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Marsha Blackburn Angry that FCC Chairman Wants to Run Tenn. Broadband… When AT&T Should

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee, but mostly AT&T and Comcast)

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee, but mostly AT&T and Comcast)

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) is angry that FCC chairman Tom Wheeler is sticking his nose into AT&T, Comcast, and Charter Communications’ private playground — the state of Tennessee.

In an editorial published by The Tennessean, Blackburn throws a fit that an “unelected” bureaucrat not only believes what’s best for her state, but is now openly talking about preempting state laws that ban public broadband networks:

Legislatures are the entities who should be making these decisions. Legislatures govern what municipalities can and cannot do. The principles of federalism and state delegation of power keep government’s power in check. When a state determines that municipalities should be limited in experimenting in the private broadband market, it’s usually because the state had a good reason — to help protect public investments in education and infrastructure or to protect taxpayers from having to bailout an unproven and unsustainable project.

Chairman Wheeler has repeatedly stated that he intends to preempt the states’ sovereign role when it comes to this issue. His statements assume that Washington knows best. However, Washington often forgets that the right answers don’t always come from the top down.

It’s unfortunate Rep. Blackburn’s convictions don’t extend to corporate money and influence in the public dialogue about broadband. The “good reason” states have limited public broadband come in the form of a check, either presented directly to politicians like Blackburn, who has received so many contributions from AT&T she could cross daily exercise off her “things to do” list just running to the bank, or through positive press from front groups, notably the corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

According to campaign finance data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, three of Blackburn’s largest career donors are employees and PACs affiliated with AT&T, Comcast and Verizon. Blackburn has also taken $56,000 from the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, the lobby for the big telecoms.

Combined, those organizations donated more than $200,000 to Blackburn. In comparison, her largest single donor is a PAC associated with Memphis-based FedEx Corp., which donated $68,500.

Phillip "States' rights don't extend to local rights in Blackburn's ideological world" Dampier

Phillip “States’ rights don’t extend to local rights in Blackburn’s ideological world” Dampier

Blackburn’s commentary tests the patience of the reality-based community, particularly when she argues that keeping public broadband out protects investments in education. As her rural constituents already know, 21st century broadband is often unavailable in rural Tennessee, and that includes many schools. Stop the Cap! regularly receives letters from rural Americans who complain they have to drive their kids to a Wi-Fi enabled parking lot at a fast food restaurant, town library, or even hunt for an unintentionally open Wi-Fi connection in a private home, just to complete homework assignments that require a broadband connection.

Blackburn’s favorite telecommunication’s company — AT&T — has petitioned the state legislature to allow it to permanently disconnect DSL and landline service in rural areas of the state, forcing customers to a perilous wireless data experience that doesn’t work as well as AT&T promises. While Blackburn complains about the threat of municipal broadband, she says and does nothing about the very real possibility AT&T will be allowed to make things even worse for rural constituents in her own state.

Who does Blackburn believe will ride to the rescue of rural America? Certainly not AT&T, which doesn’t want the expense of maintaining wired broadband service in less profitable rural areas. Comcast won’t even run cable lines into small communities. In fact, evidence has shown for at least a century, whether it is electricity, telephone, or broadband service, when large corporate entities don’t see profits, they won’t provide the service and communities usually have to do the job themselves. But this time those communities are handcuffed in states that have enacted municipal broadband bans literally written by incumbent phone and cable companies and shepherded into the state legislature through front groups like ALEC.

Chairman Wheeler is in an excellent position to understand the big picture, far better than Blackburn’s limited knowledge largely absorbed from AT&T’s talking points. After all, Wheeler comes from the cable and wireless industry and knows very well how the game is played. Wheeler has never said that Washington knows best, but he has made it clear state and federal legislators who support anti-competitive measures like municipal broadband bans don’t have a monopoly on good ideas either — they just have monopolies.

That isn’t good enough for Congresswoman Blackburn, who sought to strip funding from the FCC to punish the agency for crossing AT&T, Comcast and other telecom companies:

Marsha is an avowed member of the AT&T Fan Club.

Marsha is an avowed member of the AT&T Fan Club.

In July, I passed an amendment in Congress that would prohibit taxpayer funds from being used by the FCC to pre-empt state municipal broadband laws. My amendment doesn’t prevent Chattanooga or any other city in Tennessee from being able to engage in municipal broadband. It just keeps those decisions at the state level. Tennessee’s state law that allowed Chattanooga and other cities to engage in municipal broadband will continue to exist without any interference from the FCC. Tennessee should be able to adjust its law as it sees fit, instead of Washington dictating to us.

Notice that Blackburn’s ideological fortitude has loopholes that protect a very important success story — EPB Fiber in Chattanooga, one of the first to offer gigabit broadband service. If municipal broadband is such a threat to common sense, why the free pass for EPB? In fact, it is networks like EPB that expose the nonsense on offer from Blackburn and her industry friends that claim public broadband networks are failures and money pits.

In fact, Blackburn’s idea of states’ rights never seems to extend to local communities across Tennessee that would have seen local ordinances gutted by Blackburn’s telecommunications policies and proposed bills. In 2005, Blackburn introduced the ironically named Video Choice Act of 2005 which, among other things:

  • Would have granted a nationwide video franchise system that would end all local oversight over rights-of-way for the benefit of incumbent telephone companies, but not for cable or other new competitors like Google Fiber;
  • Strips away all local oversight of cable and telephone company operations that allowed local jurisdictions to ensure providers follow local laws and rules;
  • Prohibited any mechanism on the local level to collect franchise payments;
  • Eliminated any rules forbidding “redlining” — when a provider only chooses select parts of a community to serve.

More recently, Blackburn has been on board favoring legislation restricting local communities from having a full say on the placement of cell towers. Current Tennessee law already imposes restrictions on local communities trying to refuse requests from AT&T, Verizon and others to place new cell towers wherever they like. She is also in favor of highest-bidder wins spectrum auctions that could allow AT&T and Verizon to use their enormous financial resources to snap up new spectrum and find ways to hoard it to keep it away from competitors.

Not everyone in Tennessee appreciated Blackburn’s remarks.

Nashville resident Paul Felton got equal time in the newspaper to refute Blackburn’s claims:

Rep. Marsha Blackburn is on her high horse (Tennessee Voices, Oct. 3) about the idea of the Federal Communications Commission opposing laws against municipal broadband networks, wrapping herself in the mantle of states’ rights. We know that behind all “states’ rights” indignation is “corporate rights” protection.

The last I heard, there was only one Internet, and anyone can log into Amazon or healthcare.gov just as easily from any state. Or any budget.

No, this is about the one Internet being controlled by one corporate giant (or two) in each area, who want to control price and broadband speed, and now want to link the two. They don’t want competition from any pesky municipal providers hellbent on providing the same speed for all users, at a lower price. Check the lobbying efforts against egalitarian ideas to find out which side of an issue Marsha Blackburn always comes down on.

But comments like these don’t deter Rep. Blackburn.

“Congress cannot sit idly by and let a federal agency trample on our states’ rights,” she wrote, but we believe she meant to say ‘AT&T’s rights.’

“Besides, the FCC should be tackling other priorities where political consensus exists, like deploying spectrum into the marketplace, making the Universal Service Fund more effective, protecting consumers, improving emergency communications and other important policies,” Blackburn wrote.

Remarkably, that priority list just so happens to mirror AT&T’s own legislative agenda. Perhaps that is just a coincidence.

Comcast Gets the Last Word: Complain Too Much and They’ll Call Your Boss and Get You Fired

firedComcast’s customer relations team apparently is better at ferreting out contacts at their customers’ employers than fixing problems with their service, despite being given multiple chances to make things right. When one customer made a seventh attempt to resolve his problems, Comcast called his boss and got him fired.

The Consumerist details the latest Comcast Customer Service Horror Show. On one side, Conal, who signed up for Comcast after being sold on a 9-month new customer promotion. On the other, Comcast’s billing and customer service department. Almost from the beginning, the two were locked in combat over service and billing issues:

  • Comcast misspelled his last name in their records, which meant some of his bills were allegedly returned to Comcast by the post office;
  • Comcast charged him for set-top boxes that were never activated on his account;
  • After multiple complaints, Comcast reduced his promotional discount, raising his bill $20 while adding new charges for a second cable modem he didn’t have and continuing charges for set-top boxes he never used;
  • Conal tried to cancel his service in October 2013 because of the mishaps, but a representative convinced him to stay after promising to fix his account. Instead, Comcast sent him a dozen pieces of equipment he never ordered and billed his account $1,820 for the unwanted equipment.

Conal returned the unrequested DVRs, cable modems, and everything else Comcast sent, and brought along a spreadsheet detailing his ongoing dispute, including every overcharge he incurred. He’s a professional accountant used to dealing with companies that understand numbers, and was convinced putting everything on paper would finally get through to the cable company.

comcast service cartoonNot a chance.

Comcast was unmoved and unconvinced by Conal’s spreadsheet, denied there was ever a problem with his account, and upon learning he intended to continue contesting the equipment charges, turned his account over to collections despite the fact it was not past due.

On Feb. 6 Conal dared to escalate his concerns to Comcast’s Office of the Controller. A subsequent callback from a testy representative began with, “how can I help you.” There was no greeting or mention she worked for Comcast, but there was plenty of attitude. The mysterious rep disputed Conal’s claim that a Comcast technician never showed up for an appointment, but could not tell him which appointment she was referring to. After that debate ended, the only remaining question on her mind was the color of Conal’s house.

Realizing a short time later that call was a waste of time, Conal called back the Controller’s office to let them know Comcast’s latest ambassador of goodwill was unhelpful. At this point, he casually mentioned the unresolved accounting issues with his bill should probably be brought before the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, a private-sector, nonprofit corporation created by the Sarbanes–Oxley Act of 2002 to end the accounting tricks and executive-ordered embargoes on bad news that fleeced investors in the 1990s. A professional accountant would be familiar with the PCAOB and how to appeal for an independent review, ordinary consumers would be unlikely to know the Board even existed.

nbc comcastThat Conal would raise the matter of the PCAOB to the Controller’s Office apparently piqued the interest of someone at Comcast, who launched a small research project to determine who Conal was and where he worked. When they discovered his employer did work for Comcast, the cable company struck gold in the leverage department.

Comcast called Conal’s employer and spoke with a partner at the firm, who also received e-mail containing a summary of conversations Comcast evidently recorded between Conal and its various representatives. Comcast complained Conal was using the name of his employer to seek an unfair advantage with customer service. Conal told the Consumerist he never mentioned his employer by name, but once the Controller’s Office learned he was an accountant willing to escalate his complaints outside of the company, it would be a simple matter to look him up online and learn where he worked.

Conal’s employer in fact does consulting work for Comcast, so the outcome of a brief ethics investigation predictably led to Conal’s termination. Conal was never allowed to see the transcripts of conversations with the cable company, nor given access to any recordings of those calls. Conal said before he tangled with Comcast, he had received only positive feedback and reviews for his work.

Conal’s lawyer has been in contact with Comcast over the matter and received a pithy reply from Comcast’s senior deputy general counsel, who likely fears a forthcoming lawsuit, admitting Comcast did call Conal’s employer but said Conal “is not in a position to complain that the firm came to learn” about his dispute with Comcast.

“Our customers deserve the best experience every time they interact with us,” reads a statement from Comcast. The company says it has previously apologized to Conal, but adds “we will review his lawyer’s letter and respond as quickly as possible.”

Comcast had no comment about whether the company considers it proper to identify and contact customers’ employers and push its weight around when it feels the need to do some complaining of its own.

Netflix Aggravates Canada’s Identity Crisis: Protection of Canadian Culture or Big Telecom Company Profits?

netflix caThe arrival of Netflix north of the American border has sparked a potential video revolution in Canada that some fear could renew “an erosion” of Canadian culture and self-identity as the streaming video service floods the country with American-made television and movies. But anxiety also prevails on the upper floors of some of Canada’s biggest telecom companies, worried their business models are about to be challenged like never before.

Two weeks ago, the country saw a remarkable Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) hearing featuring a Netflix executive obviously not used to being grilled by the often-curt regulators. When it was all over, Netflix refused to comply with a CRTC order for information about Netflix’s Canadian customers.

Earlier today, the CRTC’s secretary general, John Traversy, declared that because of the lack of cooperation from Netflix, all of their testimony “will be removed from the public record of this proceeding on October 2, 2014.” That includes their oral arguments.

“As a result, the hearing panel will reach its conclusions based on the remaining evidence on the record. There are a variety of perspectives on the impact of Internet broadcasting in Canada, and the panel will rely on those that are on the public record to make its findings,” Mr. Traversy wrote in a nod to Canada’s own telecom companies.

Not since late 1990’s Heritage Minister Sheila Copps, who defended Canadian content with her support of a law that restricted foreign magazines from infiltrating across the border, had a government official seemed willing to take matters beyond the government’s own policy.

CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais threw down the gauntlet when Netflix hesitated about releasing its Canadian subscriber and Canadian content statistics to the regulator. Mr. Blais wanted to know exactly how many Canadians are Netflix subscribers and how much of what they are watching on the service originates in Canada.

With hearings underway in Ottawa, bigger questions are being raised about the CRTC’s authority in the digital age. Doug Dirks from CBC Radio’s The Homestretch talks with Michael Geist at the University of Ottawa. Sept. 19, 2014 (8:40) You must remain on this page to hear the clip, or you can download the clip and listen later.

Netflix has operated below regulatory radar since it first launched service in Canada four years ago. The CRTC left the American company with an impression it had the right to regulate Netflix, but chose not to at this time. The CRTC of 2010 was knee-deep in media consolidation issues and did not want to spend a lot of time on an American service that most Canadians watched by using proxy servers and virtual private networks to bypass geographic content restrictions. But now that an estimated 30% of English-speaking Canada subscribes to Netflix, it is threatening to turn the country’s cozy and well-consolidated media industry on its head.

Ask most of the corporate players involved and they will declare this is a fight about Canada’s identity. After all, broadcasters have been compelled for years to live under content laws that require a certain percentage of television and radio content to originate inside Canada. Without such regulations, enforced by the CRTC among others, Canada would be overwhelmed by all-things-Americans. Some believe that without protection, Canadian viewers will only watch and listen to American television and music at the cost of Canadian productions and artists.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/BNN Netflix vs the CRTC 9-22-14.flv

Kevin O’Leary, Chairman, O’Leary Financial Group is furious with regulators for butting into Netflix’s online video business and threatening its presence in Canada is an effort to protect incumbent business models. From BNN-Canada. (8:45)

A viewer watches Netflix global public policy director Corie Wright testify before the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) in Ottawa (Image: Sean Kilpatrick, The Canadian Press)

A viewer watches Netflix’s Corie Wright testify before the CRTC. (Image: Sean Kilpatrick, The Canadian Press)

But behind the culture war is a question of money – billions of dollars in fact. Giant media companies like Rogers, Shaw, and Bell feel threatened by the presence of Netflix, which can take away viewers and change a media landscape that has not faced the kind of wholesale deregulation that has taken place in the United States since the Reagan Administration.

Before Netflix, the big Canadian networks didn’t object too strongly to the content regulations. After all, CRTC rules helped establish the Canadian Media Fund which partly pays for domestic TV and movie productions. Canada’s telephone and satellite companies also have to contribute, and they collectively added $266 million to the pot in 2013, mostly collected from their customers in the form of higher bills. Netflix doesn’t receive money from the fund and has indicated it doesn’t need or want the government’s help to create Canadian content.

“It is not in the interest of consumers to have new media subsidize old media or to have new entrants subsidize incumbents,” added Netflix’s Corie Wright. “Netflix believes that regulatory intervention online is unnecessary and could have consequences that are inconsistent with the interests of consumers,” Wright said, adding viewers should have the ability “to vote with their dollars and eyeballs to shape the media marketplace.”

That is not exactly what the CRTC wanted to hear, and Wright was off the Christmas card list for good when she directly rebuffed Mr. Blais’ requests for Netflix’s data on its Canadian customers. Wright implied the data would somehow make its way out of the CRTC’s offices and end up in the hands of the Canadian-owned broadcast and cable competitors that know many at the CRTC on a first name basis.

Does Netflix pose a threat to Canadian culture? Matt Galloway spoke with John Doyle, the Globe & Mail’s television critic, on the Sept. 22nd edition of CBC Radio’s Metro Morning show. Sept. 22, 2014 (8:31) You must remain on this page to hear the clip, or you can download the clip and listen later.

Mr. Blais, obviously not used to requests being questioned, repeated demands for Netflix’s subscriber data to be turned over by the following Monday and if Netflix did not comply, he would revoke Netflix’s current exemption from Canadian content rules and bring down the hammer of regulation on the streaming service.

Blais

Blais

The deadline came and went and last week Netflix defiantly refused to comply with the CRTC’s order. A Netflix official said that while the company has responded to a number of CRTC requests, it was not “in a position to produce the confidential and competitively sensitive information, but added it was always prepared to work constructively with the commission.”

Now things are very much up in the air. Many Canadians question why the CRTC believes it has the right to regulate Internet content when it operates largely as a broadcast regulator. Public opinion seems to be swayed against the CRTC and towards Netflix. Canadian producers and writers are concerned their jobs are at risk, Canadian media conglomerates fear their comfortable and predictable future is threatened if consumers decide to spend more time with Netflix and less time with them. All of this debate occurring within the context of a discussion about forcing pay television companies to offer slimmed down basic cable packages and implement a-la-carte — pay only for the channels you want — is enough to give media executives heartburn.

To underscore the point much of this debate involves money, American TV network executives also turned up at the CRTC arguing for regulations that would compensate American TV stations for providing “free” programming on Canadian airwaves, cable, and satellite — retransmission consent across the border.

Netflix does not seem too worried it is in trouble in either Ottawa or in the halls of CRTC headquarters at Les Terrasses de la Chaudière in Gatineau, Québec, just across the Ottawa River. Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Heritage Minister Shelly Glover have made it clear they have zero interest in taxing or regulating Netflix. Even if they were, the Canada-U.S. free trade agreement may make regulating Netflix a practical impossibility, especially if the U.S. decides to retaliate.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Canadian Press CRTC vs Netflix 9-19-14.mp4

Dwayne Winseck, Carleton School of Journalism and Communication, defended the role the CRTC is mandated to play by Canada’s telecommunications laws. (1:41)

Behind the Bulletproof Glass: More Misadventures at Comcast’s Customer Service Center

Marco S. was so frustrated by the line running outside of his local Comcast store, he snapped this photo. At least the weather was nice.

Marco S. was so frustrated by the line running outside his local Comcast store, he snapped this photo. At least the weather was nice.

Comcast customer Timothy Lee made a grave error in judgment. He decided to return his Comcast-owned cable modem to a Comcast customer service center… on a Saturday!

Long-time Comcast customers know only too well a Saturday visit to Comcast represents a major outing, with long lines that often extend outside and up to an hour or more waiting time.

Lee compared his visit to waiting in line at the post office, but that’s not really true except during the holidays — the post office is better organized and usually lacks the heavy-duty bulletproof glass and surly attitudes that separate Comcast’s “customer service agents” from their unhappy customers.

Predictably, Lee waited more than 30 minutes before his number was up.

Lee’s predicament is all too familiar. His only choice for high-speed Internet access is Comcast, and the cable company knows it. So just like your local Department of Motor Vehicles, there is no harm done if Comcast opens a customer service center with 10 available windows staffed by only two employees, one happily munching on pretzels ignoring the concert-length line during his 20-minute break.

Time Warner Cable’s service centers are not much better, although they usually have fewer windows to keep customers from getting their hopes up. Comcast’s bulletproof glass is also not in evidence at TWC locations, although the burly bank-like security guard is very apparent at some centers in sketchy neighborhoods. Time Warner Cable also offers seating, but visit wealthier suburban locations when possible, where comfortable couches replace the nasty hard benches or plastic furniture often found downtown.

Comcast was instantly ready to offer up the usual excuses:

Your recent visit to our Washington D.C. service center is certainly not the experience we want anyone to have. We’ve been working on  a multi-year project to revamp the hundreds of service centers we have around the country to better serve customers.  As part of that project, we will be remodeling the Michigan Avenue location and will open another service center in the District in early 2015.  We’re also introducing more options for customers to manage their accounts, including a new program we’re starting to roll out with The UPS Store to make them an authorized Comcast equipment return location.

It’s always better at Comcast sometime in the yet-to-be-determined future. Until then, suffer.

Another Comcast Customer Service Catastrophe: $182 in Surprise Charges for a Service Call

The Don't Care Bears

The Don’t Care Bears

While regulators contemplate forcing 11 million Time Warner Cable customers to endure the hell on earth that is Comcast customer service, another horror story emerged this week from a California man who faced $181.94 more on his cable bill than he expected, all because of a service call to check on an Internet service problem that turned out to be Comcast’s fault.

While Time Warner Cable customers usually get an American customer call center to handle these problems, Comcast relies on English-challenged, underpaid offshore customer care dens staffed by “screen readers” that refuse to go off-script to handle the problems of Comcast customers like Tim Davis.

Before digging into the specifics of Davis’ $182 debacle, The Consumerist noted a critical admission from the Comcast call center agent – a word to the wise about getting your complaints about Comcast’s billing errors and inaccurate charges addressed: If you don’t record all of your calls with Comcast customer service to keep a complete audible record of their promises and commitments, you have absolutely no recourse to get invalid charges and other billing mistakes removed from your bill.

“[...]Since I advised my manager that there is a recording and you were misinformed, then she’s the one who can approve that $82,” said Comcast’s customer service representative.

Seemingly flabbergasted, Davis asks to confirm, “You’re telling me that if I didn’t have a recording of that call, you wouldn’t have been able to do it?”

“Yes, that is correct,” answers the rep, confirming that the only way to get Comcast to erase a bogus charge from your account is to have recorded evidence that you were promised in advance that the call would be free.

Davis decided to turn his Comcast nightmare into a NSFW YouTube video.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Comcast Doesnt Do Service Credits Without a Recording Saying Otherwise 8-11-14.mp4

‘You want a service credit? Who the heck do you think you’re talking to. This is Vasee – Employee 5#$ at Comcast’s English-challenged offshore customer call center. We don’t do service credits. Oh wait, you have a recording?’ (Only Comcast would put $$$-signs in the ID numbers of their employees.) (Warning: Strong Language) (13:56)

Although initially promised there would be no charge for the service call because it was an “outside issue,” when Davis’ monthly Comcast bill arrived, there were several mystery charges totaling $181.94 for service call work that Davis said was never done.

fail

The charges represent a “failed video self-install kit,” a “failed Internet self-install kit,” and a wireless network set up charge for work Davis claims was neither sought or provided. Comcast automatically credited back the Wi-Fi setup fee and a portion of the other charges, still leaving Davis with $82 in fees to argue about for a “free service call.”

The representative insisted that Comcast charges $50 for every service call for any reason. That will be unpleasant news to Time Warner Cable customers who pay no fees for service calls that address technical issues that are not the fault of customers.

The Consumerist details the rest of the painful experience:

After being put on hold for an hour, Davis hung up and tried again, this time reaching a supposed “supervisor,” who points out that the $49.95 WiFi setup charge is offset by a $49.95 “service discount,” so that’s free… even though it shouldn’t have been charged to begin with.

She also says there is a $49.99 discount on the supposed “Failed Self Install,” meaning Davis is being charged $50 for the nonexistent failed install, plus the remaining $32 for the failed self-install kit charge. A total of $82 that is still being disputed at this point.

She then offers to give him “BLAST+” Internet service for 12 months free of charge instead of simply taking off the remainder of the questionable charges. This semi-upgrade only has a retail value of $60, meaning he’d still be on the hook for $22 for a call that he’d been told would be free.

Davis, understandably, doesn’t want a cheap Internet service upgrade spread out over 12 months. He wants and asks to have the full $82 refunded.

The rep balks, saying she can’t issue him the credit because it is a “valid charge.”

“Every time we send out a technician there’s a $50 charge for that,” she explains.

“Well, I have a call recorded where the agent tells me in no uncertain terms that there will be no charge,” counters Davis. “You can not bill me for something that I did not authorize. You can not tell me that it’s free, then bill me anyway and then tell me that you can not un-bill me or credit me for the bill.”

“I apologize for that, but there’s no way that I can credit the account,” says the rep, desperately trying to jump back on to her script. “We value you as a customer, that’s why I am trying to check what I can give you.”

As soon as Davis produced the recording that indicated there would be no charge, a senior supervisor quickly approved a credit — several calls and hours later.

Comcast: When Your “Customer Service” Center Needs Bulletproof Glass, You Are Doing Something Wrong

comcast bullet proof

“Comcast: When Your “Customer Service” Center Needs Bulletproof Glass, You Are Doing Something Wrong”

Inner city KFC? Nope. It’s a Comcast “Customer Care” center. Dane Jasper tweeted this photo out this afternoon, but it’s hardly an isolated case. Last fall, we reported on Comcast’s ‘Don’t Care Customer Center’ in Philadelphia — Comcast’s home. This “misery incarnate” has made certain it keeps customers away from Comcast employees who communicate through a system that resembles a high security bank.

Philebrity describes it far better than we ever could:

“There is a place, way down yonder in the minor key of Delaware Avenue, where even the most resistant Philadelphia lifer can agree that, yes, this area is so stupid that it’s actually okay to call it Columbus Avenue. This is where the United Artists Metaphor-For-The-Failing-Film-Industry Sadplex is, and this is also where the Comcast Get-Out-Of-TV-Jail Center is.

If you have ever had to return your cable boxes or pay your shut-off cable bill in cash because there’s a big pay-per-view wrestling event you need to see that night, you know this place. We know you know. And we know you feel hot shame for ever even knowing what this place is, or standing in its soul-sucking lines on the other side of the bulletproof glass, and we know that you don’t want anyone to know you’ve been there. So we’ll talk about it for you. To know the Comcast Get-Out-Of-TV-Jail Center is to know failure up close, to be on intimate speaking terms with failure, and to know that the conversation with failure is always mostly in the bitter parlance of popular t-shirts from the 1980s: Life’s a bitch and then you die. Sh*t happens.

The line moves slow. The person you meet at the end of the line may be polite and helpful, or they may very clearly be wanting, with their eyes and hair and soul and teeth, for you to die. None of it matters, because the feel is always the same: Governmental. Soviet. If you are in this line, you are on TV welfare, a cog in the entertainment-industrial complex, part of a system that neither wants nor needs you, but is not legally allowed to kill you yet. This is the emergency room of modern malaise.

And for as much lip service as has been paid to the corporate person known as Comcast around here in recent years — that they’re a massive job provider and will only grow, that they could have gone anywhere but they chose Philly, that they may actually help finally plug the brain drain — when many of us here in Philly think about Comcast, this is what we think of. Not the gleaming tower, nor the endless fun of Xfinity, but this place. This sad awful place. Because this is the place that says, “This is really what we think of you. We know you are worthless. Look at you, with your cardboard box of outdated remotes and modems, and your folded up twenties, hauling our sad sh*t back to us like a doting animal with a dead rodent between its teeth. Just look at you. You’re disgusting. You must really, really, really love watching f**king TV. Thank you and have a nice day.”

Comcast Threatens Limited Income Seniors Over Compensation for Cable Boxes Destroyed in Fire

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WZZM Grand Rapids Over 50 seniors displaced by fire at Battle Creek apartment complex 6-20-14.flv

WZZM in Grand Rapids covers the fire in an independent living complex that left at least 50 seniors homeless and facing big bills from Comcast. (1:53)

fireAt least 50 seniors residing in an independent living complex in Battle Creek, Mich., were burned out of their apartments after a devastating fire in late June. Some of the fixed income seniors lost everything they owned.

Despite the understanding and patience of credit card companies, banks, insurance companies, AT&T, and the local power utility — all willing to wait for payments or waive billing for those affected, one company stood out for its plan to collect damages from the fire victims: Comcast.

The Area Agency on Aging, working to help the victims, reached out to local Battle Creek media to report Comcast’s local agents were aggressively seeking compensation from the displaced seniors after learning about the fire.

“They want $120 for each cable box, despite the fact these seniors just lost their homes and many are low-income,” Carla Fales, CEO of the agency told WWMT-TV.

Comcast’s response: “Everything destroyed must be paid for.”

06-burned-cable-boxAs is often the case, once Comcast’s disagreeable behavior becomes a headline on the 6 o’clock local news, public relations damage control begins.

When WWMT called Comcast’s corporate offices, the cable company assured the newsroom Comcast would probably waive the fees, but provided no guarantees.

“I can assure everyone there is a process in place; we are working individually with customers to help them in this difficult time,” offered a Comcast spokesperson.

Monday night, Battle Creek Mayor Dave Walters told WWMT that fire victims will not be held responsible for the cost of the lost equipment.

But some may be mired in paperwork to avoid the lost/damaged equipment fees.

Affected residents who were insured at the time of the fire still have to reimburse Comcast through a damage claim filed with their insurance company. Those uninsured will be asked to submit a fire report which must be requested from the local fire department. In some cases, customers may also asked to offer a notarized statement indicating they were not insured to avoid the $120 charge.

But before any of that happens, Comcast also traditionally requires customers to pay any past due balances on their account before equipment credits can be provided.

Comcast’s zeal for charging penalties for lost or damaged equipment is not limited to Michigan.

battle creekIn January, a Tennessee woman’s home went up in flames and was quickly declared a total loss. The only company to give the family a hard time was Comcast, who billed them $550 for four used cable boxes and a rented cable modem melted in the fire.

“I thought, ‘What are they trying to do to me?'” Emma Hilton said. “I’ve done went through a fire. I tried to salvage what I can.”

Hilton was unsure what exactly Comcast expected the fire department to do about the cable company’s equipment.

“(Firefighters) couldn’t get the TV’s. They were burning,” she told WJHL-TV.

Despite the fact her landlord leveled the rest of the uninhabitable home, Comcast still wanted to get paid if she could not recover the equipment from the ashes.

“You mean they’re actually going to charge me for those cable boxes and after I told you I had a fire?'” Hilton said of one of her phone conversations with the cable provider.

Comcast told her to read the contract, which leaves responsibility for the cable equipment entirely up to the customer. Comcast includes a strong recommendation to keep up a renter’s or homeowner’s insurance policy. Now customers know why.

In the past six years of covering these stories, Stop the Cap! has found many renters who simply don’t bother with renter’s insurance, mistakenly assuming the landlord’s own insurance policy covers their damages. But it does not. A renter’s insurance policy typically costs about $100 a year and covers the renter’s personal belongings (and cable boxes). Some policies also cover displaced living expenses — food, a hotel room, etc. They also cover liability in the event a guest is injured inside your rental property. Some cable companies demand up to $500 for each lost or damaged piece of equipment — an unnecessary point of stress and expense right after a major negative event. Get insurance. It’s a bargain.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WWMT Grand Rapids Seniors Asked to Pay Comcast for Damaged Boxes 6-20-14.flv

WWMT in Grand Rapids covers Comcast’s initial resistance to giving seniors a break on fire-damaged cable equipment after their senior living complex was heavily damaged in a fire. (1:38)

GOP Senators Attack FCC on Sweeping Away Municipal Broadband Bans, Citing “State’s Rights”

Cruz Control

Cruz Control

A group of Republican senators are warning the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission he’d better not touch statewide bans on community broadband networks.

In a letter sent to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, Republican Sens. Deb Fisher, Ron Johnson, Ted Cruz, Mike Enzi, John Barrasso, Pat Roberts, Lamar Alexander, John Cornyn, Tom Coburn, Tim Scott and Marco Rubio slammed Wheeler for his willingness to override or ignore state laws co-written by cable and telephone companies that banish municipal broadband from providing any competition.

“The insinuation that the Federal Communications Commission will force taxpayer-funded competition against private broadband providers — against the wishes of the states — is deeply troubling,” said the senators. “Inserting the commission into states’ economic and fiscal affairs in such a cavalier fashion shows a lack of respect for states’ rights,” they said.

Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, Time Warner Cable, and other operators are among the campaign contributors of the nine senators.

Echoing the sentiment of the cable and phone companies, the Republicans called community owned broadband “an unnecessary and risky government liability” and warned Wheeler there would be consequences if he was serious about ignoring the state laws, many enacted with the assistance of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

“State political leaders are accountable to the voters who elect them, and the Commission would be well-advised to respect state sovereignty,” said the senators. “We look forward to your timely response, and we hope you will think critically about the Commission’s role and how it can more appropriately interact with our state authorities.”

Community broadband has largely been the only wired competitor facing off against cable and phone companies. Consumers have a much bigger chance of seeing a municipal provider in their community than Google Fiber or another overbuilder.

“Those are nine senators that moonlight for Comcast and AT&T I won’t be voting for,” says Stop the Cap! reader Tom Resden who shared the story. “Municipal broadband balances a playing field that has favored big cable and phone companies for years. These are the same type of senators that 100 years ago would have opposed municipal power and co-ops, willing to leave people in the dark rather than allow a player that answers only to customers get traction. It’s not a state rights issue when the corporations wrote the legislation their well-funded lackeys in statehouses around the country helped hurry into law. What we are really talking about is the corporate right to suppress competition.”

Big Telecom Threatens Investment Apocalypse if FCC Enacts Strong Net Neutrality

bfaMost of the same telecom companies that want to create Internet paid fast lanes, drag their feet on delivering 21st century broadband speeds, refuse t0 wire rural areas for broadband without government compensation, and have cut investment in broadband expansion are warning that any attempt by the FCC to enact strong Net Neutrality policies will “threaten new investment in broadband infrastructure and jeopardize the spread of broadband technology across America, holding back Internet speeds and ultimately deepening the digital divide.”

Twenty-eight CEOs of some of the same cable and phone companies that have fueled the fight for Net Neutrality protections by their actions signed a letter published on the website of the industry-funded astroturf group Broadband for America.

“An open Internet is central to how America’s broadband providers operate their networks, and the undersigned broadband providers remain fully committed to openness going forward,” says the letter. “We are equally committed to working with the Commission to find a sustainable path to a lawful regulatory framework for protecting the open Internet during the course of the rulemaking you are launching this week.”

Ironically, some of the same companies signing the letter earlier successfully sued the Federal Communications Commission to overturn Net Neutrality policies the agency attempted to enact under a lighter regulatory framework.

The industry now fears the FCC will reclassify broadband as a “telecommunications service,” which makes the service subject to oversight far less likely to successfully be overturned in the courts.

That has caused a panic in the boardrooms of some of America’s largest phone and cable companies.

“In recent days, we have witnessed a concerted publicity campaign by some advocacy groups seeking sweeping government regulation that conflates the need for an open Internet with the purported need to reclassify broadband Internet access services as Title II telecommunications services subject to common carrier regulation,” the letter says.

signers1

Part of the Problem?: The CEOs that signed the letter.

 

The companies warn that any attempt to rein in the largely unregulated broadband industry would be a major disaster for the U.S. economy and further broadband expansion:

Broadband investment is falling even without Net Neutrality.

Broadband investment is falling even without Net Neutrality.

Not only is it questionable that the Commission could defensibly reclassify broadband service under Title II, but also such an action would greatly distort the future development of, and investment in, tomorrow’s broadband networks and services. America’s economic future, as envisioned by President Obama and congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle, critically depends on continued investment and innovation in our broadband infrastructure and app economy to drive improvements in health care, education and energy. Under Title II, new service offerings, options, and features would be delayed or altogether foregone. Consumers would face less choice, and a less adaptive and responsive Internet. An era of differentiation, innovation, and experimentation would be replaced with a series of ―Government may I? requests from American entrepreneurs. That cannot be, and must not become, the U.S. Internet of tomorrow.

Net Neutrality advocates point out that even without Net Neutrality, broadband investment has fallen in the United States for several years, a point conceded by some cable operators.

In 2010, Suddenlink CEO Jerry Kent explained cable companies are now taking profits now that they don’t have to spend as much on upgrades.

“I think one of the things people don’t realize [relates to] the question of capital intensity and having to keep spending to keep up with capacity,” Kent said. “Those days are basically over, and you are seeing significant free cash flow generated from the cable operators as our capital expenditures continue to come down.”

“We should seek out a path forward together,” suggests the CEOs. “All affected stakeholders need and want certainty and an end to a decade of legal and political wrangling.”

It may prove difficult for observers to take the CEOs seriously considering the litigation record on broadband oversight and regulation. The largest cable and phone companies have repeatedly sued to overturn policies that do not meet with their full approval, something likely to happen again if these giant providers don’t get exactly what they want.

Philadelphia Customers Launch Revolt Against Comcast’s 15-Year Franchise Renewal

cap comcastComcast customers in Philadelphia are organizing to stop the cable company from winning a 15-year franchise renewal to continue providing service in the city unless the cable operator changes its ways after years of rate increases and poor customer service.

CAP Comcast! argues Comcast is not paying its fair share and is not a good corporate citizen in the city.

“Comcast has outsized power in a Philadelphia still suffering under economic crisis,” says the group. While the company charges some of the highest cable rates in the country, it has successfully earned $64 billion in revenue and an extremely low corporate tax bill.

“During the last franchise negotiation, Philadelphia elected officials and appointed leaders secured important resources for our city, including funds for public access television, and about $17 million a year for Philadelphia’s general fund,” said Bryan Mercer, co-executive director at Media Mobilizing Project. “But since that time, Philadelphia has shuttered over 20 schools and slashed services that our communities need.  Comcast pays less than 4% in corporate tax revenue, in a state where the average is almost 10%. And they’re getting $40 million in subsidies for their new planned building. If Comcast wants a chance to profit from our communities, Philadelphia should ensure Comcast pays their fair share, or invite other communications companies to serve our city.”

Among the group’s key arguments:

“Comcast accesses our streets – our public rights of way – to sell cable and other services in Philadelphia,” said Hannah Sassaman, policy director at Media Mobilizing Project. “At the same time, they are earning huge profits here and nationally, and planning to merge with Time-Warner Cable.  Comcast has lobbied to stop City Council from passing bills that would expand paid sick days to hundreds of thousands of workers who don’t have them, and their executives have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Governor Corbett, who has cut over a billion dollars from Pennsylvania education.

CAP Comcast! is asking for a five-year rate freeze for Comcast services while increasing broadband speeds and access to all Philadelphians. It also seeks fair treatment for Public, Educational, and Government access channels, expanded affordable Internet access without pre-conditions, involvement in solving local community problems, support of worker rights, and an end to passing along the cost of the franchise fee to customers.

The group has a petition on its website.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Comcast Tell Comcast to Pay Its Fair Share 5-2014.mp4

CAP Comcast! produced this video introducing its campaign to prevent another 15 year franchise for Comcast in Philadelphia unless the company changes its ways. (2:51)

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