Last week I wrote that “net neutrality is a dumb idea” in Forbes and received a ton of comments (most in bitter opposition to my take). But that’s cool. It’s an important issue and I came away from the experience with three lessons from the many who offered their opinions: People are very passionate about net neutrality, many do feel that the government should play a bigger role in the Internet, and the most obvious of all: Everyone —and I mean EVERYONE — hates Comcast.
Why? Why does everyone hate Comcast so much?
Just bringing up the company’s name provokes raw anger. My wife, a genuinely non-violent person, starts throwing plates when I mention Comcast. Dogs howl and babies suddenly start crying the minute you bring up the company. Don’t believe me? Just try walking down the street with a friend and say a few nice things about Comcast. You’ll notice people begin to look at you strangely, and then they’ll start shoving and ultimately attacking you like those people in DiCaprio’s Inception dream world.
These are not isolated incidents. This is a national loathing. Even Alec Baldwin and Tina Fey mercilessly made fun of Comcast, sorry I mean “Kabletown,” on 30 Rock. Consumerist has chosen Comcast as the “Worst Company In America” and the company was recently named along with Time Warner as the most hated company in the country. Yes, as this website reported last week, everybody really does hate Comcast.
I’m not here to defend Comcast (or Xfinity, or whatever we’re calling them this year). They did not pay me to write this. In fact, I have never received a cent from the company. Comcast is a public company but mostly operated by the Roberts family. And both the senior Ralph and his son Brian seem like nice guys, if not oddly similar in appearance to Randolph and Mortimer Duke from Trading Places. The company has always maintained a good relationship with the community. They support the arts, the major charities, the city’s efforts to build a better infrastructure and economy. They’re a growing business and like any business have their battles and face competition from a dwindling number of others. But these don’t seem like bad people, do they? Of course there are horror stories, but how often does your TV, Internet or phone service go out? How many times have you not had access to your email? When did Comcast’s home security service fail you? It rarely happens to me. And when it does, is it that big a deal? Really? Yet I groan and moan and curse Comcast just like everyone else.
So why does everyone hate Comcast so much?
Is it the LargeCo effect? To me they (Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, DirectTV, whatever) are pretty much all the same. These companies are all vying with each other to take complete control of our lives and Comcast is without question leading the way. I now realize that pretty much any form of communication making its way into and out of my house is stealthily flowing through Comcast’s pipelines. And the younger Roberts just told the world yesterday that Comcast isn’t going to budge. They’re selling energy and now they’re controlling my home security system too! So maybe it’s the creepiness of it all. These giant companies are slowly taking ownership of everything we do, watch, and play, and control the information we receive, our power and security all for just a low monthly fee! Maybe that’s why we hate them? Yet some of the same people I know who bitterly oppose the big brother-like presence of Comcast have no problem with a big-brother and relentlessly expanding government, or an omnipresent Google, a monopolistic Amazon or a controlling Apple in their lives.
Is it the helplessness effect? One of the major issues people have with Comcast having too much power on the Internet is that they have the ability to raise fees willy-nilly and what’s the general public going to do but bend over and take it. And that’s a reasonable concern. People feel helpless about those things we can’t control, particularly those things like what we watch, how we communicate, where we get our energy and who’s keeping us safe. Will Comcast continue to throttle our beloved Netflix and therefore cause us to pay more each month to watch House of Cards? Will we be helplessly subject to their whims? I’m not so sure this is justifiable. Large companies throughout history have been brought to their knees when their own abusive practices cause a big enough political and popular backlash (think Microsoft, Big Oil, Big TelCo). I think the people running Comcast know this too.
Could it just be the customer service effect? That feeling you get when your Internet or cable goes down and you have to call their 800 number and have some podunk from God-knows-where humiliatingly walk you through a condescending set of instructions from 2006 starting with “please disconnect your router, wait 3 minutes, then reconnect.” Like we haven’t tried that. Or is it that, after navigating through multiple levels of automatic prompts you finally speak to a human who has maybe a 50 percent chance of being able to help you with your problem? Or are you as confused as I am about their complicated bills, confusing charges, complex rates and their nitpicking over a few pennies here and there? The truth is that Comcast’s customer service isn’t really so bad. They spend millions on training, have call centers around the country and have made significant investments in social media and other forms of technologies to help resolve problems fast. And even if you’re unfortunate enough to have to wait for a visit from a Comcast technician, you’ll likely find him/her to be capable, too.
Maybe it was that one bad experience you had with the company five years ago that put a permanent distaste in your mouth. Or that viral customer nightmare article you read online? Or some type of arrogant comment made by David Cohen, the “real repairman” according to the New York Times. Is this why everyone hates Comcast? All of the above? I’m still not sure. Maybe you’ve got a better reason. Yeah, you probably do.
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