Topic: Technology (74)

Comcast Extorts Customers for Repairs

Virtual monopolies engender poor service and lack of customer focus.

Virtual monopolies engender poor service and lack of customer focus.

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[Update 11/22/2021: After about 3 days without an internet connection I finally got hooked back up. Before coming out, Comcast reiterated that we most likely would be charged for the repair, but when the technician showed up they not only did not charge us but gave us a $10 credit. Not much recompense for 3 days without the internet for a business that relies on it, but it was better than nothing.

Although multiple homes experienced outages, Comcast did NOT repair them all at once, even though that would have made the most sense. Each customer had to schedule a separate appointment. 

On the topic of Comcast not having an automated system to tell them about outages (see interesting point #1 below), this point was reinforced by other customers who explained going through the same process, that of Comcast relying on customers to tell them if their service was out and conduct tests to prove it although a couple of hundred feet of severed cable was hanging from poles and lying in the street. In fact, the technician who showed up said to me, "do you have our service" and then "do you have an outage?" Apparently, whoever set up my repair,  also set it up for the wrong home. 

To those who say I had other options, I have looked into it and my neighborhood does not. For example, PogoZone told me years ago that they cannot provide service here because of tree cover. CenturyLink provides such piss-poor service we cannot use it to get our work done while wireless options, like the Verizon/T-Mobile hotspots the libraries and schools provide , work very poorly in my neighborhood as in many places in Bellingham/Whatcom County. They are also the most expensive option per Mbit. 

One last point about Dig Once and going underground. The technician also recommended that we do something about the squirrels since they sometimes chew on the cables . Yes, I agree with him, since we live in a high wind area and need fiber, we should establish a Dig Once policy that mandates burying cables underground. This policy should also cover installing electric car chargers along with fiber.]  

At about four yesterday morning, I woke to the sound of an 18-wheeler backing up my street. I fell asleep and woke later to discover that 18 wheeler had snagged, cut, and dragged a Comcast coax cable about 200 feet along the street. Most likely this cable was not installed by Comcast to the WAC 468-34-290 standard, making this incident entirely Comcast’s fault. This problem exists with many cables around town as Comcast does a poor job of maintaining their infrastructure and has adopted a “wait and see attitude” toward maintenance. This of course resulted in an outage. The mistake my wife and I made was being hardworking people who get up early, making us the first to call Comcast. This revealed several interesting things about Comcast.

  1. They couldn’t tell the internet was out. That’s how old and outdated their systems are in my neighborhood.
  2. They can’t, or don’t, communicate with each other. One of my neighbors called them a bit later and the tech told him to unplug his cable modem and plug it back in. (Refer to “Interesting Thing #1).
  3. But the worst thing we found out was that even when the damage was clearly not our fault, and was caused by another entity on the street, Comcast is trying to charge us for the repair, in this case, several hundred dollars. They haven’t given us an official estimate yet.

This article comes at a time when Bellingham Public Works Director Eric Johnston, and more than half of the pro big-telecom Broadband Advisory Group are up to their old tricks and games to protect big telecom. Recently they launched a heavily biased broadband study that I’ll be writing about in a separate article. They have done this in the past to protect Comcast TV services and justify molly-coddling CenturyLink for their obviously failed, and poor quality, PRISM TV service. 

So it’s not just the bad pricing, the unreliable service, the terrible customer service, and the attacks on the First Amendment, Comcast will also try to make you pay to repair their equipment when the problem is obviously on their side and affects multiple customers. You just have to be dumb enough to report your outage first, oh, and be a Comcast customer in the first place. 

Eric Johnson and the BAG’s response to the quality of Comcast service? Well, Eric has allowed Comcast to threaten BAG members during meetings when Comcast tries to make it clear they believe they own our town and will tell us what, if anything, will happen in our rights-of-way. Eric’s attitude has always been that our service is amazing and we don’t know how good we have it.

While I’m sending this from a mobile device, waiting until Comcast decides to come out and move a cable that is a hazard to many children in our neighborhood and blocking my business, I should note that we will have to reschedule all of our Zoom students today and may lose up to $300 in student fees. In Anacortes, $300 would get me 3 Gigs of service because underground public fiber network is only $100 to connect to and $70 a month for Gigabit service. My $100 a month Comcast service RRUL load tests at about 25 Mbits down and 3 up, but obsolete DSL is my only other option and not adequate for the needs of anyone who needs Zoom to run a business. 

Comcast has a monopoly. Which is one of many reasons they think they can get away with extortion. But they’ll never treat Eric Johnston and the power elite in our government this way, so those guys think there isn’t a problem or simply don’t care. 

I will say one last thing on government in general. The establishment, instead of doing the right thing, always tries to cancel citizens like me who hold them accountable. They try to say that we’re too mean to them or we’d catch more flies with honey. But the truth is that we’ve tried to work with them many times. Over five years ago, when we first approached City Hall about using our existing public fiber optic network, we offered to expand the network and help low-income individuals get connected to it for free. During the pandemic we offered the same thing via inexpensive external wireless access points and more. The schools and City Hall both found ways to make sure it didn’t happen. In the meantime they all opted to spend millions on very expensive, virtually worthless,  big-telecom solutions instead.

 So how about this? How about if the establishment doesn’t want citizens legitimately holding them accountable, they try doing things that actually improve the lives of their citizens, not just the corporate ones, for a change. In the end, what the establishment is finding out is that you can’t cancel the truth. 

Until they figure this out, I think I’m going to withhold my praise for his majesty Fleetwood and his court of spineless corporate drones. 

Note: A version of this article first appeared in the Washington State Free Press.

About Jon Humphrey

Citizen Journalist • Bellingham • Member since May 23, 2017

Comments by Readers

Mike Rostron

Nov 21, 2021

This summation from Anacortes Now seems relevant. It appears that Washington state is one of the states restricting the ability for cities to provide broadband access. This should  be challenged. access.  https://www.anacortesnow.com/news/community-news/4627-infrastructure-law-high-speed-internet-is-as-essential-as-water-and-electricity

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Jon Humphrey

Nov 21, 2021

Yes, sometimes we do see a 2 steps forward 2 steps back approach especially in fake progressive places like Washington. So the devil will be in the details. I have no party allegiance, btw, but I do think that it’s worth noting that at the last broadband event I was at with Senator Liz Lovlett that she kept saying, “what we need are more Democrats.” Really? Because “Democrats” have been in power for decades, especially in the most populous areas, and we haven’t seen many real results in many areas even though there were few barriers to passing most of the reforms they wanted. So, I guess the truth must be that they didn’t want reforms that were good for most people. Just like the other parties they attack.

For example, the FCC standard for high speed internet still remains a virtually worthless 25 Mbits down and 3 up. The testing used to confirm these speeds is very inaccurate and nothing like the RRUL load testing I’ve been writing about. https://www.bufferbloat.net/projects/codel/wiki/RRUL_test_suite/

Yet, the PUD retail authority bill has passed, allowing our PUD to be a provider if they wish, they always had the option of providing an Open Access network btw, but even after new staff hirings in broadband at the PUD we still have no word out of the PUD on a comprehensive county-wide plan. Is it dead? All of this even after Christine Grant ran specifically on the broadband platform. My daughter and wife wonder how someone can be a candidate “for women” when they won’t provide the network necessary to create next-generation STEM jobs in Bellingham and Whatcom County.

It’s pretty much the same story at the Port. The county still seems largely asleep at the wheel.

The COB is still sitting on an existing public fiber network during the 2nd winter of a pandemic. This is probably the thing that makes the least sense. Even if you love Comcast, why wouldn’t you want more competition? From the standpoint of the city an Open Access network doesn’t require them to do anything other than hand out leases. The providers take care of everything else including maintenance and customer service issues. So all the city does is make money off of the leases which then pay for the expansion and maintenance of the network. PogoZone is the largest provider of fiber in Mount Vernon and competes with 9 other, local, net-neutral providers on the Mount Vernon Open Access Network. We also still don’t have a comprehensive Dig Once policy although we need it for EV chargers and fiber now. Well actually we need it for virtually all underground infrastructure.

However, we should also remember that in the past we threw $400 billion at broadband to produce a nationwide FTTH network by 2010 and the money pretty much disappeared. https://nationaleconomicseditorial.com/2017/11/27/americans-fiber-optic-internet/

So, who knows what to say really. This might be great. Perhaps existing fiber networks can get some funding to really expand, perhaps we can see some community fiber projects get some funding, or perhaps it will get all pissed away again. It would be nice if the COB, PUD, Port and County would at least make a statement on the topic that included some specifics of what to expect now that the money is out there.  

 

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Angelo Tsoukalas

Nov 28, 2021

It seems when you call customer service for most companies these days you get representatives that either don’t understand English or are not really all there. I’m assuming you explained to them their line was down, but they still acted like your service could be out because of something else?? LoL That’s why when I figure a rep is not all there and/or doesn’t understand English, I ask for the supervisor. And when they ask why I say because you don’t understand me, so please give me someone that understands. Sometimes I have to be more specific and say someone that understands English. LoL

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Jon Humphrey

Nov 28, 2021

A fair point Angelo. Still, at the time of this writing:

Comcast is worth: $223.47 billion dollars

CenturyLink (who rebranded as Lumen to try to escape legit legal ramification like Johnson and Johnson is doing now with their cancer causing powders): $59.394 billion

AT&T: $266 billion

T-Mobile: $72.468 billion

Verizon: $214.46 billion

In the past all of these companies were given $400 billion to build a nationwide fiber network by 2010 with that they stole instead. https://nationaleconomicseditorial.com/2017/11/27/americans-fiber-optic-internet/

In the new Biden infrastructure bill the $65 billion slated for broadband (originally $100 billion) had language in it to prioritize community fiber networks, the big telecom lobbies had it all taken out. Along with the help of Corporate Democrats and Republicans of course. Now you can get money to put up whatever you want, even technology that is technically obsolete. So I guess the goal of this administration is to still not give Americans the fiber they need, and up the amount wasted on big telecom to $465 billion.

My point, these companies can obviously afford to have all well-paid US based support, they can train them to be the best in the business, even speak multiple languages well, and if they just started doing their repairs with fiber a few decades ago, like they were literally already paid to, we’d already have an all underground FTTx network nationwide. Sure, we should still care about price and net-neutrality, but the fiber part of this should have been done as of 12 years ago. And I mean fiber all the way through. Not this hy-brid garbage CenturyLink and Ziply use where a small amount of fiber is spliced with obsolete old tech. Giving us DSL-esque results.

Of course, these companies will never do this on their own, so they need to be regulated to and/or we need to build public fiber networks.

Still, we pay the highest prices for broadband in the developed world, so there is no excuse for the big telecoms. Just a culture of lawmakers that won’t hold them accountable. 

 

 

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