TRAVEL with pat and lew

* Comcast messes up SlingBox … SEE UPDATE … no Comcast problems for several years

Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 26, 2008

UPDATE 8/7/10 … This post is several years old. We have had very few problems with SlingBox since the issue described below, and none of these subsequent problems was caused by ComCast. SlingBox continues to be a valuable and generally quite reliable means of staying in touch while we travel.

On the day we left Collioure (May 15), I demonstrated Sling Box to Pat’s cousin Renee, who would, with her husband Gary, occupy our apartment for part of the time we were gone. A few hours later, Sling Box no longer worked. After 10 days away, it was still not working.

My first thought was that something was wrong inside our Key West home: the cable box had gone off during a power out and had not re-set; the new DVD recorder, through which our Sling Box video feed was wired, had failed to re-boot; the new cable box installed by Comcast had crashed and burned.

This is a serious matter. We use Sling Box to keep current with the news, and a few other regular shows (Meet the Press). The Democratic primary race continues; unbeknownst to us, on Dancing with the Stars, a winner has been selected.

I am particularly nervous because I watch Yankee games on MLB.TV, unaffected by any Comcast/Sling Box problems, but Pat’s viewing is all dependant on our Key West to internet TV connection.

Our next door neighbor Bill, who so graciously watches our home while we are away, was himself on an extended trip. We call our friend Paul, who goes to our house. We talk via Skype. He tells me what he sees, we try together to determine the problem. The Comcast cable box is on. The DVD recorder is on. Paul turns on the TV; there’s no picture on any channel. A message says this channel will be available soon. Paul, watching nothing, wonders if ‘soon’ means minutes, days or years. I ask Paul to turn on the TV in the guest bedroom, powered by a second Comcast cable box. Same story. No picture, ‘soon.’

Paul says he thinks the service has been disconnected. He turns off both TVs, leaves the cable box and DVD recorder on, and leaves.

There’s another piece of relevant information.

Some months ago, Comcast came out because the DVR feature of our cable box was not functioning. They fixed it. But when I looked at my next invoice on the Comcast web site, I noticed they had charged me for a service call. I objected, and they agreed it was a mistake, promised a credit.

When we returned to Collioure from Sicily, my checklist said to review my credit card bill to see if the credit had been processed. I also looked at my on-line Comcast statement. The credit had been issued.

But I noticed something strange. The billing address on my statement, for the Key West bill, was Stone Henge Drive in Fenton, MI!

I called Comcast (thank you again, Skype) and was told there was no record of any change in billing address for as many months as the representative could see. He couldn’t see much, because while he was telling me that, I checked my previous on-line statements and found that the billing address had been changed only for the most recent statement. He agreed to change it back.

Now we’re back to why Sling Box doesn’t work. Paul thinks the service has been discontinued. Pat concludes it must have something to do with the incorrect change of address. She puts it together intuitively like the courtroom defense lawyer she was. Someone who lives in Florida for the winter went home to Michigan for the summer, discontinued his Comcast service for the duration. Maybe it’s someone named Weinstein.

We do a lookup on the Fenton, MI address. Guess what? Sheldon Weinstein, wife Rebecca. Unlisted phone. Next we do a search for Sheldon Weinstein in Florida; find him in Lake Worth, wife Rebecca, Lake Worth listed phone number, temporarily disconnected.

I call Comcast again. NOTE: this exercise took over 4 elapsed hours, perhaps 3 of that on the phone; with Skype, a cost of less than $5.00; without Skype, too expensive to do.

Comcast tells me that my account in Key West was put on seasonal suspension on May 9, effective May 15 through November 15. I say I didn’t do it.

“We verify street address, phone number, last name,” she said. “If someone else has that information, it’s not our fault. Do you want the number of our fraud unit?” Do we sound just a tad defensive?

“It’s not fraud,” I say. “Would someone use our information to suspend our service, for what reason I cannot imagine, and then leave his own summer billing address so he could be traced? Does that make any sense to you? Isn’t it more likely that someone at Comcast applied the seasonal change order to the wrong account?”

We all know that the people we talk to in customer service, at almost any company, are not particularly attuned to common sense. Some are smarter than others, some are ruder and more arrogant, but they all have their script. If your problem doesn’t fit their rote training, they don’t know how to talk to you. Thinking is not part of the job description. Same applies to supervisors.

“Could you check for me to see if a man named Sheldon Weinstein in Lake Worth is a Comcast customer, and if he also lives in Fenton, MI?” I give her both street addresses.

“I can’t do that. Lake Worth is a different customer service call center. So is Michigan. I can’t access those areas.”

“Who can?”

Silence.

“Can you reverse the seasonal suspension?”

Comcast does reverse the seasonal suspension, and some time during the night, Sling Box re-appears. They also give me a full month’s credit. But they will not admit it was their mistake. “Someone called, gave your address, and requested the change,” they insist. “You should call our fraud unit.”

I’m not going to call the fraud unit. Instead, I get the names and phone numbers of supervisors and their supervisors, as well as Comcast corporate headquarters in Philadelphia. I’ll make another round of calls on Tuesday (Monday is Memorial Day). You’ll be the first to know what I learn.

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