Friday, February 27, 2009

Comcast's enhancement, part two

The words look somewhat similar, but disenchantment and enhancement mean very different things. I have not been having fun since I was informed by Comcast that they were improving my service by switching from analog to digital cable. I've continued my research and discovered that AT&T's new service is not available in my area (which is odd since I live about a mile from their national headquarters). To get a dish of any sort would require approval from my homeowners association for size, color and placement, which could take months. Also, a dish normally means putting a hole in your roof and I'm not too happy about doing that. That means I'm stuck with whatever my local cable monopoly was willing to offer me.

I attempted several times to use the website noted in the original letter but an error message told me I had to call. I did so, and discovered that all they could do at that number was issue digital converters. They could not issue dvr's, could not discuss rates, could not do anything else. I was told I could be transferred to a salesperson if I wanted anything except a converter. I declined at that point. I checked the website and saw the rates being offered to new subscribers and wasn't happy. I procrastinated.

After my first post here I received a nice letter from Comcast's National Customer Operations. In addition to repeating most of what was in Comcast's original letter to me, explaining that they do offer DVR and reiterating that the internal Comcast transition had nothing to do with the government analog to digital conversion, he offered to see if there were any promotions for which I'd be eligible. To preserve his privacy I will not quote his letter, but I will show my reply. It took me several days to respond, simply because I wanted to be less enraged cooler and more collected than I'd been over this issue.

I'm very impressed that you took the time to write, although I think you missed a few of my points.

I am aware that the converters themselves are being offered free (for now) to the people being converted to digital cable. It is exactly this piece of equipment that will render my VCRs obsolete and will require the use of a DVR to time-shift programs as I currently do. According to Comcast's website these DVRs are available for $15.95 each (I would need two, so this would be a monthly charge of $31.90, plus tax, that I did not need to pay previous to the enhancement). (I didn't even speak of the nightmare of trying to connect my vcrs and dvd players after installing the set-top box or digital adapter.)

The current promotional price shown on Comcast's website for the digital version of the exact package I have now is $29.99 per month for a 6 month period (which together with the cost of the DVRs will bring the total monthly service to $61.89; $2 more than I currently pay). In six months this exact same package will increase to $59.95 per month (plus DVRs will equal $91.85 per month; $31.90 per month more than I'm currently paying).

I am also quite aware of the difference between Comcast's analog to digital conversion and the Digital Broadcast Transition. I was pointing out that the people to whom the massive federal advertising campaign is addressed, i.e. the elderly and the nontechnical, might have trouble differentiating between the two changes.

I have spent substantial time recently researching my options and have unhappily discovered that beyond Comcast Cable, the only other television programming in my area is available through a satellite dish. Because of homeowners regulations it could be 6 months before I could get approval for any type of dish installation so that leaves me with no choice at all, except the choice of discontinuing viewing.

One thing of which I wasn't aware when I posted my blog entry was that I am unable to use the simple website to order equipment; I have tried repeatedly using both my Unique Digital ID# and my account number (xxxxxxxxxxxx). I will need to set aside considerable time to wait on a phone line so that I can continue to watch television beyond Channel 35, and I will need to do this almost immediately to receive equipment in time for the conversion on March 9th.

I appreciate your offer of assistance but I don't think, other than ordering and delivering the equipment yourself, that there is much you can do.

When I got home that evening I had a message on my phone from a local Comcast representative saying she was returning my call and to please call her back. I did so the next morning (last Friday), while I had the website open showing current prices for a new subscriber in my area. Ms. EM (name withheld to preserve her privacy, although I don't know why I'm bothering) told me she could offer me $39.99 per month for one year for the basic digital service. The website was offering $29.99 per month for 6 months. She told me that the website was not actually Comcast, it was a reseller so she couldn't match any of their prices. Over the year her offer would save me $59.76. But that was just for starters.

I needed the 2 dvrs, since I would no longer be able to use my vcrs to tape programs. Ms. EM tried to convince me that I could indeed continue taping with my vcrs in the same manner to which I was accustomed, it was just a matter of how they were installed. I disagreed, having had that experience several years ago and having read everywhere that it had not changed. She put me on hold a couple of times to discuss the matter with her colleagues and although they agreed with me, she wasn't entirely convinced that she was incorrect.

She told me the first dvr is $15.95 per month. On the website, they didn't show a price for a second one, but it implied that it was the same $15.95. Ms. EM offered the second dvr for $15.95 plus $6.99 ($22.94) per month. She told me I should go to my local Comcast outlet to pick up the equipment; the hours were highly inconvenient for me to go there. She offered to ship the boxes to me but by that time I was frustrated and wanted to see what my options were on-line. I told her I'd call her back later. I was not angry or loud during this conversation, but I was forceful and determined to get the best deal available. I didn't yell, didn't swear, didn't cry in frustration but I also wasn't giddy and chipper.

I called her again on Monday, gave her my name and case number, and she put me on hold while she brought it up on her computer. She then left me on hold until I finally hung up 20 minutes later. Twenty minutes later! I was doing something else and there was lovely music in the background but still, twenty minutes on hold and no indication that she would ever return. I hung up, called back, got her voice mail and left a message. I called again a couple of hours later, left another message on voice mail. For the next two days I called, from different numbers in case she was caller id'ing me, and left messages for her. Not a single one was returned.

Yesterday I left work early and went to the local Comcast outlet store. I arrived there just after 5 pm. There were 2 people ahead of me in line, 2 people working at the counter, and 4 gentlemen in Comcast shirts wandering around the store, talking with each other and ignoring anyone who walked in. I waited in line for about 10 minutes for my turn, getting increasingly annoyed. I reached the counter and the woman at the computer, told her I was there about the enhancement, told her I needed dvrs and asked what kind of deal she could give me. She told me the same $15.95/$15.95/$6.99 for the dvrs that I had heard before. I asked what kind of a price I could get for monthly service; she was befuddled that I'd even think I'd get a lower price than what I had been paying for the analog service. I started getting more annoyed and told her that the website had $29.95 per month ("that's only for new customers") and that I had been offered $39.99 by a special representative who would not return my calls. She said she couldn't match that either. I said that I had gotten that offer because I had made a loud stink on the internet; she told me she was sorry, she wasn't authorized to do anything special. I replied (ok, almost yelled): fine, I need the dvrs, there's nothing I can do, go ahead and screw me, I'll just write about it.

She went to the back, got the equipment, typed away on her computer, returned to the back of the store, then came and told me that her supervisor said she could offer me the $39.99 per month for a year. Well fine, but why did I have to come unglued for that to happen? She gave me the two big boxes, the cables, the remotes and I left. I didn't get the new service prices in writing since she said she couldn't do that, so I'll have to wait and see if I actually receive them. My new "enhanced" service will cost me $78.84 per month; my unenhanced service was $59.95 per month (plus, of course, taxes, surcharges and fees which have been $4.15 per month and I'm sure will increase). I'd like to know in what way an additional $18.89 per month ($226.68 per year) enhances anyone except Comcast?

Now I just have to hook up everything and figure out how to use the new equipment. "Just." In the family room I need to also attach my combo dvd/vcr and the ancient stereo, in the exercise room I need to attach separate dvd player and vcr. I will not give up my vcrs because I have many movies and many exercise tapes. I don't understand most tvspeak, most electronictalk, most technobabble. I can't decipher the difference between all the connectors and connections. I was very happy with what I had and I'm not looking forward to trying to figure out something new right at the time when I'm trying to finish up my training for the century, and when I need to give more time to my family. I wish they hadn't done this.

I wish I had other reasonable options.

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