Welcome to Af-merica

Before I strangle someone, can I just say it out loud?

I hate hate hate Comcast!

Okay, now I feel a little better. But now I also realize that I’m not being fair. As many of you know, by virtue of extensive documentation on this blog, my object of intense dislike while living in South Africa was Eskom, the power company. They were inefficient, their billing system was terrible, they would charge you for their own mistakes, and you’d battle with them for years to get your money back. All that in addition to fairly frequent power outages, although those can’t be blamed on Eskom alone.

And yet I did not hate Eskom. How could I hate an institution that gave me such wonderful writing material day-in day-out, never lacking the absurdly comical? It was a great Welcome to Africa showcase.

Which is why I’ve decided I owe Comcast the same treatment. They did give me great writing material yesterday. Which of course I didn’t have time to write about yesterday, seeing as Comcast was keeping me busy all day.

The story pretty much started when we moved here. Comcast more or less has a monopoly in the Nashville area, if you want cable. Their package sounds great – phone, internet and cable TV, all in one package, with up to four cable boxes throughout the house.

They came in what in all fairness I can only call very un-African promptness (although leaving behind a jumble of cables that would have made any African installer proud) and installed everything. Well, almost everything. They were short two cable boxes and would have to come back. Which they did, the week after. So far so good.

Interesting wiring in our basement

But then what appeared on our invoice? Not just one $30 “installation charge” which, it was advertised, should have been part of the package, but two of them. Because there had been two installation trips of course. I have not been able to get that reversed yet. Neither have we received the $250 debit card which was also advertised together with the promotion. Which sounds great in theory but doesn’t get you very far, even if you do receive it, considering the astronomical prices American cable and internet providers charge these days. If I add up what we paid for our Afrihost uncapped internet, our monthly Multichoice cable bill, and our Telkom phone line, South Africa actually comes out cheaper. Even though the kids had to watch Good Luck Charlie from three seasons back.

I could have handled all of that, if the internet had been as good as promised. After all, we were moving from the darkest corner of the world with a 2 mbps download speed on a good day to what I had come to think of as Internet Nirwana. Which it was, for about 2 hours right up until the first speed test. But then it got really slow. And not only that, it began to drop at random times of the day, necessitating a trip to the basement to reset the modem and router. But sometimes even that wouldn’t do the trick, and I’d have to call support.

So over the last few months I’ve become quite familiar with Comcast technical support. I call them regularly, sometimes almost every day. And I’ve started to write down their reference numbers. Reference numbers, people! That’s what it has come to. Just like with Eskom.

And just like with Eskom, you never know who you’re going to get on the Comcast tech support line. A few weeks back I lucked out and got a guy who thought maybe our cable modem’s wifi capabilities interfered with our wifi router (which we need to get a decent signal). That made a lot of sense, and he turned off the modem’s wifi capabilities by setting it to “bridge mode.” Except then the internet still kept dropping at regular intervals prompting more technical support calls which revealed that the bridge mode was disabled every time Comcast updated something on their system.

Finally having had enough of this – even though it meant sacrificing my first full day of freedom aka the kids’ first day of school – I packed up the modem and drove to the Comcast service center. Which is a tiny hole in the wall crammed full of people waiting in line, without even any chairs to sit on. Mental note, and another lesson from Africa: bring Kindle next time!

Comcast “sevice center”

So I finally got my turn, took a stab at all the billing issues (“Oh no, I can’t help you with those, you’re going to have to call accounting for that, I can give you a number…”) and exchanged the modem for one that doesn’t have any wifi, so that it can’t interfere.

“Let me check you account… I see, you have phone service through us too, I’ll have to give you a modem with phone capabilities,” says he. “Just call this number to activate it after you’ve plugged it in, and you’ll be all set.”

Got home, plugged it in, activated it, no internet. Called tech support again, had them reset the modem, unplugged and restarted the router several times, and finally had the internet back. Picked up phone to get on with the rest of my to-do list that day. No dial tone. Called tech support again from my cellphone, got “I can’t help you with that, that’ll be our phone division” and was put on hold. Finally got the phone people on line, had them remotely reset my modem once more, had to unplug and restart the router because now the internet had been knocked out again, got the internet working again, but still no dial tone on the phone. “Let me check your modem; what’s your serial number”? Minutes later after hunting down my reading glasses because I can no longer read such tiny numbers and clambering back down into the basement armed with flashlight and reading glasses, it was established that “your modem does not have any phone capabilities; you need to get another one.”

I am now promised an in-home tech support visit to deliver a new modem. Someone is going to call me to schedule an appointment. I’m sure it’s going to be “just now.”

And I’m sure it will make another $30 appear on our bill.

Welcome to Af-merica.

By the way, what we thought was unlimited internet actually does have a cap, it turns out. It’s just a bit embarrassing to admit that we found this out because we reached our 300 gigabyte limit in July. We need to get a life!