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Comcast adds tech service

Cable company says customers already ask for help

By Hiawatha Bray
Globe Staff / May 25, 2011

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The Geek Squad is about to get some competition from the cable guys.

Comcast Corp. is bringing a new online support service to Boston. For a fee, the company will provide technical assistance, via the Internet or by phone, for all kinds of electronics, including personal computers, game consoles, and smartphones.

Mitch Bowling, senior vice president and general manager of new business at Comcast’s headquarters in Philadelphia, said customers often ask for help with their gadgets. “We know that customers call us for questions, concerns, issues with things that aren’t Comcast products,’’ he said.

For instance, many Internet users find it hard to connect smartphones to home networks. Or they complain to Comcast about slow Internet speeds that could actually be caused by a balky computer. Bowling said the new service, called Xfinity Signature Support, could improve broadband performance by ensuring that customer devices are properly configured. “Consumers expect us to provide this support,’’ he said.

Comcast launched Signature Support last year, and the service is already available in a number of cities, including Philadelphia, Chicago, Atlanta, Houston, and Detroit. Now the service is available to 1.8 million Comcast subscribers in eastern Massachusetts, southern New Hampshire, and Maine. It will be available to Comcast customers in western Massachusetts and the rest of the United States later this year.

The cheapest Signature Support costs $4.95 a month; customers receive antivirus scanning and monthly tuneups for up to four computers in a household. For $5.95 a month plus a onetime $39 enrollment fee, subscribers can get ongoing wireless networking support.

The top-tier offering, at $19.95 a month plus a $79 enrollment fee, provides tech support for four computers, a home network, and all other digital devices, including cameras, game consoles, smartphones, and tablet computers.

To operate the online service, Comcast has contracted with Support.com Inc. of Redwood City, Calif. Customers can arrange house calls for an additional fee, a service that will be supplied by another contractor, Asurion Corp. of Nashville.

Kurt Scherf, principal analyst at Parks Associates in Dallas, said that Comcast’s fees are about average for subscription tech support services, and that the company’s lowest-priced plan is cheaper than rival offerings. “It is unique that you’ve got that affordable a price,’’ he said.

About 10 million US households per year pay someone for help with their digital devices, according to Scherf, with about four million subscribing to a tech support service like the popular Geek Squad, offered by electronics retailer Best Buy Co.

Hiawatha Bray can be reached at bray@globe.com.