Comcast Sucks! And How This Seemingly Unconnected Fact Relates to Rupert’s Little Problem
Thanks for the birthday wishes; I would have reciprocated yesterday except for the fact that, for my birthday, Comcast gave me yet another day of non-working internet service. (It’s gone out in the midst of composing this post, so who knows when I’ll be able to put it up. Meanwhile, I’m watching the Murdoch Follies on MSNBC.)
I went through the same crap with them for 2 months last summer, and even though THEY aren’t worried about figuring out the problem, I have figured it out: their system doesn’t work when the weather gets hot, either as a result of degraded cable or connections somewhere along the line. Because investing anything into their system to keep it working isn’t part of their budget, though, instead they have things set up to where a customer whose service isn’t working has to 1) call in to report the outage, remaining on hold for an average of 20 minutes per call before speaking to a REAL! LIVE! HUMAN!; 2) accept the only option offered – Comcast will “send a tech” out to the house, provided that you agree to sit home and wait for them for the ENTIRE DAY, and 3) if the system is working when said tech shows up, they will do nothing. When the service goes out again 20 minutes after the tech leaves, you get to repeat steps 1-3 forever, or until the weather cools off and their piece of shit system starts working again. Because they aren’t going to do anything else to fix it if they can’t locate the problem right there on the lines outside or inside your house. This is why they insist you have to be home, because “the problem MIGHT BE inside the house.” Never, since cable has been invented, has the problem for anyone EVER been “inside the house.” The “inside the house” line is one they use to make it inconvenient to request the service you’re paying for, because who wants to sit home waiting on them all day?
They’ve gotten even craftier in the past year or so about ways to get out of service calls; now they robo-call repeatedly just to “check in” and see if you still want them to come out. Apparently the hope is that, if your intermittent service happens to be working when you get the call, you’ll cancel the appointment and they won’t have to bother coming out. They’ll call 3 or 4 times on the same appointment, and if you don’t respond to the call, they’ll CANCEL the appointment – which can leave you sitting at home all day on the appointed date waiting for a tech who never shows up. I pointed out to them that calling the home phone of someone who has that phone running through their non-working internet connection probably isn’t the best way to verify an appointment.
After a month, I’ve had my fill of this crap. So, yesterday morning, during the brief window while I could get online, I went and ordered AT&T DSL service. Don’t know how it will compare with Comcast speed-wise, but if I can access the internet AT ALL during hot weather, it will be an improvement. Plus, they have a first-12-months deal for $25 per month for 12 mbps download speed, which is going to cut the bill by close to 2/3. After the first year it will go up by $23 per month, which is still cheaper than Comcast. But even if it cost more, it would be worth it to never again have to deal with these yutzes.
The sad part of all of this is, imagine that you worked for Comcast and actually WANTED to do a good job of providing service? I’m not a complete pessimist; I like to believe that most people want to do a good job. Comcast has their system set up to override whatever helpful impulses their employees may have. My experience has been that the people on the phone have been nice, when I can reach them; the techs have been polite and have done what the company empowers them to do. The problem is that the company either doesn’t give any of them leeway to really fix anything, or trains them so poorly that they can’t think of anything to try besides option A, and probably most of them are paid so poorly that a certain discouraged portion can’t be arsed with bothering to try thinking beyond option A. Whatever way you look at it, it comes down to money and the company’s desire to not spend any of it on service or fixing problems.
How does this relate to Rupert’s Little (but growing) Problem, you ask? Just this: there are a large number of companies out there whose business practices would make anyone with the slightest pride in their work or with even a rudimentary conscience ashamed to be associated with them. I can’t imagine working for an outfit like Comcast, knowing that the company’s policy is to avoid providing service to their customers whenever possible, in return for what they’re charging. If you’ve ever seen Michael Moore’s film Sicko, you’ll remember the woman who broke down in tears while describing how, in her job for a large health insurer, she would have to field calls from hopeful people she knew would be declined for insurance. Another testified to Congress about the “incentives” she was offered in return for finding ways for the company to get out of paying for customers’ legitimate covered medical conditions. We know this stuff goes on in a lot of companies, and that it bothers a lot of the people who work for them.
Working for a company or person who expects you to daily do things you know are wrong, under threat of termination, can leave deep scars on some people’s psyches. For others, it just makes them boiling mad. Either way, you’re going to end up with some folks, maybe quite a few of them, looking and waiting for any opportunity for payback. In every company that operates more like a criminal enterprise than a legitimate business, there are going to be some malcontent pollyannas – there’s just no way to screen out ALL the moral people when hiring – and quite a few more whose morals may be a bit more flexible, but who will eventually over the course of their employment see some things that, for them, cross the line.
This, I believe, is what is currently going on inside Murdoch’s organization. I’ve seen a lot of people speculating on what finally caused the “dam-burst” we’re seeing, and I think this explains it: for years, a lot of people on the inside have been appalled by a lot of what they saw going on. But the organization was too powerful for them to speak out against it on their own. Let’s face it – Murdoch owned a good bit of the British establishment and, god willing, it will out that he owns a good deal of ours as well. (Which is to say, it’s a fair bet that he owns ours as well, whether they succeed in keeping it under wraps or not. My bet is that it will out before all is said and done.) So for years, ill-will against Murdoch and Co. had been building, not only among employees and former employees, but also among Murdoch’s targets – politicians, celebrities, and basically everyone they ever smeared or blackmailed into silence. All that was needed was for a chink in the armor to appear, and there were legions waiting in the wings to pile on.
We can only hope it all unfolds here in the same way. I’ve heard some speculate that, if it was revealed that News Corp or any of its subsidiaries had hacked the phones of 9/11 victims, that would bring them down. But even if that’s not proven, we already know that News Corp was in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, because we know they were paying off police in the UK. Already some in the US press are rallying to Murdoch’s defense: according to an op-ed in the Washington Post this weekend, the problem wasn’t in the phone hacking – it was in the law that made phone-hacking illegal. If the UK didn’t have a law against phone hacking, well then, Murdoch’s organization never would have been “forced” to break the law. I wish I were making this up; unfortunately I’m not. It makes one wonder: have most of them here been doing the same type of thing? Because otherwise, it’s hard to understand why the Post would trot out this type of weak tea in defense.
In short, we can’t rely on the US media outside of Murdoch’s holdings to either give this the coverage it deserves or to report it in an unbiased way. I’m sure the Post would claim their concern is all about protecting “sources.” But in effect, they’re trying to create a firebreak to protect Murdoch’s US media properties. Probably our best hope is that The Guardian will wade into the practices of Murdoch’s US properties. The story in the UK might well have fizzled out if not for the persistence of the Guardian.
The other thing that makes me quite certain that there’s a lot of bodies buried on this side of the pond as well is the public behavoir of News Corp outlets in the US. Fox makes no bones about using bullying tactics or observing basic fairness or ethical guidelines; the NY Post has long had a reputation for sleaze, and under Murdoch’s ownership the Wall Street Journal has become much more agressively conservative-fundamentalist, catapulting the most egregious bullshit. People – or companies – who don’t value truth or fairness or ethics do not learn to value them more simply because they are legislated as legal guidelines, and hence they are more likely to ignore technicalities like the law. There are no limits, no lines that can’t be crossed in pursuit of advancing the agenda. We’ve seen those tendencies, on public display, in Murdoch’s US media outlets and it seems unlikely that, while wide-ranging criminality was occuring in a Murdoch-owned UK outlet, Murdoch’s employees on this side of the Atlantic were content to just skate up to the line but not cross it. It just isn’t a fit with what, it is emerging, has been the culture inside News Corp.
It’s too early to tell yet what, if any, assistance we will have from the US press in uncovering News Corp malfeasance here in the US. What we can do, however, is encourage the Department of Justice to pursue an investigation into News Corp activities both here and abroad by demanding it under the auspices of Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. If you want to be heard, you can send a letter via snail-mail to:
US Department of Justice, 950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington DC 20530-0001
Alternately, you can call the Attorney General’s public comment line at 202-353-1555.
There’s an email address as well, but if you want to be heard that’s not an effective way to communicate, so I’ll leave that out. I’ve already sent my letter and I hope a lot of other people will get on board.
Because what this entire episode teaches us is this: a big corporation can get away with only as much as its employees and the public will allow. It doesn’t seem that way when we see so many big crimes go unpunished, but in large part that’s our fault for not throwing a big enough tantrum and demanding investigation, prosecution, or whatever the appropriate remedy is. A corrupt company can only indulge in corrupt practices for as long as its employees are willing to keep its secrets. When they begin to reveal those secrets, a tsunami of outrage from the public can insure that the responsible parties are punished. In testimony today, Rupert himself has sworn up and down that he had no idea there were sleazy things going on in this tiny little 1% of his empire, and that he doesn’t consider himself responsible for it. It’s fitting then, that public outcry more or less forced him into shuttering News of the World. Whether he ever admits any responsibility or not, he’s already had to pay for the misconduct, through loss of one property and having to drop his bid for sole control over the UK’s BSkyB satellite network. That is exactly how this kind of thing should work, and just imagine what salubrious effects could devolve from similar developments here in the US. It’s been an awful long time since any financially healthy corporation has been forced to shut down due to illegal practices – in fact the only one I can think of is Arthur Andersen, which was killed by the Enron scandal (Enron itself failed due to financial reasons, though these were brought on by illegal practices). I think it would be a wonderful example for other large multi-nationals.
But in large part it’s up to us to push for this outcome. So if you feel the same way about it that I do, let the DoJ know you expect to see some action. Really, is there any better way to spend your summer vacation?
P.S. It has come to my attention, via comments from the last post, that somehow B^4’s recent birthday went unremarked here. For this, our apologies. Happy Birthday, you Magnificent Bastard, whenever it was!