Leon Worden

Cable company: Take this TV and shove it

By Leon Worden
Friday, October 29, 1999

t's cliché, but I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore.
    I don't normally use the august pages of this publication to rail at a utility service without at least feigning fairness. That's something I reserve for bureaucrats like George Caravalho and anyone else who makes $160,524 a year on the taxpayer's dime.
    Today I'm suspending my rules. Sort of like the Legislature.
    MediaOne, you stink.
    No, I'm not griping about those dorky-looking plastic boulders that have been popping up in people's front yards. And I'm not experiencing the random cable outages one of my newsroom compadres suffers on a daily basis.
    No, I don't have any TV service at all.
    I arrived home from my all-too-abrupt two weeks in the Philippines at around 11 p.m. Monday. I pushed the little button on the TV remote, thinking I'd enjoy some background noise while I unpacked.
    Nothing, that is, except a message on the screen telling me that my service had been disconnected and I should call my cable operator.
    I called the number listed under customer service. Disconnected. I called the operator and asked for the number for customer service at MediaOne. Got a recording telling me to call the number that had been disconnected.
    So I found MediaOne's “trouble” number in the phone book. After about 15 minutes of elevator music, a woman came on the line who said yes, she had the ability to flip a switch and reactivate my cable service, but no, she wouldn't do it because it would violate policy. I would have to call back during business hours and talk to customer service. As if there was a number for customer service.
    My cable service, the woman said, had been disconnected for nonpayment.
    I suppose if I had missed a payment, I could understand. But I hadn't. In fact, somehow I managed to pay a bill twice, because one month I had a credit balance, then I was billed for $0, and finally, the day before I left on vacation, MediaOne sent me a check for 30-some-odd dollars.
    That's right. MediaOne sent me a check. You bet your butt I dropped by the bank on the way to the airport. The $30 bought a cup of coffee in Hong Kong. (Travel tip: Don't buy coffee in the Chek Lap Kok airport.)
    If that was the beginning and end of the story, I'd probably dismiss the incident as a fluke. It's not.
    It started about three months ago, when I moved from one apartment to another. At first everything was OK. I contacted MediaOne, said I was moving, and asked them to switch my service to the new address. They did, or so I thought.
    About two weeks later I came home from work and thought I'd unwind with a movie. I switched on the TV. There was that message: Service disconnected, call the cable operator.
    At the time, the customer service line was working (if you're crazy enough to think being placed on hold for an hour and a half, literally, equates to “customer service”).
    No, the MediaOne rep said, everything wasn't fine. My service had not been properly switched to the new address, and I would have to wait two days for someone to come out and replace my converter box.
    The converter box was working yesterday, I protested.
    It must be replaced, the MediaOne rep said.
    Fine, I said. See you in two days.
    Two days passed, then three. I called back. Another hour and a half on the phone and I got a live person.
    Just two more days, the live person said.
    Two days later, sure enough, not just one but two MediaOne people arrived, replaced my converter box, and showed me how to get music and television listings through the fancy new remote control.
    Cool, I thought. The radio reception in Saugus is lousy, and it would be neat to have a virtually unlimited amount of music through the television. Maybe it was worth the wait, I thought.
    I got home the next day and pushed the buttons on the remote control to get music, the way the man showed me. Nothing.
    I called.
    We don't offer music in your area, the MediaOne voice said.
    But I heard it yesterday, I said.
    That feature shuts off 24 hours after new television service is activated, she said, and no, I couldn't pay extra to get music because it isn't offered in my area, she said.
    Neither are television listings, she added.
    But I saw them yesterday, I said.
    We don't offer them in your area, she said.
    I am soooo done with MediaOne it is incredible. I no longer have television service, and I'll be damned if I'm going to crawl back to these people now.
    I'd like to be able to tell you all their problems are temporary, or that they're related to their cable upgrades, which they're making so they can compete in the burgeoning high-speed Internet access market. Certainly they've given me that excuse often enough.
    I don't believe them anymore. MediaOne's cable television service stinks, and if they intend to run their Internet service the way they run their television service, it's going to stink, too.
    Maybe next week I'll call DirecTV and find out about their satellite service. I hear that even with satellite service you still have to subscribe to cable if you want channels 2 through 13.
    Lucky for me, I don't watch network television.
    Come to think of it, I'm kind of enjoying not having any television at all. Maybe I'm not as mad as I thought I was.
    Leon Worden is The Signal's business editor.

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