Comcast Turns On the Jets

I've been observing the cable companies for about a decade now, and I never cease to be amazed by how the group -- especially its stronger members -- is underestimated by market minions.

Take Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA  ) , for instance. The company leads the league in the number of cable subscribers, with slightly more than 24 million. It also serves more than 13 million Internet customers and in excess of 4.5 million telephone customers.

Those numbers are well and good, but it also seems that the company is better at improving its services than is generally recognized. For instance, referring back to the first years of the decade, its high-speed data subscribers were served by a system that topped out in the 1.5 megabits-per-second (mbps) range. Fine, but that's only a quarter as fast as the six (and sometimes eight) mbps speed available today across the company's landscape.

But now -- and hold onto your fedoras and toupees, Fools -- the company is offering 50 mbps service in some of its markets. That high-end product will be offered within 20% of the company's markets by year-end. It's about 15 times faster than the digital subscriber line (DSL) services provided to most Internet subscribers of telcos Verizon (NYSE: VZ  ) and AT&T (NYSE: T  ) , although Verizon actually has 50 mbps service in those markets where its FiOS fiber optic service has been installed.

And while Comcast's $150 price tag is substantially higher than the $40 to $55 monthly levy for its 6 and 8 mbps product, it could hasten the company's movement into the lucrative small-business market. Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC  ) , and Charter (Nasdaq: CHTR  ) offer 15 mbps service in some markets, and Cablevision (NYSE: CVC  ) offers its customers a 15 mbps or 30 mbps service.

So while Comcast may not offer completely new services as fast as I might like, it does continue to markedly improve its existing products. Beyond that, its off-to-the-races Internet service could be paired with its still-new voice service for a dynamite combo for the business market it now wants to target.

All this, Fools, seems only to reinforce my "cautiously nibble" rating on the company's shares. With its new dividend and its still-strong share buyback program -- to say nothing of its stellar record of quality growth -- Comcast could treat patient shareholders very nicely.

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