Comcast’s latest cable box may debut in Boston

City apt to be first to get Comcast’s X1 with Net program guide, digital recorder

When it comes to cable TV, Boston is practically Comcast Corp.’s town. So it’s a good bet that Comcast is planning to make a big splash Monday at The Cable Show, the annual gathering of the cable television industry, which is being held at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center.

Running through Wednesday and expected to draw more than 13,000 attendees, the event is the perfect opportunity for Comcast to reveal, as is widely expected within the cable industry, that Boston will be the first major city to get the company’s newest gee-whiz technology: its next-generation combination cable box, Internet-enabled programming guide, and digital video recorder.


“People at the show will be talking about innovation in the delivery of services and improving the viewer experience, and the Comcast announcement will fit right in with those discussions,” said Will Richmond, editor of VideoNuze, an online publication based in Newton.

Comcast won’t confirm whether it will make the announcement, but websites like Light Reading Cable, which report on the industry, are abuzz with speculation that the company will use the occasion to anoint Boston as home of the new product, which the company refers to as X1.

Get Talking Points in your inbox:
An afternoon recap of the day’s most important business news, delivered weekdays.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

The new cable box and video platform, which has been tested in Augusta, Ga., will reportedly feature a connection to the Internet robust enough to support the service.

In a blog post last year, Comcast said X1, then known as Xcalibur, was meant to “take everything we’ve learned from the Web and tablets and bring it right back to your TV screen ... We’ll be able to bring apps, social media, and other popular features to the market faster.”

The convention in Boston is being hosted by the National Cable & Telecommunications Association and will feature a showroom floor with more than 250 exhibitors. Also at The Cable Show: the second annual Imagine Park, a venue designed to showcase innovative new products and services. More than 40 companies will participate in panels and demonstrations, and college teams will compete to create new tablet or smartphone applications that will leverage broadband technology. An App Pond, designed to reference the city’s Frog Pond, will host more than 30 cable-oriented mobile apps, and a Start-Up Alley will feature Boston-area technology companies with new applications and services.


And there will be celebrities, including cable TV stars like Conan O’Brien, host of “Conan” on the cable network TBS.

Michael Powell, a former Federal Communications Commission chairman who now heads the cable association, said the goal of this year’s event is “to get people to see cable as much more than television. We are sort of the connective tissue that connects people to the Internet, to iPads, to Xboxes, to smartphones.”

A “dynamic, competitive cable market,” Boston is a fitting host for the cable industry convention, said analyst Ian Olgeirson of SNL Kagan, a research firm in Charlottesville, Va.

Olgeirson said that because the Boston suburbs were an early market for the Verizon FiOS cable service, which challenged Comcast’s Xfinity in markets where both were available, the area has been “a crucible for competition.”

Comcast has 1.8 million customers in Greater Boston and is by far the largest provider of cable in the city itself, where it serves 165,000 subscribers. RCN, its only competition in the city other than satellite services, serves around 16,000 customers in Boston.

The city has been a cable policy battleground over the last few years, sparked by Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s contention that Boston residents endure higher rates because there is little effective competition in the city. Menino had hoped that Verizon’s FiOS network would come to Boston and provide the competition that would keep rates down, but the service never came to the city.

In late March, Menino asked the Federal Communications Commission to block Comcast from selling valuable wireless radio bands to the telecom company Verizon Wireless. The deal would clear the way for providers to sell each other’s services in package deals that would include voice telephone, cellular service, television, and Internet access. Menino said that would effectively turn the two competitors into business partners and reduce the likelihood that Verizon Communications Inc., which owns 55 percent of Verizon Wireless, would bring its FiOS cable TV service to Boston.

The FCC is still reviewing that proposed deal. However, in April, the agency complied with another Menino request, allowing the city to regulate basic cable rates. Comcast has appealed that ruling.

Mike Lynch, the city’s cable director, said he does not expect policy disagreements to overshadow the cable industry convention’s stay in Boston.

“It’s kind of like a family wedding,” he said. “We’ve had disagreements, but at the end of the day, cable has invested in the city, and it has provided us with an immense array of services, which is more than the phone company has done. I’m definitely going over there for the policy discussions, and to see what’s next.”

D.C. Denison can be reached at
Loading comments...
Real journalists. Real journalism. Subscribe to The Boston Globe today.