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2008/11/01 Letter To Comcast: You Will Be Irrelevant Soon
π 2008-11-01 00:00 in Public
My comcast internet randomly going up and down with the rain reminded me that I had to send a few words to comcast about what I think of them in general. I found their executives' Email on the net and sent them this little letter...
So far they replied to thank me for the feedback. I'm not sure if they mean it or not, or whether my letter will help delaying or stopping their planned rollout of 5C encryption on their firewire ports, making mythtv recording mostly impossible, but eh, I had to at least try.
If you are their customer, you should definitely tell them what you think of them too, they deserve the feedback afterall...
From: Marc MERLIN 
To: david_cohen =at= comcast.com, ralph_roberts =at= comcast.com,
        marlene_dooner =at= comcast.com, payne_brown =at= comcast.com,
        kerry_knott =at= comcast.com, esl_corp =at= cable.comcast.com,
        john_schanz =at= cable.comcast.com, john_ridall =at= cable.comcast.com,
        brian_roberts =at= comcast.com, joe_waz =at= comcast.com,
        audit_committee_chairman =at= comcast.com, darcy_rudnay =at= comcast.com,
        corporate_communications =at= comcast.com, steve_burke =at= cable.comcast.com

Dear Madam, Dear Sir,

I realize that at this point you have likely already made the decision of
appealing to the lowest common denominator customer and that angering most
of the techie population in the Silicon Valley may just be an acceptable
loss to you.
That said, if I am mistaken, I'll tell you what you are doing blatantly
wrong and what you can do about it. I am also going to warn you about the
problems with your HDTV service, and how you are very likely to get a class
action lawsuit if you continue the deployment of 5c encryption on your
channels, preventing recording through firewire (more details on that later)

Executive Summary:
- I'm very close to dumping your TV service because $67/month to watch
  basic broadcast channels plus 4 cable channels is both a ripoff and you're
  making it increasingly harder for me to record digital channels. But just
  the fact that I'm paying $12-ish for broadcast channels and $55 for a mere
  2 channels I want on top of that is very bad pricing on your part and is
  causing people like me to jump ship. I don't care if you add channels, I
  care about how much I pay for the ones I want.

  Also, as soon as you remove your channels tunable without a cable box
  (i.e. basic analog cable) and continue to prevent recording digital
  channels tuned through your unnecessary but yet required cable box, you
  will become entirely unattractive and more expensive compared to satellite
  or IPTV solutions.

- Your cable internet service, while reasonably priced while still on the
  package pricing, has been somewhat unreliable and plagued with the most
  infuriating clueless tech support I've ever worked with (not counting
  when you mistakenly shut me off and treated me like a criminal by putting
  me in the copyright infringer pile due to a temporary overusage due to a
  bug.


Phone Service
-------------
Honestly, considering the experience I had with your internet service
sometimes going down for a day or more and being told that I didn't have
business service and that I had no SLA, and that I'd probably get 1 or 2
dollars back a the end of the month to make up for the fact that I had no
internet connectivity for over 2 days (it was a city wide problem), is why I
would never consider phone service from you (and quite frankly no tech savy
person I know in the Silicon Valley has your phone service either).

TV Service
----------
1) you make TV hard to get to without your equipment
----------------------------------------------------
To your credit, that's the one thing that has mostly worked in the 12 years
I've been your customer for analog service.
Why Analog? Because with multiple TVs and 4 VCRs back then and now multiple
DVRs (not yours, mine, self built), cable had the big advantage of allowing
multiple recording streams without extra decoding hardware.

Then came digital cable, which I ignored since it required a cable box per
channel to view and was a major pain the butt to link to my VCRs and DVRs.
But now, with HDTV, I have a bigger problem. I can thankfully tune the HD
broadcast channels that you are required to carry unencrypted by law, but
I am quite antagonized by the fact that you require me to lease a cable box
I neither need nor want to tune HD channels like SCIFI-HD or Discovery-HD.

I had to beg to get an HDTV DCH-3200 cable box, you didn't even have them at
your local branch and they had no phone number for me to call before driving
there to see if they received new ones (which they didn't for several
weeks). Through much work, I was finally able to tune and record just one
channel at a time through the firewire port to my DVR in HD.
However, some of my fellow engineers who managed to do that in other markets
are increasingly getting booted off as you turn on 5c encryption on all your
channels and prevent people from recording channels that they paid for.

You are probably aware that The FCC has passed a regulation that if I am are
in the United States, and you have a HD subscription and a HD cable box,
you have to honor my request replace or upgrade your cable box with working
FireWire.
http://hraunfoss.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/FCC-03-225A1.pdf
Page 50, section 4
    (4) Cable operators shall:
        (i) Effective April 1, 2004, upon request of a customer, replace any
        leased high definition set-top box, which does not include a
        functional IEEE 1394 interface, with one that includes a functional
        IEEE 1394 interface or upgrade the customer's set-top box by
        download or other means to ensure that the IEEE 1394 interface is
        functional.

I'm pretty sure you will lose in a class action suit when the people go
after you for effectively disabling the firewire connection by encrypting
all signals on it so that they are useless.
If you were going to tell me I should be using your PVR, don't bother. First
your PVR is slow and bad, second it doesn't share programs around the house
between TVs, and 3rd I shouldn't have to buy or lease your PVR when I have
my own that's both better and that I can program to do what I want.


2) you charge a fortune for basic cable
---------------------------------------
More specifically, you do not sell basic cable or anything a la carte. You
force me to pay $67/month for the most basic HDTV package I can get.
If I get an HD antenna and put it on my roof, I'll only be missing 2
channels: Discovery and Comedy Central.
I can now watch my Comedy Central programs streamed from their web site,
and Discovery is also making their programs downloadable from their web
site.
Pretty much everything else is on http://www.hulu.com/ or is being added
soon. My home built DVR is of course internet enabled and can stream
directly to my TV, replacing your cable box and your service as a whole.

So, please tell me why I'm currently paying you $55/month for 2 channels
that I can pretty much watch on the internet anyway?
^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^


Cable Internet
--------------
I'm not going to mention the shameful pretense of unlimited internet when
you had secret caps for so long, as well as traffic shaping (I can't even
blame you for them, but I do blame you for hiding them and lying about
them), or how you treated me like a criminal in error and that I had to use
my fiancee's name at my old address before I could get service back, since
both of those are past (it's another long story that I don't feel like
telling anymore).

However, I will mention that you have the worst tech support I've ever
worked with. I'm a unix sysadmin and network engineer; I know when your
service is down probably faster than you do and I do not take kindly of
having a support monkey telling me to reboot my windows machine (I do not
have windows) when I point out that I do get a DHCP address from you, that I
released it and asked for another lease, but that you only give me a
192.168 IP because at least your local service is down.
I only used your service as a backup for my faster DSL connection (although
it's indeed not cheaper than you), and now that my dual line DSL has been
working stably for long enough without any weird caps or traffic shaping,
I'm happy that I'll be able to put behind me the stress and bad experience
that having your internet service, was.
As general feedback, no one technical that I know in the silicon valley
has comcast internet, unless they are in an area where it's impossible to
get DSL.
And by far, the worst part is when you have to call support and you are
forced to listen to those forced down your throat, infuriating adds for PPV
boxing or whatever that you couldn't care less about because you're calling
about your cable internet being down (that's just after having a clueless
tech who may just hang up on you when you tell them that you aren't using
windows).


In a nutshell
-------------
As you can tell by now, while I've been your customer for as long as I've
lived here, I've been nothing but unhappy with my interactions with you,
your on the fly pricing that goes away, fake charges that are put on your
bill for equipment you don't have or didn't ask for, and the hours wasted
arguing on the phone.
Your internet service has now become irrelevant, and while you had a
technical lead on the TV side by having almost unlimited concurrent streams
of channels on a single cable, you've managed to remove that advantage by
forcing needless cable boxes and encrypting channels to make sure that they
are no more watchable without one STB per recorder or TV, just like
satellite (except that satellite is both cheaper, and does have more HD
channels and in higher quality than you).
Before long, or maybe even as of now, IPTV and internet watchable shows are
going to make people a lot less likely to pay you a ridiculous $50-$60 just
to watch the few channels they care about and lease a cable box they neither
need, nor want (recent TVs and PVRs can tune QAM256 and 8VSB digital
channels without the help of an external STB/cable box. Mine can, and I'm
pissed that you're encrypting your channels for cripple the usability of my
devices).

If you have a reasonable price you can offer me for basic HD cable, you may
keep me as a customer assuming you never turn on 5C encryption in the
silicon valley (the day you do that is likely the day you'll have that class
action suit on your hands), but otherwise this hour I spent to give you this
feedback in the hopes that someone who still cares, is reading this, is the
last hour I will spend with you.

Marc Merlin.

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