Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Comcast troubles - proof that the Direct TV commercials are accurate

So there I was, wanting to upgrade my 2nd Comcast cable set top box from "basic" to High Definition. I analyzed the cost and for a mere $6 increase I could watch HD from either of our TVs. Easy, no brainer, I thought to myself...

This was my first mistake. Never realizing that this simple thought would lead to months of cable hell.

Here's my story of just how Comcast customer service and billing professionals (I use that term very loosely) are helping DirectTV and the Dish Network with every customer phone call.

Back to my story. I called customer service and made arrangements to upgrade to a second HD box. Since I am impatient, I went directly to the local office and picked up the HD box. Brought it home, plugged it in and waited the mandatory 30 minutes for the programming to update as directed by the office representative.

Apparently, that was a false statement. Once connected, you must call the service number to get them to update the programming for the new box so that your "package" becomes active. Minor nit. In seconds after the call, package up and running.

Later that same night while watching an HD broadcast, I noticed that the programming guide wouldn't come on screen when the Guide button was pressed. Thinking this might be a remote to box communication problem I reset the remote and Cable box per the remote's instruction brochure. Unfortunately, this had no affect. The Guide worked when watching non-HD channels, just not when watching HD channels. This was very odd, so a call to customer service was in order for the next day.

Comcast rep of course had never heard of this and questioned my sanity, in a nice way. Eventually, the rep relented and authorized the exchange of the cable box. Back to the local office to pick up the replacement. Upon returning home, I connected everything and immediately called Comcast to get programming updated on the box.

See, he can be taught!

The rep updated the box and immediately the expanded line of channels was active and the guide worked no matter which channel was being viewed. Hurray, successful. My $6 investment was worth it and all was working. Could life be better than this...

Wait, the customer rep noticed something. I was currently paying more for cable and internet than it would cost to have cable, internet and VOIP (internet phone). She suggested we price this out and see if it would help our budget. She took a very long time to figure this out (this should have been a clue for me, but I ignored it). Bottom line was that I could have cable, internet and phone from Comcast for about $20 less than what I was currently paying for just two of them.

Always being the skeptic, I confirmed that I would have all the same channels, same internet speed, they would add internet phone AND my bill would go down! In addition I confirmed that the price drop was not due to a promotion, it was the long term rate. She said yes. So, I agreed. Toward the end of the process, the rep said, okay here is what your next bill will be... $485. This was about triple what I was currently paying, so I questioned why this could be. She rambled through that this was current bill, plus one month advance. Which seemed odd to me since I already paid one month in advance and didn't she say my bill would go down. Confused I asked again for her to detail why the huge amount for the first bill. She proceeded to read off each of the costs for the new set of services and sure enough they total about 1/3 of the first bill. After a number of times where she totaled the monthly costs, adding in the one month in advance which totaled 2/3 of the previously stated huge amount, she would then state, as if by magic, the total increased another 1/3.

Side note: I clearly don't understand how the Comcast billing cycle works, because if they were going to save me money and I pay one month in advance already, why would the first bill be 3 times my normal rate. Wouldn't you expect to pay the same or less on that next bill.... hmmmm, clearly I am naive to the world of billing and cable charges.

Unfortunately, we could never come to agreement on the total and my budget could not really afford the huge initial hit at this time.

So, I said I don't want this offer. I can't afford this right now.

This was my second mistake.

After an eternity, the rep came back on the line and indicated that she had already canceled my existing service and would need to re-establish it. Surprised, I asked if everything would be restored today and was there anything I needed to do on my end. She indicated that they would handle it from their side. No problem. She placed me on hold and went off to do her Comcast magic. I use the term magic, because clearly this is NOT science. As I waited, I tried both cable and internet and as expected neither was working. Patiently I waited and waited and waited.

Eventually, she returned to the line and said the cable had been restored, but that she would need to transfer me to an internet customer rep to get that piece functional. I agreed to be placed on hold yet again. The wait wasn't long and the internet rep had to reset the modem. I needed to reset my router and lastly, I needed to reset the network settings on my laptop. Finally, all was right with the world. I was back in the realm of the connected.

This was my third mistake, thinking that everything was fine.

The next morning, no one received any email, all of our Comcast hosted web sites did not exist. Things did not look so fine.

I called customer service again, this time I went directly to the internet rep. He said everything looked okay on their end. All of our web site files were still there. However, it did appear that all the secondary accounts were disabled. He asked if our service had been shut off for some reason.

Side note: I figure he was being nice asking in that way. I think he was implying that maybe my access was turned off due to non-payment. Which of course, was not the case.

We worked together to get the accounts re-enabled and he did some magic to get all the web site files back in the correct location. {again, with the "magic" phrase}.

Once again, I believed all was right with the world. We had internet access, we could see our web sites, we were getting email and the cable TV was working with all the correct channels per our premium package.

This was my fourth mistake!!!!!!!

Time passed. Over a month. On 4/21/2008 at 0730 Pacific Time, the premium channels stopped working, internet access shutdown. I thought that perhaps we were having a cable outage. This is not unusual and given the fact that street work had been happening over the past several weeks, it seemed like a real possibility.

Since my AT&T cell phone has internet access, I decided to check my email on Comcast via my phone until the service outage was restored. To my surprise, I found an email from Comcast advising me that my request for cancellation of service was received and service would be terminated on 4/29/2008. But wait this was only the 21st and oh yea I hadn't requested any cancellation.

Soooooo, I called Comcast. However, at 7:30 AM PT their offices are not open, but they suggested that I use the automated function to check my account. Cool, I thought. I will go there a check the status of my account. The billing route said that I had an outstanding balance of over $400. This seemed unusual since we have automated payments where they just bill my credit card each month. Since this didn't feel right and our service was now dead, I decided to go ahead and pay the outstanding balance via the automated system. All worked fine. It accepted my credit card and then indicated it would transfer me to a customer rep to complete the transaction. Now, I knew that the billing office was closed, but thought perhaps this was one of those cases where they had 24 hour operations to handle these kind of situations. I was wrong. The automated system simply said it could not complete my call and hung up. So I waited until the business office opened at 8 AM and gave them a call.

This is where the actions of the sales rep from over a month ago come full circle.

In speaking with the customer rep I now had on the phone, she indicated that my account was 2 months overdue. After checking she noticed that we had automated payment and could not figure out why the account would be overdue. I told her about my prior experience and after checking she said that this may have been the cause.
Her advice was to go over to the automated system and pay my outstanding balance then the service would be restored.

Side note: At this point I was angry.

I relayed my earlier experience with the automated system and eventually she agreed to handle the transaction without charging the normal handling fee for paying via a real live person. She also removed the various late fees, since it was clear the automated payment was still established, the credit card was valid and the reason for all this automation not working was not apparent. As a last check, I asked whether or not there was anything I needed to do to make sure things were back to full operation. Did I need to call either the internet rep or the cable rep to reset anything. I was assured that this would not be the case. I requested that she have a supervisor call me since after I requested to speak with her supervisor she indicated that they were not available. So I went away, a bit pissed off, but at least the service would be back and I could continue with my "connected" life.

This was my fifth mistake!!!!!!!

The cable was working. All the channels in our package were working. But the internet was dead. SO, yes you guessed it, I called the Comcast internet rep. He checked my account and once again indicated that the modem needed to be reset and I would need to reset my router and yadda, yadda, yadda. We checked to see if any of the secondary account were disabled and they were not. So after a short 10 minute call I was connected again. BTW, I politely suggested that they update their procedures for the billing department so that they were aware of this final step. He indicated that the billing folks aren't well trained, but would pass along my suggestion. {yea, right!}

Once again connected, feeling grumpy, pissed off and a bit annoyed by having to endure this multi-month ordeal, I proceeded with my activities for the day. None of which were Comcast related. Satisfied in my ignorance that yet another challenge had been resolved and it was time to move on.

Right again, you guessed it.... number six on the hit parade of mistaken assumptions.

Later that afternoon, I got a phone call from Comcast (via our answering machine) indicating that I should call the following number about a service interruption. I wondered if this was related to my earlier discussion or yet another, different challenge. I got onto the internet, checked my email and found another message from Comcast. This one was sent at about 8:30 AM. This was after my morning conversation with the customer rep about the billing issues. This message indicated that they were confirming my request for cancellation of service.

Warning: This is when I got really, really, really angry. About time, don't you think?

Called the number on the answering machine and spoke with a Comcast rep that I assume deals with folks who are delinquent. After several minutes, a few angry words and a review of the several months of interactions, she indicated that they would not be calling again since I was paid in full. And she indicated that since I had automated payment turned on that there should not be a problem in the future.

Side note: I forgot to mention that during my early morning call with a real live person, I had requested that auto-pay be turned off, since it would appear that it was not working. This clearly did not happen. Which as you can imagine, did not improve my mood.

Back to the current phone exchange. I requested that auto-pay be turned off. She said she would do that. I asked whether or not my call log indicated that I wanted a supervisor call-back. She said it did not but she would add that. {once again, this didn't improve my mood}. I finished the phone call with some unkind words about Comcast and their customer reps.

Now, sitting here writing this entry, I am reflecting on my 10 plus years with Comcast service at this location. All the times when there were cable outages and was assured that they would credit my bill (which never once happened) and on each rate hike without any service improvement and on the many times I called customer support and received "the dial-a-dud of the day".

Why have I put up with this?
Why have we become so accustomed to crappy service, horrible support and incompetence?

At this writing, I have not received a supervisor callback and really don't expect to ever get one.
The internet is working.
The cable TV is working.
And, this all started because I wanted to upgrade a single set top box to HD, which would increase my bill by $6.00.

What was I thinking?

You know I heard that if I subscribe to the triple play package (internet, cable, VOIP) I can save some money each month.

I really, really, really hate my Comcast dependency, in addition to not being very happy with Comcast itself!

If anyone has any suggestions on the best way to get TV and Internet to your house, short of moving to another country, I am listening.

Comcast clearly doesn't care, they don't have to.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Late Hail Storm up Nor'West

This was one of the more interesting hail storms I have seen in the Pacific Northwest. It lasted for about 10 minutes and the hail ranged from rather soft cone shaped miniature snowballs to hard chunks about 3/4 inch in size. Added bonus was the lightning and thunder. Although stated in the video, it wasn't "the world's biggest hail", but it was pretty good size for our area.