Is Comcast Really More Innovative Than Ed Tech?

What the most hated company in America might be telling us about the reasons behind the stalled progress in educational technology.

November 15, 2017

This year we became empty nesters. So naturally we bought a TV.

Having pent-up demand of almost two decades of denying our children television, we of course proceeded to gorge at the buffet of Comcast’s services.

Embracing our new cable TV lives with the zeal of the convert, we signed up for maximum Comcast. That is the HD Premier XF Triple Play with TV (260 channels), internet (200 Mbps) and landline phone (which we need for my wife’s work). The monthly price is $159.99 a month for 24 months, after which the monthly price will no doubt jump to some multiple of my graduate student stipend.

Comcast, for those of you who live outside of their cable monopoly coverage area, is the world’s worst company. This is not just my opinion. Rather, it is the judgment of consumer preferences revealed in a survey conducted by the financial news site 24/7.

In that survey, Comcast was ranked as America’s most hated company -- beating out contenders such as Bank of America, Mylan Pharmaceuticals, McDonalds, Well Fargo, Facebook, Spirit Air, Dish Network, Sears, Sprint, Walmart and Charter Communications. (How is Verizon not on this list?)

I hate Comcast, because in my state Comcast has refused to extend cable service to rural areas, while spending huge sums of money lobbying state legislatures to block local governments from offering municipal fiber broadband.

So it is somewhat of shock that the services that Comcast are offering are so amazing. No, really. My XFINITY cable TV service is fantastic. They have this cloud DVR thing that lets me program which shows I want to watch from the remote, my phone or a computer. Even better, I can watch the recordings on any device. The X1 Voice Remote lets me search for shows by just talking to the thing. The voice recognition is terrifically accurate. The internet really is as fast as 200 Mbps down. And even the landline phone is great, offering voice mail that sends a transcription of the message text to my email along with an audio file.

How is it that Comcast, the world’s worst company, has been able to improve the TV experience to such a degree -- where it seems as if our ed-tech platforms and services are in a rut?

Maybe you think that this is not fair to ed tech. I ask you -- has the learning management system (LMS) really advanced all that much in the last decade?

How large is the gap between the marketing around usable analytics and the reality?

Where are all the adaptive and personalized learning platforms that we’ve been promised?

Why does mobile learning continue to lag behind mobile everything else? (Social networking, shopping, banking, gaming, entertainment, you name it).

How come in every synchronous web-based online class that I’ve ever participated in that somebody can’t get their camera or audio to work?

Why is it that the online learning platforms -- both traditional and MOOC platforms -- leave the learners feeling so isolated from one another? (The failure of social learning).

Perhaps what ed tech needs is access to some good old fashioned digital monopoly based profits.

To drive true innovation in ed tech it may be necessary for some obscenely rich company to throw ridiculous amounts of money and talent at the challenge.

If Comcast (of all companies) can put out an innovative product, then what would happen if Amazon or Google or Apple or Microsoft (the four horsemen) decided to spend big on educational technology?

What if Comcast got into ed tech? (Just kidding).

Does the story of Comcast show us that there isn’t too much money in ed tech, but too little?

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Joshua Kim

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