Wednesday, July 08, 2009


I planned today to write about a couple of businesses (Starbucks and a local coffee house) that share the same block in Sacramento. I have a couple of photos and both specific and universal observations to share. Since those ideas crystallized this morning, a recurring aggravation has once again gained prominence in my world. Although these little irritants are present in everyone’s life – and my life has its fair share – this one and the company that is responsible for it had the misfortune of invading my peace not once, but twice in just the last few days. When looking back on its history for the past year, it is impossible not to notice. This will not be a metered, objective look at all the many and sundry factors that may or may not be involved; there will be no benefits of any doubts. This is a rant… and the target is Comcast.

It is not unusual to have an extremely limited number of options when it comes to television service providers. In the Sacramento community of Fair Oaks, at least in the part of Fair Oaks where I live, there are three and only three choices: over the air; satellite; and cable. Over the air is the most limited, although with the recent conversion to digital TV, it is more robust than ever, but there are other limitations that make it the least desirable option. There are the two major satellite TV providers, Direct TV and Dish Network – both of which are highly competitive as far as television is concerned, but lack in other ways, i.e. Internet and telephone service. And then there is cable, and my only option is Comcast.

I have been a Comcast customer for more than five years. I didn’t have to shop around; they were and are the only choice. Until just more than a year ago, Comcast provided me with adequate cable television service and better than average Internet service. My home phone service was for many, many years provided by either AT&T or one of its close associates, namely Pacific Bell. Even after the break-up of AT&T, the relationship between the “Baby Bells” and the mother ship was a cozy one. Now largely reconstituted, AT&T does what the one time Pacific Bell-turned-SBC did – and more. As much as I disliked the pricing, the customer service and the arrogance of this communication giant, I must admit that the service was exemplary. In more than 20 years, I have lost telephone service only once – during and for two days after the Loma Prieta Earthquake. That is a pretty darned good track record.

When Comcast offered telephone service through its cable infrastructure, I concluded that AT&T pricing was seriously out of sync with its competition, and there were others besides Comcast. I finally decided to give their phone service a try. Bundled with my cable and Internet, the price was very attractive and I was assured that the service was every bit as good as AT&T. It is not, and the problems are not just limited to the reliability (or lack thereof) of Comcast’s telephone service. In just more than one year, Comcast’s telephone service (usually combined with Internet and sometimes cable TV) has gone down no less than nine times. Nine times. The length of the interruption has ranged anywhere from a few minutes to several hours. One time it was down for two solid days for no apparent reason. Although this is bad in and of itself, it doesn’t end there.

With virtually every interruption, I have called in (on my AT&T cell phone from outside my home because of less than spectacular cellular coverage from AT&T) and received a recording acknowledging a “service interruption” in my area and thanking me for my “patience” while they are fixing it. It further informs me that I need not hold on, that they know about it and are working on it. The first two or three times, I was content to be “patient” knowing that the problem would soon be resolved. And it usually was. If that had been it, however, I wouldn’t be writing this. On the many subsequent outages, I decided that a real person should know that I was no longer patient and needed to know what they planned to do about not only the outage in question, but also the series of such outages. On more than one occasion, the customer service representative could not verify what Comcast’s very own recording did just minutes (often, many minutes) before, insisting that the trouble was with my equipment.

Of course I knew better, but they either could not or would not verify it. In frustration, I would schedule an appointment, which, by the time it came around, would be unnecessary. The right hand never seemed to know what the left was doing. In one memorable instance, I was standing at the end of my street where the Comcast technician was working on the cable junction box, telling me “yes, we have a problem” while on my cell phone a customer service agent was telling me the exact opposite, again insisting the trouble must be inside my home. I will concede that for the last three or four outages, everyone seemed to be on the same page – at least everyone knew what the recording did.

That concession, however, is small indeed considering I would not even know it had the system become reliable. It has not and I am writing this after the second outage this week alone. It is not raining; there is no wind; it is a balmy 88 degrees outside; and no one has crashed into any infrastructure that I am aware of. Based on my experience alone, I can say without hesitation that Comcast’s system is unreliable. Period. Although I can get by without television and losing my Internet is not going to kill me, I have grown accustomed to reliable telephone service. And an effective argument could be made about its necessity. If my cellular service was reliable here, I wouldn’t even have home service, but it cannot be counted on in an emergency. My home phone should be… I know it can be. It has been.

Soon, Comcast, it will be again.


elle said...

horror story! thats WAY too often for outages with no good reason. i wish there were a better option. :(

Anonymous said...

That sucks and Tanya sent me here. Have a nice weekend!

Tawcan said...

That sucks, as a customer it's always good to see more competition. Too bad that's not always the case.

Here via Tanya, she said hi too.