Comcast retention rep's network boasts expose company to liability

When the Comcast Rep From Hell insisted that Comcast had the "fastest network in the USA," he was speaking on behalf of the company -- and it was a lie.

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Comcast says rep from hell was just doing “what we trained him to do”

"Grumpy Tech Support Man," a stock photograph from Shutterstock.com that seemed appropriate.


"Grumpy Tech Support Man," a stock photograph from Shutterstock.com that seemed appropriate.

Remember that excruciating recorded call between Ryan Block and a Comcast service rep that made the internet rounds last week? Consumerist got their hands on a memo from Comcast's Chief Operating Officer to employees, in which he admits the rep's retention attempts were “painful to listen to,” but that he also “did a lot of what we trained him...to do.”

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Comcast service rep: a deeply fearful employee trying to hold onto his paycheck

"Grumpy Tech Support Man," a stock photograph from Shutterstock.com that seemed appropriate.


"Grumpy Tech Support Man," a stock photograph from Shutterstock.com that seemed appropriate.

On Monday, we posted a phone recording of an aggressive Comcast "Retention Specialist" arguing with a customer (Ryan Block) who wanted to cancel his service.

On Tuesday, we posted Comcast's response, which basically said, "It's all his fault, not ours"

We suspected Comcast had turned the employee into a scapegoat and our suspicions were confirmed when we read this post from former Comcast employee and Reddit user txmadison. (He provided images of his Comcast pay stubs to Slate to confirm his employment there.) Here's what he had to say about it:

When you call in to disconnect, you get routed to the Retention department; their job is to try to keep you. The guy on the phone is a Retention Specialist (which is just a Customer Account Executive who takes primarily calls from people disconnecting their service).

If I was reviewing this guy's calls I'd agree that this is an example of going a little too hard at it, but here's the deal (and this is not saying they're doing the right thing, this is just how it works). First of all these guys have a low hourly rate. In the states I've worked in they start at about 10.50-12$/hr. The actual money that they make comes from their metrics for the month, which depends on the department they're in. In sales this is obvious: the more sales you make the better you do.

In retention, the more products you save per customer the better you do, and the more products you disconnect the worst you do (if a customer with a triple play disconnects, you get hit as losing every one of those lines of business, not just losing one customer). These guys fight tooth and nail to keep every customer because if they don't meet their numbers they don't get paid.

Comcast uses "gates" for their incentive pay, which means that if you fall below a certain threshold (which tend to be stretch goals in the first place) then instead of getting a reduced amount, you get 0$. Let's say that if you retain 85% of your customers or more (this means 85% of the lines of businesses that customers have when they talk to you, they still have after they talk to you), you get 100% of your payout—which might be 5-10$ per line of business. At 80% you might only get 75% of your payout, and at 75% you get nothing.

The CAEs (customer service reps) watch these numbers daily, and will fight tooth and nail to stay above the "I get nothing" number. This guy went too far; you're not supposed to flat out argue with them. But Comcast literally provides an incentive for this kind of behavior. It's the same reason people's bills are always fucked up: people stuffing them with things they don't need or in some cases don't even agree to.

As Jordan Weissmann of Slate says, "So in short, yesterday we were all listening to a deeply fearful employee trying to hold onto his paycheck."

Is it surprising that Comcast treats its workers and subscribers like shit to boost their bottom line? And how much worse will Comcast treat them after it merges with Time Warner Cable and become the only broadband choice in many areas?

A Former Comcast Employee Explains That Horrifying Customer Service Call

The Internet should be treated as a utility: Susan Crawford


Susan Crawford (previously) is America's best commentator on network policy and network neutrality. In this interview with Ezra Klein, she makes the case for treating Internet access as a utility -- not necessarily a right, but something that markets do a bad job of supplying on their own. She describes how regulatory failures have made America into a global Internet laggard, with enormous damage to the nation's competitiveness and potential, and provides a compelling argument for locating the market for service in who gets to light up your fiber, not who gets to own it. Drawing on parallels to the national highway system and the electrification project, Crawford describes a way forward for America where the Internet is finally viewed as "an input into absolutely everything we do," and not merely as a glorified video-on-demand service.

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Irony not dead: Comcast claims it is Net Neutrality's best friend

Since Netflix CEO Reid Hastings published a statement on Net Neutrality and Comcast (whom Netflix has had to bribe in order to secure normal service for its users), Comcast has gone on a charm offensive. The company sent a statement to Consumerist in which it asserts an imaginary history of championing Net Neutrality, a work of Stalin-grade reality-denying fiction that has Consumerist's Chris Morran practically chewing the keyboard in rage:

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Cyveillance, Comcast's creepy copyright threat-deliverer, also helps the Secret Service

The "Guaranteed takedowns in 5 hours or less" that web-watching outfit Cyveillance promises aren't so guaranteed when they're illegal: a lesson in the Streisand Effect having just been dealt to its client, Comcast, by a particularly ill-advised attempt to bully TorrentFreak into removing public court documents.

But it's not their first rodeo, and Cyveillance has always been as trivially sleazy about it as they are now. Here's a blog entry from 2003 complaining about its efforts to hide what it does.

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UPDATED: Comcast asserts copyright over its court filing, is attempting to shut down news site that reproduced it


In an article published last week, TorrentFreak reproduced Comcast's response to a subpoena regarding the copyright troll Prenda Law. Since then, Comcast's agents Cyveillance have sent a series of escalating legal threats to TorrentFreak and its hosting provider, LeaseWeb, asserting copyright over a document that is not copyrightable, and whose reproduction would be Fair Use in any event. TorrentFreak's hosting provider has given them 24 hours to resolve the issue or face shutdown.


Update: Comcast has changed its mind. Here's an email I just received:

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Off the Grid, Still In the Box: where's Cable TV headed?

The cable box can make channel serfs of us all. It's big, it's bulky, it has an interface an Excel spreadsheet might salute, and it sucks down too much electricity. It's one reason why cable TV bottom-feeds in customer-satisfaction surveys--only airlines and newspapers score lower in the University of Michigan's research.

But for a still-sizable majority of American viewers, the cable box is How They Get TV, and nobody can fix it except for their cable operators.

The industry's just-finished Cable Show in Boston featured exhibits by dozens of networks hoping to see new channels added to cable lineups, plus a few starry-eyed demos of technology we may not get for years. (Disclosure: A freelance client, Discovery Communications, owns quite a few channels.) But it also revealed modest hope for "clunky set-top boxes"--to quote an acknowledgment of subscriber gripes in National Cable & Telecommunications Association president Michael Powell's opening speech.

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Report: Comcast helped figure out what was wrong with Pirate Bay (Update: Global Crossing blamed)

Comcast, dismayed at being blamed for Pirate Bay's downtime, apparently helped fix it. Torrentfreak reports:
Initially The Pirate Bay team suspected that Comcast might be filtering PMTU responses, but Comcast looked into this and ruled it out. ... Comcast reached out to Serious Tubes Networks, who deliver transit to The Pirate Bay, and they were able to correct the issue. "Comcast emailed our NOC about their users complaining about not reaching The Pirate Bay. We resolved the issue and TPB can now be reached from Comcast," the CEO of Serious Tubes Networks told TorrentFreak.
Companies that sell blanks and hoses have always known their customers are pirates. But this hose also happens to be the majority stakeholder in NBC. Update: Serious Tubes says that Comcast "did not help us fix Pirate Bay" and that the problem was caused by Global Crossing, another big telco.
Comcast did not help us fix The Pirate Bay. The problem was GBLX using reverse path filtering. We shut down one of our transits because it was flapping. The result was that all outgoing traffic to GBLX got filtered even though the packets took the same path as before. The Pirate Bay is using different paths for incoming and outgoing traffic to avoid beeing traced. We don't even know where their servers are. We resolved the issue by activating our other transit again.

Seattle Streets Are Gangsta

electrocution_signage.jpg The streets of Seattle are no longer safe--for cute little dogs and fiber-optic cables. First, The Seattle Times reported today on the strange case of a dog being electrocuted as it walked down the street. A privately and legally installed street light lacked proper grounding, and the dog was zapped walking over a metal plate on the sidewalk. My condolences to Lisa Kibben, who lost her 68-pound German shorthair pointer, Sammy, in this bizarre event. The utility dispatched a crew immediately, fixed the problem, and apologized, trying to reassure the public that we (and perhaps our sub-70-pound children) are not in danger. This reminded me of the peculiar death of Jodie S. Lane in Manhattan (East Village) in 2004, walking down the street with her two dogs when one apparently received a severe shock, and Lane, unaware of what was happening, attempted to help the dogs. The dogs survived. Jodie's father, Roger M. Lane, received a massive amount of information about electrified Con Ed objects and shocks caused to people as part of a settlement. He created a Web site which showed the 31,900 objects found to cause electrical shocks between 2004 and 2009. Seattle has no such history, but you can imagine that Emerald City denizens will be skipping metal panels for a while. Second, local Seattle business site TechFlash reported that a bullet was fired into a fiber-optic cable owned by Comcast, severing access to 2,500 customers. The motivation is unknown, and the company isn't asking for a police investigation. Oddly enough, this is not the first time. A Comcast spokesperson told TechFlash, "About 13 years ago, someone shot a bullet into a main fiber line in Tacoma on New Year's Eve, knocking out service to about half the city." Man, I guess people are really angry about Comcast's attempting legal contractual modification of a peering agreement with Level 3. First they came for the fiber-optic cables, and I tweeted nothing. Photo by Photocopy, used via Creative Commons.

Level 3 Says Comcast Wants Fees to Transfer Movies to Users

cables_sampson.jpg Level 3 has accused Comcast of demanding fees to transfer data from Level 3's backbone to Comcast customers. Level 3 describes this as "Internet online movies and other content," which would mean everything, even though it's calling out movies. Level 3 signed a deal on November 11th to act as one of Netflix's primary network providers. In October, Internet monitoring service Sandvine said Netflix streaming represents 20 percent of all U.S. Internet non-mobile bandwidth use during prime-time hours. Far be it from me to defend Comcast's policies, even while I am generally happy with its service. I subscribe to Comcast cable broadband service at home and at work, and it performs quite well in my parts of Seattle. I don't have much choice--Qwest has limited availability of an "up to 20 Mbps" service--so I'm lucky cable performs. And Comcast caps my 15 to 25 Mbps downstream service to 250 GB per month, with no-appeal threats of cutoff after two broken caps in a year. Nonetheless, this may not be quite what it seems. The Internet is a syndicate of different networks that agree to interconnect on various terms. There are quasi-public meet-me network rooms in which providers all pay to connect in and traffic passes among all those present. Networks can also choose to create peering points between each other when traffic demands it.

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Charities that AT&T donated to support AT&T's anti-Net-Neutrality position at the FCC

Now that the FCC's Net Neutrality comment-period has closed, Ars Technica's Nate Anderson has rounded up a list of charitable organizations with nothing to do with Net Neutrality, who nevertheless weighed in to support AT&T and Comcast's position -- these organizations are also all beneficiaries of large corporate donations from the telco giants. So much for charity -- when a donation to the Boys and Girls Club by AT&T comes with an obligation to weigh in on regulatory proceedings that threaten the profits of AT&T, it's not really a gift... More like selling out your group's good name.
Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Will and Grundy Counties. Comment: "The ability to utilize this technology in a cost-effective manner did not happen by accident or by government policy. It happened because of a competitive marketplace that rewarded the companies who invested in the latest networks and products. I believe that the development of new federal rules and regulations will only inhibit these types of investments."

The Big Brothers/Big Sisters, especially at the local level, aren't known for having opinions of the innovation effects of government policies in the telecommunications sector... but they do take money from AT&T, as the picture below reminds us.

Why the Kankakee County Farm Bureau hates net neutrality

Comcast eats NBC: every media mega-merger needs a cautionary infographic

comcastgrafism.jpg

Click for large-size. From Josh Stearns of Free Press.