As the summer winds down and I'm trying to beat the Fall rush of, well everything that goes with Fall, I've been trying to get my digital house in order and one of the items of my ToDo list has been to sort through all the services that my ISP (Comcast) has brought on-line over the past couple of years. Everything from separate e-mail accounts for everybody in the house to photo sharing to video mail.
So much has changed and, unfortunately, I haven't had the time to figure what I should and shouldn't be taking advantage of as a part of the monthly bill that I pay. This is when I discovered that the company is providing up to seven free copies each of McAfee's Viruscan, McAfee's Personal Firewall Plus, and McAfee's Privacy Service (for parental control and identity theft protection) to its subscribers at no additional charge. That includes annual updates (as long as you remain a subscriber). When I first saw the offer, I thought it was for one computer. But then I checked with technical support and they said "no, it's for seven." Still in disbelief, I decided to contact Comcast's public relations and here's how Comcast spokesperson Jeanne Russoresponded:
Berlind: Yesterday, while doing what I'll refer to as a bit of digital housecleaning before the fall settles in, I discovered this page on Comcast's website that describes some free offerings that your subscribers are entitled to. Taken together, this is about a $115 value (I just added up the retail pricing you provide for the various items that you offer to subscribers to free). I checked with technical support to find out if this only applies to one machine per subscriber and the answer was that it applies to seven. So, total potential value for a house with seven machines goes up to $805. I just wanted to confirm the "7" number.
Russo: Confirmed. Each Comcast High-Speed Internet customer receives up to seven (7) email or user accounts with his/her service.
Berlind: Typically, security solutions like McAfee's require an annual subscription themselves. So, one year after installing their anti-virus solution, one must pay to re-up their subscription in order to get the latest software updates that include new virus definitions, etc. Do subscribers have to start paying after a year, or are their subscriptions to McAfee's annual renewals free as well?
Russo: Users receive the McAfee VirusScan, Personal Firewall Plus and Privacy Service as part of their Comcast High-Speed Internet service -- at no additional charge -- for as long as they are customers. They do not need to renew the entire time they remain current High-Speed Internet customers. This is another way we are providing added value to our customers -- and making it easy for them to protect themselves and their households against online threats.
Berlind: While I'm sure Comcast doesn't pay full retail price for the offerings, it still costs you money. Has the company found that this "investment" actually saves it money on other fronts? For example in technical support costs or infrastructure costs? For example, if subscribers are taking advantage of the offer, there could be a net positive impact on Comcast's infrastructure because it's not having to endure attacks to the extent that it might normally have to and maybe that represents a savings in dollars or in manpower or, in the case of an email-bourne attack, storage.
Russo: As I mentioned earlier (see above), this is about providing added value to our customers and making it easy for them to protect themselves and their households against online threats.
Berlind: While we're on that question, can you say how much Comcast does pay per seat of this software?
Russo: We are not disclosing financial terms.
Berlind: Will there ever come a time where Comcast thinks it will require that anti-malware be present on a subscribers' system before it's allowed on the Comcast network? Some corporations do this now with their employees.
Russo: Comcast is focused on making it easy and affordable for our customers to protect their PCs. While we encourage our customers to take advantage of the free McAfee suite and spyware tools, we have no plans at this time to require customers to have these products installed before accessing the Comcast network.
Berlind: Do you see Comcast adding to this list of three McAfee items. For example, anti-spyware solutions, anti-spam, etc, etc?
Russo: We will continue to evaluate and look at ways we can continue to add value to our offering for our 7.7 million high-speed Internet customers. The positive customer feedback we've received about this offering and our Security Channel on Comcast.net has been tremendous. We also currently offer anti-spyware through the Comcast toolbar and utilize industry-leading anti-spam filtering technology from Brightmail.
OK, so the answers are a little "party-line-ish." While it's a nice thing to do for customers, most corporations that deploy anti-malware to their end-users get some return on the investment in the way of burden-eased on the corporate network infrastructure. Even so, some things are just to good to be true. Here's one that's not.