"What's black and white and read all over?"

Saturday, April 08, 2006
Posted 5:06 PM by

Time to re-regulate Cable TV and Telcos

This wasn't the first time my Internet cable modem went dead, but it is the first time I learned the company's threshold for responding to service complaints.If there's one thing the PSEG and Exelon electric company merger should teach us, it's that deregulation clearly doesn't work to promote competition, lower prices and better service here.

Consumers in Southeastern Pennsylvania learn that on a daily basis in dealing with cable TV giant, Comcast.

And while Congress dithers on a rewrite of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, I thought I'd spell it out.

Comcast serves as a utility for millions. The company got huge tax breaks to build its headquarters in Philly and eminent domain rights to run its lines down public streets. It not only provides TV service, but is the region's leading broadband Internet provider and is vying for a share of the phone company market.

But when it comes to actually responding to customers when they complain about poor service, Comcast acts very much like the unregulated privately-owned monopoly that it is.

For instance, did you know there's a "tipping point" before its top service technicians can be called in to fix a problem with its Internet network? It operates on a sliding scale in which as many 20-25 modems must be off line depending on where you live before any problem gets classified as an outtage.

Meanwhile, the company no longer posts any kinds of statements on its Web site describing the health of its Internet network or any planned outtages for maintenance. It had one in December, but buried it on a page deep within the site rather than put it on the homepage.

I discovered all this Friday when my cable modem was out at 7 a.m., which is problem because I work online. Of course, I called only to be told there was no outtage in my area but that they would be glad to send a lesser skilled outsourced technician to my home.

Since I made no changes in my set up between 1 a.m. and 7 a.m while I was asleep and the computer was off, I didn't see the point. Bitter experience has taught me that if you wait long enough, the company finally fixes its network problems.

I did, however, insist that I get a rebate on my daily charge for the $50 per month service.

Three hours went by, though, and in a free moment in my office I decided to use a live IM chat with a Comcast tech to see if the problem had been corrected. The tech told me that there was indeed an outtage in my area at 3 a.m., but that it had supposedly been corrected by 5 a.m.

I got home around 2 p.m. and still had no Internet access, so I called again. Still no reported outage but the person I spoke with told me only five modems in my area were out.

As it turned out, all five were at or near my large apartment complex, which has about 50 cable modem customers. A reasonable company would have immediately realized something was not right and got its butt in gear.

Not Comcast.

Frustrated at 5 p.m., I called again only be told the 3 a.m. probem had finally been declared an outtage at 4:21 p.m.

Sometime around 7 p.m. I finally got some service restored, but it seemed pretty slow. I made a post to this blog and went to sleep. Twelve hours later, I woke up this morning to find the modem was out again.

I called again, got a call center in Canada, demanded another rebate - for which the respondent had the gall to tell me I had to wait for the problem to be resolved until I demanded to speak to a manager - and told him to fix the now 24-hour-old problem.

The service was finally restored at 1 p.m.

Just think, if I had taken the company up on its offer for VoIP phone service I wouldn't have been able to call them to complain.
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