Never underestimate the power of a customer, especially when that person is a technology expert.
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Ryan Block, who founded Engadget, co-founded gdgt and currently works for AOL, tried to cancel his Comcast subscription after being with them since 2005. The result was similar to a break up, but the argument didn’t last as long. However, the dramatic conversation, titled “Comcastic service disconnection,” has been played over three million times on SoundCloud.
Block recorded and uploaded the phone conversation he had with a Comcast representative, whose name was erased in the recording that Block posted on SoundCloud. Block thought about whether or not to disclose that information on Twitter, but posted in a later tweet that he decided not to.
How hard is it to cancel a cable subscription?
According to LA Weekly blogger Gene Maddaus, it is very hard. Maddaus was trying to cancel his Time Warner Cable TV subscription, and had just as hard a time doing so as Ryan Block had. He made the request multiple times in one phone conversation with the company. Just like Block, there wasn’t any confirmation about his canceled subscription and it eventually led to arbitration between Maddaus and Time Warner Cable in order to get what he wanted.
Comcast announced on its website a financial merger with Time Warner Cable last February, but the merger hasn’t officially happened yet and the two companies still run their businesses under separate names. However, Consumerist recorded Comcast as 2014’s worst company in the United States, but Time Warner still had a significant number of votes in this competition.
Freepress, a grassroots nonprofit organization, is trying to get the public to complain to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) about this possible merger so that it can be stopped in its tracks. The FCC website has a document indicating that the comments and petitions involving this merger are due by August 25. The final decision will take more than a few weeks.
According to Huffington Post writer Victoria Peng, the phone call Ryan Block had with a customer representative is not the first time that customers experience rude behavior from Comcast customer representatives. However, this might be the first time Comcast made an official apology to a customer. Besides the tweet that was sent to Block, Tom Karinshak, Comcast’s senior vice president, also wrote a statement on the company’s website, in which he said that the phone incident is under investigation.
Cable TV is becoming less and less of an oligarch’s world
As Comcast feels the burn of Block’s customer service experience, it might have to worry about other cable service providers. The most well-known cable TV providers are fewer than ten: Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Verizon FiOS, Dish Network, DirecTV, AT&T U-verse and Cox Communications. But more Internet-oriented companies are entering the competitive pool.
In Ryan Block’s viral recording, which was full of comments, two comments put Google in the cable TV limelight. This Google service is called Google Fiber and advertises itself as “A different kind of Internet and TV.” Its advertised qualities include extremely high Internet speeds on the computer, Wi-Fi capabilities for many electronic devices that are used at home and two terabytes (TB) of storage on the DVR. However, Google Fiber is accessible to very few cities in the United States, and the price tag can go up to $120 per month, plus other costs.
Amazon and Netflix are also entering the TV scene, but are more focused on streaming TV shows and movie content than setting up a cable box on top of TVs. Digital Trends writer Joe Donovan called this type of service “Internet TV.” Amazon has a service called Amazon Prime, where users are allowed to stream movies and TV shows, but also have access to music and Kindle bundles. After the 30-day free trial, continuing users have to pay $99 per year. Netflix has a free trial as well and is advertised to cost as low at $7.99 per month.
As for Ryan Block’s perspective on the outcome, this tweet from July 14 sums it up best:
“Believe me, the irony is not at all lost on me that I work for AOL. :)”