Comcast Hammer Granny

Monashaw As a customer just coming out the tail end of a week-long ordeal with Comcast and their army of incompetent technicians and telephone bank operators, I feel more than a twinge of sympathy for Mona Shaw, a 75-year old woman, frustrated to the point of insanity by Comcast’s “customer support,” who walked into the local Comcast office and started smashing computers with a hammer. Washington Post:

Shaw’s opinion of Comcast? “What a bunch of sub-moronic imbeciles,” she says. This was after the company had scheduled installation of its much ballyhooed “Triple Play” service, which combines phone, cable and Internet services, in Shaw’s brick home in nearby Bristow. But Shaw said they failed to show up on the appointed day, Monday, Aug. 13. They came two days later but left with the job half done. On Friday morning, they cut off all service.

My situation: A seemingly simple request to upgrade to digital cable with HD channels, and to have a dual-tuner cable card installed in a Series 3 Tivo. Long story short: Installation tech appears, says he’s never worked with a Tivo before. Installs card, checks out a couple of channels, and leaves, thinking he’s done. I realize that night that we’re only getting 10% of the channels we’re supposed to be getting – and far fewer than we got before the upgrade. Each attempt to call for support earlier than midnight results in being put on the call-back system, my calls being returned at least 90 minutes later. The two times I was put on hold, got disconnected after 20 minutes. Empty promises that they could fix it by sending “a special signal” to the cable card to “wake it up” (electroshock therapy?) They asked me to wait three days for that to happen, then to call back if no change. Waited, no change.

Tried to schedule another house visit and was told there wasn’t a tech available for two weeks. Raised hell and, magically, an appointment opened up for the next morning. The tech never showed. Called in, waited for callback, and was told the visit was actually scheduled for the next day (bull – we were going camping that day). Finally was able to schedule a visit during the work week, between 10 and 2. Should I work from home that day or not? Yep – tech didn’t arrive until 1. Armed with an array of multi-stream and single-stream cards, she babbled at length, placed endless calls to her own tech support system, tried to mix single- and dual-stream cards, placed them in the unit in the wrong order… She finally got a single-stream card working and got up to leave. “You’re going to leave me with a single tuner?,” I asked. “You have another tuner in the Tivo.” “But not one that’s connected to your service.” “Why do you need two tuners anyway?” She places another call to her tech support to confirm that I’m not lying to her. Kid you not. Issue finally resolved after two hours of in-house visits, uncountable time on the phone, and bottomless frustration. And oh yeah – at every turn, operators tried to get me to bolt the Comcast phone service onto my order. Right, I’m going to put our phone service into the hands of a company this clueless, brand new to the phone game. I won’t be walking in to the local Comcast branch with a hammer, but it’s not hard to see where the impulse comes from.

So was Mona Shaw a crazy lady?

From what we can tell, Mona Shaw is not, actually, a raving lunatic armed with construction tools. She is a nice lady who lives in a nice house. She and Don are both retired from the Air Force (she was a registered nurse). They have been married 45 years. She is secretary of the local AARP, secretary of a square-dancing club and takes in strays for the local animal shelter (they have seven dogs at the moment). The couple attend a Unitarian Universalist church.

Get more than your fill at

Tip: Comcast lookups for seldom-visited sites going slow? Reconfig your router with DNS servers from OpenDNS.

Music: Sonny Rollins :: Strode Rode

Comcast Gets Sneaky(er)

Interesting piece at Machinist on Comcast’s underhanded attempts to shape network traffic by blocking certain kinds of customer-generated traffic without their knowledge. Accessing a given, non-copyrighted resource such as the King James Bible via BitTorrent from a Comcast-connected computer may fail, while accessing the same file from a non-Comcast host may work fine. What’s going on? Comcast is apparently running bots on its network that masquerade as P2P client machines, which send false “hang up” messages to both ends of a P2P communication. In other words, Comcast is not treating all network traffic equally – they’re controlling and managing the activities of their users however they see fit – and they’re doing it without letting their users know. This sums up the paradoxical position that providers like Comcast are in:

Providers … have an incentive to reduce peer-to-peer traffic on their networks. But they can’t do so openly because, remember, a lot of people only pay for services like Comcast in order to use peer-to-peer programs.

If consumers ever needed a clear example of why we need net neutrality written into law, they need look no further. The free market isn’t going to shake this out – not when you’re dealing with things like cable companies and their virtual monopolies.

Music: Cibelle :: Train Station

Speed Bump

Tired of SBC/Yahoo! dropping our DSL connection two or three times a day, and slobbering over the promise of 3Mbps, made the jump from DSL to Comcast cable today (our contract was about to expire anyway). Expected the worst, but the install couldn’t have gone smoother (including Le Cable Dude stringing coax to the other side of the house, making child’s play of the impossibly cramped rabbit hole we call a crawl space. 30 minutes later, we’re ripping.

Had heard some bad things about DNS latency issues with cable connections, but so far it’s running like an electric pig slathered in deep-fat-fried butterballs (that’s a good thing). Ran the dslreports speed test just before disconnecting DSL and then again just after bringing up the cable:

SBC/Yahoo! DSL:
622kbps down
309kbps up
57ms latency
Comcast cable:
2956kbps down
1423 up
59ms latency

IOTW, nearly 5x faster in both directions, at roughly the same price. What remains to be seen is whether Comcast will extend the introductory rate indefinitely, as SBC had offered to do.

Compare to average broadband speeds in other countries:

Average broadband download speed in the US is 1.9 Mbps. It is 61 Mbps in Japan, 45 Mbps in South Korea, 18 Mbps in Sweden, 17 Mpbs in France, and 7 Mbps in Canada.

Coda: Called in to cancel the SBC service, and selected “Disconnect service” from the phone tree menu — which of course landed me on hold for 40 minutes. Finally couldn’t wait anymore, so Amy said she’d try it later in the day. She waited on hold for 20 minutes, then hung up and called back. This time she selected “Connect new service.” Big surprise, she was talking to a helpful rep in 2 minutes flat. The rep asked why we were canceling. Amy: “Because the service sucked.” Rep: “So I’ll just write down ‘Customer regrets that they were unable to resolve technical difficulties with the service.'” Amy: “Could you also write that the customer regrets that she and her husband were made to wait over an hour on hold between the two of them?” Rep: “Sorry about that. Amy: “Could you also write down that the customer regrets that AT&T chose to have her listen to “Message in a Bottle” while on hold?” The rep dutifully wrote down her comments, then read them back. “Customer regrets having to listen to Message in a Bottle while on hold.” “Anything else?” “That’ll do it,” Amy responded. And that was that. File under “Reasons why I love my wife, #246.”

Music: Stereolab :: One Note Samba-Surfboard

Seeking Comcast User

Getting close to nailing down an alternate SMTP port for traveling Birdhouse users. Have confirmed that it works with SBC/Yahoo!, and want to make sure it works with Comcast Cable Internet as well. If you use Comcast (or another cable provider for that matter) and would be willing to help me with a quick test, please contact me. You don’t need to be a Birdhouse customer to do this. Thanks in advance!