Comcastic? Try Fucktardic

I’m going to bring my little tale of woe to you now, so that I may be able to help others like myself who find themselves trying to deal with the ass-backwardsization of customer service in the “I don’t have a choice” world of cable.
Where I live, I have one choice for cable access, and it’s Comcast. I suppose I could go with one of them there space disk broadcasters like Dish or AT&T or the one owned by Rupert Murdoch, but I elect to stick with good old coax and a screw-in connection because, damn it all, I’m an American! And also, the fog here is something fierce, and who wants to keep moving and mounting a big plastic dish over and over?
I am also an early adopter of cable-modem technology, Way back when I was living in Boston, I subscribed to Roadrunner, as it was called then, and had such great reception that I decided it was the only way to go — until such time that I was a multi-millionaire and could afford fiber to my doorstep and a T-3 in the basement pool room. So when I moved to San Francisco in 2000, I chucked the lousy DSL from PacBell (before they were SBC (before they were AT&T)) and brought in my reliable and money-saving cable friends to wire me up good and solid.
And so it was until about four weeks ago, when the reliably solid world of cable connectivity came crashing down around my ears and I was forced to deal with the lunacy, idiocy and stupidity of the world of one-size-fits-all cable customer service to please, please, please fix my reception issues.

I’ll jump to the end to tell you that it took four technicians and a call a day to Comcast to resolve the problem, and that the eventual cause was a piece of badly spliced wire and pure laziness on the part of Comcast technical support.
It started out simply enough, and to such a small degree that I was willing to simple accept the short bursts of failed connectivity and nearly constant break-up of my television signal to the vagaries of life. Shit happens, and all that. How could I expect things to always be perfect, and once in a while things here in the strung-together makeshift city of San Francisco where the infrastructure is as old as our last earthquake and digging around the roofs and cellars of these century-old housing structures can’t be fun. Still, I am paying for a servive and now that I am working from home, I sort of need that service to be more reliable that it was being.
So I called in a problem to Comcast. My service was down again. But now it had been down for an hour. I also use Vonage, so when my cable service quits, so does my main phone and business number. So I have to call them on my cell.
Comcast service is apparently keyed off of one’s phone number, which I find odd because they’re not the phone company, but whatever. When you call customer service from your own phone, you don’t have to do anything to tell the automated Comcast service that you’re a customer, since your caller ID tells them that. But when you can’t use that number, you have to key it in before you’re allowed to get through to the service to tell them what’s wrong.
I wouldn’t even mention that fact accept as it relates to a further annoyance. Once you have identified yourself to their system and managed to get through the menus to actually speak to someone — they ask you for your number again. A small thing, perhaps, but not when you have to do it every day for four weeks. Really quite annoying. And another really quite annoying thing is that after you provide that number to the representative, they will want to further identify you with not one, not two, but three other types of information: 1) Your name, 2) Your full address including ZIP code and 3) The last four digits of your social security number.
I’m not trying to gain access to my bank account, here, I just want to let them know that they have a problem. Why all this information before I can even tell them what my problem is?
I also want to mention that after you tell their automated system that your problem has to do with High-Speed Internet, the very next message you here is some friendly advice about trying to find an answer to your problem online. Does anyone else see a bit of a problem with calling in a problem with one’s high-speed internet connection only to be told by a computer voice that maybe I should hang up and try an online solution?
But enough about their really, really pointless and stupid automated menu system that doesn’t actually do anything accept add to one’s delay in getting a satisfactory resolution. On to the real fun of Comcast Customer Service — human interaction!
When you call in to a Comcast representative and you tell them you have no connectivity, the first thing they’ll invariably ask you is if you tried unplugging and plugging the modem back in. Now, I never stopped to question this before I was asked to do it every single time, but what kind of cheap-ass fucking modems do they hand out if they go out so often that resetting them will get your signal back? How is that reliability? But I would sigh and roll my eyes and report, yes, I did that already.
The next thing they will ask you is “What lights are on?” So you tell them, and I guess they do something with that information but in my expereince the blinky lights on the front of the modem don’t mean squat. I suppose it’s just the next thing on their script and they’re required to ask that, but no matter what I reported back they never had any advice to give me about it because the next thing they’d say is “Yes, I see your modem isn’t responding back,” (which, I think I’ve made clear, is what I called about in the first place) “we’ll have to send a technician out.”
The scheduling of cable technicians is far from a science, and more like random luck. You get a 4-hour window and, based on my experience of having 4 tech calls in as many weeks, they will show up before and after the window, and not at all. Luckily I’m already home for most of the day, so what else did I have to do but wait? I can’t imagine the annoyance of having to drop everything to be there for them and not have them show up at all, or even call you to explain their absence.
Okay, now my connection was not always down, it was going up and down, and staying down in increasing increments. At first it might be down for an hour or two twice a day, so it was usually up. The technicians were always showing up when my connection was online, so guess what their tests showed? That’s right, I didn’t have any problems. In fact, the first two techs who plugged in their pocket calculators into the cable outlet in my office slash bedroom reported that my signal was really strong! One told me, “It’ll be between -4 and +4 and zero is perfect. Yours is at zero, so you have a really good connection.”
I started to suspect that maybe it was my router, or one of my routers since I have two. One is for Vonage and has a phone jack, the other is for wireless connectivity so my XBOX 360 and my TiVo and whatever else that needs to speak to the Internet can do so without a bunch of Cat5 all over the place. So I unplugged those and ran the connection straight from the modem into my PC.
No change. Still sucked. More calls. Same runaround. Different tech.
Now that the modem was plugged directly into my PC, however, I could bring up the modem’s internal reports and see what it was saying was wrong. I took screen prints of the reports, the status, my IPConfig, and anything else I could get a screen grab of, thinking naïvely that it must mean something to someone else, otherwise why would the modem have these reports. And it was apparent to me that Comcast’s own network was useless in these matters, it obviously wasn’t seeing anything wrong because every fucking time I called in, I had to report everything all over again, so one must also assume that their system has no means of recording any data about failures or trouble tickets or customer history, either. Because they were more than useless.
The second tech did the same test, saw the same result, but decided to swap out some of the cable inside my apartment and provide a new modem because why the hell not? I showed him the modem screens and he told me, “You need to call customer service when that happens, there’s nothing I can do with those.” To which I replied, “When I call customer service when that happens, they tell me they can’t see the modem and they need to send you out here.”
Catch 22! If the modem is failing, customer service can’t perform diagnostics to get the very screens I was capturing for that purpose. When they send the technician out, he tells me the screens mean nothing to him, he relies on his trusty little pocket calculator monitor thing. Oh, and also, once again, no problems with the service do he see. I should have been suspicious of this guy, anyway, since he wasn’t really from Comcast, his shirt had some fly-by-night electronics service company on it so he had to be a contractor — but since I, myself, am a contractor and am frequently smarter and better than the company employees I work with, I gave him the benefit of the doubt.
Three weeks in, and it’s getting worse. Now it’s down at least three times a day for two hours at a time. Again, I start to doubt my own equipment rather than Comcast’s. They’re starting to have me convinced that it can’t possibly be their fault because no one else in my vicinity is reporting problems, and they can’t see anything wrong on the network monitors. Maybe it’s because they split the cable at the entry point so I could get one feed to the cable box in the living room and another into the bedroom for the data. But that was their solution! They didn’t want to or couldn’t drill holes in the wall, and the cable was, believe it or not, coming over the roof and into the window sill by the stairway! Why would that be a problem?
More calls, and another technician. This time I told them I don’t want someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing. This time, I want the real thing. This time, I want it resolved or I am out of here and back to DSL, this is beyond ridiculous. The next tech shows up within the given 4-hour window (?!?) and replaces even more of my internal wiring all the way from the window where it magically swoops into my apartment and gives me his number to call if anything fails.
Within two hours of his departure, everything fails. But it’s also 8PM so I elect to give him a break and call the next morning. He tells me he has two other jobs and he’ll get there as soon as he can. It is 9AM on a Monday. At 5:30PM I call him to ask his wherabout, having given him an 8½ hour window to appear. He tells me he got caught up in those other jobs, he apologizes (though a phone call at some point would have been convenient) and says he’ll be over by 9AM the following day.
Okay, I think to myself. This is it. No more Mr. Nice Guy. This is ridonkulous. They’re lying to me, or they’re imbeciles, or something. But having to deal repeatedly with that ass-crack phone menu and the know-nothings at the other end of the line, not to mention whomever was answering my email pleadings and my online chat sessions using someone else’s borrowed WiFi connection (thank you, “linksys” in Hayes Valley) had me at my wit’s end. I was more than patient with them and it was at a point now where I trusted them about as far as I could throw them, and I haven’t been to the gym in weeks.
This time, I throw down the gauntlet and he says he’s going to go up on the roof and look at the wiring from where it enters the building from their network to where it comes into my apartment. He’s going to check every inch to see if there’s a breakdown somewhere. And he’s not going to leave until I tell him I’m satisfied.
Two hours later, he comes back and tells me he replaced all the wiring on the outside because “whoever installed this was a jackass.” It seems that rather than running new cable, they spliced into some existing cable they found on the roof that had been used for an old satellite dish installation. Yes, friends, shear laziness meant that my signal would someday degrade to such an extent that it would fail to connect to the network and, hearing no response, the modem would eventually stop trying and go silent. The problem was not in my apartment, or in my equipment, or due to cable splitters or routers or computers. It was the original Comcast cable installer cutting corners to do just enough work to make it all look like it was working.
Kind of anti-climatic, I agree. But let this be a lesson to you. Make them check everything. Don’t let them make you doubt your own equipment, or your own experience. Nothing was wrong with my set-up until everything was. Make them crawl under the basement and climb over the roof and trace every inch of their stuff before they even start to ask you whether you unplugged your modem and plugged it back in.
Ass hats.

August 6, 2007

2 responses to Comcastic? Try Fucktardic

  1. Greg Hines said:

    Interesting timing. I just overcame a very similar experience with Comcast this weekend–similar timeframe (about a month), similar calls, similar tech responses. Only the solution differed. I had to buy a new modem because the cheap-o model (a Scientific Atlanta) they were providing–I’d gone through four during this time–had *known problems* and it wasn’t until about the 12th time I called in was I made aware of this fact. I bought a Motorola modem and everything has been working fine since.
    It seems that Comcast support is systematically set up to fix only problems that can be solved by power-cycling a cable modem. If the problem is intermittent, they’re utterly hopeless at fixing it themselves. Were it not for a single moment of honesty from one phone tech, I’d probably still be wrestling with this problem today.

  2. jon deal said:

    Now I’m *very* glad that when we switched over to VoIP, I had a professional re-do all the wiring inside the house/basement. Though coincidentally, we had problems right after the “digital cable/VoIP” switchover. They wanted to blame the inside wiring, but I beat them back by saying THEY had done it. (Mostly true, I used one their professional installer techs). Then a guy shimmied up a pole in our backyard, and sho’ nuff, bad wiring mojo on the pole. grumble. grumble. grumble.
    It’s like you can *never* trust their first answer. Or possibly even their seventh.

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