Is Comcast headquartered near Lake Woebegon?

Even before I became New To Seattle from California, I received lots of well-meaning advice and warnings about the world awaiting me. Watch out for bicycle groups riding at midnight. Trash pick-up rules will drive me nuts. Avoid at all costs the Fremont Bridge, the country’s most active drawbridge.

The list goes on (and will be fodder for future posts). But there’s one warning I heard more than any other: It will take Comcast numerous visits to get it right.

For me the jury is still out on nocturnal cyclists, waste disposal and double-leaf bascule spans just 30 feet up. But I can tell you from personal experience the conventional wisdom I received around Puget Sound about Comcast is spot on.

In its effort to provide me with cable TV, Internet and telephone under its Xfinity brand name, the company’s cable guys have been out to my house three times. The second visit lasted more than four hours. I still don’t have everything working exactly the way I want. But we’re getting closer.

Philadelphia-based Comcast is the nation’s largest cable and Internet operation, a major provider of home telephone service and majority owner of NBC Universal. So it’s an extremely easy target for critics. But I came to Seattle as a satisfied former Comcast customer who had found the company’s service very reliable in two other places I’ve lived, New Mexico and California.

That may yet prove to be true in Seattle, which is quite the Comcast stronghold. But for me the jury is still out.

Accompanying the three visits were a lot of phone calls from me spread over several months to the company, and a lot of time spent on hold. In every call, a cheery tape-recorded voice said, “We are currently experiencing a higher than normal call volume and longer than normal wait times.”

Now, you don’t have to be Isaac Newton to know that it’s mathematically impossible for every single instance to fall above the stated mean. This Comcast response–often the first impression it leaves with a new customer–is the real life equivalent of Lake Woebegon. That’s the fictional Minnesota town created by humorist Garrison Keillor where it is claimed with false pride that “all the children are above average.”

So the company clearly is fibbing a bit, insulting its customers but nowhere as funny as Keillor’s radio show, A Prairie Home Companion. I am speculating wildly here. But my assumption is that a very high-level decision was made against saying something with a little more candor, like, “You are being put on hold because we don’t spend enough on customer service so we can increase short-term profits for our shareholders and justify the total compensation of our CEO, Brian L. Roberts, who was paid $31 million in 2010.”

From what I have seen, a lot of Comcast’s problems in Seattle comes from installing its voice-over-Internet phone service through ancient existing wiring installed by Qwest. That’s the traditional telephone company that sold itself to CenturyLink, based in that noted high tech center of Monroe, La.  On Seattle radio I’ve been hearing the Comcast ad campaign urging the locals not to go with a company they know nothing about. It seems to me an effective pitch, even if Comcast is calling itself the devil, as in go-with-the-devil-you-know.

There’s also what strikes me as poor Comcast training of its workers, which I lay squarely at the feet of management. In my Seattle experience, those on the telephone front line haven’t been given enough information, so they often made it up. I frequently received answers that were contradicted by my next contact with a Comcast employee.

I have been trying to get Comcast’s all-digital platform to fully accommodate my trusty TiVo Series 2 dual-tuner, which, like Charlton Heston and guns, would have to be pried from my cold dead hands. I have done everything I was told to do by Comcast workers, but so far it still doesn’t work as it should.

Advised that I needed to use a “TiVo card,” I slepped across town to a Comcast office to fetch one, only to find upon returning home that my box was so old there was no plug for it. I didn’t know what a TiVo card looked like or what kind of plug it needed–there certainly are a lot of plugs and other holes on the behind of a TiVo box. But you’d think Comcast would know and ask me to take a close look before sending me on what proved to be a wild-goose chase.

In Seattle, sticking it to Comcast seems to be a bit of a local sport. One person I met recounted with glee his revenge. He signed up for Comcast, had its techs expensively install video ports and telephone jacks all over the house, then canceled the service, invoked Comcast’s “30-day, money-back guarantee” and went to Qwest with free infrastructure.

New To Seattle, I’m not likely to do that. But I just got my first Comcast bill, which came in a lot higher than the much-touted $99 “Xfinity Triple Play.” So maybe it is possible in real life for something always to be above average.

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Is Comcast headquartered near Lake Woebegon? — 8 Comments

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  5. I don’t like that there is so little competition with Comcast and think they are too expensive (even with basic cable TV), and it really bugs me that with basic cable TV they won’t broadcast my few channels to me in HD! But to get the price down, just call them up and tell them that you can’t afford this, you are going to have to cut your service down or completely off. They are always very accommodating (which I do appreciate) and everyone I have ever talked to does go the extra mile to get my price down, at least for a while. After about six months, when the price generally goes back up, I wait a month or two and call again, and they are nice and helpful, just as I expect. And I live near their offices in north Seattle–it isn’t near “Lake Woebegon” but is near Haller Lake! :o) In fact I was just in the Comcast office on Saturday and was amazed at the customer ticket/routing system they have installed. I couldn’t help wondering how much of my money went to pay for this system which is really overkill! Simply waiting in line and watching for the next open window would have been sufficient!

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  7. Yeah. I’m working on an AAS in networking, and I have to agree that comcast spends a lot of time minimizing network upgrades by writing network management policy instead. Also I have seen that many tech companies think of customer service as an afterthought, and not their primary interface with their source of revenue.

    I can’t think of a time in Seattle when Comcast was a good deal. The reason they’re so prevalent is because Comcast has inherited a lot of aging infrastructure left over from the dotcom bubble.

  8. Bill – entertaining read. I hear you on the tech issues, it never seems to work or cost as promised. Keep on writing.

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