Saturday, January 12, 2008 06:25 PM
(Last updated on Saturday, March 7, 2009 08:27 PM)
The Latest Episode in the Cocmast Saga
 by Fëanor

Gather around, girls and boys! Feanor's got another wonderful tale of the nightmare that is Comcast. Settle in, because it's a long one.

For quite a while, poppy and I have steadfastly refused to switch from regular cable to digital cable, mostly because of the expense and annoyance. But back in November I think it was, poppy and I discovered that we weren't getting one of our favorite channels - Turner Classic Movies - anymore because it had gone all-digital. And then we heard about a deal where we could get digital cable with On Demand and HBO for free for a year. So we decided to call up Comcast and take advantage of it.

But I hate calling Comcast and sitting on the phone for an hour or more fuming in frustration waiting for them to talk to you, so I put it off for a bit. Then one day I called them at work, got the usual "We are experiencing higher than normal call volumes" message (which, as poppy has pointed out to me, is bullshit, because they're always experiencing higher than normal call volumes, so they're not exactly higher than normal, are they?), so I hung up and decided to try later.

But that night when I called back, I had what was probably the easiest, smoothest call to Comcast I've ever experienced - which should have been a clue right away that something was wrong. I got right through to a guy, and when I told him we wanted the deal, he said all we had to do was go to our local payment center, pick up a digital cable box, and I'd be good to go. Even at the time this sounded too good to be true, and I checked and rechecked with him: Are you sure this is all I need to do? That's it? He insisted it was, so as soon as we had a chance, we swung by and picked up the box and plugged it in.

And indeed, at first, everything seemed fine. In fact, better than fine. We were getting way more channels than we'd even expected - it seemed like about a thousand. Not just HBO, but Cinemax, Showtime, all kinds of crazy channels. Of course, the cliche was true, and the first time we cycled through all those new channels, there was still nothing on. Still, we enjoyed having TCM back, and all these other new interesting stations.

Then, a couple of weeks later, we go to switch on the TV, and the box has on its display - instead of the usual time or channel number - four dashes, and the TV has a big box with a message in it saying that the settop box is not authorized for use and we should call Comcast at this phone number. And that's all it will show us - we can't watch digital cable anymore.

So, poppy called them up and got this woman who had her try various things - unplug the box, wait a few minutes, plug it back in. Apparently she was sending some kind of signal down the line that was supposed to reset the box and fix everything, but it didn't do a damn thing. So, she told us to go to the payment center and get a new box.

Luckily, it was one of the nights when the payment center was open late, so we swung by, picked up a new box, plugged it in, and indeed, there was our digital cable, right back.

But why did the box go wrong in the first place? Was this something we would have to do every couple of weeks? We hoped not, but we decided not to worry about it.

So then, last weekend we're over my parents' house and they're showing us all this cool stuff we can watch on the Comcast On Demand service, which we hadn't tried yet. So when we go home we decide to give it a shot. Poppy orders up a free program and, guess what? We get a message on the screen telling us we've received an error, and we should call Comcast and reference error code ERR-18 when talking about our issue. Luckily this error doesn't fry the box completely.

As I've already said, I hate calling Comcast, so instead of doing that, I went online and used their chat function, where you can talk to a representative using an AIM-type window. I still had to wait a while, but not that long, until a guy named Ed came on the line. (While I was waiting, poppy and I joked that he'd tell us to get a new box. You will see why this was particularly funny in a few moments.) Ed requested all kinds of information from me, and finally had me do the same kinds of things the lady had had us do before: unplug the box, wait a while, plug it back in. He was sending us that signal thing again, apparently. Well, when I plug the thing back in and turn it on, guess what? "This settop box is not authorized." Ed fried our box. Thanks, Ed!

I tried to get Ed to give me something more, but all he could tell me was to get another new box! He said that when I went to the payment center to get said box, I should tell them that we were getting an overcharge and that the box couldn't process the information.

The payment center is only open late enough for us to get there after work two days a week, and we had to wait two days for that time to come, so it was two days without digital cable for us. When I finally get there and tell the guy at the window our whole sad story, it clearly means nothing to him, and he clearly doesn't care. He won't even look me in the eye. He pretty much says, do you want a new box, or not? Oh, and it sounds like there's something wrong with your line, so you should have a tech out.

Great. Awesome. When we get home with the box, it works, but we're still getting the ERR-18 code when we try to select an On Demand program. So it is indeed time to get a tech out. Which means I have to call Comcast again. And initiate what will no doubt be an entirely new nightmare. Argh! I put off doing this for a couple days, then finally one night, I settle in for a long wait and ring them up. After a good half hour to 45 minutes of waiting ("higher than normal call volumes"), I finally get a lady and, hoping to get it over with as quickly as possible, I tell her right up front that all I want to do is schedule an appointment to have a tech out. She's not having any of that, and demands that I tell her what's going on, so I go through the whole sad story again for her. And she says to me, "Is it a digital cable box? Because you don't have a digital cable package on your account."

Yes, she's nailed it right away. Apparently the very first guy I called up to get the free digital cable deal never actually added a digital cable package to our account. Which meant that our settop box really wasn't authorized!

Anyway, she set us up with the right package, threw HBO on there, and then added Starz for all the trouble we'd gone through. Then she wanted to send a signal down the line to reset our box. I was really loath to let her do this, because of the fact that Ed had fried our box by doing that in the past, but she said I had to trust her, and finally I turned the box off and let her do it. And lo and behold, this time it worked. And when I ordered a free On Demand movie, I got no errors, and it came up right away.

Funny story: while we were waiting for the box to reset, the woman researched our error code - ERR-18. And she couldn't find any information on it at all. Awesome. Brilliant. Glad we referenced that code when calling about our problem!

So, on the upside, we've got digital cable with On Demand for real now. But on the downside, we now have far fewer channels available to us. My best guess is that by default, all digital cable channels are being sent down your line, so if you just get a digital cable box and plug it in, you'll automatically get them all. It's only when you get a specific package assigned to you that the number of channels is limited to a specific group.

Anyway, I was very pleased that I finally got a Comcast representative who was actually helpful and was able to fix things for me, so I asked if there was any way I could request her next time I had to call. She was nice enough to give me her name, location, and operator number. So if you have a Comcast account in New Jersey, I'll be happy to forward you her information. (UPDATE: We were going through some old junk today and found this lady's information, so I thought before I threw it away, I might as well post it here. The woman's name is Denise, she's at the Voorhees call center, and her operator number is 30X.)

But of course, as usual, the real point of the story is that Comcast is mostly staffed by idiots who have no interest or ability to help you whatsoever. If the dumbass who had given us digital cable in the first place had actually given us digital cable, we could have avoided all of this. And if Ed on the live chat had been smart enough to actually check our account to see if we had digital cable, he could have figured out our real issue right away. Instead we had to go through three cable boxes and numerous Comcast representatives before somebody finally got us sorted out.
Tagged (?): Comcast (Not), TV (Not)

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Welcome to the blog of Jim Genzano, writer, web developer, husband, father, and enjoyer of things like the internet, movies, music, games, and books.

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