Sunday, January 17, 2010

A Universal Truth: All Cable Companies Suck

I thought it was just me.
Or maybe just American cable companies.
The truth is I've never known one that wasn't a pain in the butt to deal with. It must have something to do with their near-monopoly status--If you want cable TV/Internet, you have to take us or leave us.

Here's my Mexican cable company story:
I signed up with Cablemas, the primary cable TV and Internet provider in Oaxaca (the other option is through the national phone company). To do so, I had to go in person to their offices in a northern suburb. And stand in line (always lines in Mexico). The customer service lady was pleasant enough, and we muddled through the contract--in Spanish. I signed up for one year with the 459 peso/month plan with high-speed Internet and a good number of cable TV channels. Except for the fact she wanted a copy of my passport. Passport? For cable TV service? Huh? Need my shoe size, too, perhaps? I didn't bring it with me, so she arranged to come pick it up from my apt. the next day. That was November. So far, so good.

So the first of December rolls around. I went to a nearby Cablemas outlet to pay my December bill. Except it wasn't 459. It was 469. I didn't protest. Maybe taxes or something, I thought. Then came the first of January. Again I went to pay the cable bill. This time, 480 pesos. "Hmmm," I thought, "perhaps they don't understand the notion of A CONTRACT." And then a statement came in the mail showing I owed 100 pesos. I confess, at that point I completely lost it.

So, I got on a bus and went back up to the Cablemas head office in the northern suburb. And what to my wondering eyes did appear? A line out the door and down the block! "Crap!" says I. I cut the line. No....not because I'm a gringo. Because the line was for those paying their bills. A DIFFERENT line for customer service. I got behind a big guy who had to go over his bill V-E-R-Y-S-L-O-W-L-Y line by line by line with the clerk. And then...surprise, surprise! His cell phone rang. And he sat there and took the call and had a nice chat while those of use behind him got angrier and angrier.

Finally, I got to the head of the line. I explained my mysterious levitating bill to the clerk. "Well, sir," he said, "the December increase was because we raised the connection speed on the Internet to 1.5GB." "I don't WANT an increased connection speed," as testily as I could in Spanish. "I was perfectly happy withe the 1GB that I signed the contract for." "But EVERYONE got bumped up to 1.5G. So the price increase was to pay for that across the board." "Yeah, well what about January?" I asked. "Sir," he says to me as though I am a slow child, "January is the beginning of the new year. Rates go up at the beginning of the year." Somehow the idea of CONTRACT is lost on these people. "At least tell me why I got a bill showing I owe a balance of 100 pesos." He had to get up, leave, and go check with a supervisor. This is always a delaying tactic used when the clerk wants to get away from the customer.

" boss says that was a computer error. I should come off on your next statement. If not, you can come back up here and talk to us in Customer Service next month." And wait in line, again. Oh, joy.