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It Started With a Tweet…A Comedy of Errors

It really started with a tweet. No, not World War III. My war with Comcast/Xfinity.  There’s a lot of set up to this story, so bear with me.

I live in Northeast PA [AKA NEPA] where we live in one of those negotiated cable monopolies that started back when cable companies sliced up the country like mob dons deciding who gets to run the hookers in which neighborhood. So, right from the get-go, really.

In the beginning, there was Verto, and it was good. It brought us the first ever music video on MTV and scrambled HBO, which we as children watched anyway, on the off chance of seeing an identifiable boobie, who-who or weiner, despite it giving us thundering headaches. That was 1979.
Well, 1979-Ish.

Then, somewhere in the 80s, Verto got bought up by Adelphia Cable. The first of many consolidations leading to the huge megalithic media providers we have today, where six companies own pretty much everything. Then Adelphia [whose former owner is slowly dying in Federal prison over all sorts of bad corporate behavior], on the verge of collapse, was bought up by Comcast Cablevision, which now is Comcast|NBC|Universal one of the largest media giants bent on world domination and currently sniffing around Verizon in hopes of staying ahead of the AT&T|DirecTV juggernaut that’s trying to absorb Time-Warner like a 50s blob monster.

Meanwhile, a pawn of these assholes is running the FCC and trying to deregulate like crazy, so that our media overlords can skim maximum money for minimum effort/service and offer us whole new ways in which the media can control us. [See related Sinclair Media|FCC hijinks and also the battle for net neutrality.]

As you can tell, I have no strong feelings about this. Anyway.

Here in NEPA, we have three choices for broadband internet. Comcast/Xfinity, Verizon DSL, or a new player in town [so new, I’m not sure of the name*] who does satellite. Or dial-up.

Image result for crying emoji

Dial-up? No. Just no.

Verizon? Sure. Oh, wait. It’s not available at my address. I must be too far from the pole that has the DSL box on it. Too bad, so sad. Frowny face.

Skynet, or whatever it is? Didn’t know about it until Monday last, so the jury is still out.

That leaves me going to Xfinity and beyond!

So, even though there are allegedly other options for broadband in the area, really there isn’t [unless that SkyNet whatchamacallit works out]. It’s a virtual monopoly if you want actual 100+ megabit down broadband speeds, regardless of the availability of other providers. As a writer and an actor, I need some speed. I frequently have to upload sizeable video and audio files, With an agent [and much of the work] in South Carolina, I can’t really zip down there on demand for an audition this afternoon as is so often the case. So I self-tape and upload.

Same thing as a writer. Instead of having to FedEx print and disk copies of files to my publisher on a daily basis [as I had to when I was sending all those Idiot’s Guide chapters and screen shots to Indianapolis], now I upload them directly to the publisher’s servers, or email them, or stash them on a shared cloud drive. Easy peasy, as long as you have a decent internet connection.

So, I’ve been a Comcast customer, well, really since I lived in Philadelphia in the 80s and 90s, although they didn’t offer internet access at the time, back then it was dial-up or nothing. I was an Adelphia customer when I moved back to Northeastern PA until Comcast bought them, and there I was back in Comcast-Ville again.

For my 40th birthday, I got myself celebratory broadband internet. Woo-hoo! Porn at the speed of light! So, that’s what? 16, almost 17 years ago. That was in addition to TV services. When we bought a house in 2008 [right before the housing market imploded–can’t say my timing isn’t perfect] Comcast came with us. But they were jacking their prices regularly. Every six months or so, I had to call and argue with “Customer Retention” that DirecTV was offering such and such, and if they could match them, I wouldn’t have to go through the aggravation of changing cable providers. Usually, they would. After we moved into the house and we were spending as much money at Lowes and Home Depot as anywhere else, and homeowners insurance, full utilities, etc. Well, money was tight. Comcast wouldn’t budge [I think they were saving up for their down payment on NBC at the time], so we switched to DirecTV for cable but kept the broadband for the reasons stated above. But, of course, the price went up. They wanted [and stillwant] you to bundle. I believe my exact response was, “fuck your bundle,” although I may be paraphrasing. So it went up $10/month, or from [I believe] $39.95 to $49,95, still worth it.

Then smartphones and video streaming happened, plus a second computer, PlayStation, smart appliances, yadda and so forth yadda, we goosed our internet speed. Another $10 a month. Still worth it.

Over time, however, with no change to the service and no Comcast investment in infrastructure [that affects us here in NEPA, at least], but a lot of corporate acquisitions and offloading of customer support and subcontracting service technicians, the monthly internet bill has crept up from the $29 or $39.95/month where it started, up to a current $84.95 for their “Performance Plus” service, 100 megabit download [your speeds may vary].

Then, oh, a couple years ago, the world started getting weird. Data service providers [the internet, cell phone data] realized DATA is where the money is. If The Graduate were made today, the guy wouldn’t whisper “plastics” to Dustin Hoffman, he’d whisper, “big data.” 

People started collecting and selling our usage data, making more off the sale of that data than their actual service. How do you think Facebook and Google are worth a bazillion dollars? Google at least also makes and sells things, but most of their money comes from selling you into data slavery, one way or another.

I don’t like that, I never have. So about a year ago, I started noodling around with the idea of setting up a VPN for our home network, to reclaim a modicum of privacy. On the plus side, you get most of your privacy back, you can fake the BBC into thinking you’re in the UK, so you can live stream Doctor Who before it airs over here and such. Get Japanese game shows. Whatever.On the

On the downside, you supposedly lose 25-30% of your bandwidth. A necessary evil, in this case, but uncool. So, new home network [modem, wi-fi router, and rage extender] in hopes of squeezing some extra speed out of our current broadband plan. That brings us up to date. Sorry for the history lesson.

Now, Comcast is usually #1 in customer dissatisfaction year after year, mostly for their shitty customer service, ridiculous service windows [We can have someone at the house between June and September, how does that work for you?]

Anyway, shit happened, and you’ve read a lot already. Here’s the series of events that followed captured LIVE! as they happened. LIVE! like a live nude girl [or boy] of legal age and with complete consent. First up, the tweet.

I posted this after three super irritating days interacting with Xfinity, via their web page and by telephone [You have to understand, I would happily gnaw off my own arm and beat myself senseless with it, rather than deal with a Comcast customer service or sales rep on the phone. I’ll hum Yankee Doodle while gnawing.] :

To their social media crew’s credit, I got a response a short while after I spouted off. The @ComcastCares crew asked me to follow them and send them my account number via direct message. Which I did. Then this:

Then the pièce de résistance:

So then, of course, it’s scurrying to get the okay to leave work early [I figured at 2, 2:30. I mean, it’s Comcast.] It’s cool to leave. It’s slow, it’s Friday in August. Go ahead. Groovy.  Then:

Holy fuck. Comcast is early?? What miracle is this? [Insert whatever is the atheist equivalent of a choir of angels singing–a choir of Richard Dawkinses, I suppose.] Has Comcast/Xfinity totally transformed themselves since the last time I had dealings with them? Has hell frozen over?

Um. No.

I skedaddle quickly from work. Get home. I expected the Comcast truck to be in my driveway when I got home, but no. Insert thumb in butt. Commence waiting…

So, I suppose, technically, in a world where all the slack is cut, 26 minutes before the end of the announced 2-4 PM time window is technically “early.” If you count the air quotes I made when I said that out loud. And only for Comcast. But still. Two hours after the “your technician is on the way and may be early” message??

Regardless. The first thing the technician said is, naturally, “What seems to be the problem?”

Me: “Honestly, it was the stupidity of Xfinity website. I bitched on Twitter. ComcastCares came back with…” and then, I shit you not, the technician finished the sentence.

Him: “You have a signal fluctuation?”

Me: “Exactly.”

Him: “I hear that a lot.”

Me: “And they did nothing to address the issue I was bitching about.”

Him: “I hear that a lot.”

Yadda yadda yadda, schmooze schmooze schmooze. He checked the signal. There was a fluctuation. He found the cause. The fluctuation went away. Well done. Still not the issue I called about.

Within an hour of the tech leaving, I start getting calls from Comcast. Robocalls, wanting me to answer a few questions about my service experience. I have not responded yet. I thought I should get all this out of my system first before I let some poor schmuck on the other end have it with both my verbal barrels. They don’t deserve the shit storm I would have rained down upon them, if, by any chance, there was an actual person involved. More likely, it would be a robocall, too.

Anyway. Thanks for letting me vent. I know there’s a lot worse things going on in the world at the moment. You know, Nazis in the streets of America and whatnot. In the great scheme of things, this is a petty annoyance that’s symptomatic of the larger problem.

Will this pissy blog post do anything to change the corporate juggernaut? Probably not. Will I get free stuff out of it? Certainly not. [Honestly, I’d be happy if they’d just fix their fucking web site so I never have to talk to one of their worker bees again. Seriously.]

In the meantime, the bitching and moaning will continue until the FCC starts going its actual job of protecting consumers from this sort of tacit monopoly, and forces competition in all areas. Actual broadband competition. Fiber vs. cable internet would be a lovely decision to make. Codify net neutrality and make it stick. Nationalize broadband. Break up the monopolies. Stick it to the man. Keep reminding your representatives that it’s supposed to be “government of the people, by the people, for the people…” and you’re more than happy to vote out those who seem to think it’s anything else.

Make some noise, people. #resist


*The Skynet internet service provider is actually called “Skypacket” if you’re interested. I bet they really, really wish they could have used Skynet, though.

I sent ComcastCares and the Xfinity twitter accounts a link to this. They got back to me.

The thing that surprised me most here was the “We understand wanting to manage your services on your own…” because that means he or she read this when I tweeted the link at them. Good-on-ya! Though honestly, these are just pictures of what I said to you in the first place, so if your team had read them the first go-round, all this could have been avoided.

I did, as requested, follow up with the engineers as requested, and sent them a link to this, too. I was too lazy to type a censored version of this all over again. Also, Monday. Pleh.

Finally they crossed my palm with silver:

Well, not so much silver as megabits, as the money is mine, it just gets to stay in my pocketses. It’s a nice gesture. It smoothed my hackles, which were on red alert. It smoothed the way for my VPN plans, and in fact paid for them for two years with the savings.

While in the short run, it makes me happy, it hasn’t changed my opinion about Comcast, media mergers, net neutrality, or the monetization of fucking everything. The cost of living [according to the American Institute for Economic Research] has gone up something like 30% since the turn of the century [that’s 2000, not 1900], while the Economic Policy Institute points out that wages have been stagnant for over a decade, with wages actually falling during the big recession of 2007-2012, even though productivity grew nearly 8% over the same period.

What does that mean in layman’s terms? We’re getting fucked. We have to work more for less pay, to pay for things that keep getting more and more expensive while [if we’re lucky] our wages remain the same. What, in this case, Comcast giveth, I’m sure AT&T will figure out a way to take it away. Or the water company. Or the electric company. You know. You pay bills, or listen to the cussing of someone who does.

If net neutrality goes away, broadband providers will be able to double-dip: charging you for access, and charging content providers like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and other data-heavy services for priority access. If Netflix and Amazon have to pay more, that means you’re going to have to pay more because a corporation won’t eat the increase in the cost of doing business, it will pass it along to its customers. Probably at twice the rate, because why not? We have to make money for our shareholders, too.

There’s a long legal and legislative thread here that is too complex for me to explain, or explain well. There are many documentaries that do a much better job. Here’s info on one: Heist: Who Stole the American Dream?, but there are plenty that run the gamut from dusty, dry economics class nuts and bolts, to batshit crazy conspiracy theories. Try not to fall down the rabbit hole, but educate yourself and #resist.

If you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention, kids.

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