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February 26, 2013

The Only Game in Town - Part 1

We recently moved to another city and decided that we would consolidate our television/internet/phone into a "triple-play" package to save a bit of money and to make billing more convenient.  At our previous house we had separate services from DSLextreme for Internet, DirecTV for television and Vonage for the house phone.  We had 6 megabit DSL service, which wasn't super fast, but it was incredibly solid.  Based on reviews from friends, I was excited to try AT&T's Uverse offering.  Unfortunately the neighborhood that we moved to has a copper infrastructure installed in the late 1960's and is more than two wire miles from the AT&T central office, so you can't get any DSL based services at my residence of anything more than 3 megabit. 

What did this leave us with? Comcast.

Xfinity/Comcast/Kabletown Logo 

This did not make me happy.  I had been free of Comcast and their previous feeder incarnations for close to a decade.  People that know me in real life understand the amount of loathing that I had for them in the past.  But that was a decade ago and it was time to turn over a new leaf.

My odyssey began a week before we were slate to close on our new home.  I decided that I would just go to the Xfinity website and order up services.  The order process won't go through properly.  I get on the built in web chat and try to order up service.  No go.  I get on the phone to India and it is a no go as well.  After the third customer service agent, they finally figure out that the issue is related to an identity theft incident that happened to me a few years back.  I'm told that I need to go to a Comcast storefront location to identify myself in person before they will build an account.  So, I can get a huge mortgage and buy a car without even showing my drivers license, yet Comcast is on the verge of getting DNA to open account for a few hundred a month.  I digress.

I happened to be in the area, so I went to the Comcast store in Concord, California thinking it would be a quick stop to identify myself and set up an account.  Wrong.  The closest thing I can think of is an Emergency Room, but without the blood.  45 minutes later a nice customer service agent gets me set up with an account, with a nice shiny folder with my package and an appointment to set up service on the day we get the keys to the house.  Everyone there was really nice with the exception of an older lady at the front desk that kept raising her voice at folks that didn't have English as their first language.  

The day that we got the keys to our house, I was so excited to have everything electronic in place before we even moved in the furniture.  I had an extra $200 in cash in my pocket, ready to bribe the technician to pull some CAT5 along with the RG6 coax that they needed for the cable service.  I had already bought voice capable cable modem that was on the Xfinity approved list so I could bypass the $7/month cablemodem rental.  Things couldn't have gone further from what I expected.  The technician showed up two hours late and tried his hardest to get things running.  He was finally able to get phone service and Internet service up and running, but at the lowest most marginal level.  It turns out that he wasn't there to install TV service at all, since the house didn't have any internal wiring.  Comcast doesn't do internal wiring anymore, so their plan was to tack up RG6 on the exterior of our house.  They mentioned that we could hire a third party contractor to wire it up internally, but they couldn't recommend anyone.  I'm fairly annoyed at this point, but my phone works and the Internet is working, so it isn't awful yet.  Then the news turns awful.  The cable between my house and the street, which is underground, is bad.  They have to open up a work order to have it replaced.  7-10 days I am told.

In the meantime I wiggle around under the house and run cabling to the places that it needs to go.  Now that I've got the internal wiring, I make another trip to the Comcast store in Concord and pick up a HD DVR unit and a HD receiver to just have TV in the house until our "Whole House DVR" appointment in a few weeks.  I try activating both boxes using the Xfinity phone number.  The HD Receiver gets signal, but the quality is awful (the street cabling hasn't been fixed yet).  The HD DVR gets only audio after spending an hour on the phone with Xfinity.  After switching all the cables, it turns out that the DVR is bad.  I switch it out at the Livermore Comcast store, which I have a much better experience at.  I'm able to get the DVR activated.  A few hours later our phone and Internet stop working.

At this point I have a heated exchange with some Comcast phone support people.  It turns out that the Internet and phone were turned off since the ticket wasn't closed yet and the installation wasn't officially closed/done yet.  I get another team out the next day to close the ticket and finish the installation, but they tell me that they can't do anything yet since the street cabling hasn't been replaced yet.  They are able to do some magical stuff and get the Internet back on and the phone up and running.  They tell me that I won't be able to connect up the TV service because the signal level is too low after it is split.  

On the tenth day, a team comes out while I'm at work and blows out the cable to the street and puts a new one in.  I am very impressed they could do this without any cement work, as there is no conduit under the cement near our driveway.  I connect up the splitter and *BAM* everything works.  A few days later a technician comes and installs the Whole House DVR solution.  

At this point I am happy to have everything up and running.  The internet is super fast and the home telephone audio quality is great.  I'll give Comcast that, once you get the service up and running it is very solid.  The amount of time I have spent on this one project is pretty annoying.  I still have issues that need to be resolved, but I'll leave that for a follow up post.

To be continued...

Note: While initially annoyed, I was told by a Comcast employee that they do not do internal wiring anymore due to insurance issues.  They told me that an employee fell through the ceiling of a customer while doing wiring and was seriously injured.  If this is actually the case, I can understand why their insurance would no longer allow this.