By John Kelly
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 7, 2011; 8:00 PM
Now that I have sweet, sweet broadband coming through my coaxial cable and coursing, wirelessly, through my house, it is hard for me to muster the spittle-flecked outrage I felt over the weekend for Comcast/Xfinity. Being able to finally watch YouTube videos without having to wait for the little red bar to crawl tortuously from left to right had a way of dampening my fury.
Luckily, I took notes.
I recently made the executive decision to abandon DSL and get cable broadband, which I understood to be blindingly fast. Ignoring any possible danger to my eyesight, I contacted my local cable provider. The modem came from a Comcast reseller. The self-install kit (and the monthly charge) came from Comcast. "Give this to your computer" read the sleeve holding the disc that came with that kit, the disc that was labeled "Install Wizard."
If the Install Wizard had waved his magic wand and made everything go smoothly, I wouldn't be writing this column. He didn't. I am. But, really, what else was I expecting? Do we get mad at Lucy for snatching the football away from Charlie Brown? Or do we get mad at Charlie Brown for being such a trusting idiot?
When my computer said, "Account verification failed. You entered the wrong Comcast account number" (despite my having not entered any number), I reached for the phone.
The aggravating thing about automated phone systems is that often our problems don't fit into their neat choices. When a recorded voice gives you three options to choose from and none of them describe your particular problem, what do you do? I chose the one closest to my predicament and hoped for the best.
It meant hearing that my call might be recorded "for quality assurance purposes." (I don't believe that, actually - not that it's recorded, or if it is, not that it's recorded for quality assurance purposes.)
It meant hearing that Comcast was experiencing a "higher than normal call volume." (Since every time I call, Comcast is experiencing a higher than normal call volume, perhaps it needs to adjust its notion of "normal.")
It meant punching in my phone number and street address. Several times.
When I finally got to a live person, it meant explaining my problem. Then I got to hear them express faux concern: "I understand that you are [restate customer's problem] and that must be upsetting to you."
I was transferred to tech support, cooled my heels on hold there and then heard a sickening series of tones followed by the words that strike fear in the heart of the strongest men: "If you'd like to make a call, please hang up and try again."
I'd been cut off!
I had to haul myself up the mountain again. Enter my phone number. Wait on hold. Explain my problem. Get transferred. Wait on hold. And then I was cut off a second time.
Every time I spoke to an actual human I had to endure their mandated sign-off script, in which the person asks if there's anything else she can do for me before I'm transferred. What does she expect? That I'll say, "Yeah, you know what: I've enjoyed dealing with Comcast/Xfinity so much today that I'd like to upgrade to your Triple Play package. Plus, put me down for MultiLatino, Russian Kino, the Mandarin Channel and Unlimited Bollywood"?
I don't think so.
In the end, the person who was able to help me said I didn't need to insert the disc into my computer at all. Apparently, the Install Wizard was just confusing things. I had had Internet all along.
This reminded me of another wizard: the Wizard of Oz. You know that scene at the very end of the movie when the hot air balloon goes flying off without Dorothy, and Glinda tells her not to worry? "You've always had the power to go back to Kansas," the Good Witch says.
Oh, now you tell me? If I was Dorothy, I would have socked Glinda in the mouth.
The next day in the mail I got a notice from Comcast that it was raising rates. "As part of our commitment to provide you with the best entertainment and communications experience, we continue to invest in making your services even better," Comcast wrote.
I think the company had a few pronouns wrong: It's your services and it's my investment. Improve the former so I feel better about the latter.