Monday, March 22, 2010

What I've Come To Expect From Comcast

You may recall that on 4 March 2010 I switched over to ATT U-verse from Comcast. My reason for leaving was that they had goofed up my analog cable tv service, deleting (though they said moving to the digital tier) my favorite channels and thereby requiring me to get an additional box. I switched over to ATT and I must admit that I'm continually amazed by the awesome coolness of ATT U-verse!

As the ATT U-verse installer lady was leaving, I immediately got on the phone (as described here) and cancelled my Comcast service.

At that time my bill was due, so I asked for a final amount. I wrote a check for that amount to Comcast and also wrote a letter explaining the situation, that I was canceling my service effective the 4th of March and I hoped they wouldn't screw up the bookkeeping AGAIN. I put it in the mail with the check.

Guess who I heard from over the weekend? Comcast sent me a bill for service through the next month and said I was past due. This exactly what I expected of Comcast. It's why I got the final billing amount from them and that's why I wrote the letter explaining that I was canceling the service that I included with the bill.

Pay heed to this kind of thing. Never give someone access to automatically draft funds from your account. You'll see offers for electronic bill payment that sound very convenient, but if you don't watch these guys like a hawk, they'll bill money from you after you've canceled.

This is how I ended my letter to Comcast when i sent my last bill:
ATT will no doubt disappoint in the future and whether I’ll consider returning to Comcast or not is wholly within your control. Specifically, I expect another billing error, whereupon I’ll get another bill for some ridiculous amount. I hope this low expectation will not be met.

Congratulations Comcast, you did not disappoint.

Update: Comcast replied below positing that this bogus bill was a reasonable mistake. However, this hypothesis is falsified by the two facts: The bill in question was dated after my conversation with Comcast and the bill showed receipt of my last payment.

The amount of that last payment was the figure that Comcast gave me over the phone. They could not have cashed my check without simultaneously receiving my letter notifying them in writing that I had canceled service.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

The ATT UVerse Installation

One advantage of difficult economic times is that vendors are more solicitous. I think that's why Comcast lost my business. Because they're sitting around with nothing to do, they accelerated their schedule of deleting channels from the analog part of their cable and moving them to something called a digital tier. This is why I lost the cable channels that I care about last Tuesday, March 2nd.

Had they given me a little more advanced warning, I might not have been so upset with them. As it happens, I DID get notice that they would be moving the channels to the digital tier as of THURSDAY, March 4th. And they did send me notice in writing of this change on FRIDAY, March 5th.

I found it amusing to receive a letter from Comcast on the 5th after having canceled my service on the 4th.

This is what happened on the 4th of March: I woke up a bit early and got a phone call from someone named Melanie of ATT asking if it would be all right to show up in 20 minutes for installation. Happily, this call had happened after I had asked ATT to come out just two days before. (Yes, it was the same night Comcast goofed up my service.) ATT had promised a service technician would be by between 9 and 11 on the 4th and she was indeed there at 9:00am. Good move.

I showed Melanie where everything was and what all had to be hooked up. It's a complicated install. I've got an extensive home network of computers and Tivos talking to various TVs upstairs and downstairs.

She had to install a new telephone network interface box on the outside of the house, too. I went into work and left Dan there to answer any questions and to give me a shout if there were anything he couldn't answer. I worked until about noon and came back to check on the install.

Sure enough Melanie was having difficulty with my firewall to my network. She understood the problem better than I did, but it took a bit of to-and-fro for me to see this. Just as well, I have to maintain my network and I have to understand how my equipment talks to (or fails to talk to) ATT's equipment.

Really sweet, too. The ATT firewall, router, wireless access point (802.11n) is a lovely bit of kit. But it wouldn't talk nice to my Linksys firewall who is in charge of doling out DHCP stuff to the computers scattered about my house. We decided to just bypass my firewall altogether and concentrate on getting Melanie's work done. After we redid some Ethernet cables, my basement computer was talking to the internet fine. After a bit more work we got Dan's laptop talking to the ATT's wireless. We had Internet!

Another gotcha. Each digital cable box now needs Ethernet going to the TV. It might make do with the coax, but I might as well go with that, right? This caused a bit of a problem with the Family Room Tivo. It has an Ethernet cable and giving another Ethernet cable to the ATT Uverse box required me to grab an Ethernet switch/hub from downstairs and press it into service. (This introduced a new problem I'll get to.)

I happened to have an Ethernet coupler and this enabled me to join two cables into something long enough to run from one end of my basement (where the ATT router was) to the other end (where my TV & 2nd Tivo was). That got the ATT cable box (and DVR) connected OK. We didn't have a cable for the basement Tivo, so that had to wait until tonight.

And then Melanie got the phones working. That was almost too easy.

With Internet, cable TV, and phones all working, I was a happy camper. But one bit of business was hanging over my head. Using my newly ATT Uverse connected telephone, I called up Comcast.

The recording came on. I didn't want to press 1 or press 2 or press 3. Finally, the recording said, "If you are considering canceling Comcast press 4." Ah, quandary. I wasn't CONSIDERING anything. That ship had sailed two days earlier. I pressed 4.

Comcast has never been so nice to me on the phone as they were that day. The girl was willing to offer a remarkably low rate to stick with them. I wondered silently why they didn't offer me this rate a long time ago? Or when they decided to move the channels I watch to the "digital tier" while giving me FOUR government access channels to enjoy.

I talked to the girl for a few minutes as I explained as politely as I could that I have grown to despise Comcast for problems like this one and last Tuesday was the Last Straw. Finally, I said, "Lady, the ATT Uverse gal just finished the install five minutes ago. I'm canceling my Comcast service."

OK, she asked, when would I like that to be effective? Smart question. Let me think about that. How about yesterday? No, that won't be possible. Well, how about the earliest moment when it is possible? OK, she'll make it effective the 4th. Yeah, that will be good.

"Will there be anything else?"

"Yes, I've had several billing disputes with you people in the past. How much do I owe you?"

She quoted a number that corresponded to my last bill that goes through the 21st of March.

"But didn't I just cancel service effective the 4th?"

"Then we'll pro-rate the bill based on the number of days between the 4th and the 21st."

"Fair enough. How much do I owe you?"

She quoted a figure that was half the first number she had said. I repeated the number aloud for my son who was present to hear. And I wrote the figure on my whiteboard. I thanked her and rang off.

Yesterday I wrote a letter summarizing the phone conversation with a check for this amount and submitted it with my last bill from Comcast. (A word to the wise, if you expect anything promised you over the phone, commit it to writing at your first opportunity.) If I were smarter, I'd have written and dated this letter on the 4th.

What will you bet they screw up this bill, too?

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Tivo IR Blaster -- The Search

This post is going to be a continuing saga...

As you may know, the Tivo works quite nicely with analog cable. I've used it this way since I bought my first Tivo (I own four) when they first came out. Each time I bought a Tivo, I'd unbox it and set it up and each time I'd see this odd little bit of wire and plastic and set it aside. This gizmo is called the Tivo "IR Blaster." It's an ingenious device consisting of an IR LED a bit of plastic to hold it in place, and a wire that extends back to the Tivo and plugs in with a 1/8" phono plug. You can build one yourself, like this guy did.

I've never used them, but when I read about them I had but one thought, "what a kludge." Yet, I'm not the kind of person who likes to needlessly throw things away I might someday use, so I retained at least IR Blasters, just in case. My basement is filled with bits of junk that's retained "just in case."

Now, wait 10 years. Where exactly did I put the IR Blaster that came with my Tivos back when I bought them IN THE LAST CENTURY?

My junk-box is not as well supplied as the person mentioned above, so I went searching...

I do have some semblance of a filing system for my junk. I went through two big storage boxes labeled "Gizmos" without success. I went through bins of "Computer cables." Also without success. Then bins of "Audio/Visual cables." No joy. I went through my son's X-Box junk on the odd chance it had been misfiled. It hadn't.

This search went on during my lunch break, after work, and after supper.

I pulled out bins that held old Ethernet 10Base2 coax cables, BNC connectors and PCMCIA network-adapters respectively. Also without joy.

As I'm putting these bins back on the shelf, I note that they had been sitting on a narrow cardboard box. On it is a glossy label: Tivo.

Maybe I should look in the box marked Tivo for, like, stuff for my Tivo. I found several useless Serial cables, and 2, count-em 2, IR Blasters.

Huzzah, I cried, huzzah!

Now, will they work???

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Comcast, You Blew It

As you may know Comcast sells broadband internet and cable television. I have had a frustrating time with these people since 1987. They have periodically goofed up my account or otherwise annoyed me. And I've been bombarded with offers from various and sundry providers of equivalent services at reduced prices.

But I didn't budge because they were providing a service I wanted despite the annoyance and there is something to be said for inertia.

Tonight I turned on my television and when I flipped on the Tivo, it said that I had a lineup change. They added one channel. And when I looked further I noticed about 20 or 30 channels had been deleted. Not really a problem except these were the channels I normally watch.

I called Comcast and asked what happened. They said there was a service outage. My wife, Mary, gave me some paperwork from Comcast. It said that the channels in question were "available only as a component to the Digital Starter Package." And after I asked the Comcast lady what this means her story changed. Oh, they'd done a service "upgrade" in my area. I asked what kind of upgrade takes away the channels I normally watch. And why didn't you tell me this story at first? She said they'd been running notices of the changeover for the last two weeks. Where? At the bottom of the screen? I hadn't seen anything of the sort.

Though the Comcast lady was very polite, I didn't believe a thing she told me. And since they had already deleted the channels I watch, the inertia situation was reversed.

Five minutes after I rang off, I googled ATT U-Verse. Yeah, they'd do everything Comcast does. And they'll do it cheaper? And they'll do the install on Thursday? Hello ATT. Good bye Comcast.

Update: Comcast has responded in the comments below (their customer service is much better than it used to be) saying that the channels weren't "deleted" merely moved from the part of the cable that I can use to a "digital tier" that I cannot.

This change to the way my cable works occurred without any warning that I was aware of. I was satisfied with the service and I was willing to proceed on this basis indefinitely.

No doubt Comcast can deliver programming on this "digital tier" with the addition of a conversion box. I presume this conversion box can be integrated with my Tivo boxes using a kludge Tivo provides called an "IR Blaster" that I've never bothered with.

Avoiding these headaches was part of that "inertia" I mentioned originally. If I have to hassle with the IR blaster hookup with Comcast's box, why don't I use ATT's U-verse?