Comcast must listen

I want you to invent the ideal cable company. That may sound oxymoronic or just moronic, but I want you to try. Here’s why:

Bob Garfield continues his jihad against his cable company (and, by extension, all of them) at Comcast Must Die. He is inviting fellow cable-sufferers to come in and tell their tales of the foe. Garfield charges his congregation: “Congratulations. You are no longer just an angry, mistreated customer. Nor, I hope, are you just part of an e-mob. But you are a revolutionary, wresting control from the oligarchs, and claiming it for the consumer. Your power is enormous. Use it wisely.”

Of course, parallels have been drawn to Dell Hell, of which Garfield confesses a tad of jealousy.

If Dell can reform — and that’s what I’ll be asking in the magazine piece I’m writing on them, which has now been delayed a week — then can Comcast? Of course, it can. Any company can. Or it can die.

But it’s worth asking the definition of reform. What would a good cable company look like? How would it act? I’ve just reread the open letter to Michael Dell that I blogged in August 2005. I’m not saying they followed my advice but they did end up doing what I suggested and I think they and their customers are better off for it.

So what should Comcast do? Under my post about airlines as prison wardens, Brett Rogers suggested that we should imagine what a good company would look like in various industries (and then hold them up to that standard). He wrote: “I haven’t looked for one, but why not create a venue where people can describe their dream ____________? Could be airline, could be mortgage company, could be dentist. Let people collectively brainstorm what could be, instead of just collectively complaining about what isn’t. Business plans by customers, rather than by an executive or two. If such a venue already exists, what is it?”

I love the idea, Brett. So let’s make this that place. And let’s start with the cable company.

What should a cable company be? What would make us love our cable company? Sounds like a stretch to even imagine, but why should any company hold itself to any standard lower than that. Now that we, the customers, are empowered, companies must recognize that we are in control and that they can no longer build business models on telling us what we cannot do.

It’s not our job as customers to worry about the business models of the companies that serve us, if they want to serve us. We do need to be realistic. But we should not assume that we know the definition of business realism. In the midst of Dell Hell, commenters to this blog said I was nutty to think that Dell could or should reach out to customers who blogged about their problems. But, in fact, that was the first reform Dell made and they’ll tell you that it was a great move that helped them solve problems efficiently and learn more about their products and customers and get good PR, to boot. So don’t get crazy with your wishes, but also don’t restrain a great idea.

Here’s my shot. Please add yours. Here’s my ideal cable company:

* I want my cable company to treat me with the respect it would give a business and issue me an SLA (service-level agreement) that guarantees me uptime, speed, and response time to problems on the internet, TV, and phones — with penalties if they fail. If a gas station can’t pump gas, I don’t pay them anyway. If a cable company can’t pump bandwidth, then I want my money back — plus. And if it’s mission-critical for me, it needs to be mission-critical for them.

* I want my cable company to guarantee that they will not restrict any content on the pipe I pay for. Let network neutrality start at home.

* I want my cable company to offer wi-fi all over my town and to come to roaming agreements that let me get wi-fi anywhere I travel. I’m willing to pay more for that. But I want it.

* Let me choose what channels I get. (Yes, I know that cable companies make money off of bundling but they need to shout back up the stream and change their relationship with the channels to make this happen or we’ll all revolt against both.)

* Give me the ability to watch the programming I’ve bought whenever and wherever I want, without having to pay extra on-demand fees or program my TiVoesque thing or buy a Slingbox. If I bought it, I want to watch it on my terms, damnit. Kill the schedule. For that matter, kill the channel. Serve me anywhere, not just at home. (And, yes, I know there are copyright challenges but the industry better figure this out or their stuff will be left behind.)

* The wise cable company will seamlessly merge programming from broadcast, cable, and the internet. I shouldn’t care where it comes from if I want to watch it.

* The wise cable company would enable the people formerly known as the audience to become critics, recommending programming to each other as part of their system. If cable companies had a business model built on desire — I want to watch that — rather than on mere monopoly, it would serve them and us so much better.

* And the wise cable company would realize that peer-to-peer would save them money, used well.

* The strategic cable company will start to think two-way and realize that many of its customers are creating, not just consuming. So give us the means to host our stuff.

* I want a means to report bad employees and know that action has been taken to fix the personnel problems that give these companies such a terrible reputation with their customers.

* When they have to come out for a service call, I want a guaranteed time. If something beyond their control happens, then I want to be notified. If they don’t do this, I want to be paid for my time.

What does your ideal cable company look like?

One more thing: If Comcast is smart, it will enter into a real dialogue — not just unconvincing apologies — about what it should be on these sites and with other blogging customers. Watch Dell.

  • Hi Jeff,

    Great points as usual. My ideal cable company looks a lot like an ISP that provides unrestricted internet access and plenty of video on demand over IP. The endpoint I use to consume it (PC, set top box, gaming console) is up to me.

    Unfortunately, Comcast won’t listen. Unlike Dell, Comcast arose out of a monopoly which gives it different instincts. Like a predator at the top of the food chain, it’s programmed to protect its territory and attack opponents instead of evolving and innovating. The only way Comcast will listen is when they are truly challenged for dominance. Satellite TV came close, and maybe Verizon’s FTTH will too but it takes a larger predator to instigate real change.


  • Sue

    I only use my cable company, Wave, for broadband, and they aren’t perfect, but they do one thing that is so delightful that I must mention it: they answer the phone in a timely fashion. You call and a human answers the phone within a minute.

    Back when I had Adelphia, I would drive the 20 minutes to their office because it was faster than waiting on hold for them.

  • Bob

    I want my cable company (Comcast) not to conspire with my local government to add a 2% tax on behalf of the municipality and pass the tax off as a surcharge.

  • Good list – I’ll read it again tomorrow.

    1> How about the ability to screen matrix 4 to 12 stations (my choice) at the same time – remote control the audio to 1 mini channel & 2nd bring picture full screen instantly and back to matrix.

    2> Cable limits its payola (advertising) to networks hyping itself ie: keep prices low.

    3> Advertising audio is able to squelch off and goes to closed caption. If data channel says it falls into music only category, then OK play outloud.

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  • Hey Jeff

    It sounds like part of what you want is a video portal for any video content. So imagine that you had the capability to search for Sopranos, sift through the episodes until you find the one you want, and then start it up. I love that.

    And like you say, not just TV or movie content, but anything on the Internet as well…

    What if you had the choice of commercials or no commercials as you viewed? The difference is what it then costs you. What if the segments of TV shows were available and you could actually choose the types of commercials you wanted to watch, if you went the commercials route? What if commercial choice (genre, products, etc) was a preference you made and the cable company simply served that up as content spliced in between show segments? Would advertisers pay more for that, knowing that you chose their commercials and might be paying more attention to them?

    I’d like to see the catalog of all content made available from which to choose. If I like I Love Lucy, I can cue that up and create my own personal Lucy marathon. If I’m a fan of Dustin Hoffman, I could cue up all of his movies back to back. Think IMDB searchability for cable.

    Create my own content? Be my own channel? Of course! And let me subscribe to others too, and browse their favorites.

    I could opt for pay-as-I-go (maybe I don’t watch much…) or I could buy into hours packaging, like cell phones do with minutes packaging.

    Yummy… sounds a lot like a better quality, more comprehensive YouTube.

    What other companies/industries seriously need visionstorming?

  • I have two more for you…

    * I want a cable company that will not use telemarketers to call me every other day trying to plug additional features. They may be able to get around the federal Do-Not-Call Law because they are a current company, but that is STILL harassment! You call me if there is a problem with my account, and I call you if there is a problem with my access. PERIOD!

    * I want a cable company that will not cram my mailbox with useless junk about your additional features. Adding them in with the monthly bill is okay, but I DO NOT need to see the same crap appearing over and over and over again in my mailbox.

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  • This may not be realistic, but I don’t care about channels at all. I just want to select any episode of any program instantly, wirelessly, in high-def, at no more cost than I pay now for my Comcast HD w/ DVR service. Barring that, I’ll take TiVo-flavored wireless broadband.

  • I just moved from a Comcast market to a Cox market. Here’s the best way to improve Comcast’s image….compare them to Cox. OMG, Cox makes Comcast look like Rolls Royce of customer service. And that is in no way meant as a compliment to Comcast.

    Two ideas for my ideal cable company. Let me create my own on-air television guide. The reality is I only watch a small handful of your networks. Let me put all those on my own guide so I can easily cruise through my favorite networks. This is more than just allowing me to identify a network as FAV, this is my own guide that I can easily download programs on to my DVR from my guide. And when I turn my television set on, it automatically goes to my guide and launches one of those channels.

    Second, once I have selected a program for recording on my DVR, have a separate box that would come up with other suggestions based on my selection. And these suggestions should be platform agnostic. The suggestions should be cable networks, broadcast networks, Internet-based, pay-per-view, ect.

    Oh, one more. I should never again have to be subjected to your stupid, voice-activated automated “customer service” technology. I think less and less of you as a company each time I have to answer an insipid question that has nothing to do with my call and/or concern.

  • I just finished reading the article on brainstorming a design model of what I consider to be the perfect cable company. A description of what my utopian broadband provider must ideally abide and provide by; accordingly, as if a reflective device giving answer when they dare ask the question, “Mirror, mirror, on the wall,,,”
    I’m also in perfect agreement with the idea/ideal that we should refocus our attention from the “complaints and have naughts”, to constructive criticism and an idyllic listing of desirable product offerings and contractual policy agreements recognizing the rights of the customer/consumer, as of primary consideration. (And I must be rowing my boat gently down the stream!)
    Sorry, I wish I could help, but I’m too bound up by unexpressed negative experiences and complaints to keep on track with positive suggestions regarding Comcast. Who will/can unstop the ears of (one who/a company that) has practiced deafness for so long that it’s become a (corporate) self-created art form!
    I can’t bring myself to share with Comcast one syllable expressing the inspired, creative visions I’ve been blessed with concerning individual and world needs where related to present and future internet potentials. What if they listened for once in a vain attempt at understanding, and caught a small fraction of the vision that they could corrupt past salvation, for their intended purposes regarding the expansion of their financial base and world presence/market dominance, with the diabolical madness of an unconverted heart! Could God forgive me?
    No, not only have they tasted the poisonous apple, they have eaten the whole orchard bare: Fruit, leaves, and branches. Does not the immutable law of the sour stomach declare: What throws up; must fall down.
    Presently, I don’t see Comcast participating in the blessings of the future; although, we have a glorious experience before us as we look futuristically at the fulfillment of world needs by internet potentials that we currently can barely comprehend.
    As was said before: Mary can have her little lamb and eat it too! The internet is ours; even now do we taste of the first fruits of our labor. What does Comcast offer that we can’t acquire elsewhere? If not presently, at the least in the very near future. What place do they hold in the fulfillment of our current needs: LUNCH!!! Will they wake up and smell the lamb chops on the barbecue? Probably not. Do I really desire that Comcast should be the recipient of countless aspersions? No. Do I feel badly about having to speak what’s been said? Maybe not so much “badly about” as “sadly about” or “having to” as “needing to.” Will they hear the bleating of the lamb and wake up? If so, what then? I’m hungry and I’m not waiting for lunch!
    As you might have guessed, I have problem: It’s “BOMBASTIC!!!”
    Thank you for the mind space for commenting (raving?). I realize this is probably out of context with the original, underlying drive/motivation of the article and comments. As you will; I understand.
    This I do say: It is truly “FANTASTIC” to see the inspiration and vision witnessed by the thoughts and words posted on this website! It’s “NONCOMCASTIC!!!” Indeed… COMCAST MUST LISTEN!

  • Given the technology that’s available now, here’s what I want from my cable company:

    1. Fully resourced video on demand. I basically want a Blockbuster-store worth of content accessible with the touch of a button. In both standard and HD formats where available.

    2. Quit resisting progress – let me use my computer as a DVR, and that includes HD content. I want to be able to add infinite storage via external hard drives and your DVRs just don’t provide that.

    3. No caps on upload bandwidth. I want to use what’s available, not something artificially downthrottled to 512 kbps or whatever it is these days.

    4. I want every HD channel possible. If I want the pay channels in HD content I’ll buy them but I at least want them available. If Discovery Channel offers content in HD, I want it on your schedule. Ditto TBS, TNT, History Channel, Comedy Central, Sci-Fi, and whoever else offers it.

  • David

    I want a cable company that employees people with INTEGRITY. As I type I am listening to the ridiculous and redundant prompts as I am trying to connect with a customer service supervisor. It is a waste of time to tell a story to the first person that answers. 6 times I have been promised a call back. Not one time did this happen. 4 times I have been promised that the rep will track my issue until completion. None of these reps can be located.

    7 times I was promised Brand NEW DVR’s after weeks of problems. 3 times my work order was mysteriously lost. 1 time the driver recorded that I changed my mind! 2 times they arrived with old DVR’s; so old that a kids name was etched in one and the other couldn’t be installed because it hadn’t been checked back into the warehouse after leaving someone else’s home! It happened on the 7th time though, which is miraculous considering that Comcast technicians kept insisting that Comcast didn’t have any newer versions!

    5 times I was promised compensation and 3 of those times were for 2 months of free service. The bill came yesterday and for some funny reason we OWE and extra month! 2 times the rep was so rude that I had to ask for his/her supervisor. 5 times technicians came to the house and every visit had at least one significant failure. One of those times two seperate crews arrived at the same time! 3 of those times one technician informed me of the negligence of the previous one! 4 of the times the technician was not adequately trained and gave inaccurate explanations.

    From the above foolishness, I know of 2 times where the representative flat out lied to me. This maze of numbers is all related to just one issue. Nearly 2 years ago, I had a much more serious problem that I just don’t have time to run through! Let’s just say that the fun part of that fiasco was experienced every time I mowed the lawn. For 5 months I had to get off my tractor and move the Comcast cable or chew it up and loose my service. I am still on hold and all I can think is that if there was another provider in my area, I would have mulched that cable long ago!

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  • Richard Greene

    on 2/8/07 I signed up with TIME WARNER cable(Houston) at $39.99 a month for 12 months on a special promotion. ComCast has informed me they will no longer honor this prior deal from TIMEWARNER. Any ideas on starting a class action suit against them?

  • daniel

    You all bad mouth the cable company but you never tell how you call in an cuss at the rep who answers the phone. I was in the office making a payment and the phone was on speaker for a manager to listen and the lanuage I hear I had to tell my son to wait outside. No wonder you feel the way you do you all are a holes your self. The next time you have to call to cable company try giving respect instead of demand it.

  • Truth

    Daniel – way to assume that everyone here is calling and cussing out reps. I for one have never yelled at any cable rep over the phone, because I know it is not directly their fault. IT STILL DOESN’T MAKE COMCAST GOOD. You are confusing complaining about Cable in a civil manner with yelling at people who in no way put you in that situation. Go back and re-read this page and learn to think critically.

  • Bill

    I agree with all of ya’ll. What we need is more cable companies to break up this monopoly Comcast has

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  • KWM

    OK — 6 months late on this article, but here goes:
    I just want the stuff to work. I want to turn on my TV or my computer and have all of the stuff I’m paying money for there, each and every time, in crisp quality for which I’ve paid. If it doesn’t work, I want my cable company to make it work immediately, and I want them to bird-dog the issue until its resolved. When I speak to a customer service rep, I just want answers and I want the cable company’s employees to do what they say they will do. I don’t want excuses and I don’t want arguments. I don’t want to be on hold for 20 minutes every time I call, and if I ask to speak to a supervisor I darn well better get one. I want a quality signal, a consistent product, and people who give a darn about the work they do, because that’s an honorable way to behave. This is how I do my job, why should anyone I pay good money to get to behave differently? None of these things are difficult to accomplish. Stop worrying about the bottom line and start worrying about your reputation or this customer is going off the grid!

  • John Antone

    Why can’t comcast come up with a voice activated remote that will run their cable box? My wife is blind but can see very little and when I’m gone cannot run the tv. I have talked to them on the phone and all I get is NO. and then they try to upgrade my computer service.

  • a year down the road and still Comcast is still having the same problem with its Customer Service…I wonder if they would still last for a year or two with the stiff competition in the market.