Is Comcast’s HBO-Included ‘Internet Plus’ Worth It?

intplusYesterday, we told you of rumors that Comcast was going to launch a service dubbed Internet Plus that gives customers Internet access, a handful of cable channels and HBO (along with HBO Go) for significantly less than what you’d pay for a full Internet, basic cable, and HBO package. Today, Comcast confirmed the limited-time package so we can look at the specifics to determine if it’s a good deal.

The monthly prices varies, but here in Philadelphia Comcast is offering Internet Plus for the introductory price of $49.95 for 12 months. After that period, it goes up to $69.95/month.

For that, users get the Comcast “Limited Basic” cable package that includes broadcast networks and a small number of basic cable channels like TLC, Discover, and Food Network; broadband service of up to 20 Mbps downstream, access to the Xfinity Streampix streaming library, and HBO/HBO Go. Additional premium channels can be added for $10/month each.

What you don’t get are some very popular cable channels, most notably ESPN. Nor does Internet Plus include DVR service. HBO Go and on-demand service will minimize the need for such things, but many consumers have become used to being able to pause, rewind and record with the push of a button.

The restrictions listed on the Comcast website say the current Internet Plus offer will end on Jan. 31, 2014, and is only available to new residential customers. It’s unclear if this restriction is on the $49.99 discounted price and not the Internet Plus package itself. Most likely, it just means that current Comcast subscribers will have to pay the full $69.99 price from the start if they choose this bundle. We’re also checking with Comcast to see if Internet-only customers are limited by this restriction.

In terms of the individual components of the package, Internet Plus does provide savings.

Comcast’s 20Mpbs Internet service starts at $30/month but goes up to around $60 (depending on your area) after the promotional period. Just basic cable on its own will cost you $20/month from Comcast. The company’s least-expensive TV and Internet bundle (which includes many more channels than the Limited Basic) is $142/month. You’ll have to add another $10/month for HD service because it’s no longer 2002. And then you’d have to pay an additional $15-20 to get HBO and Streampix access. By the time you’re done, that monthly bill is close to $200.

So if the main reason for you to have cable service is to watch HBO — and if you live in an area serviced by Comcast — than Internet Plus may be something worth looking into, if you’re willing to forgo a DVR and hundreds of channels that you probably aren’t watching very frequently to begin with.

Cnet’s Joan Solsman cautions against anyone thinking that Internet Plus is a move in the direction of a standalone HBO Go:

For one, Comcast is a cable company, and cable companies are holding formation against becoming purveyors of Internet-delivered TV service. After making decades of big investments in their distribution infrastructure, cable companies want people to be watching video by paying for a video service. Though they’re happy to provide video on multiple platforms, they’re toeing the line that subscribers must be paying for their TV service to get it.

Given Time Warner’s reluctance to offer HBO Go as a standalone product directly to consumers, it seems like Internet Plus (and whatever the other cable companies will call it when they inevitably offer something similar) might be the only non-cheating way to get access to the premium network and its streaming service.