Wednesday, July 11, 2012


“Thank you for choosing Comcast.”

I will be hearing that phrase in my sleep for a long time; I’ve heard it at least 20 times in the last week, because it’s the cheery closing of every call.

It’s a bitter irony, because I did not choose Comcast.

My mom recently concluded that it was time to move out of the house she’s lived in for 46 years to an apartment without stairs.  She found a nice two-bedroom two blocks away from the house in Richmond, VA and my sister arranged for it to be renovated to her specs.  I went back two weeks ago to help with the final packing and organizing and help get her settled in the new place.

A week before leaving California, after doing some research, I decided that she should give up her Comcast cable and MCI long distance in favor of a Verizon triple-play – phone, internet and Direct TV. 

My mom doesn’t use the internet; in fact, she refuses to look at a computer, but my sister and I decided that it’s essentially free to add it to the other services and it would be good for us and for others who come to help Mom to have it in the apartment.  We are also plotting to get her a computer, which she probably won’t look at but again, others can use it to get schedules and information from the groups she belongs to and we can use it to send her photos and letters and articles that others can print out for her.  In fact, the computer we’ve ordered, which is called the Telikin, is designed for seniors who are not tech-savvy and one of the features I’m excited about is the ability to remote in to her hard drive.  So if it works the way it is supposed to, we can go in and print something out for her and all she’ll have to do is go into the spare bedroom/den/office and get it.

Of course, Comcast also offers an internet-phone-TV bundle.  I chose Verizon for two reasons:  she could keep the phone number she’s had for all these years, and it was quite a bit cheaper.  So I ordered the triple play, only to learn the next day that the building doesn’t have Direct TV, only Comcast.  So I went back to the drawing board.  I kept the phone and internet with Verizon and arranged to transfer her existing Comcast service to her new address.

On moving day, the Comcast guy showed up and hooked up the cable in the apartment, or said he did.  But when the boxes were cleared and the paintings hung and I connected the TV in front of her favorite chair in the living room, it didn’t work.  We got the program guide but no picture.  I called the company and they said they could not get a signal through to the box.  They thought it could be a bad box.  Seemed suspicious since it had worked fine on Wednesday.  The first appointment they could give me for someone to come back out and get it working was Tuesday – this was Thursday.  Moreover, I was planning to leave on Tuesday and wanted to make sure everything was working before I left.

So on Friday, I went to the Comcast office and picked up two new boxes – a big one just like the old one we had moved from our old house, and a little one called a DTA – digital transport adapter for the new flat screen TV I had installed in the bedroom.  She doesn’t watch TV in the bedroom – couldn’t since the TV she had in there hasn’t worked in years – but I figured it would be good to have one in case at some point she has to spend more time in bed.  I got home and hooked up the two boxes.  The adapter seemed to work fine.  The other one, which I now know is called a digital receiver, got some of the channels but not all, and most annoyingly, two of the channels it did not get were the two she watches nonstop: MSNBC and CNBC.  We are bonded over Rachel Maddow and Melissa Harris Perry.  Before I could call and ask why I was only getting half the channels, the receiver stopped working at all.  Back to the situation I had been in the day before – I could see the channel guide but no programming.

My mom was completely mystified and couldn’t figure out what was happening.  She’s just not techy, as you’ve probably already guessed.  She kept pressing Channel 28 (MSNBC) on the remote over and over and over, even when I told her the box was disconnected (one of my ideas to try to reset it).

I called the company and again they tried and failed to send a signal to the box.  They still couldn’t give me an appointment before Tuesday.  I took the adapter box from the bedroom and hooked it up in the living room, so she could watch the shows she wanted to watch.  That helped, but the adapter doesn’t have a display, so she couldn’t see which channel she was on, and it doesn’t get the program guide, so she couldn’t see what was coming up.  She just wanted everything to be the way she was used to.  Who doesn’t?  And she’s 87 and just moved to a new place and you can’t blame her for wanting a little continuity.

On Friday night there was a huge storm all over the east coast, including in Richmond, where we were.  A lot of people lost power for hours, days or even weeks.  My sister, whose power was only out for twelve hours or so, has a freezerful of other people’s food.  We were lucky and only lost it for a few minutes.  Saturday morning, I went out in the muggy thousand degree heat to get some things for the house (bath mats, ironing board cover – I am pretty sure the one on the old wooden ironing board had been there for 50 years, soap dishes, trash cans).  There was a Comcast van in the parking lot, and the driver was in the van.  I walked up to it and said, “I know this is probably a screwy question, but since you’re here, is there any way you can pop up and look at my mom’s cable?”  He was very nice but said that he had a list and wasn’t allowed to deviate from it.

“Especially today,” he said, “because we have so many calls because of the storm.”

I thanked him and walked away, thinking, “Well the people whose service went out from the storm obviously just called today, and we called on Thursday.  So how come they can get service now and I can’t get it until Tuesday?”

Tuesday morning the guy showed up right when he was supposed to.  Great.  He worked on the cable for about 45 minutes and announced, “You’re good.”  He turned to leave.

“Wait,” I said.  I picked up the remote and pressed 28.  It went to 30.  I checked the channel guide.  It went 21, 22, 24, 27, 30.  I showed him that we were not getting all the channels.

“She’s supposed to get every channel, right?”

“Oh, yes.”

“Well we’re not.”

“You will in a little while.”

“I don’t believe that,” I said.  “This is just what happened last week, and then it stopped working completely.  I’m sorry, but I need you to stay until we’re getting all the channels we’re supposed to get.”
He looked unhappy, but mumbled “Okay.”  A minute later, he walked out, saying, “I’ll be right back.”

He never came back.

An hour later, I called the company to ask where he was.  The woman I spoke to said that he had marked the job completed, so she could only put in a new ticket and give us an appointment for the next day.  I said no, that was unacceptable, I was supposed to leave today, my mom can’t explain to the guy what needs to be done, we’ve waited almost a week, the guy walked off the job, I need it done today.”

I made six calls to Comcast that day.  I talked to the Operations Manager for the Beltway area, who was in Texas.  I asked to speak with the Area Manager (my job at a law firm happens to have brought me into contact with a lot of Comcast organization charts).  Steve Sanchez, the Operations Manager, said that the Area Manager was not in the office but he would have him call me.  Steve also promised to call me back within an hour to let me know when the technician would come back to finish the work.  Neither of those calls came.

I asked my sister, who was home in Maryland, to call because I just couldn’t do it any more.  She said okay.  Then the phone rang and it was Comcast.  They told my mom they needed to verify some information because her daughter was on the phone.  They asked for the last four digits of her Social Security number.  She gave them.  They said that wasn’t what they had on the account.  She took out her Medicare card and read them the entire number.  They said it wasn’t right.  They didn’t want to let my sister talk to anyone because they didn’t believe she was really my mom’s daughter, even though they had called the number on the account and reached my mom and my sister has the same last name.  They told my sister she has to take my mom to a Comcast office and have her show them her photo ID and Social Security card.  I was told the same thing when I took the phone back.  Is there some law that says you have to even have a Social Security card to order cable TV?

I called back.  The hold time was 20 minutes.  I put it on the speaker phone and read a book and waited.  Finally a young woman came on the line who was very sweet.  She said she had elderly parents too, and she understood.  She was going to find the technician and make him come back.  She gave me a ticket number, which had never happened before, and promised someone would call me back within 20 minutes to let me know when they would be coming back.

In 40 minutes, I called again.  This time I got a young man who was also very nice.  I gave him the ticket number.  He called it up.  He said he still couldn’t find the tech.  I asked for his supervisor.  He said she was on another call, so he didn’t know how long she would be, but he would have her call me as soon as she got off the phone.  He gave me another ticket number.

No call from the supervisor.  No call from the technician.  No technician showed up.  I took my mom to the doctor.  We had to wait a long time, because it was the day before a holiday.  When we got home, I called Comcast again.  I gave both ticket numbers.  The woman I spoke to said, “Those tickets are unresolved.”

“I know that,” I couldn’t help saying.  “That’s why I’m calling.”

My sarcasm got me nowhere, but of course, being sweet had also gotten me nowhere.  I insisted that someone had to come the next day to finish the work that had not been completed.  She said, “That would be hard.  Tomorrow’s a holiday.”  I said I knew people would be working, because they had previously offered me an appointment for Wednesday, and we should be at the top of the list because we had been waiting since last Thursday.

“I had to change my flight because of you all,” I said.

“I can give you an appointment on Sunday,” she said.  I demanded to talk to her supervisor.  The supervisor said he would try to get someone out on Wednesday, but at the least, he would schedule it for Sunday.  I said that they need to comp us the month because we are not getting what we’re paying for and I’ve spent the equivalent of a week’s work talking to them about it.  He said, “I’m not sure we can do that.  We will certainly credit you for the time you’ve been without service.”  I said they had to do more than that.  Friends of mine got a huge discount and a bunch of extra stuff for free because they had connected their own modem wrong.  He said he would see what promotions were available.

My sister called at 6:00 am on Wednesday and talked to someone in Costa Rica.  She was promised that someone would come that day, probably before 1:00 pm.  I called at 8:00.  I was told we had an appointment for Sunday.  I said my sister had been told someone would come that day.  They said they could see that we had been given priority, but that didn’t mean someone would actually come.

Okay, so this much angst over cable TV seems kind of absurd.  At least 26 people have died from the heat or the storm.  But Comcast doesn’t provide emergency food aid or cooling shelters.  They’re a cable company.  They actually don’t have anything more important to do than get people’s cable working right, and my mom’s still doesn’t.

Her building is supposed to be wired for FIOS in August.  If her Comcast is working by then, am I going to dare to start over with someone else?


  1. Hello there!

    I work for Comcast and I'd like to help in making sure that your concerns are addressed. Please feel free to contact me, provide your info and a link to this page at the email below.

    Thanks in advance and I apologize for the trouble.

    Mark Casem
    Comcast Corp.
    National Customer Operations

  2. The cake is a lie.

  3. "The cake is a lie"

    ^Best response to a Comcast story. Ever.

  4. Yuck! Your post gives me a reason to hate Comcast even tho I never watch TV!

    IMHO this post wants to be tagged with a "cultural criticism" label ... but hey, everybody's got an opinion...

  5. Thank you for sharing. I currently have Comcast Cable in San Francisco, CA. I am so sorry that happened. You should complain (maybe email the guy above) and get something free!