Thursday, July 3, 2008

PERSONAL- Back to the Blog

Well, two entries for the month of June. Not my fault this time. I finally got sick of paying Charter Cable for malfunctioning equipment, bad service, high prices, and a complete inability to fix any of the above despite dozens of phone calls and attempts.

I’ve loved technology and been an “early adopter” starting back when audio was called Hi-Fi and stereo was a new technology. When the IBM PC was introduced I had already owned a few computers. My first videogame was PONG and my first VCR was a JVC 6800 Vidstar. (Their first 4-head design- with a wired remote control!) I owned a few Laserdisc players, a couple of Betamax machines, a first gen CD player (with two whole disks to play on it), and at least one of virtually every new technology since. I’m no stranger to technologies that require a lot of savvy from the user and sometimes don’t work anyway.

I even had cable as soon as it was available in my area. But for the last several years I had DirecTV. I found them to be reliable, easy to deal with, and decent value for money. But the grass is always greener and I decided to try Cable again for the sake of price, faster internet service, and because I was frustrated with the slow roll-out of HD.

My local cable company is Charter Communications. They SUCK. I originally ordered two HD DVRs. I never got the second even after a year. When first installed my premium movie channels were not enabled and my cable modem didn’t work. Fixing this took three phone calls. Charter cares so much for their customers that they don’t even list their local phone number in the phone book. Once I spoke to someone in the Philippines, another time someone in Nova Scotia. When my first bill came I had been charged for the Internet connection and movie channels even though it had taken two weeks to get them running. Another call to customer service and I was given a new balance to pay. When the next bill came it showed that I hadn’t paid the balance in full and still owed for the first two weeks of Internet and HBO even though I thought that I had straightened that out. This prompted yet another call. That’s when I found out that when you call Charter they don’t seem to write down what the conversation was about. They had no record of my adjustment in the first bill even though I could tell them whom I had spoken to and when the conversation had taken place. I eventually wound up paying for something I didn’t get because it was obvious that they weren’t going to budge.

The first DVR I got didn’t work. That one got changed to one that worked intermittently. Finally a firmware update was supposed to fix the problem and enable the USB connection for the addition of an outboard hard drive. This was welcome news since the I had been used to the Phillips TIVO for DirecTV, which had about 30 hours of HD space. The Charter DVR only had about 10. So I immediately bought a 500 GB drive and hooked it up. The result was that not only did the new drive not work but the machine started to refuse to record intermittently. Disconnecting the HD didn’t help but did allow me to learn that the DVR had reformatted the drive so that it was now useless. That unit was replaced with yet another HD DVR (my third in 6 months).

After that the DVR worked, but only after a fashion. The software was full of bugs. For instance, if you had four things scheduled for the same time it wouldn’t allow you to select which ones you actually wanted to record. Once it had assigned a program to a particular tuner, it was an either-or proposition. And if you wanted to cancel all 4 recordings it would enable at least one anyway. (Low storage space and the inability to cancel recordings- there’s a winning combination for you.) In short, while my HD TIVO had been reliable, intuitive, programmable, and had adequate storage and simply the best interface I’ve used in a new technology, the Charter DVR was none of those things. What it was instead was, in a word, frustrating.

And yet, calling on the patience I had cultivated as an “early adopter” I hung with them. Numerous calls to customer service during this period resulted in a new DVR (which worked- mostly), a 500GB doorstop, and a tentative truce with the company. Then two things happened that would be the last two straws.

First my bill went up 50% after my introductory period ended. I had expected this and wasn’t bothered by it. Or rather I should say that I wouldn’t have been bothered by it. But then my Internet service started being troublesome. After getting the thing turned on, my Internet connection had been cable’s saving grace. It was fast (nowhere near as fast as advertised, but Internet connections never are) and relatively reliable. But suddenly I started to be unable to access the Domain Name Server. I did what I could do. I rebooted the modem. This worked sometimes but sometimes it didn’t. So I called Customer Service. They told me to reboot the modem. Another call prompted a service call. In the meantime the service went up and down intermittantly. When the tech came by the service was working so he told me that they had been “having problems in this area” and did nothing. Then the service went out again.

That sound you hear is the fracture of dromedary vertebrae.

Let’s wrap this up. I called them to get a final balance and have my service cut off. I couldn’t explain to the rep that cable is paid in advance so I only owed for half the current month (she got snippy but still missed the point). I took my equipment apart and took it to the local office where I was told that my service was still working in spite of my request for cut-off by the person I spoke with (she got snippy but missed the point). I walked out of there and drove directly to a local DirecTV dealer and then to the local phone company.

So I’ve been without television (you can’t pick up a terrestrial broadcast in my area without a considerable antenna) and internet access for the last 20 days or so. For those of you considering a Luddite lifestyle all I have to say is that, for a voracious reader such as myself, loss of TV is no big deal but loss of internet access is a problem. I used to keep an extensive library of reference books and almanacs. Nowadays I use the net for reference. Being without a fingertip reference library was the thing I hated the most.

But I’m back. I’ve got a backlog of blog articles but rather then dump them online I’m going to dole them out as I can format them. Hopefully that will allow me to supply a constant stream of useless information to add to the ocean of useless info of which the Internet is mostly comprised.

Sorry I’ve been gone. Glad to be back. Don’t buy Cable.

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