My life as a customer: this week, it’s about cable television… and more than the 2009 DTV move

Customer satisfaction clip art from Microsoft Office OnlineMy life as a customer. This week, it’s cable television and the proposed digital television transition… not be confused with that other digital TV transition… as Tweeted today.

If you read my post about my email and Tweet exchanges with Comcast, you’ll recall that I wrote to register my complaint of having to add another set top box to my "already-ready-for-digital-TV" TVs: I have televisions that include a digital tuner, and capable of receiving the free to air digital channels, which Comcast rebroadcasts on their channel map.

Given the time to explain the situation and the less-than-basic response I received from the first tier email support folks (I appreciate the effort!), I sent an email last week to Steve Kipp.  He’s the regional VP for Communications at Comcast in the Seattle region.    

I sent Mr. Kipp a copy of my brief email exchange with Comcast’s customer service representative, with my request for more information about the status and availability of digital channels available in the clear (clearQAM).  In part, here’s what I received from Comcast:

In order to keep up with the demand for more HD channels, more programming options, and faster internet speeds, we must move out the analog signals. For every one analog channel, you can fit up to 10 standard digital definition channels or up to 3 HD channels. I apologize that you don’t think our efforts to assist customers through the digital migration is not enough.

Yep, I get that.  But they didn’t seem to understand my frustration or answer my question.

For our home, I’m happy to have Comcast phase out the analog and move the entire 1-99 channel map to digital, provided these channels that are currently provided in the clear are not encrypted (meaning, that Comcast customers need a set top box to decrypt the channels).

We have TVs at home with digital tuners that work just fine pulling in the few digital HD channels I get today from Comcast, and the remainder of the channels from 2 (local news) to 99 (which happens to be the CBC, thank you very much). Most of the channels we seem to enjoy most seem to be above Channel 29 including CNN, CNBC and various kid-friendly programming. Which means the capabilities in our new digital ready TVs will be redundant and – even worse – marginalize: it’s expected that the inexpensive boxes that Comcast intends to provide "for free" won’t provide the clarity or experience customers get today from digital HD provided via the cable connection today.

Back to my email to Mr. Kipp.

In my mail, I asked him just which channels will be available with a television equipped with a QAM tuner once Comcast pulls the switch to move more of the local channel map from analogue to digital. I explained that I hadn’t heard from anyone following my last email, I sent my email directly to him to register my dissatisfaction with the planned digital change on Comcast’s network…

I understand that Comcast intends to offer two STBs per HH for free which will no doubt be a cost to your company. In order to avoid some of this capex cost, it stands that you could offer the current analog channel map broadcast in the clear to your customers with digital and HD ready equipment capable of receiving clearQAM channels. It seems that this approach would allow Comcast to eventually migrate to an all-digital format, encouraged as more and more customers purchase new TVs and home AV equipment capable of viewing clearQAM. This would also highlight the benefits of an advanced STB, offering VOD, HD and DVR beyond the basic digital TV’s tuner. In fact, I would be inclined to add a new advanced STB on our main HD TV while allowing digital clearQAM channels on other TVs in our HH.

My objection is that contrary to Comcast’s advertising at the end of last calendar year, it seems that I will have to change our set up on our televisions at home and add simple STBs in order to view channels above channel 30. Surely, you can understand a customer’s frustration over this need to add a STB to nearly every TV in the home, and why instead I’m looking at ways to eliminate the need for such a STB and move (regress?) to an attic-mounted antenna distributing OTA ATSC to the digital-ready TVs in our home.

That was sent on January 26.

Yesterday, I received a letter dated the same day (Jan.26), noting that…

The Executive Customer Care Department for Comcast in the Seattle Market has received your blog regarding the analog migration. I have left messages to attempt to answer your questions. Due to no response received from you, Comcast will consider this matter resolved.

Hmmm. I received one phone message – which I really did appreciate – and attempted to call them back the following day (I left a message, as it seems they’re busy). But I find it interesting that in response to my original email, I received a letter and one phone message (again, truly appreciated)… but no email response.  And it appears that they waited less than a day before considering the matter resolved. Email much?

You might ask, why would I bother to escalate this?

In the Windows group at Microsoft, I often receive emails directly from customers or partners with questions or issues that haven’t been resolved.  Sometimes the emails or letters come to me via other managers and execs at the company, asking to route to the appropriate group for a response. You’d be surprised at the number and breadth of mail we receive from people, and we do our best to respond to these mails across the board. 

Building on that concept, I decided to escalate when it appeared that my emails to the general customer service inbox at Comcast had stalled.  I sent my emails as a customer of a service provider, unhappy with the proposed migration headache this move will likely cause in our home. 

I’ll let you know how this turns out.  I expect that unless a customer advocacy organization or some oversight committee steps in, we’ll be adding new, cheap set top boxes to all the TVs in our home once Comcast encrypts the channels we view today without a set top box.

Tags: Comcast, television, DVR, FCC, policy.

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4 replies on “My life as a customer: this week, it’s about cable television… and more than the 2009 DTV move”

I suspect that the Comcast can distribute its signals with greater compression if it requires boxes on each television. A higher degree of compression than used on a clear signal could be responsible for the quality issue that you mentioned.

Just trying to start the same dialogue with Comcast in the San Francisco Bay Area.  I have 4 TVs and a Sling box in my house.  Two are already on HD STBs leaving 3 on ‘analogue cable’.  But as a (valued?) Digital customer, I only get 2 digital converters for free, effectively bumping up my cable bill by another $1.99 for no new services!!!!

Ironically if I was only an analogue customer I would get one STB and 2 DCs for free.  So maybe I cancel my digital service get the 3 boxes for free and then re-instate it.  Or maybe they will just see sense and do the right thing

I wish you good luck. I’m reluctant to do invest in anything else at this point other than OTA compatible equipment and hopeful that we’ll see more programmers offer their shows via the Web, a truly equalizing technology, I"m happy to watch the more directed (and usually less) advertising, esp as Hulu and NBC.Com allow me to pause and start content at will.

As for cable companies, I see that they’ve moved on to Tru2way from OpenCable, which didn’t appear to be very open IMO. That may make it easier to get premium programming, but a digital tuner and channels in the clear are preferred, esp when one has made the move to digital tuners.

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