My Cable-TV Grudge

PUBLISHED: December 5, 2014

A diverse group including concerned parents, sports fans and even the Writers Guild of America is fighting the proposed merger of media monoliths Time Warner and Comcast. The effort is spearheaded by the non-profit organization Public Knowledge, which claims the $45 billion merger would harm both the economy and our democracy.

I tend to agree, although in a somewhat less hyperbolic way. I'm inclined to judge service industries by the most fundamental element of their existence: service. That's why I'm compelled to share details of my encounter with Comcast the day before Thanksgiving.

8:45 a.m. – Son Danny informs me that Georgetown University's Thanksgiving eve basketball game will be carried on an obscure channel called AXS.

9:10 – I phone Comcast and learn that AXS is only available on the Digital Preferred package which will cost me an extra $10 per month. I grudgingly accept an "instant" upgrade.

11:50 – Still no sign of AXS on our TV. I phone again, fighting through endless menu options and inane music.

12:30 – A supervisor explains that even with Digital Preferred I can't view AXS because I don't subscribe to HD, which is another $10 per month.

12:35 – I grudgingly accept, only to be told that I'll need an HD converter box, which I can pick up at the oxymoronically-named Customer Service Center, about 10 miles away.

1:15 – A clerk hands me the converter while disclosing that I will have pay a $15 "Self Installation Fee." I'm too stressed to ask why.

2:20 – I self-install, and then discover I must phone (with menu and music) to activate the device.

2:48 – The box won't work. Seems Comcast wrongly registered it to the personal account of my assistant, Brian.

3:25 – After a half-hour on hold, a supervisor shifts the registration to my account.

3:40 – The box is activated and works – for all Digital Preferred channels except AXS. No one seems to know why.

4:05 – The tech department discovers I have the "small HD converter box" that only gets certain channels. A larger box is an additional $10.

4:07 – The tech guy checks the closing time of my local Service Center and happily reports that I have until 5 o'clock to pickup the bigger box.

4:48 – I grudgingly arrive at the facility to find a note on the door: "Closing today at 4."

6:20 – Danny's network of tech-savvy college friends discovers a presumably unauthorized website that distributes the AXS signal for free, without Digital Preferred, without a small box or a big box, without self-installation fees. Without any hassle.

6:30 – We watch the Hoya's victory.

Friday, 10 a.m. – I am unable to phone the local Comcast Service Center because they don't permit customer calls. The national 800 operator says if I care to speak with them I'll have to drive over.

10:45 – Brian goes and hands his cellphone to the clerk. I ask to speak with the manager and learn that "he was fired last week." I ask to speak to someone in charge and am told that person "is on vacation." Brian is handed the bigger converter box.

The rest of my day is spent deliberating whether to keep or cancel my "improved" service. I also ponder the proposed cable merger, concluding that reduced competition will only make things worse.

Cable customers put up with a lot, but at some point we hold a grudge.

(c) Peter Funt. This column was originally distributed by the Cagle syndicate.

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