For the last five years, Comcast has been giving out special get-out-of-customer-service-hell-free cards in response to people who've had less than satisfying experiences with the company. If you manage to get your hands on one, treasure it: It carries a unique code you can use (just once!) to access a "no-wait customer service hotline."

Here's why this program is resurfacing now: It seems that the recipients of these cards include, according to Washingtonian magazine, "congressional staffers, journalists, and other influential Washingtonians." The implication is that Comcast may be ingratiating itself with federal officials at the same time that it's trying to convince regulators to approve its massive merger with Time Warner Cable, a decision that will likely come down early next year (though the informal shot-clock on the merger approval was put on hold for the second time Monday).

"Efforts like this one have surely helped Comcast boost its standing inside the Beltway," Washingtonian writes.

Surely! Except that these cards, aside from the no-wait thing, don't actually do anything special. It turns out that the whole program was dreamed up so that Comcast employees who didn't work in customer service could have something — anything — to say when frustrated customers confronted them in person about their problems.

"For years, someone would be complaining to you and all you could do was sit there and take their complaints," said a Comcast official. "This program allowed employees to do something proactive, to be able to say: 'I'm sorry you've had a problem. Call this number [as opposed to 1-800-Comcast], and they'll happily help you.'"

Comcast employees get mailed a packet of four cards several times a year, and they can hand them out at anytime, to anyone. (For the record, nobody at the Switch has ever been offered one.)

The official confirmed that when you call the number on the card and read off the code, the service you receive isn't measurably different from any other service call. The only difference is that there's a separate service team that handles everything, and you don't have to sit on hold like the last time you called.

"This is one aspect of us trying to make the process better," said the company official.

Not waiting on the phone sounds pretty great. That said, the "We're On It" program seems like less of an actual trump card than simply another way for Comcast to give you what you'd otherwise get without one. If that's true, then Comcast probably doesn't view the cards as a way of currying favor with Washington officials at all.

If anything, the fact that the program exists as an alternative to the main system only draws more attention to how crummy Comcast's customer service can be — something the company itself has acknowledged and likely won't be far from the minds of regulators charged with deciding on the Time Warner Cable deal.