Comcast Cable Box
How bad is it really? 

BY NICO LANG AND S.E. SMITH

Here’s a doozy for you: Although the FCC, like everyone else in America, doesn’t believe Comcast has enough competition in the broadband market, the company tried to argue that it has too much. According to Ars Technica, Comcast reasoned that phone companies and “municipal broadband networks” pose a threat to their service, meaning the company’s proposed merger with Time Warner Cable is necessary to save Comcast from those evil rotary phone barons. That poor, helpless virtual monopoly.

If you’ve ever wondered why even the federal government has more fans than Comcast, here are some good reasons. The notorious cable provider is infamous for trying to destroy Internet freedom, having some of the worst customer service on the planet, and making you wait for hours, sometimes even days, for the cable guy.

But how bad is it, really? Let’s take a look inside the company the Internet loves to hate.

1) Their pricing system is absurd (and often expensive).

If you’ve ever wondered why a generation of young people are becoming “cord-cutters,” those who cancel their cable subscriptions in favor of streaming TV, there’s a reason why. Between 2009 and 2013, basic cable rates rose by 68 percent, according to the New York Post, the highest price increase over that period. Although the Post reports that Time Warner Cable prices fell during that period, the proposed merger between the two companies is likely to change that trend.

Those prices vary by city, with New York and San Francisco having some of the highest prices in the world, but in San Francisco, that nearly $100 bundle bill doesn’t necessarily get you better quality. America’s tech capital gets handily beaten by Paris in terms of connection speed and is matched by Washington, D.C., and Toronto, where users pay around 33 percent less for service.

As an article from Forbes’ Adam Tanner outlines, there are a number of different reasons for Comcast’s varying prices, which don’t just have to do with your geography but a number of data, including the “history of how Comcast acquired the local cable provider,” “Internet speed,” and “new customer offers.” These factors led to Tanner being offered four different estimates from the company for the exact same service.

Confused? Welcome to Comcast.

2) Comcast is throttling your Internet.

In a world of high speed, all downloads should be created equal, but they’re not. Comcast has been accused of throttling certain websites, and during certain hours, a frustration for customers but also a considerable free speech and freedom of information issue. Netflix, for example, has accused the firm of throttling in order to control the high traffic created by livestreaming.

In the case of Netflix, the firm ultimately ended up paying what was effectively a bribe to Comcast to secure access for their customers. What happens for other sites that lack the ability to pay for access? That’s the multi-billion dollar question in the net neutrality debate.

3) It's also slowing America down.

According to a 2013 survey of the world’s fastest Internet speeds from Forbes, the country with the most efficient Web connection is South Korea. Their Internet runs a whopping 14.2 Mbps, nearly twice as fast as American servers; the U.S places all the way down in 8th, behind the Czech Republic and Latvia (and America doesn’t fare much better in Akamai’s report). Although China lags behind the rest of the continent, Hong Kong and Japan join South Korea as the top Internets in the world.

Forbes believes that the reasons countries like South Korea and Hong Kong are winning the Internet are the countries’ infrastructure and technology, as South Korea widely relies on Samsung instead of Apple. However, it’s also the folks running the infrastructure, as Comcast’s service is known for outages, as well as unpredictable speeds and overall unreliability.

Comcast’s bandwidth issues are so well-known to customers that it’s easy to tell if a friend of yours has Comcast. Is their Internet down? Then it’s a safe bet.

4) Comcast has one of the most aggressively irritating customer retention strategies in the business.

Calling to cancel your service should be a snap, no matter why you’re doing it. While a quick question from a representative about why you’re choosing to close your account to determine if there’s something the company can do (lower rates, send a tech out to address low download speeds) is reasonable, the process shouldn’t be grueling. Not so at Comcast, where it might seem easier to get a ticket out of hell than to close an account, although the company has vowed to change its policies since a call highlighting their call center practices went viral this year.

Insiders say, however, that representatives are under considerable pressure to make the “save” (i.e. keep customers in the Comcast family). That can include enduring verbal abuse and more from furious customers who just want to close out their accounts and move on.

5) It has Infamously terrible customer service.

It’s not just the retention department that will drive you up the wall. Comcast has truly terrible customer service, which is on-par for any telecommunications company, but they’re particularly bad, to the point that some critics have accused them of fraud.

Between the infamous endless “service windows” (be home between 10 and never), having to pay for things Comcast broke, repeated dropped connections, charging for service during hurricane-induced outages, useless call centers, and more, it’s no surprise that Comcast was voted Worst Company in America 2014. That prize, by the way, is one you do not want to win; unlike the Golden Raspberries, it’s not an homage to schlock but an expression of collective outrage.

6) It’s too big to fail.

But more than that, the Atlantic’s Rebecca Rosen suggests that it might be too big to even function. Comcast is a huge corporation, accounting for 83,000 employees in 80 markets, ones that, apparently, can’t even agree on what price to charge for their services. “None of this, to say the least, provides much reason to feel optimistic for consumers should Comcast's Time Warner acquisition succeed,” Rosen explains. “Problems that stem from size tend not to improve with growth.”

In an article for the Verge, Adrianne Jeffries explains that this very growth was part of the company’s strategy. Jeffries calls the company less a “federation of fiefdoms.” Jeffries explains, “Like other major players in the cable industry, Comcast grew by rolling up smaller (and sometimes larger) systems: E.W. Scripps in 1995, AT&T Broadband in 2001, and Adelphia Communications in 2005, among others.”

Acquiring so many companies so quickly led to a culture of chaos in the company, as Comcast chose to keep all the original infrastructure of the organizations they engulfed, leading to short-term continuity but long-term bedlam. According to one representative, employees frequently change which of the company’s hubs they report to. "The Houston area at one point reported to Boston,” he explained. “Then they were reporting to Atlanta. When I left, they were reporting to Denver."

7) Even employees hate Comcast.

Employees can be the greatest gauge of company quality, which is why airlines are so fond of putting those little badges by the door boasting about the overall happiness of their flight crews. Happy employees make for happy customers, because they’ll provide better service, be more engaged with their work, and be more committed to staying longer. As anyone who’s ever had a cup of ginger ale spilled on them midflight by a disgruntled flight attendant (“oops!”) knows, employees who aren’t pleased with their environment are sure to pass that on to customers.

Comcast employees consistently rank their workplace as an absolutely terrible one, and, hilariously, their #1 reason? Customer service. If that sounds like Kafka, it’s not. It’s just a normal day at Comcast.

Photo via Mr.TinDC/Flickr (CC BY N.D.-2.0)

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