.

People on the Connect and Prepaid plans, which are jumping to 150Mbps and 200Mbps, will likely notice the biggest boost. Cord-cutters might see clearer images next time they watch their favorite shows, as most steaming services automatically adjust picture quality based on the internet speed.

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“For most people, it’s probably not a huge difference,” Willcox said. “200Mbps is probably adequate for most households.”

How do I know if my router can accommodate faster speeds?

People who connect to their internet with a direct, wired connection will automatically experience the faster speeds.

But “most people are connecting via Wi-Fi, not an Ethernet cable or a wire,” Willcox said. “Your wireless home router and network need to be able to support” faster speeds.

If you lease an Xfinity modem-router, called a “gateway,” that can’t support the new speeds, the company will email you asking if you want an upgraded device at no additional cost (you’ll need to return the old equipment).

If you have your own router, you can Google that device’s capabilities, or go to speedtest.net to see how fast your upload and download speeds are.

How easy is it to upgrade my Xfinity Gateway if I need to?

Funny you should ask.

I had to upgrade my Gateway to access the new download speeds but was wary of swapping out my equipment, as I haven’t had good luck with Wi-Fi in the past. Every time I’ve moved, I’ve had a setup issue that has required technicians to come out. So for days I put off even opening the Xfinity package with my new Gateway.

But this device swap was actually pretty seamless, taking me about 15 minutes.

You have to disconnect your old equipment to plug in and activate the new, which leaves your devices temporarily Wi-Fi-less for part of the setup process. I don’t have the strongest cell service in my apartment, so getting the Xfinity app’s activation assistant up and running turned out to be the hardest part.

I also initially forgot what I had changed my account password to in December, when all Xfinity customers were prompted to do that, which set me back a couple minutes. I’d recommend logging in and loading the app’s activation tool before you get started.

At the end of the process, I learned I could keep my Wi-Fi network name and password, meaning I didn’t need to manually reconnect my TV, phone, and laptop to a new network.

My max download speed increased more than 100Mbps within minutes of the switch, jumping from 480Mbps to 591Mbps, while my upload speeds stayed around 24Mbps, according to speedtest.net.

Why is Comcast Xfinity upgrading internet speeds now?

Bilotta, the spokesperson, said they “upgrade speeds regularly to stay well ahead of customer demands on bandwidth and provide more value for their services.”

The federal Affordable Connectivity Program, which provides low-income customers with a $30 a month subsidy for home internet, also could run out of funding next month unless Congress takes action. If it does, about 23 million United States households may no longer be able to afford internet, deepening the digital divide.

“The speed increases rolling out today will help to ensure those who may be affected by the end of ACP will continue to have access to fast, affordable, reliable internet options,” Comcast said Wednesday in a statement, encouraging those who won’t be able to afford their current plan without the subsidy to call the company at 1-800-934-6489 to discuss alternatives.

“I think it’s really important that cable companies that are offering budgeted plans are increasing the speeds of those plans because there are a lot of people that are going to struggle” if funding expires, Willcox said.

The upgrade is a win-win for Comcast and customers.

“Cable companies take a beating,” Willcox said. “Their real business model right now isn’t television, it’s internet.”

“It’s both a good public relations message,” he added, “and just a practical reality that it’s a way they can keep customers.”