Last week, former tech journalist and current AOL VP of product Ryan Block recorded a horrifying conversation with a Comcast representative. On Monday, he tweeted it to his tens of thousands of followers. (Listen to it here.) By Tuesday, the clip had gone viral, with droves of people commiserating on Twitter, Facebook, and article comment sections. They, too, had their own epic torture stories. They, too, felt Block’s pain.
Comcast, in response to the situation, offered a personal apology to Block, and a public statement on its blog, condemning the rep’s behavior as “unacceptable and not consistent with how we train our customer service representatives.”
But judging from the overwhelming response of readers, training or no training, Block’s misery is far from unique. Though Block’s story is particularly infuriating, it’s by no means an extraordinary experience in the world of cable provider customer support.
To emphasize this point, we’ve collected some of your worst experiences with cable providers over the years via your comments and emails. If this list isn’t an argument against monopolies, I don’t know what is.
(Note: Some of these stories have been edited for grammar and length.)
Life, Death, Taxes, and Comcast, from Yahoo Tech commenter Betty:
“I called to cancel my Comcast service. It turned out to be in my deceased husband’s name. I told them he was recently deceased. I was told I could not cancel the service; only my husband could! I reiterated that he was no longer living; the person again said it could only be closed by my husband. This went on for about five minutes till I gave up. I tried again the next day and got the same response — finally, a supervisor told me I could take his death certificate into the office in Foster City. I took it into the office, and the person there was horrified that I had been asked to do that and to hear of my past phone conversations. I never used Comcast again.”
What Are Words if Not Characters of Interpretation? from reader Randi Swetzig:
“I had Internet with Comcast for a little over a year when I noticed that my ‘promotional rate’ had expired. I called Comcast to discuss with them what current specials they were running in my service area. The sales associate with whom I spoke spent 45 minutes trying to talk me into signing up for home security services, which I repeatedly refused. Finally I gave in a little and agreed that the installer could give me a ‘demonstration/sales pitch’ when he came to install my cable TV that I ordered during the call.
“On the day of installation, a Sunday during football season, the installation technician called me to let me know he was going to be early to install my cable AND home security system. I informed him that I had only ordered cable, at which point he said, ‘I have orders to install both. The office that I would need to talk to about changing the orders is closed today, so I can either install both or neither.’ I didn’t want to have to reschedule my cable install because it takes forever to get an appointment, so I told him he could install both, as the home security system could be canceled within 30 days without penalty. He showed up, did his installs, and then told me that I needed to wait at least three days before canceling the security system — otherwise it would look bad on him. He also told me that if I had any questions or decided to cancel, I should call his company and NOT Comcast.
“Well, needless to say, a few days went by and I ended up forgetting about the 30-day cancelation policy. I called Comcast a few days past my 30-day window, and after being transferred seven times I finally reached the ‘home security’ department. I spoke with a representative named Jarred and told him my story, and he said he would speak with his manager the next day as she was ‘out.’ I told him during that conversation that I wanted to cancel my home security service; he never canceled it or called me back. I have spoken with Comcast representatives numerous times since then, usually after being blind transferred numerous times and hung up on. Now they say I owe them over $1,300 for breaking my ‘contract’ on home security services that I never ordered in the first place. I’m disabled, my disability insurance hasn’t been approved yet, and my husband makes barely over minimum wage. We can’t pay this, nor should we have to.”
But What Are Roofs if Not Playgrounds for Drills? from reader Dan Brochu:
“On June 1, I called Comcast to advise them that, due to cable TV maintenance being performed in the area, the cable and telephone lines had been pulled out of my house. The person I spoke with scheduled a field person to come out Tuesday, June 2, to fix the cable line.
“[That day], I called Comcast and spoke with a customer service representative and advised her that the field person left debris from the cable on the roof. They also made three attempts to drill into the house to anchor the fastener, finally achieving success on the third attempt, but never filled the first two holes that they made in my roof drip edge. They just left the holes for water to intrude into the protective roof trim. Consequently, I climbed up on the roof and filled in the holes with silicone myself. The customer service representative scheduled another field visit to remount the cable.
“On June 4, I called to cancel the remount and inform Comcast not to step foot on my property again. The customer service representative said he would forward the info to the field manager who would contact me. He never contacted me. I have since purchased the required hardware to properly mount the cable and will perform the install myself.”
What’s Yours Is Ours and Ours Is Ours, from reader Chris Belson:
“It took me about a year of calling two or three times a month to get Comcast to stop charging me $7 rental fees on my personally owned modem.
“They KNEW it wasn’t a piece of rental gear because they didn’t charge me the fee for the first year I had service with them. I’d bought it from Cox when I lived in Norfolk, and when I set up service in Washington, they acknowledged that I had my own modem.
“When I moved locally in March of 2013 and transferred service, the charge started to appear on every bill. I’d call and tell them it wasn’t a rental and they’d remove the charge, and it’d be there agin the next month.
“After the first two or three times, I Googled the issue and found that other people had had the same problem and that it required that codes be changed in two places in my account, but that it took two different offices to make the two changes. Armed with that knowledge, I called again and told the representatives what they needed to do to fix the issue. Needless to say, the second office didn’t make the change, and I’d get charged again the next month.
“Every time I’d call, I’d give them the trouble ticket [number], and sometimes it would be closed. Either way, they could see all the notes and would read them to me, and apologize, and say that they’d make sure it would be fixed this time. Month after month: Call, explain, call the next week to verify that the process had been completed, and start all over again. They even RAISED the rental charge to $8!
“I’d get an agent on the line and ask for a supervisor immediately so I wouldn’t need to explain everything three times every call. Didn’t help. I dealt with Internet people, TV people, tech support, sales, retention specialists, and supervisors from all of those departments without success. I was supposed to get callbacks numerous times from several supervisors. Never happened.
“In April of this year, I finally got someone who was a retention specialist supervisor and was ALSO a veteran, and he actually called me back. After a week of dealing with him, it was finally taken care of and it hasn’t shown up on my bill since.
“Of course, they just magically had a rate increase 30 days later of an extra $10 a month.”
But What About Our Struggle? from reader Valery Myers:
“They did the same thing to me [as they did to Block]. At one point the guy says, ‘$50 isn’t going to take food off your table.’ I was a single mother receiving no child support, living in the Bay Area, living paycheck to paycheck, and spending an average of $150 a month on food. YES, it was taking food off our table! I didn’t think it was any of their business why I couldn’t afford cable. After telling him I was canceling because I couldn’t afford it, he said, ‘Well how do you think WE pay for all these upgrades?’
“When I finally got him to disconnect it, he was quite nasty about it. He told me I had to drive to Livermore to return the box, which involves crossing a toll bridge, heavy traffic, and a 1.5-hour drive each way. I work full time, so before I could even return the box to them, I received a bill for $272 for failure to bring it back.”
The Bill That Summoned a Gaggle of Lawyers, from reader Brian:
“About six years ago, my girlfriend had SBC Internet and phone, which was bought by AT&T. When that happened, service went down and Internet disconnect went up. The worst part was they said my girlfriend owed $100 for nonpayment. That was strange, since she had it automatically taken out of her account every month, and she got a paid-in-full receipt every month from them. AT&T then said she had insufficient funds. Strange, since she had overdraft protection and plenty of money in her account.
“She goes to her bank, and her bank shows the deduction from her account from AT&T. She prints it out and contacts AT&T. They tell her she needs to fax it to a controller. They give her the number, and she faxes it. A couple of months later, they contact her and say she owes them $300 for the first date she missed, plus some more. She goes back to her bank to get the printout for those dates and faxes them to AT&T with the number they gave her. A couple of months go by, and they contact her again, saying they never got the fax/info. She tells them the number she faxed it to. They say that is the wrong number and to fax it to another number they give. There is no number for the controller that we can check to make sure they got it.
“A couple months go by, and they contact her again to say they never got the info and now say the bank must send them the info. My girlfriend goes back to the bank. The bank says no, we don’t do that; we have never heard of doing this.
“At this point, I say, ‘Let’s cancel.’ As soon as we do that, they send her to collections for not fulfilling her contract and to pay for the modem. We had finished the year contract, and there had been no request for the modem.
“We hand it to a lawyer friend. The lawyer has problems but finally settles with them to stop collecting for a debt that isn’t owed. A few more months go by, and collection companies start calling. AT&T’s in-house collections sold off the nonexisting debt, and the price went up from $300 to $500. Our lawyer goes after AT&T again. They said they made a mistake and agree to settle. The papers were signed, and we thought it was behind us.
“Then we get a letter in the mail from another collection company. We try to deal with it to no avail, so our lawyer hands it to her friend, who is a bigger lawyer. He goes after the collection companies and AT&T and settles with them. Four or five months go by, and it starts all over again. Our big-fish lawyer is pissed/embarrassed, so he goes after them again. We are promised the nightmare is over.
“Ultimately, our lawyer, our lawyer’s friend, a collection agent lawyer, and a lawyer from the collection agency we sued meet in Los Angeles to settle the case. It has been about two years now, and just last week we got a call from a collection company saying my girlfriend owes them money for an AT&T debt. It has been almost seven years, and they put it back on her credit score that she owes money she never owed. If we hadn’t lived this hell, I don’t know if I would believe the incompetence and rudeness of companies.”
Thanks to everyone who contributed! I’m sorry to say the response was so overwhelming that this could be a yearlong series. I worked with Mat Honan on a similar project in 2011, and it seems nothing has changed since then.