Update: Frostburg, Cumberland is in NHL Network ‘Cable Desert’

Hockey fans living in Allegany County are being skipped by the NHL Network on cable.

Comcast’s Xfinity and Atlantic Broadband cable are not carrying the NHL Network in Allegany County, putting fans paying for services like NHL CenterIce and GameCenterLive being robbed of games thanks to the league’s blackout policies.

After going through four Comcast customer service reps, I received a definitive answer from the cable technician who visited my apartment about NHL Network’s availability in Frostburg.

You can read my previous issues in this blog, but to quickly recap, Xfinity’s and NHL Network’s websites show that with certain packages in my ZIP code, I can add on to watch the NHL Network. After several attempts at trouble shooting and different answers from different reps, one worker sent out a technician.

Fortunately, the technician is a hockey fan and even has played hockey. He explained that for reasons he did not understand or know, the NHL Network is available in neighboring Grantsville, Md., in Garrett County, where Frostburg’s service area cannot get it. Part of this confusion is that the Frostburg ZIP, 21532, extends and gerrymanders its way into Garrett County—a place with the largest amount of state-owned park land in Maryland and few year-round residents.

The technician added that he rebuilt a customer’s cable this week and added the NHL Network to it, and the service area gets more channels than other more populated areas like his hometown in Somerset County, Pa., just north of Grantsville.

The only thing I can do is request the channel, but let’s look at some bad business here.

It’s likely some things weren’t going to be offered in Frostburg because Comcast doesn’t not own the cable territory for all of Allegany County. Cumberland—the county’s biggest city—and points east in the county are controlled by Atlantic Broadband.

That company typically carries the NHL Network, but a look at the channel line-up, updated Oct. 1, shows that NHL Network isn’t available for its subscribers here.

If you live in Washington County or Garrett County and have cable, you can watch NHL Network. If you live in between, in Allegany, you’re out of luck.

Which leads me to the blackout issue. NHL Network game broadcasts are blacked out on CenterIce and GameCenterLive. Consumers are taking an unfair hit here because they don’t have the option on Xfinity or Atlantic to subscribe to the channel, so why black out the games? Especially if you are paying full price on CenterIce and GCL.

Yes, there is a solution. Switch…to…satellite.

DirecTV does offer the NHL Network here in Frostburg in a package as low as $34.99 a month. Now, you don’t get the reliability of a connection nor is broadband Internet available through DirecTV here (and forget about doing DSL up here).

Getting an Internet plan only from Xfinity isn’t an easy task, especially with a speed suitable  for my data usage. The Internet-only plans are for very slow speeds and you can’t sign up for that online. The rest of the plans require a subscription to either cable TV or its VOIP phone service.

So, I’d be easily pay more than what I do now for a triple play bundle that is already discounted.

You wonder why so many people are cutting their TV, and this is why. It would be great if this process would be more consumer friendly to cut the cord after an experience like this.

Advertisements

A Unicorn NHL TV Market and Why NHL Network Is Blacked Out in Frostburg

NHL Network LogoUpdate 2: I realized I never provided an additional update. Sorry.

The technician visited and explained that as I originally thought, the NHL Network is not available to Frostburg area customers.

However, the tech added that if I was in the Garrett County side of Frostburg instead of Allegany County, I would have access to the NHL Network, and many more channels in general. Of course that doesn’t make a lot of sense because Garrett County is as rural as you can get. It has more than 76,000 acres of public lands and lakes, which I believe is the most in the state.

 

Update: After asking NHL Network via Twitter to help fix this issue, another agent from @ComcastCares reached out and he believes the station is actually available in the Frostburg market.

After testing a different package not shown on the website, the channel didn’t appear, so they are sending a technician on Friday.

The technician will examine if they have my box on the right program guide (I don’t know why there are two different channel line-ups for one ZIP code), examine signal flux and my box.

This ought to demonstrate to the NHL Network to barter a bit better to be included in a lower tier of sports channels to have more viewers because other people would give up at this point to subscribe.

Original: Trying to watch hockey on TV shouldn’t be all that hard.

Given the battles to make it easier to watch games online, you’d think the TV end would be mainly issue free.

Not in Frostburg, Maryland, where territories of the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins converge in the mountains.

Frostburg is a unique National Hockey League television market where you can watch both the Washington Capitals on ComcastSportsNet Mid-Atlantic and the Pittsburgh Penguins on Root Sports. It’s a swing county when it comes to hockey allegiances for these bitter rivals, to be honest.

I decided that this year I was going to go without a NHL GameCenter Live subscription. It didn’t make any sense to me anymore despite the new single-team packages being offered thanks to a class-action lawsuit. Broadstreet Hockey exceptionally covered the problems with GCL’s new set-up that’s supposed to be consumer friendly.

When I moved to Florida four years ago, I watched both Tampa Bay Lightning and Washington Capitals games, and while I enjoyed the idea, it didn’t quite work out for me, outside of the constant video buffering.

The Lightning and Caps would often play on the same nights and start a half-hour apart. And when they didn’t, one of the two teams were blacked out (typically the Caps) for being on national TV. And the Lightning would mainly be blacked out for being on the NHL Network.

And nothing ticked me off more than being blacked out for a “national” game on the NHL Network, considering it’s not in standard sports channel packages. It’s included on DirecTV (which if they had broadband Internet and not DSL here, I’d be there in a heartbeat).

So, I opted to dive in an extra $9.99 a month to get NHL Network with my current Xfinity package along with some other sports channels like NBA TV (that I’d never watch) and Encore that are included. I figured the NHL Network should be a better deal this year with a new operator taking over, new talent and better programming.

What comes next is five hours of hopelessness between three Comcast agents, one in an online chat, another on the phone and a third via the @ComcastCares Twitter account. And oh yeah, the NHL Network’s website.

Let’s cut to the chase first: The NHL Network is not available on Comcast Xfinity in the Frostburg market. The channel is advertised as part of a Digital Preferred Package when ordering on the Comcast website and three agents fist believed that I should have the channel until they dug deeper to find out that it isn’t available after all.

Now, look at this map of NHL TV territories made in 2013 by Mile High Hockey. Do you think this same issue would lead the NHL not to provide the NHL Network in Chicago, Indianapolis, St. Louis and New York City where other teams share TV territories? Nope.

2013 NHL TV Territory Map

2013 NHL TV Territory Map

This is a Direct Message from a @ComcastCares rep “DB” who spent several hours trying to fix my issue, including resetting my box for a signal flux issue:

A Comcast rep explains why the NHL Network isn't available after several hours thinking it was.

A Comcast rep explains why the NHL Network isn’t available after several hours thinking it was.

If you can’t read the picture, it says:

“Sorry for the delayed response, I just got confirmation that the NHL isn’t available in your region. I wasn’t able to confirm this earlier. I do suggest still sending a tech out to resolve the signal flux so you don’t experience any issues in the future. ~DB @ComcastCares

“Was there a reason given why it is not available”—@ImYourChuck

“Just that there hasn’t been an agreement reached yet to provide it in your area. Requesting it thru the feedback link will let your region know that it is in demand. Which could make it possibly available later. ~DB @ComcastCares”

Why did I deal with three reps? The first one tried to resolve the issue and couldn’t find the channel. Because I grew tired, I called to speak to someone so I could remove the service. That was relatively quick. The rep, a hockey fan, tried to help but figured out that it’s not available because the NHL decided it shouldn’t be. I spent from 5 to after 11 p.m. going through all of this.

I vented on Twitter and a @ComcastCares manager decided to reach out to me and figure this out in DMs.

Worse, is that when I enter my ZIP on the NHL Network website, it says I should have it. See below:

The NHL Network shows that the channel should be available in Frostburg, Md., on Comcast cable. However, it is not available.

The NHL Network shows that the channel should be available in Frostburg, Md., on Comcast cable. However, it is not available.

The passive way to resolve this, as suggested by Comcast is that I need more people in the Frostburg area to request the NHL Network be made available through both the NHL’s website and Comcast Xfinity feedback. However, that’s a daunting task considering the small population in this region.The FSU student population from Central Maryland helps, but those students are opting for either GameCenterLive, Center Ice or going to the bar.

This isn’t the first delivery issue I’ve had with NHL games in Frostburg. I’m looking forward to the Oct. 31 Caps vs. Panthers game on CSN+ to check to see if I don’t have another channel I’m supposed to have.

I wonder how much of all of this has to deal with this unique territory where rival NHL teams from two markets are shown on local TV channels. And how much has to deal with Xfinity not being able to separate this tiny market from its Pennsylvania customers because its local office is based in Meyersdale, Pa., after shutting down its Frostburg office last year.

I don’t know the answers to those questions, and I want to know.

But really knowing why not is not as important as knowing when I will get the NHL Network.

Comcast shuts out Caps, Wizards fans for CSN+ games in Western Maryland

This is what Allegany County Comcast Xfinity viewers saw on their guide Tuesday but were unable to watch the Washington Capitals game because instead of NBCSN carrying the game as shown, it was carried on CSN+. Comcast in Allegany County does not carry CSN+.

This is what Allegany County Comcast Xfinity viewers saw on their guide Monday but were unable to watch the Washington Capitals game because instead of NBCSN carrying the game as shown, it was carried on CSN+. Comcast in Allegany County does not carry CSN+.

Update: A marketing representative from Comcast SportsNet MidAtlantic reached out to me Monday to investigate the issue.

Early indicators show that this is some sort of delivery issue.

The representative explained that CSN+ should be The Comcast Network in my area and ought to be Channel 6 in Frostburg.

After some searching, I found The Comcast Network but it’s on Channel 125 and it gets weirder. The game still didn’t air that night in Frostburg on The Comcast Network. When the Comcast Xfinity agent was trying to resolve the issue, he reactivated my box t make sure I’m getting the right channels.

I saw The Comcast Network flip on but on the channel CSN should be on.  After the system fully adjusted itself, it went back to the way it was. The Comcast Network ended up airing a MMA fight that night.

I haven’t heard back from the representative since I gave her this additional information but it sounds like the wrong feed of The Comcast Network is being sent here. The next opportunity to find out is April 4 when the Washington Wizards’ game is suppose to air.

I’ll post any updates if I receive them.

Original post: Not a lot of people crave to see the Caps play the lowly Buffalo Sabres this year on TV, but with points on the board for Washington’s playoff race, every game matters.

Somewhere in the mess, it didn’t matter to someone at Comcast or its partners for awhile.

Monday’s game between the Caps and the Sabres aired nationally on NBCSN except in the Baltimore/Washington market where the game aired on Comcast Sports Net Mid-Atlantic Plus, or CSN+.

CSN+ was used thanks in part for CSN broadcasting the Washington Wizards and Portland TrailBlazers NBA game.

I realize this is more than the Caps. The Wizards are on CSN+ for 12 games this season. Ted Leonsis, you might want to give Ed Snider a call about this and get it fixed because you’re missing eyeballs you ought to be entitled to.

In Allegany and Garrett counties, here in far Western Maryland, you couldn’t watch that Caps game on TV. The same goes for the other eight games CSN+ aired this year because Comcast in this area does not carry the overflow channel, CSN+. Yes, the normal CSN MidAtlantic is carried.

Why Comcast doesn’t carry an overflow channel within its own company, I just don’t understand. I couldn’t get an answer either. I’ll get more into that later.

Allegany and Garrett counties are in a weird area that has blackout exceptions for the NHL. Comcast carries both CSN and Root here so both Caps and Pittsburgh Penguins games can be aired. I know how much that violates some of you. I do kind of feel dirty watching the Pens when nothing else is on. (Of late, I can watch both of the Caps and Pens on the NHL GameCenter app without blackout restriction either, but I don’t know if that’s because it’s the end of the season, similar to what the NHL did during the first month.)

On the TV guide menu, the game said it was being aired on NBCSN here. I tuned in and it was Barclays Premier League soccer. CSN+ was nowhere to be found and I tried even punching in channel numbers that it could be without any help. The only way I could watch last night’s game was the livestream on NBCSN’s website, which interrupts live action with commercials.

I went online and talked to a Comcast agent just to be sure. The transcript is attached and you’ll see the guy did as much as he could to figure this out, even reactivating my box. After all of this and as much as I could explain to someone about blackouts and such, he determined that Comcast doesn’t carry CSN+ here regardless of package. Visit CSN’s channel finder and you’ll find the same thing. Try typing in 21532, the Frostburg ZIP code and you’ll only see DirecTV—a competitor of Comcast.

I wrote emails to Comcast, CSN Mid-Atlantic and the Washington Capitals last night imploring them to get Comcast to carry CSN+. Frostburg, especially, is a host to at least a few thousands students and professionals from the Baltimore and D.C. area during the hockey season thanks to the chief enrollment figures from my employer, Frostburg State University. Actually, more than 91 percent of students are from the Capitals’ broadcast territory. [Note: This blog is a personal project and is no way endorsed by FSU nor do the opinions reflect employees or students of the university.]

If I knew where in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia other students are from, the figure would be higher. Of note, Comcast subscribers in Franklin County, Pa., have CSN+, and were able to watch Monday’s Capitals games.

The audience is here. Cellular carriers AT&T, Verizon and TMobile have acknowledged how many people with their plans are up this way and have made or are in the middle of upgrading towers to serve its customers in a new area. I hope the same thing can be said for Comcast and CSN+, especially in a territory where Penguins games are also available on TV.

I’d switch TV providers but the rural area here is bound to limited choices. Comcast is the only cable provider. Satellite is available with DirecTV and Dish Network, but if you want high-speed Internet that’s faster than DSL, Comcast is your only option. And Comcast, much like other companies, won’t allow you only to subscribe to Internet service at certain speeds (like 25Mbs) that would make it easy to cut cable completely.

I know this is a small potatoes blog. I don’t update much, but when it comes to hockey and access, I’m all words.

Here’s the transcript: Xfinity-Chat-Transcript-Caps-Sabres