My own personal Comcast customer service horror story (updated)

This Comcast customer service nightmare demonstrates how a general lack of competition in the broadband market lets the notorious cable giant repeatedly get away with atrocious service.

Comcast van
Credit: Comcast

(Editor's note: This post has been updated to include a comment from Comcast. Modifications are marked in bold or strikethrough text below.)

Just a few weeks ago, I wrote a piece about Comcast's pledge to spend $300 million to improve its notoriously crummy customer service. If I wrote for a newspaper, I'd say the ink had hardly dried before Comcast once again demonstrated why it's one of the least loved companies in America. The evidence was right in my own backyard — literally.

Why am I not surprised? This is just one more Comcast horror story, and it shows once again how the lack of competition in the broadband market often sticks consumers with second-rate service at a first-class cost.

I live in a two-building complex in San Francisco that includes four flats, and they all share some of the same wiring. My neighbors subscribe to Comcast cable and Internet. (I used to, but not anymore.) A few weeks ago, a Comcast tech stopped by and put a flyer on one of the doors saying there was a "signal leak" (whatever that is), and the company needed to speak with the customer.

No one was home, but instead of coming back the next day, or calling my neighbors, the Comcast tech climbed a nearby telephone pole and placed a filter on the cable box that disabled their service. One of my building mates complained, and a second tech stopped by to turn it back on. However, that tech didn't have a ladder long enough to get up the pole and to the box, which led to further delays.

After the Comcast rep located the right ladder, he removed the filter and restored service -- for about a day. After that, the service was disabled again for some reason, with no notice or explanation other than the cryptic reference to a signal leak. The blackout lasted for days.

Eventually one of my neighbors took time off from work to come and let yet another tech onto the property, and he finally found the guilty party: my zombie connection. When I cancelled my Comcast service more than a year ago, the company left the cable running to my flat in place  — it remained connected to the service box in the backyard— and it apparently caused some sort of interference. Who knew?

Comcast, of course, needs to protect the integrity of its network, but it's hard to imagine the problem was so severe that it needed to suspend service for three of its customers without notice. Even if the problem had been urgent, there's simply no excuse for the way the company handled the matter.

My neighbors work at home at times, and like most of us, they use the Internet for a wide variety of things Not having it is a real inconvenience. I won't mention names, but they are really angry. Will they cancel their service? If there was more competition in the broadband market, they probably would, but even in San Francisco, one of the most connected cities in the country, there isn't a single additional provider that supplies "high-speed" Internet to our neighborhood — high speed meaning 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream, according to the FCC's revised definition.

I reached out to Comcast to hear its side of this irritating incident — in fact, I emailed two Comcast PR people — and haven't heard back. Here's Comcast's official statement on the incident:

"Interference from adjoining lines can cause problems in the network. In this case, service for three customers had to be temporarily suspended to prevent problems for more than 100 other nearby customers until we could pinpoint the source of issue. We have apologized to the three customers who were affected and have credited their accounts with a month's worth of free service. Our goal is for every customer's experience with us to be excellent, and we’re reviewing our policies around network interference notification to be sure that’s the case in the future."

Hey guys? It's time to start putting that promised $300 million to use. Your customers are sick of being treated so poorly.

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