Comcast Fails To Connect SmartCar's Silicon Valley Office For 10 Months, Wants $60,000 Anyway

from the dysfunction-junction dept

Comcast for years has offered what most find to be utterly abysmal customer service and support, resulting in story after story of nightmare experiences for consumers and businesses alike. This is, by and large, thanks to limited competition in most of Comcast's footprint, and despite Silicon Valley being arguably the tech epicenter of the country, the region apparently isn't immune to Comcast's particular... charms or the nation's obvious lack of broadband competition.

For example, Seattle startup SmartCar wanted to open an office in Mountain View, California, so last year they asked Comcast if service was available. According to Comcast's website and two Comcast representatives, the company should have been able to get 100 Mbps broadband and television service bundled for $190 a month, provided SmartCar signed a "Business Service Order Agreement” and provided a $2,100 deposit. But as we've seen many times before, ISP availability systems simply aren't accurate, and Comcast soon informed the company that broadband wasn't available:
"The answer came back via e-mail on April 24: “The pre-wire survey shows that your location is just outside of our Comcast service zone,” a Comcast salesperson told Katta. “It just is not a financial feasibility to run the coax cable close enough to bring you service. We have a model and this would not meet the Comcast ‘payback’ model. Comcast doesn’t have any future plans to do a build out there. I understand that this is not good news and I sincerely want to thank you for your interest."
Which would have been annoying but not really news worthy if it had just ended there. But Comcast then reached out to SmartCar again to note that while cable wasn't available, the company would be able to provide fiber to the company's new Mountain View address for significantly more money per month:
"...This wasn’t the end of Katta’s dealings with Comcast. After further discussions, Comcast told Katta the company would be able to deliver fiber Internet service—at a much higher price than cable. Construction was required to bring fiber to the building, and Comcast wanted Katta to sign a four-year contract and pay $1,050 a month for 100Mbps symmetrical Internet service. “As we were already stuck in this lease, I had no option but to move forward,” (SmartCar CEO Sahas) Katta said."
While Comcast originally claimed the longest SmartCar would have to wait was "90 to 120 days," ten months went by before Comcast finally conceded that it couldn't service the company's address, blaming permitting and construction delays. Which again, would have been annoying but not the end of the world. That's when Comcast demanded $60,000 in payments for broadband service never delivered:
"With the lease expiring and Comcast service nowhere in sight, SmartCar sent a letter to Comcast on January 21 saying the company wished to terminate its contract. As noted earlier, Comcast then informed SmartCar that in order to cancel, it would have to pay $60,900.45 to cover construction costs. SmartCar pleaded its case with Comcast throughout all of February and part of March without any success. That finally changed after Ars got in touch with Comcast’s public relations team. On March 9, a Comcast rep sent Katta an e-mail apologizing while waiving the $60,900.45 in fees. The letter promised a refund of the $2,100 deposit."
So in typical Comcast fashion you've got several layers of failure here, from systems that can't accurately state where Comcast can deliver service, to a general tone-deafness to the problem of trying to charge $60,000 for service that was never delivered. And once again, only the threat of media coverage appears to be enough to get Comcast to admit any sort of error on its part. The only broadband service the company was able to get at the address was an AT&T line capable of just 500 kbps upstream, which is pretty common in areas where the local telco has given up on fixed-line broadband.

All told, it's another example of the lack of broadband competition across a huge swath of the country, and how it's only getting worse in areas where local cable monopolies face less competitive pressure than ever before.
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Filed Under: broadband, connectivity, silicon valley
Companies: comcast, smartcar


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Mar 2016 @ 11:53am

    People don't need internet service. They're perfectly happy paying us for the promise of internet service. This is the award winning fair choices we bring to our customers.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Mar 2016 @ 11:54am

    Demanding $60,900 for work not done, now we know Comcasts real business intent, getting paid for doing nothing, and providing nothing.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 28 Mar 2016 @ 11:59am

      Re:

      It works on the government.

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

    • icon
      Coyne Tibbets (profile), 29 Mar 2016 @ 5:48am

      Re:

      Sure, but I don't get why it was so hard for SmartCar to resolve this bill. I would have thought a lawsuit for breach of contract and fraud would have done the job.

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

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 29 Mar 2016 @ 9:49am

        Re: Re:

        "You're absolutely right, you could pay the $60,900 or you could take us to court and try to argue breach of contract. But let me tell you, we've had lots of practice writing contracts, and I'm guessing we can find a clause or two that will let us completely off the hook, in which case you have your legal fees and the $60,900 to pay.

        So then, how much are you willing to spend on a risky bet like that? How sure are you that you'll win?"

        Something like that I imagine. Going to court is expensive, win or lose, and there would have been fair odds that they still wouldn't have been able to get the bill tossed due to dodgy wording in the contract itself. Comcast has boatloads of money to throw about in legal fights, and packs of lawyers eager to put those law degrees to use, it was only when the press got wind of the story and they realized that the PR loss would be greater than the cost of a lawsuit that they decided to play nice.

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

  • identicon
    Jo, 28 Mar 2016 @ 11:59am

    I can beat that offer

    Attention unhappy Comcast customers! I will fail to provide internet service for half the price that Comcast charges to fail to provide it. Yes, that's right, you too can not have internet in Mountain View, but now it will only cost you $30,450!!

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

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 28 Mar 2016 @ 12:02pm

    It doesn't fit our model, but we've made sure that no one can come into the areas we won't serve in case someday maybe we think your business is worth the effort.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Mar 2016 @ 12:07pm

    What I find mildly amusing about all of these stories is that at the end someone like an Ars or Consumerist or who have you gets involved and then Comcast half apologizes and waives the fees or refunds someones money or whatever.

    The damage is done though. Everyone already think they're a bunch of assholes and will only do business with them if they have to. Part of me would have more respect for Comcast if even after all that they keep the money anyway. If you're going to be the villain, go all out with it. Bane didn't suddenly decide to keep all the bridges intact because someone who could spread the word of his dastardly plans stepped in.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Mar 2016 @ 12:13pm

    I noticed your opening paragraph for comcast are beginning to look the same.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Mar 2016 @ 12:17pm

    A failed contract is a failed contract. A decent lawyer will tear this one up.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 28 Mar 2016 @ 12:24pm

      Re:

      And cost you as much or more than the refund or cancelled bill.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 28 Mar 2016 @ 12:49pm

      Re:

      I'd like to see executives at Comcast be jailed for fraud, especially given the consistent and egregious failures to uphold their contracts, which should move it into crime territory.

      If it was just one or two cases, sure, I coud brush it off. But this is almost every other week Comcast steal from someone, then extort more from those people.

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

  • identicon
    Lurker Keith, 28 Mar 2016 @ 12:22pm

    0.5MBPS is still Broadband?

    The only broadband service the company was able to get at the address was an AT&T line capable of just 500 kbps upstream...
    Didn't Techdirt report that Broadband is now 25MBPS down/ 3MBPS up. So, how is 500K broadband?

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

    • icon
      JoeCool (profile), 28 Mar 2016 @ 12:28pm

      Re: 0.5MBPS is still Broadband?

      The industry is still fighting that change. They consider anything more than 56k (phone modem) to be broadband. My first "broadband" connection boasted 64k download speed.

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

      • identicon
        Lurker Keith, 28 Mar 2016 @ 12:31pm

        Re: Re: 0.5MBPS is still Broadband?

        Irrelevant. It's still officially 25/3 MBPS unless & until the lazy, greedy providers manage to get the change reversed.

        & Techdirt points that out every time they can, except this time, which is why I pointed it out.

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

    • icon
      ThatDevilTech (profile), 28 Mar 2016 @ 12:49pm

      Re: 0.5MBPS is still Broadband?

      "That's what you'll get and you'll like it" - Every AT&T talking head

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 28 Mar 2016 @ 1:14pm

        Re: Re: 0.5MBPS is still Broadband?

        When I was a kid we had dial-up and we LIKED it.

        Now, get off my lawn.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 28 Mar 2016 @ 1:33pm

          Re: Re: Re: 0.5MBPS is still Broadband?

          And Fidonet, do not forget Fidonet, which apparently is still active in some remote parts of the world.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 28 Mar 2016 @ 12:51pm

      Re: 0.5MBPS is still Broadband?

      Unfortunately, most ISPs and civilians are calling ALL internet service "Broadband". Easier to say than "Internet Service".

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

      • identicon
        Lurker Keith, 28 Mar 2016 @ 7:36pm

        Re: Re: 0.5MBPS is still Broadband?

        Karl isn't an ISP, ISP rep nor normal civilian. Not only does he know better, he wrote the article I linked to for Techdirt.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Mar 2016 @ 12:55pm

    Hey Mike

    Per truth in advertising, they need to call themselves Con-Cast. much more descriptive and accurate. Maybe they are a terrorist funding front organization, just saying someone should call the FBI. Looks fishy to me.

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

  • icon
    BONES (profile), 28 Mar 2016 @ 1:29pm

    What about the City of Moutainview's share of the blame?

    I will be the first to agree that Comcast is the definition of bad service but shouldn't the city of Mountainview also get some disinfection sunshine shone on it as well. Aren't they the ones that "give out" franchises to the broadband companies? People in Mountainview should be putting all kinds of pressure on their elected or paid officials to get more competition into the city.

    I imagine that if the city announced a public/private fiber initiative with Google the quantity and quality of broadband would suddenly appear...

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

    • icon
      John85851 (profile), 29 Mar 2016 @ 11:52am

      Re: What about the City of Moutainview's share of the blame?

      I was just about to say this.
      While we're quick to blame Comcast for this issue, what about the city? Did it drag it's feet? Did it not allow Comcast to get the proper permitting?
      However, if this was true, it would put Comcast in a no-win situation:
      1) If they didn't say anything, the customer would think Comcast wasn't communicating.
      2) If they told the customer that the city was dragging its heels, they'd be accused of shifting the blame.

      But that's still no reason to try to bill the customer over $60,000... and then only backpedal when tech sites apply pressure. What about all the other companies who are in a similar situation but who didn't contact the media?

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

  • icon
    Derek Kerton (profile), 28 Mar 2016 @ 3:01pm

    Re: In Fucking Mountain View!!

    Hmmm. An errant hit of the -enter- key made my post uncharacteristically brief...but, meh, good enough.

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

  • icon
    Jeffrey Nonken (profile), 28 Mar 2016 @ 3:05pm

    We (my employer) recently moved from a place literally 1 block away from active Comcast service (they offered to extend it for a low, low price of $30,000 to pay for their equipment installation -- just that, a flat fee for extending their network, we'd have to pay for the monthly service as usual) to a place completely surrounded by Comcast. Guess how much trouble we had getting Comcast? Of course they told us when we were planning to move in that Comcast was available there, hey, no problem.

    Then it turns out the nearest junction box was across the street. So naturally getting a cable strung from one side of the street to the other required a freaking act of Congress. (Metaphorically speaking.)

    Only took a couple months while we waited, kept picking at them, looked into alternatives (another company in our building was being fed by some third party using fiber from AT&T, but it was horribly expensive) and used a wireless connection as a stopgap. That was... annoying, to say the least.

    Apparently one issue was that Rancho Cordova has been having problems with contractors not properly repairing the streets after digging them up, costing the city a lot of money to fix. The city's solution to this problem is... to drag their feet before issuing permits, which is terribly effective at solving the problem. Because businesses will be having trouble getting the infrastructure they need to operate, which will discourage them setting up shop in Rancho. Much better than arranging an inspection and fining violations. You'd think a bureacracy would LOVE adding paperwork and issuing fines, but then bureacracies are also really good at inertia. So, I guess they went with what they do best.

    Anyway, that's the city and its contractors, not Comcast. Which finally got the connection all the way across 100 ft., then screwed up our settings by assigning us an IP block that was already in use.

    And that's competition at its finest.

    The Comcast sales drone got a few choice remarks when he showed at my door the other day and asked why I'd left them. (That sounds more... confrontational than what really happened, but it's the gist.) But at least he didn't try to sell me anything. Pretty obvious I wasn't going to buy.

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

    • identicon
      Sharatan, 28 Mar 2016 @ 6:01pm

      Re:

      then screwed up our settings by assigning us an IP block that was already in use.

      Sucks that they're making you use addresses that are already in use. I bet it doesn't work at all.

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 28 Mar 2016 @ 10:24pm

    (Forced) Truth in advertising

    If only there was a penalty for telling a customer one thing at one point, and then something completely different later on...

    You could call it, oh I dunno, 'false advertising' or something like that, and use it to slam companies that lie to their potential customers such that their customer end up making a decision based at least in part on faulty information, and end up paying the price for it later on.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Mar 2016 @ 5:31am

    I wonder how UCC 1-308 would apply to carrier status?

    I mean who hasn't though of just running a patch and not saying anything about it. (knew a guy who did something similar once, worked for about a year before anyone noticed)

    Mightn't you just send a letter to the state telecom board saying, "without prejudice, bitches", and then spend a couple of weekends climbing poles with a friend or two. Perhaps becoming the states first Common Law Carrier?

    Then just sue if they take your shit down. (better to ask forgiveness and all that) Shanty Town Telecom, at your service.

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


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