Comcast Service In Houston: FAIL!

Nothing makes my blood boil like dealing with Comcast. I have never encountered a company with such complete disregard for their customers.

First A little Background: Chapter 1

Until early in 2007 Houston was Time-Warner Cable market. Houston, much of Texas and parts of Missouri were run by a partnership between Comcast and Time-Warner, but it was branded with the Time-Warner name. Early in 2007 that ended with Comcast assuming Houston operations and Time-Warner taking the rest.

Now no-one loves their cable company just as no-one has warm fuzzies for an ILEC. We had no great love of Time-Warner, but since then our experience with Comcast makes us long for the good ‘ole days of Time-Warner Cable.

A little More Background: Chapter 2

Once the FCC mandated adoption of cable card actually stuck Tivo release TivoHD and my wife bought me one for my birthday. TivoHD relies upon a cable card to decrypt the various digital channels. In the rush to implement the federally mandated cable card technology Comcast stumbled badly.

We ran out and got one of the cards and were told that it would take 24-48 hours for the card to be enabled, this after we had given them a whole  list of long numbers corresponding to the ID numbers of the card and the host TivoHD.

Sure enough in a couple of days the service started, but then at the end of that week it stopped. We tried repeatedly to get it turned back on. In fact, I had their tier 3 tech support, the local group handling the cable card matters, on a speed dial on my Polycom desk phone. After a couple of weeks I was spending so much time on hold with Comcast (around 7 hours in total) that I provisioned a second phone for my desk so that I could deal with them more conveniently.

It took five weeks to find their problem and get the cable card service restored.

The Current Frustration: Chapter 3

Late in December 2008 we received a notice that they were changing out the cable cards in Houston. We would have to go to one of their stores and trade the existing card for a new one. The nearest store to us is their mid-town Houston location. I went there Saturday January, 17th but found that they were closed. That’s odd since there’s a lot of new residential activity downtown, and it’s an affluent crowd.

I went back Monday January 19th and they were again closed, this time in observance of the MLK holiday. I thought it especially bad planning that their only in-town location was closed the three days immediately preceding such a significant change in service. Remember, they mandated this change, it was something that they were imposing upon the customer base. I would have thought that they had some interest in making it a smooth transition.

I went back again on Tuesday January 20th. This time I was able to swap the card. I wasted 40 minutes in line. There was only one staffer actually dealing with people at the counter. Eventually a second person started to see customers. Folks sitting at a nearby coffee shop remarked how busy that location had been all morning.

Upon receiving the new cable card I was told that everything was in order and we’d have to wait 24-48 hours to get the digital service activated. I was told that nothing further was required. I explicitly asked and was specifically answered.

When I got the cable card installed I called the tech support group and confirmed that it appeared to be in process of being activated. They again assured me that I just had to wait for the process to be completed in 24-48 hours.

Today is Saturday January 24th, five days later and our cable card service is not working. This afternoon I called their tech support group to report that service was not working. This time they told me that they needed the host ID of the Tivo unit. Appalled that I had not been told this previously, I gave them the number.

Then I was told that it should be working and I could file a trouble report. I did so and asked to be credited for the service that was not provided this past week. They simply refused. They would not credit me the service that they have not provided specifically because I did not call to report it at the designated 48 hour point after the change. They would consider a credit for loss of service from the point at which was just opening the trouble ticket.

This is mind-boggling. This is the same sort of logic that requires that after Hurricane Ike customers had to call to request a credit for the often weeks-long service outage. Oh, wait. They did that!

Now enraged, I asked to speak to a supervisor. It took four times demanding to speak to a supervisor before I was transferred to a voice mailbox. That VM’s outgoing message reported the individual as being a technical support supervisor by the name of Alex Rodriguez. I left a message.

My wife was not at all happy with how I dealt with the matter. She felt I was far too permissive and agreeable so she called back, again demanding to speak to a supervisor. She was transferred from person to person four times until the fifth person admitted that they never actually have a supervisor that you can speak to. All such requests go to voicemail, without exception.

Bound By Our Love Of TivoHD, But Maybe Not For Long

Never have I been so enraged by a company. Our cable bill is just shy of $200/mo. That bugs me a little but my wife likes to get a lot of channels and the cable modem service is a good backup to our Covad DSL. Further, we really like our TivoHD. It makes every other DVR look lame, but it’s really wed to the cable provider. That alone might not be enough to keep us enduring their “service.”

My personal boycott of AT&T has just entered its tenth year. I know that they’ve been building out U-Verse into our neighborhood as we see the new DSLAM cabinets all over the area. If we have a viable alternative to Comcast I think that we might just be compelled to make the switch. The depth of our distaste for Comcast has finally surpassed my desire to stay clear of AT&T.

When we had our falling out with AT&T it ended with my writing letters to the FCC and AT&Ts board of directors. Comcast has me right up against that same level of frustration.

  • You switching to ATT may push me to it… so at least if you have a bad experience, it can be shared. I am a new Comcast subscriber and have already been floored with their credit issuances. Installers went to the wrong address and then they refused to have someone come to me… waited a week, but yet they started the bill based on the date the installer went to the wrong address. Lovely.

    I have no positive or negative feelings towards ATT. I truly hated their handling of my cellphone issues, but had had similar experiences with other large companies… so I couldn’t say it was an ATT thing. But, I’ve been ATT free now for over a month and happy… but wow, that uverse is really tempting… Can you use your TivoHD with Satellite service?

    When I lived in South Florida, I switched to Digital Sat and was very happy… especially during hurricanes and post hurricane… when everyone around me lost cable, I still had Soprano’s coming in very nicely. I switched after DishNetwork decided to drop all local channels… but thats another story.

  • Talk about terrible service. Maybe shoot a tweet over to @comcastcares, I’ve heard of quite a few success stories going that route. If that fails, there’s always writing to Consumerist. The seemingly intentionally stupid timing of the switch should get some attention over there.

    I guess I’ve been lucky with my CableCard. My local cable company (Armstrong for those in the NE Ohio and Pennsylvania areas they serve, I highly recommend them) is a bit silly in that they require a tech visit for a CableCard install (they do for modems as well, so my SB5100 is just sitting idle while I’m stuck using their SB4200), but after the install I had two times where I needed to reboot the TiVo within the first week and beyond that it’s been smooth sailing. I completely forgot about the issues others have had with CableCard until just a few nights ago when I lost TV, but my analog cable TV in my bedroom lost it as well so it seems to have just been a normal TV outage. Internet still worked, so I just switched over to Netflix.

    I think the big problem is the FCC still isn’t really using their teeth regarding interoperability. They recently required that all cableco-provided boxes use CableCard internally, but they never required that all functionality run through the CableCard, so of course the CableLabs folks in their never-ending drive to lock in consumers basically neutered CableCard and left all the advanced fun stuff to still be only available on the slow and limited rental boxes. They claim Tru2Way will solve this, but I don’t think it will unless there is another mandate requiring that no proprietary technologies be used and that all functions available on rental boxes be available to TiVos, HTPCs, and the like.

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