Backtal: Sammels Tale of @Jail

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Be sure to read the kafkaesque tale,"Get a Cable Modem ... Go toJail," on page one of this issue. It's a real doozy and a must-read forany operator planning on offering @Home.

At first, you might think that the plight of Judith Sammel,a Comcast@Home user who lives in a suburb outside of Baltimore, is just one of thosequirky situations that occurs when new technology is deployed by partnering companies --in this case, Comcast and @Home.

In a nutshell, Sammel -- who was not a Comcast cablesubscriber, nor did she intend to become one -- heard about the @Home cable-modem offerand signed up for it. She was assured that she did not have to be a cable-TV subscriber toget it.

And indeed, that was true. But when her cable operatorhooked her up for @Home, the technician failed to install a filter that would block outthe video signals. Months later, her @Home service stopped working.

Sammel called both Comcast and @Home and got the royalrunaround. "Each claimed that it was the responsibility of the other to determinewhat the problem was and fix it," she wrote in her eight-page e-mail to us, entitled,"Get a Cable Modem ... Go to Jail."

You're all welcome to read the entire text of her missiveon the Web at http://members.home.net/sammel/cablemodem.htmand to draw your own conclusions.

It's well worth the read, because this is a real customerpainstakingly documenting her bizarre dealings with her cable company and with @Home.

But back to the Cliffs Notes version of Sammel's plight.Shortly after being cut off, a technician came out to reinstall @Home. And again, he didnot bring a video trap -- the very reason why she was unceremoniously jettisoned from theWeb -- with him on that visit.

Now here's the kicker: an out-of-the-blue knock at the doormonths later from a uniformed member of the Baltimore Police Department with a summons forher to appear in court. As senior editor Mike Farrell reports in his page-one article, thecharge: four counts of cable fraud. The penalty: up to two years in prison.

Then Murphy's Law really went into overdrive, and thewheels of justice fell off their axles.

After convincing her Comcast system that she was notstealing cable service, and that she did not even want it -- which took some doing -- aComcast representative tried to get the charges dropped.

But because of an arcane Maryland law, it was pretty muchdecided that the horse was already out of the barn and unstoppable.

Another two months elapsed. On Jan. 12, the state finallyaccepted Comcast's request not to prosecute the case, and Sammel could finally put thisstupid business behind her.

Given her experiences with @Home, it's not surprising tohear Sammel say last week that when ADSL service comes to her neck of the woods, she'sgoing to look into it.

And here's why she won't be the only one: With the rapiddeployment of @Home this past quarter, the right hand doesn't seem to know or care whatthe left hand is doing, as Multichannel News has reported about widespread problemsin Connecticut and Rhode Island.

In Sammel's case, an @Home spokesman says it was not hiscompany's problem. "The local system is dealing with that -- our company has nothingto do with video."

On the Comcast side, the operator calls Sammel's ordeal"an unfortunate outcome" of having two distinct billing systems that don't talkto each other.

As Farrell reports, Richard Rasmus, Comcast's vicepresident of online communications, says the Sammel case was a "chink in thearmor," and the problem has now been fixed.

Well that's all fine and dandy, but it's no way to treatthe customer, who is always supposed to be right, and who -- as in this case -- isn'tsupposed to be treated like a criminal.

And unfortunately, unless cable operators and @Home startrealizing that they are true partners in providing a fabulous service -- and not thefinger-pointers they have become, blaming each other -- these kinds of bizarre incidentswill skyrocket.

And that would be truly criminal, because cable still hasthe edge in the high-speed-data arena, and it needs to further hone it, rather thanblowing it.

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