Comcast was stealing our cable!

Well, the good news is, our high-speed Internet woes are — apparently — finally over. The fourth time was the charm, as Thursday’s visit from Comcast techs fixed the problem. We have a newly installed coaxial line running from the cable source to our apartment, and as a result, our downstream speed is now faster than ever, our upstream speed is back to normal, and we’ve had no more intermittent connectivity outages.

The bad news is, we finally know what was causing our issue in the first place — and the explanation is pretty outrageous.

As it turns out, our previous cable line, which is supposed to run from the “lockbox” (where we have our own individual cable outlet, labeled with our apartment number) directly into our apartment, was instead being run through two separate splitters in the attic above our building, with each splitter taking a portion of our cable signal — that we pay for — and feeding it into someone else’s apartment!! Thus, the signal that actually reached our apartment was severely diluted, and the resulting decreased signal strength (roughly an 8 dB dropoff) was apparently the culprit in all of our Internet woes.

Mind you, this wasn’t the result of our neighbors stealing our cable. They don’t have access to the locked attic. According to the Comcast techs who explained it to me, this was the result of Comcast splitting off our cable line to feed a signal into these other apartments!! The cable company was stealing our cable!!

More details after the jump.

Now, the way it was explained to me, those apartments also have their own separate lines coming from their own individual outlets in the lockbox, just like ours does. (I know for a fact that ours does, because I saw it with my own eyes during a previous tech visit.) So, supposedly, Comcast wasn’t simply charging all three of us for, effectively, one-third of a line.

Instead, what apparently happened was that, at some point recently, two of our neighbors requested that Comcast install a second cable outlet in their apartments (in the bedroom or wherever), and some bumbling idiot of a tech showed up, climbed into the attic, saw our line, and said, “Aha! Here’s the line!” without bothering to check whose line it was. This is, of course, not just petty theft, but also absolute insanity, since it means that if we had cancelled our cable service, our upstairs neighbors would have lost service on their newly installed cable outlet!!

Now, I suppose it’s possible the techs who fixed this problem on Thursday were lying to me, and that Comcast actually was simply feeding all three apartments’ main signals off of one line (i.e., our line). In other words, it’s possible those upstairs apartments actually didn’t have their own spots in the lockbox, and were entirely dependent on ours. But I’m inclined to believe the techs were being honest with me, because if they were going to lie, they needn’t have told me any of this. I never would have known about the splitters diluting my signal, and sending some of it to the upstairs apartments, if they hadn’t told me. They could have simply installed new wiring and kept the details of the previous faulty wiring to themselves. But they didn’t; they told me the dirty secret of how my line had been split. I definitely appreciate their honesty in that regard, and in light of it, I suspect they’re probably being straight with me about their understanding of the cause of the split.

Regardless, though, this is totally outrageous, obviously. I’ve already written to Comcast and demanded (well, politely requested – but there’ll be hell to pay if they refuse) my money back for the month of April, which is when these problems have primarily occurred. We paid $52.95 this month for non-functional service that was, as it turns out, broken because of Comcast’s own dilution of our signal. Whether that dilution was caused by intentional greed or unintentional incompetence is really beside the point; it’s entirely Comcast’s fault in either event.

Moreover, it took them four visits to discover this problem, and it might have taken even longer — indeed, they might never have discovered it — if it weren’t for intervention by the corporate team, which only happened because I’m a blogger. In essence, I got special treatment; if I were just a regular customer who didn’t pose a P.R. threat to the company, the problem might not have been fixed yet, because of their ridiculous standard policy of charging the customer, even apartment-dwelling customers, for wiring re-installations. I discussed the problems with that policy in details previously, and my case is now Exhibit A for why I was right. If I hadn’t been assured in advance that they’d make an exception and wouldn’t charge me for the new wiring, I never would have agreed to let them do it, in which case they never would have discovered the previous faulty wiring — which was entirely their fault. This is precisely why replacing the wires outside the four walls of an apartment should be Comcast’s responsibility, not the customer’s, as a matter of policy. (Making an exception to the rule if a customer complains loudly enough isn’t the right solution. The rule itself should be changed.) If there’s something wrong, it’s far more likely to be Comcast’s fault than the customer’s, as I said before. I don’t have access to the locked attic; they do. And sure enough, in this case, they messed up my cable, by splitting it in three and diluting my signal. The idea that I might have had to pay them to fix that, if I weren’t a blogger, is infuriating.

To make matters worse, they actually tried to charge me $32.99 for one of the initial tech visits back in early April, even though those visits neither diagnosed nor fixed the problem!! I haven’t mentioned this before on the blog, because I thought it was an unrelated billing issue, but it turns out it wasn’t. There was a $32.99 “late charge” on my account, which didn’t make any sense because my bill is paid by automatic debit, so I called customer service last week to try and find out what was going on. A phone rep told me that she couldn’t explain the charge and wouldn’t be able to do so until after it had been billed, because until then it wasn’t “in her system.” Obviously that was unacceptable — I wasn’t going to just sit on my hands while they debited an obviously incorrect charge — so I (again) complained to corporate, which ultimately explained that it was actually a mislabeled “trip fee.” In other words, I was being charged for a tech visit, despite the fact that: a) I never agreed, either orally or in writing, to any such charge; b) the problem had been neither diagnosed nor fixed during the visit in question (and of course, as it turns out, the problem was entirely Comcast’s fault!); and c) there was no “problem with my personal computer,” which is the only circumstance under which Comcast’s phone message tells you that you’ll be charged $32.99. Again, corporate took care of it — I’ve now been issued a “credit” for $32.99 — but it’s totally outrageous that such a charge was ever issued in the first place, and that I had to use my clout as a blogger to complain to corporate and get it fixed. If I was just a regular customer, and/or if I hadn’t happened to spot that charge before it got debited, I would be on the hook for a completely bogus “trip fee,” regarding a problem that was caused by Comcast stealing my cable!!

This all adds up to a pretty incredible picture of Comcastic incompetence, which really is not diminished by the steps they have taken in my particular case to remedy the problems. Don’t get me wrong: I do appreciate that they’ve done right by me personally (well, assuming they issue that April service refund), but the overall picture it paints of Comcast’s service is hardly flattering. As I wrote in an e-mail just now to my company contacts:

I want to again thank you for your efforts in fixing these issues, and I also want to again praise the various employees at various levels with whom I’ve dealt throughout this frustrating month. Although the issues were very annoying, and the ultimate explanations for them rather infuriating, the individual people who have helped me fix the issues have been courteous and competent, almost without exception. I definitely appreciate that. I also think Comcast’s outreach to bloggers is a great idea and a smart policy. I’m just concerned that these problems may not have been adequately resolved if not for Frank’s intervention and the local contacts that flowed from it — and, as I’ve said on my blog, one shouldn’t have to be a P.R. threat to get good help from a company that one pays for service. So I hope that my feedback will help Comcast continue its efforts to make whatever structural changes are necessary to prevent these problems from happening in the future to any customer, blogger or not — and also to ensure a speedy and adequate response to any such problems that may arise, even when the customer is working through the “normal” channels.

13 Responses to “Comcast was stealing our cable!”

  1. gahrie says:

    The big problem is, cable companies have a monopoly. You can’t choose to switch to Charter, and I can’t choose to switch to Comcast.

    I understand the rationale for granting the monopolies in the beginning. The cable companies were putting in the infrastructure, and needed a return on that investment. But how long should this last?

    Remeber..Ma Bell was in exactly the same situation once….and can anyone argue that access and quality of service has suffered since Ma Bell was broken up?

  2. Andrew says:

    I half expect to turn on my tv and see you on a DirecTV commercial in the near future.

  3. Charlie Foxtrot says:

    Welcome to CommieCast.

    Two years ago TimeWarner bought our Comcast franchise (monopoly.) They’re better, in the same way a F4 hurricane is better than a F5.

    May go with the new DSL for 25% of the cost, or hold my nose until FiOS finally hits our neighborhood. At about the same time MS Vista is fixed…

  4. Tbone says:

    I know this, I wouldn’t want Brendan as a technology customer. Way too high maintenance!

  5. JD says:

    [2000 al gore]

    But the lockbox will solve all of our problems!

    [/2000 al gore]

  6. Mad Max, Esquire says:

    These people are just stupid, aren’t they?

  7. Leanna Loomer says:

    It occurs to me that maybe Joe and I should change our service to Comcast, putting the account in the name of Joe Loy, and tell Aunt Dottie Loy, and cousins Trey Loy and Marion Loy Burke about it, too.

    Thanks, Brendan :)

  8. Brendan says:

    While I don’t deny that I’m a “high maintenance” technology customer in certain instances, I don’t think that simply demanding Internet service that works — and being angry when it takes Comcast four tech visits to realize that they, Comcast, are responsible for my problem because they, Comcast, are stealing my cable — really qualifies. I mean, this is pretty basic stuff.

  9. Jay Johnson says:

    Maybe this link shows some of the folks Brendan has been dealing with that work for Comcast in K-ville:

  10. Youngblai says:

    Not to be geeky (although this is one place I could let the weather geek flag fly with impunity), but hurricanes don’t come as “F4” or “F5.” That would be their cousins, the ubiquitous Kansas/Missouri Circular Squall or what you folks call tornadoes.

    Now, you want to use the S-S scale, to describe the apparent suckitude of cable service, I’d say that the duration and level of damage makes that a wise choice.

  11. Tbone says:

    I tease you gently, Brendan.

    I find your lengthy, excruciatingly detailed accounts of service issues with Apple and Comcast highly entertaining in my own twisted way. I pity the service tech that dares cross your path!

  12. Alasdair says:

    Leanna – remember that, even on *this* Animal Farm we call home, some are *more* equal than others …

    So someone can be a Loy … and someone can be a Loyer … and Brendan is very definitely a Loyer …

    (innocent smile)