Man Versus Comcast

Somewhere, wherever he is, Brian Roberts is happy my Comcast promotion rate just expired

It all started when I checked the mail the other day. Around this time of year, I find myself opening bills like I’m tearing off a Band-Aid on the hairy part of my forearm — quickly, with one eye closed, hoping the pain will be minimal. My PECO tab is roughly equivalent to a month’s salary, even though I’m like Ebenezer Scrooge when it comes to saving a buck by keeping my thermostat down low. The Comcast cable bill is usually a safe one to read, though. Unless I buy some award-winning foreign documentary film on pay-per-view (read: definitely not the last Twilight movie), nothing changes.

That is, until my “special promotions” expire, as they apparently did this month. For the privilege of having HBO (I just can’t quit you, Entourage); a DVR that occasionally decides to record the WB network for nine hours, effectively wiping out all my saved shows; a remote control that works less often than City Council; and customer service that makes a McDonald’s drive-thru look like a Swiss timepiece of precision and reliability, I pay $87 a month. Well, that’s what I paid until this month, when my tab shot up to a heart-attack-inducing $124.

Thus began the hostage negotiation I participate in every six months with Comcast. The phone call went something like this:

Me: Hi. My cable bill just kicked me in the pants. If you can’t lower my rates, I’ll either have to start one of those hipster organic food gardens to feed myself, or cancel my service.

Billing representative: Yes, it looks like the promotions you had just expired. Let’s see what we can do for you. Are you interested in phone and Internet service?

Me: No. I just want to see Snooki in high-definition and watch Phillies and Flyers games. Not necessarily in that order.

Rep: Well, it looks like we can keep your basic cable at its old rate. But your HBO offer has expired. However, instead of the $21.95 charge on your current bill, I can give you a $5-per-month promotion we have now.

Me: And when will these new prices expire?

Rep: In six months, sir. But if you add Internet and phone service, we can do a 12-month plan.

Me: Oh, I see. So if you upsell me on services I don’t want, hoping that I’ll be so sick of calling you to arm-wrestle over these mysterious “promotions,” then I’ll only have to beg you once a year to keep my rates at their current ludicrous level.

Rep: Exactly.

Me: Mind if I ask how these “promotions” are determined?

Rep: We spin a wheel, sir.

Me: Like the ones on the Wildwood boardwalk?

Rep: Yes.

Me: Do I get a stuffed SpongeBob or a carton of smokes with this deal, too?

Rep: No, sir.

That last part might not be completely accurate, but that’s what I imagine is happening deep inside the Comcast Tower — there’s a huge wheel with Brian Roberts’s head in the center and when it lands on the deal they deign to offer and you accept your miserable fate, the Roberts head cackles. Somewhere, Roberts himself utters, “Cha-CHING!”

Like an abusive relationship you just can’t end, I keep coming back. That’s largely because the alternatives are even less attractive. FIOS hasn’t moved into my neighborhood yet, and as of now, if I switch to satellite, I’ll lose Comcast SportsNet. Of course, I could save myself the trouble altogether and join the growing number of TV addicts who are cutting their umbilical cable cords completely, but frankly, I’m just not that strong. Any hope that the Comcast-NBCUniversal merger will make life easier for the lowly cable subscribers upon whose backs this monopoly — er, multi-platform media monstrosity — was largely built will fizzle away the moment your “promotions” run out.

As part of the company’s new identity, NBC is dropping its iconic peacock logo, which led the New York Times to ask, “where’s the bird”? Apparently Comcast borrowed the bird — and is flipping it to folks like us. New company, new name and logos — same old ways of screwing you over. In the meantime, are you sure you don’t want to add phone and Internet service, sir?

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  • Michelle Porter

    Hi Richard,
    Your story above just made me laugh. I completely agree and hate the these “promotions” also. I wanted to reference your PECO complaint, if you want to save an extra buck, switch to a 3rd party provider for your electricity. They offer lower rates which saves you cash every year. Feel free to email me if you need some more info on how to … Thx!

  • Rob S

    I commiserate with you completely. At the beginning of January, my promos expired. My “helpful” Customer Service “Advisor” advised me to move to a bundle of services that this month turns out is not really a bundle. It’s “everyday pricing.” How did I find out? The price increase hit this month. The price I paid last month was only good for last month!! Now, my newest “helpful” Customer Service “Advisor” wants to put me in a new promo bundle that he guarantees will be less expensive–at least for February. Oh, by the way, when I went off the promo last month, my triple play bill went from $150 to $270 per month. They made me feel like a genius when I got them down to $200 per month. I guess they really, really need that extra $50 to pay for that great Christmas show at the Comcast Palace. In my opinion, Comcast is pure evil. My choice to deal with them, but still pure evil.

  • Apollo

    I just wish I didn’t have to play the “rate roulette” all the time. I just switched to a Comcast Triple Play plan even though I don’t want a home phone, nor will I hook it up. It saved me $60 a month with MORE services. I hope they call me on that number to ask how my service is going. On the PECO side, I switched to Spark Energy and locked my rate in for a year. So far so good on that front.

  • Amy

    OMG… My friend just sent me this article and I was actually laughing out loud! Two reasons… (1)Because it’s SOOOO TRUE and (2) Because my husband just decided last night that he wants to kick Comcast to the curb. Unfortunately we have triple play deal and I don’t want Verizon internet access so we’re sticking Comcast internet, but we’re going to say adios to the home phone (because who really uses them anymore) and switch to DirectTV. I’m a little skeptical about DirectTV because I’ve heard horror stories, but at the same time I know people who have it and LOVE it. I guess it’s the chance you need to take. And why not since Comcast pretty much has everybody by the b*lls and they know it. What’s cracks me up about them the most is that they offer all new customers these great deals, but the customers that have dealt with their crap year and year as well as that fabulous customer service (if that’s what you want to call it) over and over again get nothing. You can negotiate, lock in for another 6 mos to a year and then hope that when the time comes they’ll lock in again, which they do, but for some reason they find a way to add more money to your bill. Unfortunatley I’m going to miss Comcast for the mere fact that I know the channels but I won’t miss the bill or the headache.

    Thanks for the article Richard. It was a riot!

  • Tonyc

    Richard, I can feel your pain! Comcast / Xfinity already charges way too much. My bill used to average around $150 per month after all the taxes and excise fees. This was a ridiculous $2,000 per year. It was imply not worth it, especially with the internet tv feeds available out there now. You can watch regular tv with just a web connect. The one I use is It’s all online and dirt cheap. For movies, you can use Between these 2, I don’t miss cable tv.

  • Des

    Comcast has a total Monopoly here in Cambridge MA, hopefully the Comcast NBC merger will stop the abusive practices and usher in some competition. Even if its just because of Fear from big execs that the Comcast-NBC could be broken up or they could be fined.

    I read the Merger details – it said internet had to be sold alone and a reasonable speeds and reasonable prices. That to me means $30 for the internet with no connection fees / user fees / box rental costs.
    I think the going cost is $60 a month with a $5 box charge… that should definately be dropping soon since its after the merger, $65 a month is not a reasonable price by any measure Im sure if you took Comcast to court that would be clear.

    FIOS can’t even get into Cambridge due to this Monopoly, which is just sad.

    Comcast – drop your prices per the merger agreement.

  • Our family “cut the cord” in 1998, a chord that was only attached a few months since our house was not served by cable until 1997! Up until then we had an antenae on the roof complete with motor which brought in 3 channels to one TV kind of, depending on the weather. When we moved to an area that we needed a TV connection for emergency weather reasons ( the ability to track hurricanes when living on the Florida Coast is not optional) we got 11 channels no one was interested in watching accept for those essential times. We also have discovered TV online with fancast and other free services which have everything you could want if you wanted. Lots of my friends complain about their DirecTV, Comcast, TimeWarner, BrightHouse and other “cable” provider bills and all I can do is shake my head and pat my grateful wallet.

  • Richie

    Wow did you strike a nerve! Where the hell is the customer loyalty with these guys? At every turn they want to charge you more, then you see offer after offer for new customers. What a blatant bait and switch they pull. It is a horrible monopoly yet I cannot let go as I love my HD tv and internet. My neighbors were not happy with FIOS so I am reluctant to switch. Fifteen years is a lot of money in their pockets yet they offer me no rewards. Yet another disappointment from a home town team!

  • KMOD

    Great article. I’m still trying to find out why the rates for cable TV are so high. The original idea behind paying for cable was for the luxury of non-commercial viewing. Now, that is not the case. I’m paying not only for programs interrupted by commercials or paid program sponsors, but many times the entire 30 minutes of programming is a paid commercial also known as informercial. Why do I have to pay for commercials?? Thanks for the great article!

  • ann

    I have a good one for you. We had Comcast cable TV for quite awhile. We had no choice of providers then. Last July we decided to go with Triple play and have the phone, TV, and internet. it was advertised as $99. promotional fee. I called and signed up. They came and installed. My first–repeat first– bill was $149. When I called and questioned this I was told the $99. promo was only for NEW subscribers. So I said: when I called and signed up for the promo offer I was not told that and I never had phone or internet with Comcast (what Triple Play consists of), which is what the $99. promo fee was for. All I got was “sorry for your misunderstanding”. Even after I explained I called for the promo 1 yr deal.
    And it was verbally consumated. So at least you got the “Promo” fee for 1 yr. I didn’t even get one month. Scratch that …I got a month free after the subcontractor drilled a hole through my family room wall to run the internet line, yep right thru the vinyl siding outside and the wallpaper inside, this after there had already been a conduit through the foundation and up through the basement through the floor, for the original computer line. Oh yeah and then they cut my water meter reader line thinking that was the old phone line. Where does it end? As a previous reader said they got us by the b*lls and Brian Roberts is laughing all the way to th bank!

  • Regrettably, for many cloud computing platforms the vehicle analogy you provide doesn’t compute. You may notice a vehicle as a means to an end, and all of you value is getting there, then you need an application platform like Google’s AppEngine. Here you merely add an app, and it will be covered. If however you run ec2, you’re no longer distressing about hardware, but still about instances and virtual servers. They all run OS’s that need to be maintained; it’s like taking taxi’s but still having to know everything about the taxi’s engines. I predict that in the foreseeable future we’ll move towards AppEngine like designs or ‘managed clouds’.