There’s a common saying about how “There’s _____ and there’s ______, and then there’s _____,” where the final blank is meant to be so bad that the second blank just seems like child’s play and the first blank inconsequential. Well, there’s suffering, there’s purgatory, and then there’s experiencing Comcast customer service.
There’s little we can do to fight the juggernaut of awful service, but there might just be some hope for us to work together to do something about a true injustice here.
My Corvallis Comcast adventure began when I noticed I couldn’t watch the NBA finals. I had a cable and Internet bundle, but somehow neither ESPN nor TNT, two of the most watched and commonly available basic cable channels in existence, weren’t part of the package. I called them, incredulously, asking how it was possible we were paying for the “basic cable package” and yet didn’t have these very basic cable channels. It turned into a long sales pitch about how we had “limited basic” which has an absurd smattering of channels adults without kids would never watch. Then I was conned into buying a more expensive package that would have the channels I wanted.
I’m not exaggerating about what happened next.
The person on the other end of the phone lied about the price of the package. They just told me it was $20 less per month than it actually was. I was none the wiser. I enjoyed the NBA finals, and then a month later, cataclysm.
The bill arrived. I hit the ceiling. I called Comcast. And now this part of the story is truly unbelievable. I escalated the call to a manager at Comcast, and I should stress, I’m being perfectly polite the entire time. The manager comes on the line and informs me that the price is what the price is. I say, “check the call!” I give the call info, as they say frequently when you call them, “This call is being recorded for quality…” The manager politely informs me that checking the call would do nothing, the price is what the price is, even if the rep deceived me. Astonished, I say, “Okay, fine, at least let me go back to my old plan.” It’s a terrible package for an indecent price, but at least I can afford it. And now the bombshell:
“I’m sorry sir, you were on a promotional deal, and once you upgrade, you can’t go back to a promotional deal. The same package you had before will still cost you $20 more per month than you were paying.”
There are so many different things wrong with that, I just don’t have the word count to get into them all.
Corvallisites vs. Comcast
My story is not unique. I asked around Corvallis and hands shot up with similar horror stories.
One Corvallisite had this to say, “A monthly bank statement alerted us that Comcast had been taking an extra $15 each month from our bank account without permission. Customer service informed me that the rate I was promised—the one we had paid for six months—did not exist and I must have been paying too little all along or I must be totally wrong about the contract I signed and had sitting in front of me. Countless hours on the phone led us nowhere. Most agents refused to give me their name or the call was dropped—impossible on high-quality Comcast VOIP. I finally reached an operator who gave me her Comcast operator ID: J$Z. I faxed in the proof of my rate and promotion and heard nothing. A trip to the local office hastened a refund two months later. Last week we found out that Comcast had been automatically withdrawing money from the same bank account even though we stopped service at the address and formally request the auto-withdrawal to end.”
Another Corvallisite commented, “I’ve been fighting a $135 bill for over two years now where they’ve accused me of not turning in equipment. The cable receiver was turned in early and had never even left the box, as I don’t watch TV (I was forced to take it as part of a package). The other items on the list were things I was never even issued in the first place.”
We’d need to expand the paper a hundredfold to cover the complaints levied in Corvallis alone.
A Subculture of Comcast Hate
Everywhere you look on the Internet is an article or piece of fan art making clear one thing: everyone hates Comcast. Their atrocious service is legendary. There’s a Facebook group with almost 20,000 “Likes.” Bob Garfield’s website Comcastmustdie.com attracted national attention and landed him on Nightline. The website Pissed Consumer has 1,375 reviews of Comcast, many of them involving people taking the cable behemoth to small claims court.
There are endless theories as to why Comcast’s service is so terrible. And some people even advocate the seemingly preposterous notion that by providing less customer service, Comcast is actually improving overall customer service. This idea was most recently put forth in a piece by Forbes contributor Gene Marks, which contends that by spending its money on automating services and putting the responsibility for installation and other things in the hands of customers, they reduce the opportunities for customers to have to interact with a calling center half a world away.
This idea is actually not as crazy as it sounds, as Comcast’s customer service issues more frequently than not have to do with billing and sales practices that sound like they could never take place in a civilized country ruled by law.
Monopoly, Deal with It
Comcast is able to survive and thrive despite all this hatred for one reason. Most people just don’t have any other options. That’s certainly the case here if someone is looking for actual high-speed Internet.
There’s Century Link or Peak, two companies that offer Internet to some in the area. But it’s drastically slower. And if you don’t bundle it with TV, as Comcast forces you to, you’re still not paying substantially less.
That’s really a huge problem. These days people watch a lot of TV and movies on the Internet through streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu and myriad downloading options.
Google to the Rescue! Oh, Nevermind
Google almost came to our rescue a few years ago with the Google Fiber experiment. Corvallis City Council opted not to take part in that experiment because of a paralyzing case of realism.
I mean, it was an essentially cowardly move, but they probably weren’t wrong that we had no chance.
We opted not to put our name in the hat as a possible test city for the Google Fiber treatment. Ultimately Kansas City, KS was chosen, and soon thereafter Kansas City, MO and several surrounding suburbs. Now it is also being rolled out to Austin, TX and Provo, UT (and presumably surrounding suburbs there as well).
Corvallis’ explanation for choosing to withdraw from the open competition was that we lacked the infrastructure, inasmuch as Corvallis doesn’t actually own the utility poles or underground conduits. This would mean that Google would have to contract with the company that does own them in addition to the City of Corvallis, which they would likely not want to do when other cities that do own their own grid were just as viable and much simpler to deal with. This is actually all a fair point, as Kansas City does own their own conduit and poles, and there was still a delaying clusterfudge with access. So it’s reasonable to presume Google wouldn’t even want to mess with a multi-negotiation situation in addition to all that.
Taking One for the Team
There’s really no way to change the paradigm in our favor. Unless you’re willing to accept slower Internet, or spend time, money, and a whole lot of energy fighting them. And even if you did one of those things, it wouldn’t matter, because what the situation requires is a large movement of people mobilizing to make Comcast change their ways.
Domino’s Pizza famously revamped their image and service a few years ago, which led to very real gains in market share and customer approval. Usually when a company vows to improve, as Comcast does frequently, you can be sure they’re blowing smoke. But the consensus on the Domino’s metamorphosis is that it was genuine. The problem is they had to do that to survive the crowded pizza delivery market; Comcast has no such obligation. They basically smile and challenge you to do something about it.
So, I guess the only question is: will we?
Sorry for ruining the dramatic ending. That question actually has an answer.
We won’t. I’ve got shows to stream…
By Ygal Kaufman
Comcast Claims Debunked: Speed and Service… Not So Much
Claims by Comcast that they have the highest internet speeds in the nation are so untrue that the National Advertising Division of Better Business Bureaus has said they need to stop.
Most often this claim references a 2011 story in PC Magazine that actually names two other companies as also the fastest, Cox and Charter. Comcast’s also fails to mention that according to a Federal Communications Commission report, in markets where Comcast and FiOS were both available, FiOS actually has the faster speeds. FiOS is a fiber optic system. Since 2011, other fiber optic systems have sprung up too, including Google’s.
Comcast also likes to talk about its J.D. Power customer service rating, but this is misleading; what they do not mention is that these ratings are complex. For instance, a company may have one rating for television and another for internet – also these ratings are regional and change annually. We are in the west region and, J.D. Power lists Comcast in the bottom three as goes internet service providers in our region. More yet, the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), found Comcast tied for fourth place as one of America’s most frustrating companies to deal with.
Xfinity vs. Direct TV vs. Charter: The Dish on Price and Service
You can never quite remember which house you bought the milk for when you live and work in two locales, but in this instance it does make for an interesting comparison. We’ve had Direct TV at the coast and have Xfinity here, in Corvallis – both have strengths and weaknesses.
It is worth noting that we also deal with a separate company for internet on the coast, but more on that in a moment.
Direct TV is somewhat better than Xfinity as goes customer service and cost, not by a huge degree, but enough to give one pause. More yet, Direct TV has never had an outage as long as we’ve had it – Xfinity goes down at times, sometimes frequently. Xfinity does best Direct TV as on demand goes and their channel line-up is grouped more intuitively than the Direct TV line-up.
As to internet, the cable provider for the coast is Charter Communications, rather than Xfinity, so it is Charter that supplies our internet. That both are cable companies is where the similarity stops, Charter has only had one outage in all the years we’ve had them, their speeds are faster and they charge less. Conversely, our internet with Comcast in Corvallis is out so often that we’ve taken to a tongue-in-cheek reference for it at our house, Comcast-Stuck.
There has been little need to deal with Charter’s customer service, but our few interactions have been both pleasant and effective, I cannot say the same for Comcast.
By Rob Goffins
Counterpoint: Corvallis Can Act, And Should… Tech Sector Requires Competitive Fiber Optic Internet Speeds
Corvallis is not alone in this, there are communities throughout the United States that are taking up solution on their own – not waiting for state or federal action where progress is generally bogged down. For instance, muninetworks.org tracks the progress of over 250 municipal fiber optic networks in this country. Quite often these networks start as municipal projects as cities look to increase their bandwidth and decrease their costs, but they can also lease bandwidth out to the community; quite a bit like some cities that have their own municipal water or electric districts.
Internationally, much of Western Europe and Asia offer subscribers fiber optic performance instead of older clunky coaxial cable, they’re getting up to 10 to 20 times the speed we get and are paying on average half the price – this puts our people, businesses and institutions at a serious competitive disadvantage.
Not all these projects are governmental; in San Leandro, California, one tech entrepreneur was so concerned that connectivity would diminish his company’s competitive position that he contracted with the city to lease already existing municipal conduit space so that he could build a fiber optic network – he will soon start leasing space to other businesses. Of course, there are the well known Google projects too.
Some argue that the monopolies are not the problem, but that a lack of regulatory oversight is, that internet providers should be subject to performance and rate reviews like other utilities and landline phone companies, but this again would likely require state or federal action, and many American cities believe it best not wait for that.
Could Corvallis be such a city? Quite possibly. We are a compact city with a whole bunch of OSU research smack dab in the middle and, we ascend towards the tops of lists for graduate degrees and patents per capita – and most recently as a place for start-up companies. In a city like this, that even has fareless buses, anything is possible.
Interested in changing the internet landscape in Corvallis? Does a fiber optic network sound like a good idea?
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