May 20, 2008

Dear Comcast

The following is a letter I sent to Comcast on May 20th, 2008.

Dear Comcast,

I moved to Shreveport, Louisiana from New Jersey in August 2007 with my wife and newborn daughter Annabelle. When we arrived, we were happy to see that a company we were used to “back home” serviced our new state as well. Calling you to hook up our cable and internet was one of the first things we did. I think it was just after putting together the crib.

Our first call was to a diligent sales representative who informed us that ya’ll were quite busy and it would be about a week before our service was connected. This turned out to be okay, because we had a lot of unpacking to do and I needed a bit of a push to get through it. When you can’t go outside because the thermometer says 103, and the humidity would be that high if such a thing were possible, you normally would turn on the television and relax. But like I said, we had other pressing things to divert our attention.

When the time came to have our cable installed I was as giddy as a school boy on Field Day. Spending a few hot months alone with our newborn (I was a new stay at home dad, you see) would be much more fun with the crisp picture of HD television and excessive amounts of sports. The technician who completed the install was attentive and friendly and sure that the picture only appearing in black and white was something that would “go away.” Um, it didn’t. So I placed my first call to you concerning “trouble with my service.” The woman who answered the phone was positive that I incorrectly connected at least one of the many wires needed. After assuring her that I had not, she made sure to let me now that if I was wrong I would be billed $35 to have someone come out and help me connect red with red, yellow with yellow, and green with green, and so on.

Uncannily, the same technician came to the house the next day. It turned out that we had an issue that could be fixed quite easily. No mysteries here. Had he not dropped our cable box on that sneaky hard concrete sidewalk, it surely would have broadcast in color. Though ridiculous, I was happy he admitted his mistake. Strangely, the cable box he replaced it with was much newer and shinier. I wonder how old the first one was and how long it would have lasted anyway. Who new we were done a favor by having the first one battered so?

Now, I think you can admit that we got off to a rocky start. After the second cable box was installed we got everything hooked up properly and, voila, color television, the way God intended. The honeymoon, however, did not last long. Within days our cable feed began to falter. If nothing else, your cable system is intuitive. It always knew when I wanted to watch The Office and when my wife wanted to watch Grey’s Anatomy. Accordingly, the picture would “tile” (a cuter way of saying scramble) and the sound would cut out. This happened about every two minutes and lasted for about thirty seconds. I know, I know, we were only missing a quarter of each show; we needed to hang in there. This was a new venture for you, having just purchased our area’s cable from Time Warner.

As my wife will tell you I am something of a procrastinator. So it was a couple of weeks before I became too fed up to deal with our picture problems. When I called your office, the folks in our local Shreveport building must have packed it in for the day, so I was transferred to someone in Memphis, Tennessee. I detailed to a lovely and patient woman all of the issues we were having and she sympathetically laid it out for me. She explained that “down here, HD is kind of like the iPod was a few years ago. You know a bunch of people that have them, but you haven’t gotten yours yet, and you’re not quite sure how they work.” Clear as day, no?

This wasn’t a good enough explanation for me and I asked her to send another service technician to my house. The man that came didn’t exactly believe me that I even had an issue, because the television wouldn’t behave. I learned much later that many of the issues you have are due to bandwidth and so, only happen during peak viewing hours. The prime time that our tiling occurred was between 7:00 and 10:00 p.m. I don’t know if you were aware, but this is when the networks showcase their best programming. It is often referred to as, get this, prime time. Yeah, just like I wrote in the last sentence. Funny, huh?

Despite this setback I wasn’t deterred. I had DVR after all. I started saving all of the interrupted shows to properly detail our service interruptions. I waited a couple more weeks until my arsenal was loaded with ammo and called you again. As always, your customer service representatives were friendly. None of them understood my particular issue and a few still asked me to check my connections, or in the most childlike case, to simply turn my cable box off and then on again. Any idiot would have tried that old trick already, including this one.

A technician was eventually dispatched and he spent a couple of hours at my apartment pulling on some wires and checking the “levels” of each of my HD channels before deciding that what I had was a DVR problem. The issue wasn’t the feed coming into the box, but some kind of interruption whenever I recorded something. The proof, he said, was replaying right in front of him. Like all of your techs before and since, he confidently solved my problem, this time by giving me a newer, even shinier box, and then gallantly drove away to help someone else.

No, this letter doesn’t end there. The next night our “tiling” continued and in a very un-procrastinating way, I call you back. Within a few days you had another tech at my house pulling on wires and turning the box on and off. This man sort of believed me that I didn’t have a DVR issue and when he checked the signal level of my channels he realized that something was off. It turned out that we had a cracked connector on the main box that serviced my apartment building. It took a little sweat, but that man persevered and fixed that do-hicky. Before I knew it, another dedicated Comcast technician was riding off into the sunset. The proof though, as they say, is in the non-tiling, HD feed.

Later, my wife and I experienced our first night of uninterrupted TV since arriving in Shreveport. It was the middle of November. We were in cable bliss. The month of December went smoothly as well, and after a couple of weeks at home in New Jersey with our parents we flew back to Shreveport with a newfound swagger. We were DVR’ing two things at once. We were watching movies on demand. We even invited some friends over for The Super Bowl; the ultimate in high definition television viewing.

That week the other shoe dropped. No, there was not a reiteration of picture tiling, but our sound kept cutting out, again, whenever we watched HD programming. I will tell you, that this was less annoying than when the sound and the picture went on the fritz, but only slightly less so. My wife really hated it. I think it was because we saw the Promised Land and were now teetering on the edge of the abyss. One thing I was sure of was that we were not watching The Super Bowl in standard def. I immediately called (man, you guys really knocked the procrastinator right out of me) and had someone come out to look at our new issue.

I calmly explained all that we had been through, and that I was getting a little tired of everything. I let him know that there was a big football game approaching and that it better go well. Man to man, I think I got his attention. This guy, however, was at a loss. He waffled between disbelief of the issue (that old prime time thing again) and lack of knowledge about how to fix it. He was a diligent fellow though, and we slowly pieced together that this time it actually was a DVR issue. Every time we taped two HD channels at the same time the sound cut out. We immediately replaced the cable box (I was apparently at the shiniest level, so no upgrade there) and this time I joined my technician in a celebratory high five.

The next day our sound cut out again. Do I sound calm right now? I’m not sure, but I wasn’t at the time. My wife and I had a family summit and decided that our cable problems could never be fixed. We decided that we would only DVR programs in regular definition and never while we were watching something more important in high definition. Watching TV became a mathematical equation, and a difficult one at that. Our guide turned into a series of algorithms and matrices, wrapped around a Rubik’s Cube.

We continued on this way, amazingly, for a few months. The Super Bowl, under our new viewing guidelines, went fine and we often resorted to DVR’ing and watching our favorite shows down in the low digit standard channels, but we pushed through it. Hell, what are writers’ strikes good for anyway? We weren’t missing anything after all.

Eventually though, we realized that we shouldn’t be paying for our complete cable package, and I called to downgrade. It turns out that HD and DVR were not so expensive that I felt the need to cancel them. The bulk of our $120 (I know, that’s stupidly expensive) bill came from the HBO “digital silver package.” I was now squarely between a rock and a hard place. I felt like that first dropped cable box. The choice was difficult, cancel a largely ineffective service and go without television like some kind of frontier family, or stick it out and downgrade all the way to a basic, non high def package. In the end, spite ruled the day.

The month was April, and I called to give you one last chance to right what was wrong. You dutifully sent out another service technician and he checked over all of the same cables, ports, jacks, do-hickys, and on-off buttons. He replaced a splitter on the outside of the building to divert more bandwidth from our internet to our TV. He even taught me how to check the signal level of the HD channels all by myself, so that I could take notes and report back to you. In the end our problems persisted and in spite of his best efforts I was left with a non-working television and newly lackluster internet service.

Over the next two weeks you sent out four more technicians in a last ditch effort to try and save me, but to no avail. On the last tech’s visit I probed him for some answers about why I was being left alone out here in this cable swamp to die a death by a thousand cuts, or “tiles,” if you prefer. Fortuitously, the man in question was the same one who had visited us during our first week in town way back in August 2007 and secretly dropped my cable box. He proved honest then in admitting his mistake and he wanted to live up to his principled reputation. He looked around to make sure no Comcast Agents were looking or listening, and he let me in on a little secret. It was your fault all along. There was literally nothing he could do short of digging up all the cable lines and rewiring Shreveport.

That night, the decision was made. I called you to cancel my cable. Do you realize how few people do this? The person who answered the phone asked if I was switching to satellite and when I informed her that I didn’t have the proper southern facing exposure I could here her jaw hit her sad little desk. She understood the magnitude of what I was doing. I was going off the grid.

That first night was hard. Like a junkie coming off the white princess, I shook a little and felt utterly lost. But after a few days, my family started to piece things together again. I began reading more and writing frivolously vindictive letters. I started making more adventurous and challenging dinners. I even took up pottery. I’m kidding. But truthfully, without you I started living a better life. We still watch all of our favorite shows, only now on the internet without commercials. We even hooked up our flat screen TV for a larger monitor. It’s kind of like regular TV, only so, so much better. We subscribed to Netflix and are starting to catch up on all the movies we missed by having a baby. Without you, we are better. Better people without all of the pent up anger and misplaced aggression and better savers by not throwing out $120 every month.

So in summary let me say thank you Comcast. Through it all I most assuredly still hate you, but begrudgingly have to thank you for helping me become a better person.

Sincerely,

Joseph Poulas
1000 Riverwalk Blvd. Apt. 709
Sheveport, LA 71105

4 Comments:

Blogger Baseball Lab said...

Shouldn't you just be happy with running water?

May 20, 2008 at 7:31 PM  
Blogger marcia said...

Joe, I feel your pain. Good luck getting Comcast to stop billing you, though. I terminated my cable in D.C. when I moved in DECEMBER of last year. Though every person I spoke to on the phone in the subsequent months could see that my account reflected I had canceled my service, Comcast has continued to bill me monthly ever since. I finally wrote the Better Business Bureau and that made Comcast put Junior Management on the detail. I was optimistic I might get some results. But when the same junior manager received a copy of the BBB letter the next week through internal channels (I copied Comcast's legal response center on the BBB letter), he called me back and acted as if he were learning of my issues for the very first time. He assured me that I would no longer be billed and could expect a refund check in the mail this month. I'm still holding my breath. There are others out there who feel our pain (including my boyfriend, who cancelled his service when Comcast accidentally cut his cable off just in time for the season premiere of LOST). Check out comcastmustdie.com if you haven't already.

May 21, 2008 at 10:11 AM  
Blogger Laurel said...

Oh my gosh, that was the most hilarious letter I've ever read. I found it posted on Comcast Must Die and followed the link listed in your post. I feel your pain as well. You're a true inspiration. If I didn't have a roommate, I'd go "off the grid".

We've had 11 scheduled visits by Comcast technicians since our cable was installed in March (3.5 months ago). Out of those, only 6 decided we were worth enough to show up. That's 33 hours of waiting, mostly on Friday nights (6 to 9) or Saturday mornings (6 to 9 or 9 to noon). I'm 23. I think I resent Comcast more for taking my Friday nights away than for refusing to fix the pixilation in the darn HD. I'm currently working on my letter to them, but I'm sure it won't be nearly as eloquent as yours.

June 20, 2008 at 12:45 PM  
Blogger The Father of Five said...

Excited

Frustrated

And now, on the seventh day - I convinced them to have someone bring out a new modem... (I hope) they will be here between 9 and noon...

I will be sure to document the whole story...

Argh....

July 30, 2008 at 6:57 AM  

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