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Action Bob Markle

Music, theater, and my personal life, not always in that order. I try to keep it interesting, I rarely hold back, because one thing I truly believe in is the shared experience of this reality we call life. We're all in this together, people. More than we even know.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

When the Internet is about life and death...forget Comcast

It's one thing when your Internet connection is down and you can't shop on eBay. It's quite another when it affects a life and death situation. And it's maddening when you're dealing with Comcast.

Sue works for the state of Massachusetts in child protection. There are times when she'll get a call in the middle of the night and she has to go to an emergency. By emergency, I mean a 911 call where she'll meet the police and there could be alcohol, drugs, and guns involved. When this happens, the first thing she does is map Google the location where she has to go. As you can guess, most of these emergencies don't take place in the best of neighborhoods-- neighborhoods where you don't want to be driving around in the middle of the night asking for directions. Also, if she doesn't pull the location off the Internet, she has to drive to the local police department and get directions, which amounts to a significant loss of response time.

So try explaining this to Comcast.

Friday night that's exactly what happened. She got a call and when she Googled the Internet was down. A woman had been severely beaten and there were four children involved. The situation was so dangerous that at one point the responding officer considered drawing his firearm.

Today is Tuesday, and after about five lengthy phone calls to Comcast's customer service center in South Texas (Loredo) and after guarantees that the service would be fixed in 24 hours, we have is occasional uptime with the Internet that is obvious isn't a result of any work on Comcast's part. Even after I explained that lives were at risk.

All we kept getting were a lot of I'm sorries and I understand your frustration, responses that the customer service reps are taught to say.

What's worse is that the technicians in the Boston area lied about their response. I was told on Saturday night by a supervisor in Loredo that a technician would be at the house between noon and 4 o'clock. It's a Saturday on Labor Day weekend. Sue and I had things to do but we cancelled everything to be at the apartment when the technician arrived. No technician arrived and later than night during the number of phone calls I had with Loredo they said the technician posted that they called us and no one answered. No one called. My phone logs all my calls, both incoming and outgoing, and no one called from Comcast.

During one conversation with Loredo, a customer service rep told me that the Boston center said not to escalate the problem unless the situation changes. In other words, even though I clearly explained a number of times that this could be considered a life and death situation, the Boston office clearly didn't think so.


What Comcast, and I suspect other Internet providers don't understand is the nature of the Internet. Forget Sue's need for it, it is completely entwined in the fabric of people's lives.

Sue and I don't have a television. We get almost all of our news from the Internet. We follow the presidential elections on the Internet. We streamed Obama's speech the other night.

The Internet, for most of us, has replaced the post office, the bank, the telephone company--just about every service you can think of. We email and IM instead of writing letters. It's how we keep in touch. The old AT&T company never let phone connections go down. I can barely think of a time going without phone service unless under emergencies like the Blizzard of '78. The post office delivered mail through rain and sleet and snow. That's the attitude Comcast should take, but they don't.

And I am so opposed to government intervention into anything, but rather than worry about what Roger Clemens shot into his hiney, shouldn't Congress worry more about the business practices of something like Comcast and how it is negatively affecting our lives? There is a side of degregulation that is a wonderful thing. But there is also a part of it that allows organizations (financial institutions and communication companies come to mind) to engage in shoddy and unethical business practices.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

If it's life or death, maybe a GPS should be in her future?

September 2, 2008 at 2:06 PM  
Blogger John Greiner-Ferris said...

you're right...she just started this aspect of her job and we've talked about a gps...but, do you know what social workers make?...and how much a good, reliable gps costs?...already the state demands that social workers carry and pay for their own cell phones...despite that, the internet has become such and essential part of our lives five days of downtime is just not acceptable...

September 2, 2008 at 2:28 PM  
Blogger Ron Newman said...

Paper maps are still published, and are still good things to have around. I recommend an Arrow or other local atlas.

September 2, 2008 at 11:12 PM  
Blogger Ben, N1WBV said...

If you can't afford a GPS try one of those "every street in every city in Massachusetts" mapbooks. My dad has used them for 20 years as he has had 2 careers related to driving and knowing where you need to go.

The bigger issue here is that people are relying on the Internet. Consumer grade connections to the Internet a very unreliable in the grand scheme of things, much in the same way people who go "cell phone only" are shocked to find out that their cell phones stop working in extended blackouts. If you deal with "life and death" situations, you need to have backup plans in case all hell breaks loose. (IE: What happens if the same situation happens and you have been without power for a day?)

Just my $0.02

September 2, 2008 at 11:20 PM  
Anonymous Ben said...

That's ridicuous. She isn't a first responder. First responders have access to more reliable sources of information, and if it is a life or death situation (meaning life or death depends on her and not the real first responders) then she should have access to the same resources (e.g. the cops should pick her up and drive her to the scene) I think she would if she was.

The internet is not currently reliable for distribution of emergency information. Providers cannot and do not make guarantees, in fact more often they say the opposite, they recommend users don't rely on them in emergency situations.

That said, because most ISPs monopolize regions they have little incentive to offer reliable service versus the cost of supporting it.

If nothing else this should be a legit cause for consumer action groups to get involved to ensure a reasonable level of service and offer a course of action to take against these companies when they fail to provide the service consumers expect.

September 3, 2008 at 12:36 AM  
Blogger me said...

You can find a GPA for a reasonable price if you shop around. Or a regular road map from AAA. The interweb can be seen as essential for your partner's safe navigation (my mom's a recently retired social worker in NY, I used to worry about her a lot, esp. when she had to visit someone in jail), and know it can be frustrating (in situations like that) because you care about her safety. And if I were you, I wouldn't pay Comcast for the 5 days you were denied service.

But you sound kind of indignant when you started to go off about how upset you would've gotten if you couldn't have streamed Obama's speech.

September 3, 2008 at 12:52 AM  
Blogger John Greiner-Ferris said...

ben said...actually, yes, she is a first responder...welcome to the commonwealth of massachusetts...she just started on an emergency unit that, along with the police, ambulances, etc, respond to calls at'd think they'd have access to the same resources as others, but social workers in this state aren't...what i find remarkable is that while they are sent into some very dangerous environments, they're not allowed to arm themselves, even with pepper spray...i mean, even mail carriers carry that to combat dogs...there is no official contingency plans for backup...they really go out there alone...

of course, this is a completely separate issue...

i agree with you, a consumer action group, or the govt. should be looking into this...i don't condone the govt. encroaching in our lives, but this is the sort of thing i think they should be looking into...

September 3, 2008 at 10:15 AM  
Blogger John Greiner-Ferris said...

to me: i didn't say i 'd would have been indignant if i hadn't heard obama's speech, did i??...i just mean that we get the news off the internet...

i know we're different than most...early adopters (or close to it i think the marketing people would call point is that comcast is i don't think comcast really understands is own business...

September 3, 2008 at 10:18 AM  
Blogger Jay Levitt said...

For what it's worth, I've found that the people who actually work in the Comcast MA offices are great; they're all locals, ex-AT&T, ex-MediaOne. It's just the (presumably nationwide) call center that inherits Comcast's suckiness.

You might want to take a trip down to the office and see if you can get someone to own up to your case there. They used to be in Allston, but they just moved a mile or so away this summer, when Harvard started construction.

September 3, 2008 at 11:36 AM  
Blogger John Greiner-Ferris said...

jay, the people in laredo were great...that's the call center...supervisors understood and kept trying to escalate the was the local office that was dragging its feet...they knew there was an issue here...neighbors were without their cable television...they just didn't get the importance...and there is no regulatory body that holds their toes to the fire...

September 3, 2008 at 12:23 PM  

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