It’s Comcrapstic! My Comcast Tech Support Story

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I know this will seem like another “me too” post after the well publicized Comcast story at TechCrunch, but I actually wrote about 95% of this a couple of weeks ago, mostly while I was on hold with “tech” “support.” I was going to wait until the issue was resolved, but I’ve decided to post it now. This is my story of how Comcast took over the cable services of my lowly regional cable provider, and how bad things can get worse. Read the rest after the jump.

I am currently attending grad school at Purdue University, which is located in the relatively small town/city of West Lafayette, Indiana. When I first moved here the cable provider was Insight, and I thought they were terrible (relative to my last cable company Cox). Latency (ping times) were high, channel selection and quality of service (bad picture, dropped sound, extra-crappy DVR) were a joke, and the prices weren’t great. I did however get close (~95%) to the advertised throughput of the Internet package (10Mbit/1Mbit) I paid for.

That changed when Insight sold the Indiana area to Comcast. Initially I was looking forward to a bit larger company hoping the selection and quality of service would improve; it didn’t. Literally the day Comcast took over the network (as shown by the IP address range and DNS servers I was pulling down) my max download speed dropped to 4,250 kbit/sec (less than half the speed of what I was paying for).

I could test at a variety of sites (Chicago, New York, Dallas, etc.) over different networks (Sprint, Speakeasy, etc.), and they would always max out at 4,250kbit/sec usually within a 6kbit/sec variance. Look like my connection is being capped? Yeah, that’s my hypothesis. Oh, and FYI, I don’t use any P2P; I actually buy my music (shock!).

When I first noticed the problem, I tried calling Comcast. Their system would try to transfer me to a customer service representative (CSR) for about 30 seconds and then just tell me that they were all busy, try again later, click. I couldn’t believe it would just hang up on me. So I tried it a few more times and it happened every time, even if I requested cable TV support instead, even the next day.

It was after this that I went to Comcast’s website and filed a complaint. It is worth noting that their feedback form says it sends an e-mail to “Rick Germano – SVP Customer Operations, Comcast.” I left a brief complaint basically stating what had happened and that I’m not happy with it.

After a day or two, I got a phone call from a “local” (they left the local number, but it just went to the same system as the 800 number) Comcast employee. She sounded like her short-term job security depended on taking care of my issue. Unfortunately she called in the middle of the day, so obviously I wasn’t home. When I would get home, however, their call center would already be closed. They called two other times (yeah, still in the middle of the day) and left messages.

Finally, they sent me a letter saying that if I didn’t call within the next two or three days that they were going to consider the matter rectified. I don’t know how they really thought anything could be rectified, as I still hadn’t been able to talk to a single Comcast employee.

The next day I made a point of getting home early to call Comcast so that my issue wouldn’t get swept under the rug. What happened next really surprised me. I encountered the two least qualified IT people I have ever dealt with, literally. As a very competent network guy, I’m used to knowing more about the problem than the first line support, but this was a new low.

The first “tech” would interrupt me every time I said something because she heard a slight echo. The first time was fine, after the twentieth time I was losing my patience. She would not check anything out on my connection unless I first:

  1. Plugged straight into my cable modem
  2. Turn off my firewall
  3. Clear my browser cookies (yeah…seriously…those cookies can drop your speed by 60% or more…)

She said that I wouldn’t get my rated speed if I had a firewall on. You know, because modern dual-core CPUs can’t handle a 10Mbit/sec connection through a firewall, right?

To top it off, as I use VoIP for my “home” phone service (which I was using for the tech support call), I would have to use my cell phone. Problem is, they can’t call out, so I had to call back in and wait on hold to get another technician.

Before I ended the call she asked me if it was raining, because that could affect the speeds. I told her it was perfect blue skies outside. Then she asked if it had rained at all lately to which I replied that it is Indiana, it rains at least once a week. So she said that was probably the problem. That explains why the Internet is always so slow in Seattle.

So I called back in, and the second “tech” asked me which site I had performed my speed tests on (dslreports.com, flash and java versions). He then went to the site to run a speed test. He didn’t want his speed though, he was trying to check my connection’s speed through dslreports. He was completely puzzled that it kept returning the speed of his connection.

He actually couldn’t run any tests basically. He could see it was connected and that was about it. He told me that a technician would need to come out to check the wiring outside, and that the soonest they could schedule me for was in a week-and-a-half.

I’m moving in about 6 weeks, and I’m about 95% sure it isn’t the wiring outside, so it would just be a week-and-a-half delay to finding the real solution. I told him to forget it, I would just downgrade my service so that I at least wasn’t paying extra anymore.

These two people were by far the least qualified “tech” “support” people I have ever encountered (even worse that my worst Dell experience). And before you jump on the “India Tech Support” crap, realize that these people were all American.

I want to make it really clear that both reps acted like they really wanted to help me, but they were completely incompetent. It really was a lot like when a two-year-old wants to help you cook in the kitchen. I don’t blame them for their failings however, I blame whoever hired them. My mom could give me equally good bad good bad good (read: bad) tech support tips, no joke.

After waiting for about ten minutes, I finally got transferred to someone in billing who could downgrade my service. When I explained why I was downgrading (incompetent techs can’t fix my connection) and explained some of the “techs” actions, she was completely dumb-founded. She said she doesn’t know anything about computers, but even she knew you can’t do a speed test of someone else’s computer via a website like dslreports.com.

Turns out there is a 6Mbit/sec down 1-2Mbit/sec up package that would cost me $15 less per month. As the uplink is still good (my uplink gets maxed out a lot between online gaming, VoIP, Orb, Foldershare, FTP, XMPP, and Mozy), I decided I would switch. She told me it would probably take 15 minutes to become active and after that I would need to power-cycle my cable modem.

She called me back (apparently billing can call out?) about an hour later to inform me that she looked into things further, and my issue had to be escalated. There was some problem with “the codes” for my account or something. It sounded like my account never got provisioned for the right service level (which is what I suspected all along). She said she would call me back in a week to see how things were (which didn’t happen). With the exception of her not following up a week later, she was the only helpful and qualified person I dealt with.

I mentioned my issues in our post about Comcast rewarding you if you publicly complain and two Comcast employees made comments and one has contacted me via e-mail. I’ll do a follow-up post on the outcome.

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