Com(plaint)cast: Welcome to the New Monopolies
Forgive the length of this story of complaint. However, I suffered long, complicated ordeal, at the end of which I have made no progress with my complaint. It is an (almost) unbelievable story, but I assure you, every word that follows is true.
I signed up for cable in 1998 to get more channels and better reception. A promotion got me interestedI got a package with HBO and Showtime for well under 50 bucks a month. I was happy with my service and the product. Over the years, the company changed hands a few times, from Oakland Cablevision, to A. T. & T, to Comcast. The price went up a little, but stayed under 50 bucks. When Comcast took over, the trouble started.
My saga of misery starts in January (I did not document the date because I was as yet not a complainant). I returned home from work late one night to find a door hanger on my front door knob inviting me to sign up for digital cable which was coming soon to my neighborhood. Several interesting deals were offered, including a package with high speed Internet and cable. I called to enquire. No, said the voice, we have not yet wired your area. I asked for the price anyway. Upon doing the math, I decided it was a bad deal. My service was fine and I could live with computer access through the phone line.
Fast forward to February 28. I return home, flip on the TV and get nothing. I called Comcast and they informed me that my cable has been switched to digital. I am angry. You did not notify me, I complained. I am sure you had plenty of notice, said the woman on the phone, following her script. We argue about that. She hangs up on me.
I phone back, get a new attendant and talk to a supervisor. Not only do they stick to their story, I find out I must go across town to pick up some boxes to be able to get reception. I protest the inconvenience. Why arent these boxes delivered to me, I ask.
You had the opportunity when we first notified you, she says.(Later, I check my files. I am a packrat and I save everything. I find no notice of actually having wired my neighborhood, other than the door hanger saying it was coming.)
How much is this going to cost me, I query. I am quoted a price that is 30 dollars more than I was paying before. Now I am pissed off. How is it that I am paying %60 more for the same service? I get a story of increased prices for these services blah, blah, blah. I get tired of trying to get her to acknowledge that such a price hike is unreasonable. I argue with the manager and threaten to defect to satellite TV.
Eventually, they give a break when I threaten to stop being a customer. I shouldve switched when I had the chance. I signed up for basic service with HBO and Showtime and they discount my boxes. Now I am paying just of 70 bucks a month (about a %40 increase). I am informed that I have a $150.00 credit limit. What does that mean? I ask.
You cannot have more than $150.00 in extra charges a month, she says. I think, I dont order pay per view anyway. So I dont worry about it.
I go to pick up my boxes. I set one up downstairs. On March 2nd I call to activate my account. My daughter and her Costa Rican husband started living with us in January. They enjoyed their own box upstairs.
Things are fine until the week of April 7 when I receive a bill for $804.54. The bill shows two pages of Pay Per View charges, all pornography, none of which I ordered. Many of the movies ordered are running concurrently on the same night and at the same hour. On March 10, for example, eight movies are playing between 10 P.M. and 1 A.M.
I am furious because I figure it is my new son-in-law. I call him to the carpet and he admits to channel surfing and clicking through the porno. He had no idea he was ordering them on PPV. It makes sense. Even someone who does like porno cant watch four or five movies at the same time.
I call Comcast Customer Service on Saturday, April 21st. I get an attendant named Dylan. I explain the whole thing to him. I ask why I was charged for these movies. It doesnt make sense; a person cant watch multiple movies at the same time. Why wasnt I notified? Why didnt the credit limit stop the charges? How do I know these are really my charges? I offer to pay up to the credit limit, but I feel that Comcast should pay the rest because it failed (in Dylans words) to send the signal to the box shutting off the PPV once the orders exceeded the limit.
Dylan agreed to take my case to management and said he thought we could work something out. He took down my cell number and my home number. I explained I was going to San Diego for a vacation, but I would carry my cell with me. He never called. Nobody called. I assumed things were handled. (And this was the first of three calls to be promised, none completed.)
When a received ANOTHER bill for $1251.55 with more porno charges showing, I went orbital. I raged at my son-in-law. I accused him of defying my wish that he not mess with PPV again. He swore that he ordered no movies after we spoke. My daughter accused me of disrespecting him. I accused her of being in denial. It was a horrible scene. And it was the exact same scenario regarding multiple movies at the same time. Upon closer inspection, I noticed that dates and times showed on the bill when no one was even in the house! Something is really fishy here, I thought. I began to think my son-in-law might have a point.
I called Customer Service to protest. There was no record of Dylans conversation with me. Agent #TC6 gave me a different number to call, saying she was not authorized to help. I must pay the charges. Then came one of the strangest conversations I ever had. It was about the credit limit.
Why wasnt the limit imposed? I asked.
It doesnt necessarily work like that. Even if you exceed the limit, you still have to pay.
So it is not really a limit, then?
No, it IS a limit, a credit limit.
Could I pay this off right now on my credit card?
So if it doesnt limit my card, or my charges, what exactly does it limit?
It limits the amount you should be accruing on your bill.
But it didnt. I now owe a LOT more than 150 dollars. Are you telling me you have a limit that doesnt limit anything really?
Well, they are supposed to send a signal to the box. I guess they didnt.
And that doesnt make these charges YOUR responsibility?
No, you ordered them.
I asked about how exactly the PPV orders were recorded. Could someone order in someones name? What proof do I have that these movies were actually ordered from my house? How could a person find out exactly when the movies were ordered? She said she had no way of exactly verifying those questions. She said she did not know anything about the technology of it, only that I must have ordered the movies because they appeared on the bill. I eventually grew so frustrated I hung up on Comcast this time.
I called back the next night and talk to Agent T2L. I try a different strategy, rather than trying for justice, I just go for information. I decide not to get into complaint, and just try to get as much data as possible. T2L is the first to tell me two important things: 1) I can get a blanket block on PPV by making me the only one to order it and setting up a code word (thereby avoiding having to block channel by channel with the remote), and 2) they can send a technician out to check the box and, if it shows that no movies were ordered, I would not be charged for the movies or the visit.
I set up the password, set the so-called credit limit to zero, and ordered the tech visit. She is the first to acknowledge this, saying, Hmmm, I dont know why your limit didnt kick in it should have stopped these charges.
I call tech support instead of billing. While Ms. T2L was the nicest attendant yet, I have received so much contradictory information, I want to be sure that the service call would really settle the question of whether or not the PPVs were ordered from my upstairs box. Now, instead of a stonewalling, script-reading contract employee, I get Steven (# L90) who is warm, helpful and sounds like he really knows his stuff. (This call is not documented on the computer read out, but I have it in my notes.)
He gives me his number (45255) to call him back. He explains that there is a chip in the box that a technician can read to see if the movies have been ordered. He also explained that a limit really is a limit and that a signal should have been sent down the line telling the box to stop order PPVs. He does not know why it wasnt. He points out that the limit it set at 250 dollars, not 150 dollars. At this point, whats another hundred dollars?
After hanging up, I call Customer Service back to try for justice again. I want to make sure their notes (by now I have figured out that they are documenting these calls as am I). I ask Agent T9R to add to the record to reflect my concerns. She types, CUST CLD TO REPORT THAT HE SPOKE TO DYLAN ON 04/12. THERE ARE NO NOTES. CUST HAS A CONCERENED [sic] OF 2 THINGS THE FALIURE [sic] OF THE DCT NOT TO RECOGNIZE THE PPV LIMIT AND CHIP IN A BOX. CATHYCBILLING/CP ESC
I call Steven back. While Ms. T2L was the nicest attendant yet, I have received so much contradictory information, I want to be sure that the service call would really settle the question of whether or not the PPVs were ordered from my upstairs box. Steven assures me it will. That, if it shows no movies ordered, my charges will be dropped. His notes read, 1046 PER BILLING CUST PPV LIMIT WAS SET A $250 BUT THE BOX ORDERED $1209 WORTH OF MOVIES CHEDULED SVC CLL SHA LRC. We set the visit for Tuesday, May 27th. After talking to the Steven, I figure I have grounds to drop the charges on the credit limit issue alone.
I am looking forward to the tech visit. It is critical to find out if either box ordered these movies because we have had a major falling out in my family over this. I have accused my son-in-law of lying and my daughter of being in denial. She accuses me of taking the side of a monopoly business that probably routinely cheats its customers and why would I take the side of big business over my own family anyway.
The tech failed to show the Tuesday as scheduled. I was immersed in computer work while waiting at home for the tech to arrive, so I just headed for the office after the appointed time. When I arrived home that night, I checked messages. I hear a garbled phone message in a thick accent that sounds like someone saying he had to reschedule. I was in the shower at the time of the call.
I am busy, so I am not able to call Customer Service until Friday the 30th to complain and, hopefully, to reschedule. I speak to #T4Y. After sorting it out, it seems the policy is to call BEFORE knocking on the doorsomething I was never told when I scheduled the visit. It seems Comcast calls BEFORE knocking, unlike all my previous experiences where companies call AFTER knocking. I never heard the phone, and I did not think to check my messages.
Dont you think I should have been informed about this before hand? I ask frustrated. I am so tired of this. Can you all get your act together? You should drop these charges immediately. Agent #T4Y does not like this line of discussion. She gets testy with me; I get testy with her. The notes read, CUST IS UPSET THAT I WILL NOT GIVE HIM CREDIT FOR ALL THE PPVS ON THE ACCT.INFORMED CUST HE HAS TO HAVE A TECH CHECK OUT THE EQUIPMENTCUST BECAME UPSET AND THREATENED TO SUE ME. THEN HUNG UP.
Actually, it was the company I said I would sue, but she was correct about be being upset. But wait, it gets worse.
I call tech support when I am calm and speak to agent #LIE (a prophetic agent number, I think in retrospect). He schedules a visit for the next day and writes, CUST CALLED TO SAY THEY WERE HM YESTERDAY FOR SERV CALL APPT. CUST ALSO STILL DISPUTES PPV. PPV LIMIT IS AT 0 BUT STILL ABLE TO OREDER PPV. ALSO THERE IS A PASS [sic] DUE AMOUNT ON ACCT. CUST ORINGINAL [sic] CALL WAS ON APRIL 18TH ABOUT THE PPV ORDERING SUB SPOKE TO DILLON. RESCHDULE [sic] SERV APPT. ALSO SET UPA A FOLLOW UP SUP. SMS-CCC
The next day, Saul (tech #3110) arrives to finally, I hope, solve the mystery. I explain the whole sordid tale and he seems to be sympathetic. We check the downstairs box, the one that I use. It reads zero PPVs ordered.
So that means no movies ordered from this box, right? I ask Saul. Yes, he says.
Upstairs we go to complete the same procedure. Likewise it shows zero movies ordered. He asks to examine my bill. This does not seem right, he says. We go back downstairs and Saul tries to call in but his cell battery is too low. He excuses himself to go out to his car where he can hook it up to the charger there. Ten minutes late he comes in and says that I am exonerated of all charges. I ask, Are you sure? This means I will not have to pay for these movies, right? He assures me that I wont. His note on my receipt reads, CALL CUST SERV TO DROP ALL PPV CHARGED DOWN TO O. Saul says I should call sometime next week just to be sure. (Much later, when I demand and get the printed record from Comcast, I notice that there is an entry on May 31 that reads, PER TECH 3110 VERIFIED NO PURCHASES ON THE CDT AND THE CREDIT LIMIT IS 0 05/31 CS.)
I am ecstatic. I thank Saul enthusiastically. I apologize to my daughter and son-in-law.
But it isnt over at all.
I am busy that week. Sometime during the week I get a phone message saying to call Customer Service. Then I receive another bill showing more PPVs and no adjustment in the account. I call thinking that there has just been a glitch in the process. Incredibly, the attendant says that the charges stand. I read her the techs notes. She says that there is no record of the techs comments and that the only way they have of verifying is for to go into the office at Eastmont Mall between 10 A.M. and 6 P.M. (I work typically from 8:30 A.M. to 7:30 P.M.). I am incensed. Later I call back and demand to talk to a supervisor and I get the same line. No I have to take time off work to resolve this.
I did not order these movies and I am not paying this bill, I say to myself. I put in a call to my lawyer to get his opinion. He is on vacation. I decide to get rid of the offending upstairs box. I pack it up and put it in my trunk so it will be there when I find a chance to get the Comcast office. I plan to turn it in.
A week later, having found no possible moment to get across town to their office, I make one last call to see if I can resolve it by phone. Kathy (#LDS) makes it even worse. Her attitude is like I am some kind of criminal pervert and I am stupid too for thinking I could ever get these charges dropped. She impatiently explains that the boxes get wiped clean each time the PPVs have been uploaded. The zero PPVs ordered means nothing.
Then why, I ask incredulously, did you tell me to have the technician come out in the first place? This is the first time anybody had told me that information and this was recommended by your company?
Well, we really cant answer that, but, since the PPVs show on your bill, you are responsible. An interesting logic: because they are there theyre mine.
But I have the technicians note that says I am to get these taken off the bill? I read the note to him.
Well I cant verify that because there is no record of that here. You have to come into the store and show the technicians note.
I go over her head and talk to Dana, (#LCO), her supervisor. Dana gives more of the same. Her entry reads, CCI WANTED US TO CR ALL OF THE PPV NOT NOTES ON THE ACCT FROM TECH THAT SAID TO CR SUB FOR PPV. ONLY THAT AT TIME OF VISIT NOT PPV ON DCT BECAUSE THEY WERE ALREADY DOWNLOADED AND TECH 0 CR LIMIT. SO CR WAS DENIED. SUB STATED THAT W/O STATES TO CREDIT SUB IN FULL ADVISED SUB TO TAKE W.OFOR CR OF THAT AMOUNT. ESC-DANA. In other words, SUB(ject) is totally screwed unless he can prove the technician said what he said.
Between that conversation and the next, my cable is shut off and I receive several calls from billing automatons telling me to call them so I can receive more of the same crap.
On June 14th I called again to see if a rational person existed in the Comcast billing department. Agent #T48 wrote, SUB [that would be me] IS STILL CONTESTING PPVS. JOE CPBILLING d**n right I am.
And, because now I have learned that if you call twice, you get twice as much disinformation, I call back to talk to Monica (#T48). My notes are sketchy here, but I think I called the service department. Monica wrote, SUB CALLED TO CONFIRM TECH 3110 SAID ALL PVS TO BE REVERSED PER INVOICE 94611511905144011 LEAD NEIL WILL LOOK INTO AND CALL SUB BACK LRC MONICA P. She becomes the second person to promise to call me back that doesnt.
And, because I am a glutton for contradictory information, I call back a third time to speak with #L60 (initials LRC). L60 notes, SPOKE W/MR JUBB, ADV PER NOTES HE NEEDED TO TAKE TECH RECEIPT TO CABLE STORE, NOT ABLE TO CREDIT OUT OF THE LRC. SUB SAID WOULD BE IN ON 6-17 TO PROBABLY EASTOMONT MALL STORE ADV HRS 10-6. SUB ASKED FOR DCT REACTIVATION. ADV NOT ABLE TO UNTIL MATTER CLEARS. SUB SAID THAT WAS UNFAIR. LRC/NEAL/34231.
Yes, I admit it: I am desperate and, like Archimedes, I am looking for one hones Comcast woman or man. I think if I go in person and plead my case, somebody will recognize that I am being screwed here. I begin to wonder, will Saul now be disappeared so that he will never be able to testify that he told me I was in the clear?
On June 17th, I go to Eastmont Mall. While standing in line, I overhear several complaints like mine. Why did you change my service and increase my bill without asking? How could I order the same movie 18 times [dont laugh, I saw the invoice!]? What proof do you have that these charges are mine?
I turned in the offending upstairs box, which I am beginning to wonder is like a Stephen King fantasy, ordering its own pornography for its own bizarre purposes. My rep is Curt C. (#bgr) and he is skeptical but willing to view the evidence. After we go through the whole litany of problems, I can see that he is warming to my perspective.
He even agrees to print out my bill and all of the comments written by various agents (and thats why I know all these quotes are accurate.) Curt is conscientious, working through each detail, and, gives me a receipt for the box I turn in. He promises to engage management and sends an urgent fax to resolve the matter. Curt writes, TECH 3100 NOTES TO CALL CUST SRVC. DROP ALL PPV CHARGES. IN SYSTEM 1209.17. FAXED TO ANTHONY. HE SPOKE WITH TECH SUPVSR. MGR WILL REVIEW AS SOON AS OUT OF MEETING. REQ 144.74 CREDIT TO ZERO ACCOUNT AND START FRESH NEXT MONTH. CURT C. EBCS OAKLAND.
Curt promises that I will receive a phone call with the decision. I am reluctant to leave and he says, dont worry, he has all my contact numbers and I will get a phone call back. That is the third return call I have been promise and do not receive. No one calls me back.
In the interim, I get a voice mail that my service has been disconnected. I get two more calls advising me to call Customer Service about an urgent matter which I already know means that I will call an agent wanting me to pay up. The agent will take five minutes or so to read through the notes and then inform me that I must pay up anyway. I choose to wait for my phone call.
Eventually, I realize that nobody will ever call me back. I call Customer Service and they let me know that Management (perhaps the elusive Anthony) has denied my appeal.
I phone my lawyer who advises me to forget about a lawsuit. I wanted to sue Comcast (and I will be filing for redress in small claims court which will cost me another 400 bucks), but I learned from my lawyer that that is the best I can do. It seems that unless I can show a doctors report of physical and/or mental injury, I have little hope of doing better than convincing a small claim court judge to make Comcast eliminate the bill and restore my credit record.
Meanwhile, Comcast continues to damage my credit rating and continues to harass me for money. Being pissed off about getting abused is not grounds for a lawsuit. My choice are to go to small claims court the convince a judge that the charges should be dropped and that Comcast should send a letter restoring my good credit rating, or, that I should pay the bill and chalk it up to the global capitalism and the age of new monopolies. How depressing.
Meanwhile, my cable is disconnected and now I receive a new bill for $1631.89, which includes the cost of the box I still have in the house. I have paid my monthly fee throughout this whole ordeal because I did not want to be accused of dodging legitimately incurred costs. Now I am at the end game and here is what I have decided to do.
First, I wrote this account, so that other consumers could see how Comcast works. The frontline workers try to handle complicated complaints and do not have the tools to do the job, thereby giving misleading information. Managers hide behind the scenes, taking a hard line not because they are right, but because they can. It is coolly cynical stance: they know that economics are on their side, that most consumer would rather pay up than have their credit rating damaged or spend hundreds trying to get iffy legal help. It is a racket of the first order.
Second, I am filing a suit in small claims court and I invite all of you to come. I will publish the date on the Internet. Come watch justice in action.
Third, I will be filing complaints with the City of Oakland and with any other agencies I can find that care.
Finally, I am deeply concerned with the business practices of Comcast, a company with a virtual monopoly on the cable TV market in the city of Oakland (our only other choice is satellite TV). This company seems operate without competition, oversight or public accountability and can abuse its customers with impunity. I am not a lawyer, and my research has not been exhaustive, but it seems that current regulations do not protect consumers from the kinds of incompetence and abuse that I have endured. I wonder how many Oaklanders have had experiences like me? Please write and share your stories. I know you are out there. My search on the Internet using the words hate Comcast yielded 24,800 hits.
Consumers beware; few regulations exist that would allow us to hold Comcast accountable for its behavior. Comcast is, in effect, a government protected monopoly. In the age of global capitalism, where the power of businesses now exceeds the power of governments, we had better wake up before all of our freedoms are privatized.
U.S.A. Click here to read other Rip Off Reports on ComCast