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.
Me: Mind if I ask how these “promotions” are determined?
Rep: We spin a wheel, sir.
Me: Like the ones on the Wildwood boardwalk?
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?