Guess who reads Smile Politely? Yes, gigantic, corporate monoliths.

On Monday, out of the blue, I got a call from Comcast’s Sarah Elders. I’d made no complaint to them. They found me. Someone at Comcast read Smile Politely, looked up my account, got my phone number, and dropped a dime.

Cutting to the chase, Sarah said Comcast will credit my account twice: $110.00 for the fraudulent charge described in part two of this series, and $120.00 to offset the forthcoming screwjob of the next 12 months.

The fraud is both tortious and criminal. The screwjob is contractual. Read on, I’ll explain. Also in this article, you’ll hear from the local volunteers who represent you on the Champaign-Urbana Cable Television and Telecommunications Commission.

During the phone call with Sarah, she could neither understand nor explain why Comcast charged $110.00 to my credit card. She could find no $110.00 charge in my account, but said there was a (.95 charge and a $100.00 charge, and that she was unable to explain them.

I mentioned this oddity in my previous post.

The mysterious $110.00 charge is presumably a deposit on a modem they did not send me, and should have known I do not need. But the word “deposit” appears on only one of the bills they’ve sent so far, and none of those bills features the same total. Amusingly, they print a charge of $109.95 on some of their materials, but then just go ahead and round it up the extra nickel.

She did insinuate that my screen-caps might have been taken elsewhere. Following Illini basketball around the east coast this month, I found lower rates in my browser, and I told her so. The rest of our dialog came via email. Read it here.

The $9.95 charge represents a second dip at payment for the Self-Installation Kit that I did not want, did not need, asked a Comcast rep to please not send, and then received via UPS. The first payment of that $9.95 was charged to my credit card on January 29th, the day I signed up, along with the initial payment of $19.99, for a total of $29.94

This is the only time Comcast was able to process the contractually agreed amount. Their computers recognized the rate I agreed to pay, and they recognized the address at which service would be initiated, and to which UPS would deliver the superfluous Self-Installation Kit.

Sarah told me that the $19.99 rate is not available in C-U. How is it that Comcast’s computers know about the $19.99 rate but their personnel do not?

Well, perhaps Comcast personnel don’t want to offer that rate locally. But the fact is, as a matter of law, they do offer it here.

Comcast ads offering the $19.99 rate continue to load at my ISP, in Urbana, via Comcast’s own servers. Keep an eye out for XFinity ads in your browser. They will certainly turn up if you search Google (or within Chrome) for “comcast xfinity internet deals” because Google’s robots target ads to your browser based on your search history. In fact, just by reading this article, you’ve told Google that you’re interested in Xfinity deals.

Tuesday night, I screen capped the ad as it displayed on Illini HQ. I used that page because its discussion of Jaylon Tate acts as a time stamp. (Jaylon didn’t do it, BTW.)

Because I have a license to practice law in Illinois, it’s important that I not advise anyone to engage in illegal or unethical activity.

But if you sign up with Comcast, you should get the rate they’re offering. If Comcast’s offer of $19.99/month service appears in your browser, if you follow Comcast’s sign-up procedures, you will have a contract with them. Screen cap everything.

Comcast is advertising that rate in Illinois, regardless of whether their representatives know it. Their computers know where you are. If their website allows you to sign up for x discount rate from your ISP (location), they know what you and they are agreeing to.

When they try to charge you more, share your screen caps. If they bait & switch you to a higher rate, tell them you’ll sue on contractual grounds. Champaign County small claims court will charge about $65 to file. You can add that cost to your pleading. And don’t feel bad for Comcast, in some areas. They're offering this service for 25% less than this discount rate.

Moreover, they’ve been living large as a “natural monopoly,” without offering the same benefits that AT&T provided over the decades.

THE COMMISSIONERS

In part one of my survey of local broadband offerings, I told you that Volo might offer the best deal for long term subscribers, because Comcast is thoroughly shady.

Also in part one, I told you that Volo’s Peter Folk* is the recent past chairman of the C-U Cable and Telecommunications Commission. That might seem shady, too. But as current chair Dale Sinder points out “Internet service is not something under the oversight of the C-U Cable Commision.”

More particularly, he says:

I think it is a somewhat odd name for the Commission.  Most people just call it the “Cable Commission”.  “Telecommunications” is only mentioned in Sec 24-100 (a) – “…and to monitor and inform the public of telecommunications legislation and policy.”

But the only operational Monitoring and Administrative duties assigned are only with respect to “Cable TV system(s)”.  However, we have just begun tracking some more general “telecommunications legislation and policy” and developments in the area of the internet as we can see more and more TV type “things” being delivered via the internet.  But we have no part of monitoring local providers of internet services.

I would point out that the “Charter” documents for the “Commission” of Champaign and Urbana are out of date – they even disagreed over the exact name of the commission last time I looked – and refer to “the Cable system”.  We now have two Cable system franchises with the addition about 14 months ago of iTV-3.  Also, in recent years the powers the Commission once had have been greatly limited by both Federal and State legislation.  AT&T does not for example have a franchise with Champaign or Urbana; they have used a state-wide “blanket”.

Why, you ask, does a legally constituted government commission on telecommunications not regulate the most important branch of the telecommunications industry?

Google “federal preemption and internet service providers” if you want to know more. Internet service is considered a federal issue. The Federal Communications Commission currently favors community broadband. That’s because liberals currently control the executive branch. George Bush’s FCC probably wouldn’t favor enabling the little guys.

The weird dichotomy here is that federal preemption is currently working to expand municipal broadband by NOT allowing lesser governments to regulate it. The Koch Brothers hate it. So does the Federalist Society.

Coincidentally, big broadband is actively lobbying congress to stifle your ability to complain about big broadband. The Citizens Utility Board emailed these warnings to me on February 23rd and 27th respectively.

Commissioner Giraldo Rosales shared his opinion about local service offerings:

I have been back and forth with both AT&T and Comcast for years and all I have to say is that they both suck. I am not totally happy nor satisfied with either of them. When I call AT&T for customer service, I get connected or transferred to Calcutta, India.

Internet speed is a bit better with AT&T and that is the reason why I opted to stay with them for now, but I can tell you, it has been difficult with both. It is a shame there are no other viable options in this area.

I hear DIRECT TV has been purchased by AT&T, so you can imagine.

Commissioner Karen Walker chimed in, too:

The source of many of these problems is the legislation that took franchising authority away from local communities and created a statewide franchise for cable operators.  The major impact was on regulation of cable TV, but that loss of control has affected other aspects of the way these companies serve local communities with their phone and Internet products.  The overall quality of customer service was better when the companies were accountable to local authorities.

Commissioner Chris Lukeman said only:

Hey Rob,

I don't actually have strong opinions on local internet packages, I pretty narrowly focus on television/video/local access issues that affect UI-7 as part of my position at the university. I'm happy to talk about that though.

Chris

Commissioner Andrew Wadsworth is a friend of mine. His wife Teresa is a former Champaign County Board member. I hope they continue to invite me to their seasonal parties, even after I report that he did not want to comment for this article.

One commissioner wrote, on background:

I have plenty of complaints about Comcast -- the high costs, the confusing rate tiers and promotions, and the absurd number of "services" that should be (and/or used to be) included but are added on as separate charges:
  
An extra cost for "HD service" ... really?
 
Those annoying little digital adapters that cost $3.99 a month ... and were touted by Comcast as a "free upgrade" when first forced upon us.
  
The high rental rate for modems and the lack of clear information about exactly which models can be purchased to replace the rentals.

Despite Comcast's bragging about their customer service, it is wanting.  I'm convinced that the sole purpose of their maddening IVS phone tree is to frustrate callers into giving up and hanging up.  If you do get through, you get an overseas "technical rep" who can do nothing but read from a script.  The only way to solve problems is to somehow get through to the "Escalation" department (the magic word).

I will concede that Comcast broadband has been reliable and fairly speedy, and I've been impressed with the techs who have made repairs and installations at my house.  I was with this provider back when

*Peter Folk wants you to know that Volo speeds often exceed the 400 Mbps he montioned in part one, and also that Volo is far from a one-man operation.