NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Monday, April 13th, 2015

NPI to Comcast: Stop spamming us with unsolicited offers for service we don’t want

Edi­tor’s note: The fol­low­ing is an open let­ter to Com­cast CEO, Pres­i­dent, and Chair­man Bri­an Roberts from the North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute.

Dear Bri­an:

I am writ­ing to ask that Com­cast cease and desist from send­ing us fur­ther “lim­it­ed-time sav­ings vouch­ers” or oth­er solic­i­ta­tions for Com­cast Busi­ness ser­vice.

Since last sum­mer, we have received dozens of near­ly iden­ti­cal, mass-pro­duced unsigned and unso­licit­ed let­ters urg­ing us to “sign up for fast Inter­net, then add phone & TV for $34.90 more per month.”

For rea­sons we can­not fath­om, many of these let­ters have been show­ing up in pairs, with only slight vari­a­tions in the address. This is waste­ful and point­less.

Unwanted letters from Comcast

The two dozen let­ters received by NPI from Com­cast Busi­ness, which showed up in the span of a sea­son, most­ly in pairs. The let­ters just keep on com­ing.

We can only con­clude that you’ve been min­ing pub­lic records in order to gen­er­ate mail­ing lists of prospec­tive cus­tomers, and then not both­er­ing to fil­ter for dupli­cate names and address­es pri­or to print­ing up your solic­i­ta­tions. That would cer­tain­ly explain why we often have received pro­mo­tion­al offers two at a time.

But it gets worse.

See, Bri­an, the Think­space com­mu­ni­ty, which we at the North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute call home, has Com­cast Busi­ness ser­vice.

Every com­pa­ny and non­prof­it with a pres­ence in the build­ing is thus already a cus­tomer of yours, whether they like it or not.

Should­n’t your mar­ket­ing and sales depart­ments know this? Should­n’t they be able to see that 8201 164th Avenue in Red­mond is already served by Com­cast?

Were it up to me and my team, we’d choose the com­pe­ti­tion for every­thing: Inter­net, tele­vi­sion, and phone. Of all of the major mega­cor­po­ra­tions whose busi­ness prac­tices and pub­lic pol­i­cy posi­tions we intense­ly dis­like, Com­cast is at the top of the list, along with Wall Street banks like Bank of Amer­i­ca and JPMor­gan Chase and oil com­pa­nies like BP and Exxon­Mo­bil.

Here’s why we have no inter­est in being a Com­cast cus­tomer.

Com­cast ser­vice is unre­li­able and not a good val­ue

Your com­pa­ny has become infa­mous for charg­ing very high prices for very poor ser­vice. This has been true in my own expe­ri­ence. Before ditch­ing Com­cast at home, I had to put up with all sorts of prob­lems, from slow chan­nel changes to repeat­ed errors when try­ing to watch movies or shows on demand.

My expe­ri­ence isn’t unique. Even peo­ple who have decid­ed to keep their Com­cast ser­vice, like Frank Cata­lano, have grum­bled about it.

Last week, across the lake in Seat­tle, Com­cast expe­ri­enced a major out­age, which result­ed in many busi­ness­es hav­ing to shut down oper­a­tions for the day and send home employ­ees. The out­age was­n’t Com­cast’s fault, but its han­dling of the inci­dent left a lot of Seat­tleites angry and frus­trat­ed.

Ridicu­lous­ly, Com­cast is requir­ing that impact­ed cus­tomers call in to receive a refund, instead of auto­mat­i­cal­ly cred­it­ing them.

In its Com­cast Con­fes­sions series, The Verge spoke with over a hun­dred Com­cast employ­ees and con­trac­tors in an attempt to under­stand why Com­cast ser­vice is so lousy. The Verge’s Adri­anne Jef­fries report­ed: “We heard the same sto­ries over and over again: cus­tomer ser­vice has been replaced by an obses­sion with sales, tech­ni­cians are under­staffed, tech sup­port is poor­ly trained, and the telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions behe­moth is hob­bled by inter­nal frag­men­ta­tion. ”

No won­der, then, that along with Time Warn­er Cable, which you are present­ly attempt­ing to acquire (an acqui­si­tion that a friend of ours likened to “traf­fic and can­cer join­ing forces”) you scored dead last in the Amer­i­can Con­sumer Sat­is­fac­tion Index’s 2014 Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions and Infor­ma­tion Report, a respect­ed sur­vey that asks tens of thou­sands of Amer­i­cans to rate their sat­is­fac­tion with prod­ucts and ser­vices they use in their every­day lives. And it’s not the first time, either.

Com­cast is bad at fix­ing billing mis­takes

Woe to any cus­tomer who finds a prob­lem on their Com­cast bill and tries to get it cor­rect­ed. Not long ago, Ars Tech­ni­ca pub­lished an arti­cle telling the incred­i­bly dis­turb­ing sto­ry of Conal O’Rourke, a Price­wa­ter­house­C­oop­ers accoun­tant who found him­self fired from PwC after try­ing to get Com­cast to fix mis­takes on his bill.

Among the ini­tial billing mis­takes that O’Rourke tried to get cor­rect­ed after becom­ing a Com­cast cus­tomer in Feb­ru­ary of 2013:

  • His name was incor­rect­ly spelled
  • He was being charged for three addi­tion­al HD out­lets he did­n’t have
  • He was charged for cable set-top box­es he nev­er acti­vat­ed

O’Rourke got nowhere over the phone, despite call­ing in repeat­ed­ly. So he went in to the local Com­cast store in his neigh­bor­hood of San Jose. An assis­tant store man­ag­er promised him Com­cast would take of him.

But his prob­lems only got worse. Over the next few months, his Com­cast Inter­net ser­vice repeat­ed­ly quit work­ing. Com­cast promised to send tech­ni­cians out to fix the prob­lems, but did­n’t. And then, one day, O’Rourke got home to dis­cov­er sev­er­al box­es con­tain­ing over $1,800 worth of equip­ment he had­n’t ordered.

Fed up, O’Rourke did what most rea­son­able peo­ple in his shoes would do: He went up the cor­po­rate food chain, hop­ing to talk to some­one with the pow­er to fix his prob­lems. But, after a con­ver­sa­tion with Com­cast’s con­troller Lawrence Sal­va, he found him­self in more trou­ble than ever.

Sal­va’s office found out that O’Rourke worked for Price­wa­ter­house­C­oop­ers — which con­sults for Com­cast. O’Rourke’s lawyer alleges that Sal­va’s office pro­ceed­ed to con­tact a part­ner at PwC, telling the part­ner that O’Rourke “had invoked his employ­ment with PwC in an attempt to some­how obtain lever­age in his nego­ti­a­tions with Com­cast.”

(That’s from a let­ter sent by Com­cast by O’Rourke’s lawyer).

In Feb­ru­ary of 2014, O’Rourke was sub­ject­ed to an inter­nal ethics inves­ti­ga­tion. Less than two weeks lat­er, he was fired from PwC. He is now seek­ing com­pen­sa­tion and an apol­o­gy from Com­cast (Com­cast offered an apol­o­gy through its cor­po­rate blog, which O’Rourke and his lawyers found lack­ing.) O’Rourke told Ars that his research indi­cat­ed his expe­ri­ence was unfor­tu­nate­ly not that unusu­al:

I think they’re total­ly egre­gious… I think they’re the most uneth­i­cal, dis­hon­est bunch that I’ve ever encoun­tered. I would like to see them inves­ti­gat­ed for repeat­ed over­billing. It is a very com­mon occur­rence.

In July 2014, O’Rourke sent a let­ter to Con­necti­cut Sen­a­tor Richard Blu­men­thal detail­ing his expe­ri­ence and dis­cussing Com­cast’s busi­ness prac­tices.

Com­cast does­n’t deliv­er what it promis­es

Com­cast makes all sorts of claims in its mar­ket­ing and direct­ly to prospec­tive and active cus­tomers that it does not ful­fill.

Con­sid­er the expe­ri­ence of Seth Mora­bito, a Con­sumerist read­er and tech­nol­o­gist. Last year, Seth bought a nice home in Kit­sap Coun­ty (which is not far from Wash­ing­ton’s major urban cen­ters) after hav­ing been assured twice by Com­cast rep­re­sen­ta­tives that it could and would be con­nect­ed to Com­cast’s net­work.

Sad­ly, when Seth tried to get his home wired, he ran into noth­ing but trou­ble. Ulti­mate­ly, he was told his dream home could not be con­nect­ed:

I don’t know where we go from here. I don’t know if there’s any kind of recourse. I do know that through­out this process, Com­cast has lied.

I don’t throw that word around light­ly or flip­pant­ly, I mean it sin­cere­ly. They’ve fed me false infor­ma­tion from the start, and it’s hurt me very bad­ly. This whole thing would have been avoid­ed if only Com­cast had said, right at the start, that they didn’t serve this address. Just that one thing would have made me strike this house off the list.

I don’t know exact­ly how much mon­ey I’m going to lose when I sell, but it’s going to be sub­stan­tial.

Three months of equi­ty in a house isn’t a lot of mon­ey com­pared to sell­ers fees, excise tax­es, and oth­er mov­ing expens­es.

Seth is hard­ly the only one who has been let down by Com­cast.

Com­cast is hard to break up with

As AOL vice pres­i­dent Ryan Block doc­u­ment­ed in a wide­ly dis­sem­i­nat­ed audio clip post­ed to Sound­Cloud, Com­cast does not make it easy for cus­tomers who are dis­sat­is­fied to sev­er their rela­tion­ship with Com­cast. Many Amer­i­cans have unhap­pi­ly dis­cov­ered that Com­cast con­sid­ers itself akin to the Hotel Cal­i­for­nia: You can check out any­time you like, but you can nev­er leave (with props to The Eagles).

The Blocks are not the only ones who have been treat­ed this way, con­trary to your claims that “the way in which our rep­re­sen­ta­tive com­mu­ni­cat­ed with them is unac­cept­able and not con­sis­tent with how we train our cus­tomer ser­vice rep­re­sen­ta­tives.” As Busi­ness­week report­ed in a July 18th arti­cle titled, “That Com­cast Cus­tomer Ser­vice Rep Was­n’t Going Rogue”:

It turns out the rep wasn’t going rogue, accord­ing to Lau­ren Bruce, a for­mer Com­cast cus­tomer account exec­u­tive. “Unless a cus­tomer was mov­ing, we were encour­aged to use reten­tion tech­niques,” says Bruce, who start­ed work­ing at Insight Com­mu­ni­ca­tions in Lafayette, Ind., in 2005. The com­pa­ny was lat­er acquired by Com­cast.

“If some­one is say­ing, ‘screw my ser­vice, I hate you,’ you would say, ‘Hey, do you want phone too?’” recalls Bruce, who left Com­cast in 2009. She declines to say where she is cur­rent­ly work­ing.

Bruce says that Com­cast employ­ees were not asked to fol­low a script, but were trained to respond in a giv­en way in cer­tain sce­nar­ios. For exam­ple, if some­one states that they are dis­sat­is­fied with ser­vice, the cus­tomer ser­vice rep­re­sen­ta­tive must first ask why they are dis­sat­is­fied before pro­ceed­ing with the request. The goal is always to retain cus­tomers or con­vince them to buy a high­er-priced ser­vice.

Employ­ees work­ing in your cus­tomer reten­tion depart­ment are clear­ly oper­at­ing under direc­tives from the top — in oth­er words, instruc­tions from you.

Com­cast oppos­es net neu­tral­i­ty

At NPI, we val­ue dig­i­tal free­dom high­ly. It’s some­thing that mat­ters a great deal to us. Before NPI exist­ed phys­i­cal­ly or legal­ly, it exist­ed as an idea on the Web. Like oth­er net­roots orga­ni­za­tions and tech star­tups, NPI’s roots are vir­tu­al.

If the Inter­net hadn’t been invent­ed, NPI would nev­er have come into being. The same goes for the rest of the net­roots com­mu­ni­ty. We are fierce believ­ers in net neu­tral­i­ty — the idea that Inter­net ser­vice providers such as Com­cast should be required to treat all traf­fic equal­ly — and we  strong­ly sup­port net neu­tral­i­ty’s trans­for­ma­tion from prin­ci­ple to well-enforced law.

Com­cast regret­tably has a his­to­ry of oppos­ing net neu­tral­i­ty and, along with Ver­i­zon Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, active­ly engag­ing in lit­i­ga­tion to over­turn Fed­er­al Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion rules designed to pre­vent Com­cast and oth­er ISPs from turn­ing the Inter­net into a sec­ond incar­na­tion of cable tele­vi­sion.

In 2007, Com­cast was caught throt­tling Bit­Tor­rent traf­fic using pack­et forg­ing in vio­la­tion of net neu­tral­i­ty prin­ci­ples.

The Fed­er­al Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion sub­se­quent­ly ordered Com­cast to alter its net­work man­age­ment prac­tices in a land­mark 2008 order. Com­cast pro­ceed­ed to fight the order in court, argu­ing that the FCC had over­stepped its author­i­ty.

We regard Com­cast as a seri­ous threat to Inter­net free­dom.

Com­cast often blocks legit­i­mate email to its sub­scribers

Last sum­mer, we noticed that after send­ing out a new issue of our e‑newsletter, The Ever­green Con­nec­tion, we were get­ting an unusu­al­ly high num­ber of bounces back. After some inves­ti­ga­tion, we dis­cov­ered that Com­cast had black­list­ed the SMTP serv­er we use to send email, mean­ing that deliv­ery of our newslet­ter to our sup­port­ers with @comcast.net email address­es was being blocked.

We care­ful­ly fol­low best prac­tices for send­ing email, so we were puz­zled, but the serv­er we use is shared with many oth­er indi­vid­u­als and orga­ni­za­tions.

We sub­mit­ted a request to get off the black­list and this was duly processed by Com­cast, but we were nev­er giv­en an expla­na­tion as to why Com­cast black­list­ed the  serv­er that we use in the first place. We sug­gest that Com­cast learn to com­bat spam more intel­li­gent­ly and effec­tive­ly so legit­i­mate email can get through.

Oth­ers have also had sim­i­lar prob­lems with Com­cast over the years. Here’s one exam­ple. Here’s anoth­er. And here’s still anoth­er.

Com­cast is anti-union

Com­cast has a his­to­ry of say­ing one thing and doing anoth­er when it comes to respect­ing labor rights. In com­mu­ni­ty after com­mu­ni­ty, includ­ing here in the Pacif­ic North­west, Com­cast has tried to break unions and pre­vent employ­ees from form­ing unions, pre­sum­ably so that it can enjoy more pow­er over its employ­ees and get away with pay­ing them less and offer­ing few­er ben­e­fits.

This has unfor­tu­nate­ly been going for years; the NW Labor Press wrote about it 2004 and rep­re­sen­ta­tives of Reclaim the Media made it a focal point of their tes­ti­mo­ny on a pro­posed fran­chise agree­ment in Seat­tle the same year.

Com­cast is poor­ly gov­erned

Com­cast has repeat­ed­ly been giv­en low marks by watch­dogs for its cor­po­rate gov­er­nance prac­tices.

In 2010, the Cor­po­rate Library, which has since merged with Gov­er­nance Met­rics to form GMI Rat­ings, grad­ed Com­cast an “F”, in part because you, Bri­an, serve not only as chief exec­u­tive offi­cer but also as pres­i­dent and chair­man, and part­ly also because you’ve had direc­tors who were your employ­ees, mak­ing effec­tive over­sight of you and your exec­u­tive team dif­fi­cult, if not impos­si­ble.

GMI has also tagged Com­cast with its “Very High Con­cern” rat­ing in a more recent risk assess­ment due to exces­sive exec­u­tive pay.

Of course, since you’re the CEO, pres­i­dent, and chair­man of the com­pa­ny, and the board of Com­cast rub­ber stamps your requests, you’re in charge of set­ting your own pay. And you cer­tain­ly pay your­self a lot: In 2013, the Philadel­phia Inquir­er report­ed that you make near­ly $30 mil­lion a year. That’s more than seven hun­dred times what the typ­i­cal Amer­i­can work­er makes.

You’re eas­i­ly one of the high­est paid CEOs on the con­ti­nent. What’s more, you’ve ensured you not only have con­trol over the board and man­age­ment of Com­cast, but also the pow­er to hire and fire the board: you own a hun­dred per­cent of Com­cast’s class B com­mon stock, which con­trols 33.3% of vot­ing pow­er.

Your lead­er­ship, or lack there­of, has sad­ly turned Com­cast into a poster child for poor cor­po­rate gov­er­nance.

Com­cast wants to be a monop­oly, every­where

Com­cast has a track record of being more con­cerned with expan­sion and con­sol­i­da­tion than doing right by its cus­tomers and employ­ees, or pro­vid­ing speedy broad­band access to res­i­dences and busi­ness­es com­pa­ra­ble to what oth­er devel­oped coun­tries like Japan and South Korea have.

For over two decades, under you, Com­cast has been engaged in a long empire-build­ing cam­paign, gob­bling up small­er cable providers and branch­ing into new mar­kets in your quest to become a monop­oly. In the 1990s and ear­ly 2000s, Com­cast pur­chased Maclean Hunter’s Amer­i­can divi­sion, the cable oper­a­tions of E.W. Scripps Com­pa­ny, Greater Philadel­phia Cable­vi­sion, and AT&T Broad­band.

In 2004, Com­cast unsuc­cess­ful­ly attempt­ed to buy The Walt Dis­ney Com­pa­ny for $54 bil­lion, hop­ing to get its hands on Dis­ney’s lucra­tive ESPN divi­sion.

NPI opposed this acqui­si­tion, which would have eas­i­ly made Com­cast the biggest media con­glom­er­ate in the world. Com­cast’s offer was rebuffed by Dis­ney’s board of direc­tors and ulti­mate­ly with­drawn.

With­in the next three years, Com­cast pur­chased MGM and Unit­ed Artists in a part­ner­ship with Sony. Com­cast also pur­chased cable providers Susque­han­na Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and Patri­ot Media, and par­tic­i­pat­ed in a major acqui­si­tion of Adel­phia Cable with Time Warn­er Cable.

In 2009, Com­cast announced its inten­tion to acquire a major­i­ty stake in NBCU­ni­ver­sal. Despite the oppo­si­tion of NPI and many oth­er orga­ni­za­tions, the acqui­si­tion was approved by the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment, and it closed in 2011. Com­cast sub­se­quent­ly bought out Gen­er­al Elec­tric’s stake in NBCU­ni­ver­sal.

More recent­ly, Com­cast reached an agree­ment to buy Time Warn­er Cable in a $45.2 bil­lion megadeal, announced last Feb­ru­ary. Com­cast and Time Warn­er Cable are the nation’s two largest cable providers, dwarf­ing their rivals.

NPI strong­ly oppos­es this merg­er and is ask­ing the Depart­ment of Jus­tice and the Fed­er­al Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion to block it on antitrust grounds. We’re not the only ones who oppose your attempt to buy TWC, I might add. Accord­ing to a poll by Con­sumer Reports, so do most Amer­i­cans.

In con­clu­sion…

I hope I’ve suc­ceed­ed in explain­ing why we are not inter­est­ed in doing busi­ness with Com­cast. Not only do you not share our val­ues, prin­ci­ples, and pol­i­cy direc­tions, you are active­ly work­ing against what we believe in.

To top it off, you’re dis­re­spect­ful towards your work­ers, cus­tomers, and even indi­vid­u­als and firms who you don’t have an estab­lished rela­tion­ship with. This snail mail spam we’re get­ting del­uged with is a per­fect exam­ple of that.

Please for­ward this mes­sage to a sub­or­di­nate who can ensure we are per­ma­nent­ly exclud­ed from all future mar­ket­ing and sales cam­paigns. We do not want to receive any more solic­i­ta­tions or pro­mo­tion­al offers from Com­cast.

Sin­cere­ly,

Andrew Vil­leneuve
Exec­u­tive Direc­tor
North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute

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