Sunday, September 02, 2007

How many Comcast people does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

The answer is quite a lot, and forgive me if you've heard the joke before. Change the company name and nearly everyone has a few tales to tell of unbelievable corporate fuckwittery. You know the story: all I wanted them to do was blah blah blah, but any number of phone calls and missed appointments and emails and incompetent employees and automated call centres and Kafkaesque/surreal/stupid situations later, all I've got is this half-way amusing anecdote and a stomach ulcer.

My most recent epic saga started on 13 August, when I called Comcast to set up an internet connection and TV service for the house my wife and I were moving into in San Francisco. Sure, they said, no problem. Of course, I should have realised then that they were trouble. The woman I spoke to admitted that the only way I could find out which channels I was going to get with my selected package would be when they connected me. But back then I found the idea of this mystery TV service amusing.

But unfortunately a problem arose when our first cable guy arrived: since the last time the house had been connected up, the service on our street had switched from overhead wires to underground. Someone else would have to come out to run a new cable from the street to our house, the bloke explained.

In the three weeks since that visit, despite numerous phone calls, many visits and yadda yadda yadda, skip to the end... we're still differently cabled. Someone was supposed to come today to do the final hook up but, lo and behold, nobody appeared. And when we called to find out what the problem was, what's that? Oh yes, of course: they had no record of any appointment.

What is frustrating about all this - and it is very frustrating - is that we have little or no real choice over which company we use. There is only one cable company, and Comcast is it. Even if we decided to opt for DSL for our internet, which is much more important for us than the telly, not only would we have to get a slower connection, we'd also have to pay for a phone line we don't need or want and, more than likely, have to go through more of this same crap with someone else to get connected.

Neither do we have any recourse - and there isn't even anyone to take our anger out on. Every technician who has turned up has been perfectly competent, it's just that the problems they've encountered weren't their's to fix. And every one of the many, many people we have talked to on the phone have been perfectly pleasant, but are all wrestling with an octopus of a system too complicated for anyone to understand let alone make work as soon as the slightest glitch comes along.

So, what to do? Well, for one, be thankful that there are still people out there who haven't worked out what an open wireless network is (I wish I could warn whomever it is I'm exploiting right now from the one corner of the living room where I can get good enough reception, but a network name like "netgear" doesn't give too many clues away). Two, realise that I can't do without the internet anymore, and it would really help if I could back up my connection in some way - like the way you have fire insurance or spare batteries for other essentials. And three, know that the revolution can't come soon enough.

I keep thinking of the renegade heating engineer played by Robert De Niro in the film Brazil. Maybe while I wait for my US work permit to come through, I could start doing some underground cable hook-ups. One thing's for sure - I couldn't be any worse at it than Comcast are.


cg said...

"We're all in it together..."
Harry Tuttle

scribacious said...

It seems that I'm not alone, as this hammer, wielding, phone-smashing granny can attest

Carrie said...

Well written article.

scribacious said...

Thank you Carrie!