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Chris Tonkinson

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© 2021 Chris Tonkinson

An Open Letter To Comcast

Foreword: On the morning of Monday, September 28th, I noticed that my Skype connection was hanging intermittently. When GoToMeeting exhibited the same behavior, some basic diagnostics betrayed cyclical latency spikes at the two IP addresses directly upstream from my house in the Comcast network. That was a week and a half ago.

Dear Comcast,

1. You’ve failed technically

TL;DR - the problem went unnoticed

Your first failure is that the problem went entirely unnoticed. If you deploy a system into production, you monitor it. This is systems administration 101. First you verify that it functions, then you audit that it does so satisfactorily. In the case of networking gear, that means you have some system in place checking properties including but not necessarily limited to packet loss, latency, and jitter.

I can forgive transient problems, even big ones. I understand as well as anyone how easily complex even simple systems can fail in strange ways for any number of unapparent reasons. But for a problem like this to go on for a week and a half where I (the customer) am the only party ostensibly interested in its resolution? That’s a failure, Comcast.

Your second failure is that once the problem was identified and reported, no actions were taken to resolve the issue, save those I effected through the sheer brute force of countless† hours of my own personal time. I have been on the phone with customer service for the last five business days. Each time I call and, after 2 or 3 transfers, I manage to find someone who informs me that the ticket I opened yesterday was closed. Or that the service order that had been created was denied. Or that the technician who was scheduled was pulled away. Or that the note indicates the problem is resolved, can you please clear your cookies?

The salt in this particular wound is that at one point (days ago) I actually had someone on the line who knew what they were doing. It took her — her name was Laura, and I pine for her native English, her technical savvy, and her earnest helpfulness — about 30 seconds to confirm the issue. Hey, most people, most of the time, need to just reset All The Network Things and they can go about playing Candy Crush and re-sharing cat GIFs on Facebook. But at the point where a traffic-disrupting issue is confirmed by your people, on your network, and me (again, the customer) still feels like he’s trying to push a rope towards resolution? That’s a big failure, Comcast.

† In fact the hours are finite and quite numerable. Nine, so far. About nine hours spent double checking my own equipment (to confirm the problem isn’t on my LAN), being put on hold by customer service after having fully explained the problem in detail, being introduced to other customer service representatives so I could once again fully explain the problem in detail, standing idly by while the service technician double checked my equipment, et cetera.

Your third failure is that you neither train nor empower your customer service representatives to solve actual problems in favor of drilling mindless platitudes into their language so that, in addition to being misunderstood, your customers can test the durability of their willpower against an endless onslaught of trite and condescending pacification.

When I say something like

Me: I’m seeing regular spikes in latency of UDP traffic at and upstream of my router confirmed by ping/traceroute and corresponding with about a 2 second drop-off of Skype traffic.

and your customer service representative says

Comcast: I understand, and I’m very sorry for that.

That’s dandy, if it’s true. But then, when they follow up with

Comcast: So I understand you’re having problems connecting to the Internet?

I begin to lose my ever-loving <redacted> and start see white. And red. Simultaneously, I guess if that’s possible? It wouldn’t just be pink, then, right? Because that doesn’t sound super aggressive, but I wouldn’t know because I’m that fed up!!!

If a customer is speaking at a level above the customer service representative they’re talking to, the call should immediately be escalated to a higher tier. At the least, please don’t treat your representatives like trained monkeys. Don’t insist that they offer vapid consolations at the end of every other sentence. It’s transparent, and offensive, pointless. That’s a huge failure, Comcast.

Your fourth failure is that once I do get through to someone who understands the problem, confirms the problem, agrees that the problem should be resolved, and is ostensibly adequately authorized to effect change towards said resolution, your people can’t actually get anything done. “The system” (which I have to assume based on the preponderance of evidence is some crappy .jar written in 1997 for which the source has been long lost) is unresponsive. Or “the system” won’t accept the change. Or a service order is needed which later, inexplicably, gets closed, denied, ignored, or otherwise unacted upon.

Your people can’t actually solve problems if and when they want to. Either some inanimate object impedes progress, or else — possibly my most hated excuse of them all — it’s someone else’s department. That’s a ridiculous failure, Comcast.

Your fifth failure is that you break promise after promise.

Comcast: I need to rebundle your package to refresh your boot file, but your bandwidth will remain the same.

In fact, my bandwidth did not remain the same. My upload throughput decreased 60% after the change. Great, now I have two problems.

Comcast: The change has been made, and will take effect within the next 24 hours.

No change.

Comcast: Someone will investigate the latency at those two nodes on Saturday between 10:30 and 12:30, and call you afterwards.

No change, no phone call.

Comcast: Did no one call you? It looks like the technician never went out on the call, but you’re scheduled to be called about it this afternoon.

No phone call.

Comcast: Did you not get that call yesterday? It looks like the service order was denied. I’ll have someone come tomorrow morning.

Me: To confirm, this service order is for a technician to visit the two upstream IP address in question, correct? They are not scheduled to come to my home address, where both a technician and a level 2 support member, has already confirmed that no problem exists?

Comcast: Yes.

They sent the service technician to my house.

I can forgive a communication breakdown now and then, but this is — it may come as a shock to some — a pervasive problem. That’s a systemic failure, Comcast.

This is not the first battle I’ve waged against Comcast customer support. In fact, about every 12-24 months some life situation forces my hand. Coerces me, against everything I hold dear, to pick up the phone. Snookers me into opening the colossal can of worms waiting behind 1-800-COMCAST. In each instance, you’ve misunderstood the problem and/or the solution. In each instance, I’ve lost more time. In each instance, I’ve located very acutely the precise end of my patience, which is virtually boundless when I’m not gridlocked with your unique brand of careless ineptitude.

I don’t know if these failures can be addressed. I don’t know if they can be “solved.” They are so wholly systemic, so completely fundamental, and so totally profound that the full scope of the problem honestly exceeds my full comprehension. I’m not sure there is a reasonable thing you could do to make good on this latest, most egregious, abomination of service. And when I say that, I mean nothing reasonable. You could very well

  • Apologize (for the three hundredth time)
  • Refund my entire bill this and next month
  • Increase my bandwidth, for free, for life
  • Prorate my service for the next five years
  • Serve me a 32oz rib-eye grilled to medium-rare perfection and paired with three fingers of MacAllan 20

and I would still, undoubtedly, take my business to the competition, assuming there was any.

At no point, in your rambling, incoherent [phone calls] was there anything resembling a rational thought. I am now dumber for having listened to [your support representatives]. I award you no points, and my God have mercy on your soul[s]. Hilarious reference aside, I mean it earnestly and hope it does not detract from my dissatisfaction, which I hope shines through my words like the fuming rage of a hundred blazing suns.