TV Crush

Comcast: I Want My Universal HD

5/07/2007 4:45 AM

Customers like to knock Comcast. As the largest cable provider, they’re an easy target. The installer caught on camera after falling asleep on a customer’s couch became an instant YouTube classic.

Apparently, the video resonated with a lot of subscribers.

I’m a Comcast customer, too. But my experience with Comcast, bar some exceptions, has been fairly positive. For one thing, the system is incredibly reliable. Outages just don’t happen, at least in my area. Internet and cable television are vital, 24/7 utilities in our household, and when services go down, it’s like being Time Tunneled back to the early ‘80s.

So, I try to keep the big picture in mind when faced with the occasional Comcast annoyance.

However, it seems that Comcast is always looking for ways to weasel out of the promised channel lineup. We’ve been told that our package is grandfathered in from the old days of the AT&T acquisition and that our channel lineup isn’t offered any longer. But we like it. We get Starz, HBO and Showtime and lots of other channels we enjoy — IFC and Sundance, too.

The trouble started about a year ago when we upgraded to HD and the Comcast-provided (Motorola) DVR. The install itself went smoothly and the Comcast tech crawled around our house, replacing cables inside and out — all the way to the street pole. He even strung the cables under the eaves, per my request. We were very happy and felt that Comcast had gone above and beyond.

But within a few hours we realized, to our dismay, that our channel lineup had vanished. Starz disappeared and was replaced with — gasp! — Fox Movie Channel. To the best of my recollection, IFC had disappeared, too.

I called. The new DVR couldn’t “read” our old lineup, I was told. We would have to shell out additional money every month to restore all the channels now scattered across other packages — unwelcome news after we upgraded to HD, etc., and were now paying Comcast close to $2,000 per year for both cable and Internet.

This little factoid was never disclosed to us, I said, and I insisted that the old lineup be reinstated. “I’ll have to run that past upper management,” said the customer-service agent.

A trouble ticket was written.

Rule No. 1: A “trouble ticket” is a euphemism in Comcast culture for: “We have no intention of dealing with your problem. And since most customers probably don’t have time to call back and wait on hold for another 10 minutes, this is our way of making the problem go away.”

But I concluded the conversation by saying, “I’m leaving town. The lineup had better be restored when I get back.”

It wasn’t. I got into a heated conversation with customer service at 2 a.m. “Restore the lineup,” I said, “or else I’m contacting every San Francisco Bay-area consumer reporter — and my Marin County supervisor.” In rapid-fire succession, I clicked off the names.

“OK, OK lady!” said the rep, “I’m sending a signal to your box now!”

Rule No. 2: Comcast is afraid of bad press.

Then the DVR never worked right. The system would often “stick” or slow to a crawl when we tried to change channels. And we would have to wait two to three minutes for the system to unlock itself. Comcast insisted that our hard drive was full, that we had recorded too many hours of programming. I kept telling them the drive was empty.

Finally, a nice technician guy (NTG) was sent to the house. NTG called tech central and put them on speaker. “Their hard drive is empty,” said NTG to tech central. “No,” replied tech central, “the hard drive is full. That’s the problem.” Tech central continued to insist on their more convenient version of reality. NTG and I rolled our eyes at each other. “They have a hearing problem,” I said.

NTG cut the connection. “This is ridiculous,” he groused. He swapped out the DVR. Problem solved.

Lately I’ve noticed that Universal HD disappeared from our HD lineup. I really like Universal HD because the channel broadcasts some of my favorite shows, including Monk and Battlestar Galactica.

So, I called Comcast. Very sweet customer-service rep (VSCSR) confirmed that we should be receiving Universal HD. She believes something could be wrong with our wiring. VSCSR stated she’d have someone call to set up a time to check the cables. She wrote up a trouble ticket.

Uh oh!

That was two weeks ago. I’m still waiting for that phone call.

UPDATE: June 18. Comcast Motorola DVR?  The San Jose Mercury News was flooded with the same complaints.

September