CenturyLink is launching a new TV service in Seattle today, bringing about competition for existing providers like Comcast and Wave Broadband.
The service, called Prism TV, is already available in 16 cities across the U.S. It runs on the fiber network that CenturyLink uses for its 1 gigabit Internet service, which is now available to more than 100,000 households across 22 neighborhoods in Seattle after launching one year ago (see coverage map below). That means Prism TV is only available to households with access to CenturyLink’s gigabit internet service — however, you don’t need to subscribe to Internet to access Prism TV.
Prism TV offers what you’d expect from a cable TV service: Hundreds of HD channels, DVR capabilities, the ability to watch live content on mobile devices, search functionality, and more.
I tested Prism TV last week and liked how quickly I could change the channels — CenturyLink calls this “warp-speed channel change,” made possible thanks to the fiber Internet. The interface itself was pretty easy to navigate, and the “Prism App Center” was a nice touch. None of the features really seemed groundbreaking, but overall there were no red flags.
For many of you, the more important question is how pricing for Prism TV stacks up to Comcast, which has had little-to-no competition in Seattle for cable TV since signing a franchise agreement with the city in 2006.
The bottom line: You won’t be saving much by using one over the other, but that could change depending on a handful of variables.
CenturyLink is offering promotional pricing that increases after a 12-month contract expires. The most basic Prism TV offering starts at $44.99 per month for 12 months, not including a $11.99 per month charge for HD channels and a $9.99 per month charge for DVR. You can see channel lineups here.
On top of that, CenturyLink requires that you also purchase monthly phone or high-speed Internet service to use Prism TV in Seattle. The cheapest phone service is $18 per month, with a $31 activation fee. The cheapest Internet service is $29.95 per month, which does not include modem rental and other fees.
CenturyLink says Prism TV costs as low as $29.99 a month when bundled with phone or high-speed Internet. It is waiving Prism TV activation and installation fees for now.
Comcast has similar promotional TV offering for $49.99 a month for the first 12 months, without HD and DVR capabilities that will run you about another $20 per month, in addition to modem rental and other fees. You can, however, purchase cable TV from Comcast without bundling in another service.
These prices for either service will vary depending on where you live, what existing services you’re already using or have used in the past, and other variables like DVR or HD channels. It’s best to give these providers a call to figure out exact pricing — trying to do so online can be difficult and confusing.
There’s also the option of cutting the cord, with many Americans canceling their cable subscriptions as more low-cost streaming TV options become available.
Regardless, there is another cable TV service now available in Seattle that potentially can create competition that the City Council wants. In fact, CenturyLink would not be able to offer Prism TV in Seattle if not for two key City Council votes over the past year.
First, to install its fiber network, CenturyLink got help when City Council approved legislation this past September removing “excessive administrative requirements” for companies that want to build broadband utility boxes in neighborhoods.
That paved the way for CenturyLink to start building out its gigabit fiber service, which is now available to more than 100,000 households. Sue Anderson, CenturyLink’s vice president of operations for Washington, told GeekWire that her company was “so constrained with infrastructure until the city made some much needed changes.”
“Once we started deploying the gigabit, putting Prism on top of it was kind of a natural fit to really enhance the full experience for the user,” she added.
But CenturyLink couldn’t offer Prism until the City Council voted in March to eliminate a longstanding cable franchise district system that required cable TV companies to provide service to all neighborhoods.
“The geographic divisions no longer make sense in a City where every home now has access to cable services,” the city’s Department of Information Technology wrote in a bill summary. “Instead of promoting cable access to residents, the districts now serve as barriers to competition because existing Code provisions require a franchise grantee to build a cable system for an entire cable district.”
That vote in March paved the way for CenturyLink to sell Prism anywhere it wanted. Last summer, former City of Seattle CTO Bill Schrier noted a potential Prism TV rollout in a piece he wrote when CenturyLink first announced plans for a gigabit Internet service.
“The holy grail of competition, of course — and the cash cow for Internet providers — is Cable TV,” Schrier wrote on Crosscut. “Which highlights one possible reason CenturyLink is so eager to bring true fiber to Seattle.”
Anderson said that CenturyLink will offer a standalone Prism TV package for $24.99 per month to customers that qualify as low-income households. They can also package that with high-speed Internet for $34.98 per month.
“That’s a really big need and request here with recent social justice that the Mayor is really working toward,” Anderson said. “We are really excited to bring both high-speed Internet and Prism TV low income package to the city.”
One part of CenturyLink’s Prism TV fine print worth noting is that the company may “preclude customers from purchasing High-Speed Internet services from any third party” if they subscribe to Prism.
Here’s a coverage map showing where CenturyLink’s service is available:
[Editor’s Note: CenturyLink and Wave Broadband are GeekWire annual sponsors; Comcast is a GeekWire advertiser.]