Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Comcast - Villain?

Does Comcast Control You?                   [(c) RichDevine.me]

We've been having a running battle with Comcast for a while now over its faltering WiFi service.

At first, it appeared to be just another glitch [similar to the many we've routinely dealt with over the last 10 or 15 years [all the way back to the days of Thomson Cable].

And, in the past, a phone call to the Comcast techies usually resolved the problem quickly as the "techs" could skim a manual, identify the problem, and try a variety of remedies -- one of which eventually would correct the problem.

Sometimes, it would take a visit by a live tech who would eventually determine that the problem originated at the neighborhood cable distribution point.

Comcast's best techs are in Canada, their worst in Eastern Europe. 
[We've been dealing with Eastern Europe of late.]

Let's Communicate for $$ (c) Warner Bros
But, now, as the prison warden told Paul Newman's character [in Cool Hand Luke],
"What we have here is a failure to communicate!"

Hmm.  Four calls; four disconnects.

It seems that this time, our request for support zipped right through the first tech, who advised he couldn't fix the problem and immediately transferred us to an electronic message offering three options, the primary of which was to sign up for an expensive WiFi Service Support Package. 

This seemed odd since the WiFi problem derived from the diminution of Comcast's signal, rather than from our quite new and very high end equipment.  So, why should we have to pay a surcharge for a Service which Comcast seemed to be disrupting.

[Could Comcast be a subsidiary of ObamaCare?]

I am from the city of Vermont  (c) HHenly

To confirm our suspicions, we made a fifth call, reaching "Erik" a tech whom we had conversed, and then arranged a conversation with his supervisor "Jake" [#615], whom we asked specifically if it were necessary to sign up for Comcast's WiFi Support Service to get Comcast to fix their transmission problem.  He eventually admitted the disruption in service could only be solved by signing up for Comcast's new Xfinity Signature Support service.

We then forwarded a complaint to government regulators on this apparent coercion, and we received calls from Jackie Dieter and a "Marie Schuler" from Comcast's Executive Customer Care Team -- deeply concerned that we had a problem, with assurances that a Comcast Tech Rep would be in touch to resolve the problem.  Oddly, there has been no such contact, much less, resolution.

                                       (c) MaximumPC
Our conversation with government regulators regarding Comcast's seeming monopoly status was quite revealing, but not very satisfactory.

We learned that government regulators take a "hands-off" approach to Cable companies since they have no jurisdiction over the Internet or WiFi signals, leaving Comcast, et al, to misbehave and to be abusive to their customer base.  Then again, we learned that there are class action suits against Comcast
[e.g., Behrend v Comcast] which will likely be reviewed by the Supreme Court.

In fact, although they cannot interfere with Internet and/or WiFi signals [and we're very glad of that], government regulators can regulate the carriers of those signals over their equipment.  We have a very heavy duty coaxial cable leading into our office which carries the signal to the Comcast Router, which is supposed to then route Internet to our computers and project a WiFi signal to wireless locations at our location. 

But now, the signal for both is minimal -- in contrast to Comcast's recent proclamations that they had "upgraded" their Xfinity service -- perhaps the small print was that the upgrade isn't free; and, the "upgrade" might be tied to a recent "downgrade" of one's existing service.
[And, Exfinity seems to be a pseudonym for the infinitesimal wait for a usable service signal]

So, what's the story here?

$7.99/month for the best TV series
Well, following recent disruptions in our Internet service [they seem to be more routine now], we commented to the repair people [who tried to sell us an upgrade to Comcast TV] to which we no longer subscribed since it was inherently cheaper to cancel the TV service and simply "stream" via BlueRay the NetFlix array of TV program series as well as its vast array of movies.

"Netflix represents more than 20% of downstream traffic during peak times.

We also learned that NetFlix is not alone, and that more companies have these offerings, all at monthly pricing significantly less than Comcast
[e.g., Comcast TV service is roughly $80 per month; NetFlix streaming is $8.00 per month; hmm, easy choice!].

So, are we facing a situation where Comcast is deliberately disrupting service to its clients to force them to use their TV service, or to interfere with the "streaming" capability which enables NetFlix?

It certainly seems that way.

(c) OhioCitizen.org
In the old days, we would refer to such an abuse as extortion; but, in today's environment of mega-companies which arrange for quasi-monopoly service contracts with government eye-winking and large campaign contributions, coupled with private lunches among providers in which they divide up the consumer territory, we fear that the consumers just don't have the clout to fight back. 

We learned that there is no government allocation of territories at all; it is the companies themselves which allocate territories.  So, theoretically, you could have a Cox Cable connection next door to a Comcast connection -- but when's the last time you saw THAT happen.

David Cohen EVP - Comcast Cable        [Wikipedia File Photo]

Now, we're certain that David L. Cohen, Executive VP of Comcast Cable, is an honest man.  He is, after all, a "close confidant of Pennsylvania's Governor Ed Rendell" -- the General Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Law School [we believe with no linkage to their sports program].

Pa Gov Rendell   [Wikipedia Photo]

So, we're certain David would be appalled if he were to be accused of market manipulation.

Given the advantage Comcast enjoys in this situation, we'll exercise our own political options. 

Residing in the US Capital does have its advantages since 40+ years of exposure to Hill contacts, both politicians and staffers, has some merit.  Politicians come and go; staffers stay forever.

If we combine these contacts with a few zealous Journalists looking for a great scandal in an election year, we just might be able to make a dent in the armor of the Cable industry and the stranglehold it has on consumers.

And, an unregulated Internet will allow us to disseminate this story.