Sunday, February 18, 2007

Mary Had A Little ... Late Fee

Hopefully at least one person will benefit from today's story. Maybe more.

Like many retirees, my parents travel for months at a time. When they do, they redirect their US Mail to me. I open it, dial their cell phone and tell them which bills have arrived and for how much. They pay the bills over the web. This system works pretty well.

But not always.

Best Effort

As I was going through my parents redirected mail recently, I found a bill payment to Comcast. That's right - a bill payment TO Comcast. Not from my parents but from one Mary Hagan of Bensalem PA.

Why would Mary Hagan's payment to Comcast end up in my parent's mailbox? Her payment was addressed to Box 3005 in Southeastern, PA - so the payment went in exactly the opposite direction that it should have - northeast instead of southwest - ending roughly 50 miles off.

Could she have made a mistake writing the Comcast address? Nope. She used the Comcast-provided payment coupon with its preprinted address - which showed through the appropriate opening in the Comcast-provided envelope.

Ok, so USPS made a mistake. Mistakes happen. But USPS then forwarded the mail to me in Potomac, Maryland. Huh?

The Post Office uses barcodes to expedite routing. But it wasn't an error in creating the barcode because Comcast preprints their own barcode on their payment coupon. So the Post Office had to misroute the correctly-barcoded envelope twice and maybe even more as it went through several post offices from PA to MD by way of NJ.

So here I was with some Comcast customer's bill payment in hand. My first thought was to put it back in the mail. (As Jon Stewart recently said about George Bush's latest plan for Iraq, "Hey, everyone deserves a seventh chance.")

But then I took a closer look at the due date and saw that it had already passed (USPS forwarding takes time to get wrong) so even if I sent it back the day I received it, late charges would still be due.

I also considered calling Comcast but decided against it. Comcast has never been one to talk with you about other customer's accounts (rightfully so).

Dropping it in the garbage and letting the customer take the hit of the late fee seemed pretty reasonable at that point. Was it worth my time and effort to send it back to Mary so she'd have evidence to tell Comcast that it wasn't her fault it was late? Would Comcast even accept that excuse?

Around here, Comcast's late fee is $4/month. Nope, not worth mailing it back to Mary. I did however call her up - yielded her phone number readily enough. I figured I'd suggest she try to get the late fee waived - perhaps they would if she could only get Comcast to look at my blog! And I also wanted to ask her a few other questions - such as whether it had ever happened before.

So I called her number and ... well, whoever answered the phone gave me a very chilly reception. I guess he figured I was a solicitor or pollster offering "free money" or something that sounded close to it. I don't blame him.

Anyway, I tried. If anyone reads this who knows Mary (unlikely) or lives near Bensalem (a bit less unlikely) - perhaps you could let her know that she should request Comcast waive her late fee (I already know the Post Office won't cover it) since it wasn't her fault - or at worst, find a way to pay it without relying on the Post Office in the future.

No, I'm not suggesting using Comcast's offer to extract funds directly from one's checking account. As I've said before, Comcast isn't trustworthy enough for that. (See Automatic Billing - Convenience That Will Cost You.) But online billpay from a bank or a service like Quicken or Money sounds much more reliable.

Better yet, since I know there are Comcast officials who read this blog, perhaps they could take it upon themselves to waive Mary's late fee - or track down the Comcast official in Mary's region who can do so.

PS: Why did I say earlier that I know the Post Office won't cover it? Because first class mail is a best effort service. Now where have I heard that phrase before?!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Quarterly Review

As I mentioned earlier, the county's MFP committee was scheduled to review the performance of the cable franchises.

I was unable to attend so I plowed through the packet - 42 pages of the same stuff as usual. I already mentioned in my all-too-verbose report (Rubberstamp This) from last week that Comcast was being fined. Some new statistics were mentioned but in the interest of brevity, I'll merely mention that Comcast failed to turn in all the 4th quarter data so no one can even tell whether or not they're in compliance. However Comcast finally did turn in data (late!) for the 3rd quarter showing it was out of compliance in all customer service areas. Most notable is the requirement to repair within 24 hours - Comcast was below the 95% level required by the franchise.

RCN turned in its 4th quarter data on time and was in compliance. It received a warning for being out of compliance in the 3rd quarter. (In contrast, Comcast has been out of compliance long enough to start being assessed fines. See my earlier report for more detail.)

Some positive news: Complaints about Comcast to the Cable Office were down 44% in the 4th quarter with, ahem, only 282 complaints. In contrast RCN's complaint level nearly doubled in the 4th quarter. Of course, the absolute figures are significant - Comcast had 282 complaints, RCN 16. The largest number of Comcast complaints were service-related. RCN billing-related.


In the 4th quarter, county inspectors reported 2298 construction violations in the Comcast cable plant. (Construction violations include such things as improper grounding, missing guy wires, missing pedestal covers, and exposed temporary underground cables in rights-of-way. Note that the entire plant is not inspected in each quarter.) At the end of the year, 1447 remained unfixed. That's an astounding 63%.

RCN: 526 construction violations. For the entire year, 2114 remain unfixed. If Comcast was astounding at 63% remaining unfixed for the year, RCN is super-astounding at 87%. Congratulations you two!

I'll Stick With Analog, Thank You

Earlier, I mocked a Comcast representative for suggesting that pixelation problems in the digital channels were not easily solvable. People are still complaining about these. And although the complaint levels have gone down, the county's outside consultant, Columbia Telecommunications Corp, says that this so-called tiling remains an ongoing problem. CTC asserts that these complaints are issues in the local wiring and have recommended that Comcast replace customer drops as each is converted from analog to digital. If problems remain, CTC recommends Comcast send technicians that are trained to diagnose and fix such problems.

Bottom line: The problems are diagnosable. Are fixable. (But here's the rub...) With trained technicians.

Oh, and if you don't complain, don't expect your problems to clear up.

The New Blogger

This is a test of Google's new blogging software. That's all it is. This is the last sentence in the test.