Fun with Comcast 1.0

Yesterday, Comcast came to my house. One of the great things about this blog, is I get to now chronicle some of my more interesting Murphy’s Law encounters. In other words, I get to vent over incompetence.

Comcast has increased the upload bandwidth in my area to two megabits. They did this to better compete with FiOS providers (even though FiOS is not yet in my area of the region). They also upped the download bandwidth, but did so without advertisement (so basically PowerBoost speeds are now normal speeds).

My signal has been weak for over a year… some technicians have blamed it on a patch of RG-59 cable. Of course, whenever I do get a technician out there, they aren’t equipped to run wire (despite the service order saying so clearly). The Comcast-assigned contractor doesn’t like sending those reps out… because it costs them money to run cable.

I’ve tried to explain to the technicians on-site that having very strong signal doesn’t mean that symbol quality (or signal quality for that matter) is also great. And, while we got everything (barely) working with both HDTV and Cable internet, I couldn’t top one megabit upload with the recent increase. So, out Comcast comes again.

This time, I give the marching orders… try swapping out the modem first (because it’s both logical, and the first thing they’ll want to try anyways), and then re-run cable if necessary.

So, out comes a new modem. And, the technician wants to use one of my PCs to set it up on. I point to my ancient Satellite 5005-S507, and clearly say “I don’t want any Comcast crudware on my normal systems”. So, the technician sighs, knowing it will take awhile to boot and install on a powered-down system (my look clearly responded “too bad, I know better”). Thankfully, as it turns out, I knew better.

So, he boots up the system, and looks puzzled. Yes, Mr. Technician, I have Firefox as the default browser. No, not Internet Explorer, Firefox. So, he finally realizes the distinction, and opens Firefox… and downloads the Comcast setup software. He runs the installer, and I start to watch, to make sure he doesn’t screw up. He goes through the install blindly (probably because he’s done this a million times). He gets to the part where it’s all ready to go. And, there’s a check box for Comcast Toolbar. I scream NO! as he clicks Next. Perhaps he forgot where I said no crudware… he quickly remembered saying “oh shoot”.

But it was too late, the install had begun. Now, the apporpriate thing to do at that point was say “I’m sorry sir, I’ll remove the toolbar as soon as the installation finishes”. Unfortunately, he didn’t do that. He immediately clicked the X to close the installer in the middle of it running. And he did it again. And again. At this point, Windows interperted the application as non-responsive. He ended the task… killing the installer mid installation.

Great. You just screwed up everything (I’m not saying this aloud). Now the toolbar is half-installed, or the modem is half-provisioned, and everything is screwed up. But, I don’t say that. I let him start the installer again.

Now the installer won’t communicate with the modem. Great, either the modem is in a provisioning trap, or the installer corrupted my networking stack. Either way, I’ve already come to the conclusion that I’m going to restore. Thankfully, I have Windows Home Server, so this is no big deal. The installer tries rebooting (I have to help him at this point). System comes back up, no go.

He tries this two more times… then says “I need to try this on another system”. Of course, because he broke one system. Now, which system am I going to let this incompetent tech break next?

I walk him over to my Core 2 Quad workstation, and boot it into my secondary drive with Vista. I start to restore the Satellite 5005 with Windows Home Server. The installer looks puzzled at what he’s seeing, even though I explained it to him.

He finally gets Vista up and running. I have to show him where Internet Explorer is (he obviously has used Vista for less than 30 minutes). The download software refuses to install… DNS error. Great, the modem is now toast, or in provisioning misery. I hold the technicians hand and show him where they moved Network Connections in Vista. Of course, everything checks out.

So, he gets on his Nextel i355 (the standard issue for a Comcast-contracted technician in my area). Calls his boss. Explains the issue. Boss says to call Comcast tech support. And he interjects “once you have a connection you are done there”. I scream out NO! again. I explained that I had a fully working connection, just a half the upload bandwidth I should have. The technician converts that to his boss as “do you think bandwidth is an issue?” His boss replies “No, don’t think so”.

I now realize this technician is incompetent. I was being generous before, but he can’t even relay a statement in English properly. And this person obviously is not someone with English as a second language.

He gets on the phone with Tier 1 Comcast tech support. They tell him to check network connections. My technician replies that they all check out. Then, the Comcast tech support rep blames my network configuration. I scream NO! a third time, and mutter thorough how I had a perfectly-working connection before this technician screwed everything up. He realizes that he can’t leave things at that… I have his supervisor’s business card in plain site from the last visit. If he used that as an excuse to bolt, he’d probably be in hot water… thankfully, he fully realized he can’t leave until this is fixed. Comcast tech support tells him to replace the Cat-5 cable, and hangs up.

So he goes and replaces the Cat-5 cable. Again, nothing. Calls tech support back, they re-push the provisioning, and ask him to reboot the computer. The rep instead presses the big red sleep button in Vista and asks “uh, did I do that right?” I hold the technician’s hand and show him where they moved the Reboot option in Vista.

After the reboot, the internet just works… obviously, the modem was in a provisioning mess, and tech support had to re-push the activation. Problem is, we’re two hours into this debacle.

So, the technican starts to pack up his stuff. And I respond, “wait, we don’t even know if the issue is fixed”. It finally clicks in his head that I am going to make him wait while I test the new modem… but thankfully, a first test finally yielded 1.7 megabits upload, and the new modem fixed the issue.

In all, it took two-and-a-half hours to have a technician replace a modem. I can see why Comcast outsources on-site support to contractors.

My moral of the story is this: While it may seem cheaper to outsource support, it can wind up costing more… a lot more. That support call should have taken 30 minutes. Even if you cut your support costs in half by sourcing local contractors, you just paid more than double the cost of what it would take a technician properly trained in Vista, XP, and Mac OS X. Now, granted, most people don’t know about the woes of things like the Comcast toolbar. Most modem activations don’t get stuck in a loop. However, I doubt this is an isolated incident. I think Comcast would be best off ordering contractors to use Comcast-issued trainers to educate technicians on each operating system supported by Comcast, and what do to when things are screwed up.

5 Responses

  1. Humberto Saabedra
    Humberto Saabedra September 2, 2007 at 1:43 pm |

    Great story, Chris. I now have an excuse to keep old gear around. I like how you annoyed the tech’s boss and he tried to order him out of there. I’ll keep this story in mind once Verizon marches out to instill FiOS at the end of the month.

  2. longtimereader
    longtimereader September 3, 2007 at 7:14 pm |

    Great read. I have enjoyed your stuff for quite a while now…

  3. Brad Johnson
    Brad Johnson September 13, 2007 at 11:25 am |

    did the installer not have his own laptop to test with?

  4. Christopher Price
    Christopher Price September 14, 2007 at 3:38 pm |

    Actually he did, and eventually used it to test the connection. Because the modem was stuck in a provisioning trap… it didn’t work either.

    That was after he called his supervisor, but before calling Comcast tech support… one of the reasons why when they blamed my network it was so laughable (or, rather, blood boiling).

  5. Dude, I’m Glad I Got a Dell : Christopher Price .net

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