Comcast, CenturyLink Give New Home Owner Kafka-esque Introduction To U.S. Broadband Market

from the like-a-bad-novel dept

There's been no shortage of Comcast horror stories in the media of late, the company promising time and time again that it has made customer service a top priority under the careful watch of a new "Customer Experience" VP. Except despite ten years of these promises and what seems like an endless parade of horrible PR, the customer satisfaction rankings for companies like Comcast are actually getting worse. That's because with no serious competition forcing their hand and regulatory capture ensuring nobody tries to fix things, there's simply no organic penalty for being historically awful at what they do.

While these kinds of stories are a dime a dozen, the Consumerist recently posted what I think is the near perfect encapsulation of what's wrong with the U.S. broadband market. The website tells the story of a Washington State resident named Seth, who purchased a new house after being told by Comcast (several times, according to a FAQ the user is maintaining) that the house was ready for broadband service. Of course once he moved in he was told that neither Comcast or regional telco CenturyLink could provide him service.

On it's face that's not necessarily a big deal -- broadband coverage gaps are common, as are inaccurate service databases. It's the experience the customer has with customer service after the fact that perfectly illustrates the utterly abysmal state of the U.S. broadband industry, and the way carriers' left hand (or right hand, or left foot, or brain) usually doesn't know what the right hand is doing. Seth notes it actually takes months and more than three Comcast technician visits for the company to realize the house has never been serviced before:
"He just appeared out of nowhere and asked us where our cable box was,” writes Seth. “We explained that we didn’t have one, but that we did have a Drop Bury Request in place. He looked perplexed. He told us that there was no way a Drop Bury Request could possibly get us hooked up, we were too far away from the cable infrastructure. We asked him to contact someone at Comcast to get things resolved, and he left."

Then on Feb. 9 another tech showed up — at least this one was on schedule — but just like his predecessors, this guy had not been given the memo that the house was not yet connected to the Comcast network. He was just there to hook up a modem and some cable boxes. Several days later — and again without an appointment — yet another Comcast tech showed up to do an install that simply couldn’t be done."
From there, Seth has to stumble through layer upon layer of what can only be described as total, relentless absurdism, including countless conversations with Comcast support personnel, on site engineering visits, phantom appointment cancellations and claims by Comcast that he'd had a successful install when no work had actually been done. From there it goes beyond "horror story" and well into Terry Gilliam "Brazil" territory, with Comcast at several points being totally unaware of his work order status, whether his house has service, whether the house could get service, and frankly, what planet Seth lives on.

After initially being told he could pay part of the $50,000 to $60,000 needed to do a coax and hardware run to his house (pretty common for rural cable customers just out of range), Seth ultimately has to give up months later, after the company finally concludes the ROI on the work isn't worth Comcast's time, even with Seth and his neighbors footing the lion's share of the bill. Seth then turns to regional telco CenturyLink in the hopes it could offer something vaguely resembling a sane business transaction, since their website claims he can get service. Yet somehow, his experience actually manages to get worse:
"But then the next day he got a call informing him that his area was in “Permanent Exhaust” and that CenturyLink wouldn’t be adding new customers. Of course, that didn’t stop CenturyLink from billing Seth more than $100 for service he never received and will never be able to receive. Seth then had to convince someone with CenturyLink’s billing department to zero out the account that should have never been opened."
At one point, The Consumerist tries to lend Seth a hand and contacts CenturyLink on his behalf, only to be told by the support rep they can't help because they're leaving the company. Said rep then decides to forward on the complaint to a manager -- who winds up being on a multi-week vacation. Ultimately, CenturyLink has to admit that their website has inaccurate data regarding its coverage area (data that hasn't been corrected to date). CenturyLink, it should be noted, has played a starring role in protectionist state level legislation preventing neighborhoods like Seth's from building their own networks, even in cases where CenturyLink refuses to service them.

With telecommuting to do and the daily usage caps of satellite broadband not an option, Seth's currently stuck on a capped and very expensive Verizon LTE plan until he can figure out what to do with the house. As we've been discussing, AT&T and Verizon have been backing away from DSL in the hopes of shoveling customers just like Seth on to capped, very expensive LTE plans -- in the process actually making already dismal fixed-line competition actually worse. Ultimately, this lack of competition means these companies don't have to care whether you like their service -- or their Kafka-esque support. You will, whether you like it or not, take exactly what they're willing to give you.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Apr 2015 @ 7:41am

    Members of Congress:

    REIGN. IN. THESE. COMPANIES!

    Seriously, this is getting absurd. What do the American people have to do or say to you to finally get you to actually listen to us instead of the paid mouthpieces from the broadband industry who want do what they want with no one to keep them in check?

    No more mergers. No more protectionist laws to prop up their monopoly or duopoly gatekeeper power. Stop fighting against net neutrality and enact policies that dramatically increase competition.

    Signed,
    The Fed Up American People.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Mason Wheeler (profile), 1 Apr 2015 @ 8:28am

      Re:

      Exactly. Right now, regulators are asking "should Comcast be allowed to merge with TWC?" Those of us living in the real world are asking "why are they even considering that question in the first place, rather than whether or not Comcast should be broken up as an abusive monopolist?"

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 1 Apr 2015 @ 8:54am

        Re: Re:

        Broken up? No. It should be nationalized, at gunpoint if necessary. High-speed Internet access is as vital to the US economy as highways and rail lines -- far too important to be left in the hands of ANY company.

        We have all kinds of militarized police departments sitting on surplus gear: let's put them to work taking control of every Comcast data center, corporate office, and consumer outlet. The result couldn't possibly be any worse than what we have now.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 1 Apr 2015 @ 9:09am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Given the polices proclivity for spying on everyone, all of the time, do you really want them controlling your Internet connection.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Baron von Robber, 1 Apr 2015 @ 9:58am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Better than running it, they should dig up the streets/roads, lay the wire(s) in local loops, then lease the infrastructure to any ISP that wants to do business with it.

            Viola, free market competition.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 1 Apr 2015 @ 10:29am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Given the polices proclivity for spying on everyone, all of the time, do you really want them controlling your Internet connection.
            Your comment supposes that their existing spying would become worse. While local police might get in on it more readily, I think at the higher levels, the spying is already limited by their capacity to process what they capture, not by their ability or constitutional authority to capture it.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Blackfiredragon13 (profile), 1 Apr 2015 @ 12:21pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            If it means that we can get something better than Comcast customer service, yes. Hell I'd rather blind myself with a power drill than deal with them.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Baron, 3 Apr 2015 @ 7:20pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            I think you need realize it's not your government it's their government and they are ones doing the spying. The idea that federal employees are spys is laughable.

            Almost all the government is now being run officially by private crops disguised as contractors. Looting the treasury along the way.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 1 Apr 2015 @ 9:55am

          Re: Re: Re:

          No. It should be nationalized, at gunpoint if necessary.

          This is why some want to point a gun at you. Don't cry if it happens.

          You are an idiot.

          There is zero reason to nationalize... we just need to get the government out of creating the monopolies.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 1 Apr 2015 @ 10:17am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Public ownership and regulated maintenance of the infrastructure would work. Comcast and others can then compete for access to the infrastructure to sell service on it. That is what is needed.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            art guerrilla (profile), 1 Apr 2015 @ 7:23pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            they are already robbing us, without the gun...
            it is a legalized extortion racket...

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Baron, 3 Apr 2015 @ 7:17pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Finally someone with some sense. The entire problem is the billionaires are running the government, not the government running the nation for the common good.

          Arrest them all and confiscate their wealth. Make them shovel a ditch to the homes of the people they are screwing by using their wealth to corrupt free enterprise and liberty.

          Retrain DHS to become cable installers and customer service reps and then put make them part of the new postal service.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John85851 (profile), 1 Apr 2015 @ 11:16am

      Re:

      And what's your suggestion for getting members of Congress to listen to people? Comcast has millions of reasons (dollars) to make sure members of Congress don't listen to the public.
      Then the members of Congress use this money to fund their re-election campaign to make sure no one else can elected and do something about the issue.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Apr 2015 @ 12:47pm

      Toute nation a le gouvernement qu'elle mérite

      Every nation has the government it deserves.

      What do you have to do? Vote out the politicians that give preference to corporate interests over their voting constituency. Until you do that Fed Up American People ... you're just pissing in the wind and complaining your face is wet.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Violynne (profile), 1 Apr 2015 @ 8:11am

    We had a similar experience.

    We moved into a new neighborhood that was in its first stage of construction. After we got our keys, we got our homeowner's package, and included were two ads: one from Comcast and one from AT&T, both offering "specials" to get us hooked up.

    Comcast "won" out for its $88/mo (HAHAHAHA) special, but when we called, we were shocked to find out they didn't have service in our area at all.

    When I questioned why they were advertising in an area they weren't even servicing, I was told they were just the sales rep. I told the rep: "You work for a horrible, horrible company. Put me down as a 'Never, ever call this customer' and have a great day."

    I hung up, vowing never to be a Comcast customer. Ever.

    We then called AT&T, and told us that while they had plans for service, they had to wait for the contractor's final approval. They had it within the hour, and that very day, AT&T had service at our new home.

    Of course, not to say AT&T doesn't have its issues, but honestly, aside from their price gouging (how their $99 special went to $159, for example), they've been pretty much a decent ISP in terms of correcting issues.

    Comcast, not only should the company take notes, but it would do better to serve the people of this country by selling off its assets and closing its doors forever.

    The only reason Comcast has customers is because most don't have a choice when it comes to ISP selection.

    The FCC isn't moving fast enough to fix the problems plaguing this country, and I'm not just talking about broadband access.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 1 Apr 2015 @ 9:58am

      Re:

      Too bad you could not do false advertising and force them to build a connection for you.

      that would have been rippa!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Apr 2015 @ 8:27am

    You left out the best part, where there is a municipal fiber line running right near his neighborhood, but the law prevents him from accessing it.

    This story makes me rage so much. The competition is non-existent. If we had anything resembling an actual market, we wouldn't even need Title II.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Apr 2015 @ 8:40am

    ...Since when did Monty Python write reality?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Geno0wl (profile), 1 Apr 2015 @ 8:44am

    Go away asking price

    The thing is the likely offered that off hand like "lets just say it is $60k to make him go away". Then suddenly when he accepted they had no idea what to do. Like "oh shit we never had anybody call our bluff and actually say yes to our ridiculous demands before. We have no idea what to do now! Lets just yank his chain around and then pull the rug our from under him to we don't actually have to do it."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Apr 2015 @ 8:50am

    THIS is the very sort of person the FCC (and the FTC as well for that matter) needs to be listening to. He should be invited to DC to tell his tale in Congressional Hearings as well.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Adam (profile), 1 Apr 2015 @ 9:08am

    Been there, done that.

    Been in a similar boat. Had a telecommute job. Decided to rent a place and with only 1 broadband provider in the whole area (at a whopping 1.5mbit speed for $70) I called them prior to signing any paperwork. The ASSURED me that service was available to my home. I made them double-check even and informed them that this house is 1800 feet from the main road. They went as far as telling me the previous tenant had service at that address. I signed my lease and moved it. Ordered up the service. Tech came out and had to call me since he couldn't find my house... once he found me, he told me there were no lines closer than the 1800 feet... he ordered up a "site inspection" which took 3 weeks to see about running a line and the verdict was: "$3000 to run the line" all payable by ME... and no I could not hire my own contractor to do so.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Apr 2015 @ 10:32am

    Comcast claimed to service my home as well. I opted for "self install", and they sent out a cable modem. After the modem arrived and was hooked up, I called to setup the service and they couldn't find the modem on their network. Then they decided they didn't service my area. Luckily I had 2 other options for wired broadband. After hearing the customer service horror stories I am glad they don't service my home.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    sandy_freelance (profile), 1 Apr 2015 @ 10:36am

    best April Fools prank ever!

    Faking coverage to get clients you can't service? Trivial.

    Extending a customer service nightmare for 3 extra months just to so techdirt would report on it on April Fools Day? Best prank ever!

    Now Comcast should just call him, say 'April Fools!' and hook up his cable.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Spaceman Spiff (profile), 1 Apr 2015 @ 10:43am

    Can you spell Catch-22?

    This is the modern version of Catch-22. Joseph Heller must be laughing his ass off in whatever universe he ended up in! Here is a great synopsis of the novel: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catch-22

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 1 Apr 2015 @ 9:27pm

      Re: Can you spell Catch-22?

      To say there was nothing he could do would suggest he would do something if he could and imply the existence of an error of injustice in Comcast's policy. Comcast had been most explicit about that; he must never say there was nothing he could do.

      "I'm sorry, but we no longer service your area, and you'll need to pay us sixty thousand dollars before we even consider servicing your area. And our consideration will probably be 'no, and you don't get a refund either', at that. So there."

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Scott (profile), 1 Apr 2015 @ 10:46am

    Does He Have Legal Option

    If Comcast fraudulently lead him to believe that he would have service that was critical to the purchase of the house, can he not sue Comcast for damages? Seems like fraud to me

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Rekrul, 1 Apr 2015 @ 11:07am

    I would think that since Comcast specifically told him that they would service his address and he bought the house based on that misinformation, that he would have a case for a lawsuit.

    Maybe as a settlement, the company could agree to run a line to his house.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    WHATEVER, 1 Apr 2015 @ 12:14pm

    Not meaning to be rude to Americans . . . . . but I mean WTF is going on with you people, do the majority not feel it is time for great change and that this change can only come from the people themselves and they have to circumvent the usual channels, your country is so openly corrupt in so many ways, yet you seem so willing to bend over and accept what is being done to you, all the time being frightened of the Bogie Man stories from your far from Democratic Government. As good little consumers you actually have power, why not use it, the Internet is a great tool, if used wisely Twatter Farcebook and the ilk can be used in your favour, Fuck the rules and the cops and the NSA FBI CIA AND the rest of the alphabet stand up pull your pants up and stop crying in your beer and fucking fight . . . . please

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 1 Apr 2015 @ 12:45pm

      Re:

      Work keeps up busy so when we get off at the end of the day all we want to do is pull ourselves into bed to prepare for the next.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 1 Apr 2015 @ 1:34pm

      Re:

      One problem with your idea "good little consumers have the power": If you don't have internet you can't complain on Twitter,Facebook and the like. And even if you do then what? People only have 1-2 ISPs in their area. Do you think millions will just say they don't want internet? That's something you can expect from a 3rd world country but not a civilized one ;)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Apr 2015 @ 1:17pm

    CenturyLink advertising

    I'm getting mail addressed to "current resident" (with my current address) advertising broadband service.

    Having set up a land line, I'd found at that time that CenturyLink did not offer service to my address.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Apr 2015 @ 9:36am

      Re: CenturyLink advertising

      thats a known deliberate scam. they want you to cancel whatever your current service is, as they're hoping you 'ask' for service. they then try to bill you several hundred dollars for their investigation and work that never gets done.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Chris Rhodes (profile), 1 Apr 2015 @ 1:27pm

    Hits Too Close to Home

    When I had my current house built, I was told by the builder that Brighthouse would be my cable provider (who I adore). Brighthouse's online tool confirmed coverage for my zip code, as did Comcast's. After signing the papers, I went to set up my utilities and Brighthouse said no. Damn.

    Grudgingly, I turned to Comcast. But although online it said that service was available to me, it kept giving me an error when I went to actually complete the check-out process, and their online chat rep told me that I would have to go into a Comcast office in person to sort it out. When I did, the tech came back after 10 minutes and told me I was years away from ever getting service at that address, even if they were to start the process now, which, by the way, they weren't even considering. So, thanks to Comcast for wasting as much of time as possible.

    I ended up with CenturyLink, whose best offered DSL plan in my area is 10 mbps, but who told me they could only offer me 6 mbps under it (with no discount of course). So I ended up going from a 150/10 connection to a 6/0.5 connection.

    Still, it could be worse. At least I have a connection that can stream a video . . .

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Apr 2015 @ 1:37pm

    Feb 9th imaginary conversation

    Tech: Hi, I'm here to install a modem and some cable boxes.

    Seth: Great! Finaly! We were told the box is in that direction *point-somewhere-across-the-street*. Here is a shouvel. Have a nice day and good luck.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Andrew D. Todd, 1 Apr 2015 @ 4:21pm

    Comcast Is Mentally Incapable of Doing the Sensible Thing.

    As some commenters on Slashdot and Ars Technica have pointed out, this is probably a case for do-it-yourself wireless, specifically line-of-sight wireless at 20 GigaHerz. If the customer wanted television instead of high-speed internet access, it would be a no-brainer to get a satellite dish, and a man would come out and install it on the roof. Unfortunately, the commercial infrastructure for phased array mesh wireless is not in place, and someone who wants inexpensive wireless would have to do things like going and negotiating with neighbors to install relays on their land.

    Cellphone service is not designed for connecting outlying houses. It uses a comparatively low, omni-directional frequency, rather than the kinds of frequencies which are well-suited to microwave relays. 4G LTE operates on various bands between 700 MHz and 2.6GHz. A municipal system, which was short on money, and could not simply build out landlines, would install 20 GHZ phased array wireless units on the tops of telephone poles at the outer extremity of its landline network, and then proceed to sell relay units for perhaps a thousand dollars each, which people could put on their roofs. Going from roof to roof to telephone pole gives a decent field of view, and the wireless relays can often be a thousand feet apart or more.

    In similar circumstances, in the 1930's the Federal Government created the Rural Electrification Administration, which organized a series of local cooperative projects to supply farms with electricity. It generally worked out to farmers putting up their own poles and stringing their own wire, pretty much line a barn-raising, only with a limited amount of supervision by experts. Part of the deal was that any farmer who wanted REA electricity had to give right-of-way across his land, so that other farmers could get electricity too.

    The MIT Roofnet project, under Robert T. Morris, Jr., worked pretty much like the REA, on a smaller scale. The MIT computer center gave away WiFi relay devices to students who were living in the usual off-campus student-slum apartments in Cambridge, Mass. I would not care to venture how many of the students' landlords actually gave permission to install the things, but that probably did not stop many people.

    ComCast seems to be pretty conflicted. The company is obviously terrified that people should start installing stuff on their rooftops, and doesn't want to make any suggestions along those lines. Once line-of-sight relay wireless took off, people would begin installing wireless even though they had cable/DSL access, because the wireless was cheaper. One might think that Dish Networks would be more rational, but, given their interconnections with the television industry, they seem to be a bit reluctant to do something which precipitates wholesale competition with cable. They are afraid that doing mesh wireless might involve them in additional difficulties in buying television programming.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Apr 2015 @ 7:55pm

    I would note that stories like these guarantee that a key criteria in where I am willing to live in work is one of:

    1. Municipal broadband
    2. Google Fiber
    3. Some company that isn't Comcast

    And, if I do get an affirmative, I'm going to see if I can't get it in writing, just to make the resulting lawsuit (if they're yanking my chain) easier.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Apr 2015 @ 9:39am

      Re:

      Comcast would (read: has) had people leading the charge for muni broadband murdered, and made it appear as 'an accident'...downed powerlines that start fires, mysterious hit & runs etc, all when people starting getting petitions up to setup muni BB.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    techflaws (profile), 1 Apr 2015 @ 10:21pm

    Don't expect it to be much better in Germany: we're offline since January, 10th (80 days!) cause Vodafone and Telekom keep blaming each other and sending us technicians - 8 (!) so far - that can do squat.

    We're in the process of moving to 1&1 (which is using the Telekom infrastructure) but Vodafone blocked this too at first, saying we had to fullfil our minimum term of contract completely gnoring our special right of termination. Now that this is finally gone through their thick skulls, when 1&1 planned our move for April 24th, Vodafone just added 3 days for the fun of it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Len, 7 Apr 2015 @ 8:20am

    ISP

    I had dsl via Uswest for a couple of years. The Att bought their ISP business and would not serve residential Users.
    Comcast was not available.
    In spite of all the winging & moaning about no competition, I checked out 2 satellite companies and 3 microwave companies and selected a microwave ISP. Almost anyone can get a satellite ISP. Microwave service is also widely available except in areas that local governments have partnered with a private firm and forbid competition.
    When government gets involved, everything gets worse.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    AnyMouse, 12 May 2015 @ 12:36pm

    Different company, same BS.

    I used to work for AT&T Broadband on the receiving end of these calls. The local market didn't care then, and now that it's Comcast they still don't care. Exact same issues then as now. Only thing we could do as Customer Support was contact the locals to verify they were or were not installable, then cancel the installation with a full refund and a LOT of heartfelt apologies for the other side's antics.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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