Unhappy Comcast customers have options

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Comcast's website offers support. If they can't or won't help, your next stop should be your "franchising authority."

Pity the beleaguered Comcast phone reps. Sure, their jobs aren't up there with logging or roofing - the kind that usually make lists as the most dangerous in America. Besides, let's be clear: We're talking about call-center jobs that aren't even always in America. Isn't the Internet a wonder?

But judging from my swamped inbox after last Sunday's column about a three-week Comcast flub, and last week's strange tale of a customer whose name was replaced on his account with a seven-letter epithet, "Comcast phone rep" is starting to look like a gig worth hazardous-duty pay. Unless you're immune to psychological pain, how often can you blithely tell people that you're really, truly sorry the company missed an appointment, can't seem to fix a billing error, or insist on transferring fed-up clients to "customer retention" when they just want to cancel?

Ticked-off customers are hardly new in the cable and broadband business, where a handful of network owners enjoy near-monopoly status and face the risks that go with it. If you can't easily say goodbye to a company you're unhappy with, what can you do? Facebook pages like "I hate Comcast" and "Time Warner Cable SUCKS" are testimony to that frustration.

And that story of the Comcast rep who foolishly renamed a Spokane, Wash., customer? That may just be the flip side of the same issue: A customer rep, plainly too anger-challenged for his line of work, flipped after talking to one too many unhappy customers.

Let's put that story aside for a moment, and focus on a more important one: What else you can do, aside from trading insults back and forth with the largest cable and broadband company in America - one aiming to get even larger by acquiring No. 2 Time Warner Cable.

If you've got an ongoing problem with Comcast, Verizon, or any other cable-television provider, your first stop - once it's clear the company can't or won't help - should be your "franchising authority." Its contact info is printed right on your bill.

For instance, Philadelphia's Cable Franchise Authority can be reached at 215-686-2934 or via the mail. You can also use an online form available at http://1.usa.gov/1BBhSku.

In New Jersey, which has statewide franchises overseen by the Board of Public Utilities, you can file a complaint by calling 800-624-0331 or completing a form at http://bit.ly/1EUXluN.

If you live in one of Philly's Pennsylvania suburbs, practices vary - look on your bill or contact your municipal government. Cheltenham Township bills only list an address. In Lower Merion, the public information office handles complaints at 610-645-6199.

Lower Merion's Tom Walsh says forwarding complaints along is often all it takes. "Usually it is resolved," he told me.

Mark McLaughlin, the city's cable-TV administrator, says he passes along complaints even about Internet or phone service - technologies provided by Comcast and Verizon that are outside the city's authority.

What else to do with complaints about those services? Contact the Federal Communications Commission at 888-225-5322 or at consumercomplaints.fcc.gov.

Making public noise is another option - and the dozens of consumers who contacted me last week, many with stories more outrageous than what happened to Louis Moravec and Susan Thauer, should consider that, too.

Right now, the FCC is weighing whether to reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service, a move that Public Knowledge's Harold Feld says would give the agency more leverage to set standards and expect results.

In Comcast's hometown itself, unhappy customers can also weigh in as Philadelphia moves toward an expected renewal later this year of Comcast's franchise agreements with the city. Activists such as Hannah Sassaman, of West Philly's Media Mobilizing Project, say other cities have won valuable concessions. Philadelphia should demand them, too.

Philadelphians may love Comcast's status as a world-class corporation - as "a cornerstone here," as Moravec put it last week. But we pay high prices for services with few competitive options, especially since Comcast has effectively frozen out the satellite companies from offering local sports. We should use whatever leverage we have.

 


jgelles@phillynews.com

215-854-2776

@jeffgelles

www.philly.com/consumer