Getting internet at the new house: a Comcast Odyssey

"Mañana" doesn't mean "tomorrow". It means "not today."

      ... from a New Mexico travel guide

Moving to a new house is so exciting! Except, you know there are going to be a few days there before you can get internet. What a bummer. But hey, you'll be busy moving in and all that, right?

A few days? If it's Comcast, try a few months. Here's how it went.

Early February:

Our move-in date is Feb 13. I went through the Comcast website, ordered service, and scheduled a technician visit for as soon as possible after that. Saturday Feb 15. Sounds great!

(Let's not dwell on details like how their website can't actually accept credit card payments, and the only way to pay is to spend two hours in online chat with some dude who eventually gives me a special URL that isn't even on comcast.com where I'm supposed to type my credit card info.)

Saturday, Feb 15:

The installer arrives. Nice guy. He pokes around for a while looking for the cable drop.

This is complicated by the fact that the previous owners of the house have, for some reason, installed a minimum of four coax cables in every room. Some rooms, like the master bedroom, have as many as seven cables poking out of the walls, all from different directions and different heights above the floor, many with open airspace gaps around them letting in the cold winter air.

Consequently, there are cables everywhere over the roof, cables poking out of heater vents, cables draping down over the patio, cables sticking out of the ground outside the front door, cables running through the dirt in the yard. Not to mention the mysterious two cables screwed into a splitter/booster that's plugged into a power outlet with its cord blocking the door to the crawlspace. Which one is the master cable drop? Are any of them related to cable at all, given that there's also a Dish mini-dish on the roof and that's probably what the previous owners used?

Our installer dude is pretty sure none of the 113 cables in and around the house are relevant because he's actually looking for a thicker coax than any of the ones we're seeing. Finally he finds what he's looking for, a beefy coax with a scraggled end (no connector) on it, sticking a couple of feet out of the ground near the water shutoff outside the garage. He installs a connector on it, plugs in his tester. Nothing.

He does some more futzing around and eventually concludes that this cable probably runs underneath the gravel driveway, where there's a pile of dirt a different color from the rest of the driveway, and it's probably been cut in several places and is irreparable.

We then hike around the front of the property looking for the nearest cable drop. There's one at the edge of the driveway right next to the neighbor's driveway, but this is somehow not the right sort of cable drop that can be extended. The only one he thinks is kosher to use is across the street. This will require getting someone to petition the county for permission to tunnel under the street to get the cable from there to our house. He calls whoever it is that's in charge of burying cables and makes an appointment for March 7. That's nearly three weeks away! But he assures us that they'll probably call us and set a date much sooner, if they can get a permit sooner. That's just the latest it'll happen.

Friday March 7:

No one shows up. No word from Comcast. I call them in the afternoon. They agree someone should have shown up. They don't know why no one didn't, but promise to look into it. They'll call me back within 24 hours to let me know.

Saturday March 8:

It's been more than 24 hours, so I call. They still don't know what went wrong, but they'll for sure call me back within 24 hours.

Sunday March 9:

More than 24 hours, so I call and yell at them. The rep gives me a nine-digit job number so I can refer to that when I call. Apparently this job is called a "drop bury" and I should use that term when I call.

Monday March 10:

No call. I call and give them my job number. Rep is completely baffled, that's not a job number, way too many digits, I have no way to look that up. But let's escalate it so something gets done. Here's a new job number you can use -- this one has six digits. It's definitely escalated, someone will definitely call you back and tell you what's going on. She also gives me a Customer Solutions phone number to call that should have slightly fewer hoops to jump through before I get to a real person.

Tuesday March 11:

I happen to be in Santa Fe anyway, so I go to the Comcast office. Tell them my story, no one has called me despite promises to do so on four sucessive days. She goes to talk to her supervisor, comes back after a while. The tech who might know about this is out right now, but either she or her supervisor will definitely call me back by the end of the day. I express doubt, considering how many times I've heard that promise. She's all offended, for SURE SHE or her supervisor will DEFINITELY call me back today.

Wednesday March 12:

No word, natch. I call the Customer Solutions number. They tell me the drop bury is scheduled for 3/31. That's nearly another three weeks! She claims they didn't have the permit before. It's not clear they ever actually applied for it.

So how do I know they've applied for it and have a permit now? She insists they have one now and that's why it's taken so long to schedule it. Of course, I have no way of knowing if this is true. Considering nothing else they've told me so far has been. Sigh, all I can do now is wait for March 31.

Monday March 31:

It's 4pm. No sign of anyone. I call. I'm told the time window is from 8am to 8pm. They must just be delayed, they'll be there by 8.

Monday March 31, 8:30pm:

Still no sign of anyone.

Tuesday, April 1:

Customer Solutions tells me "The drop was rescheduled for technical reasons." What were the reasons? They don't know. When was it rescheduled to? They don't have a date. (Dave comments that this is a meaning of "rescheduled" with which he was previously unfamiliar.)

They promise to call and/or email me within 24 hours. (Yeah, right.) They give me a ticket number. (9 digits, but different from the earlier 9-digit "job number".) But not to worry, it's been escalated! I tell them it was supposedly escalated three weeks ago. They say "Oh."

I hang up with the distinct impression that they contract with someone near here who sits around home in his underwear, taking Comcast appointments for drop buries and not bothering to show up, since why should he bother? since they don't seem to care whether anyone shows up or not, or why.

April 1, 5pm:

The phone rings just as dinner is ready. It's Comcast. Calling me! Wow, first time ever!

The rep says they scheduled a drop bury, but not an install of cable to the home, and there's no point in doing one without the other, and normally they do both at once. (Never mind that the original installer guy and everybody else I've talked to since then have told me they have to do the drop bury, then send an installer afterward as a separate trip.)

He then says something confusing about how they had previously scheduled a drop bury and they should have scheduled an install. I remind him "But the important part is digging the tunnel under the street." He says yes yes, they'll still do that, but it isn't called a drop bury any more if they're also doing the install part. I find myself wondering why they even have the term "drop bury" if what it means is "we made a mistake scheduling this so we won't bother to show up or call or anything", but he obviously doesn't want to talk any more so I drop it.

He forwards me to a woman who doesn't seem to speak English -- I can't understand her and she doesn't seem to understand me either, or maybe just isn't interested in any of my questions. But we manage to negotiate an appointment for Friday 4/4 between 10am and noon, the soonest they can do it. I ask her to confirm this is for tunneling under the street as well as running the cable to the house. She says yes yes, probably not having understood a word I said.

I'm fairly sure at this point that if anybody at all shows up on Friday, it'll be the original installer guy, who will tell me he can't do anything until they do the drop bury.

Wednesday, April 2:

Dave is out checking something in the yard just before dinner when he runs across a telephone worker, checking phone lines for the county to make sure a Comcast dig won't upset them. It's not entirely clear whether the Comcast work he's checking on is related to our job, since the phone lines he's checking are down at the southeast corner of the lot, all the way around the curve of the road from the place where the cable drop is. But at least Comcast is doing something.

We suspect this means that Comcast never bothered to apply for a permit until now. But at least something is happening now. The telephone guy tells Dave that Comcast actually has installed some lines recently. It sounds like this is an unusual occurrence, something worth noting.

Thursday, April 3:

The doorbell rings around 8am. It's a guy from the county letting us know he's checking on permissions for a dig, and wants to know if the flags going up to the house (the ones planted by the first installer, over six weeks ago back on February 15) are in the right place. I tell him they are.

Friday April 4:

4/4: 1:15 and no one has showed up, so I call to ask what's up with our drop bury? The support rep tells me sternly this isn't a drop bury and I shouldn't call it that, it's an install. I ask "But they're still doing the drop bury part to bury the cable under the road, right?" She assures me they are. She puts me on hold while she goes to check on what's going on, comes back to say she couldn't find out there so she's checking somewhere else, puts me on hold again ... then after a few seconds the hold music changes from Support's muzak to the main line's first movement of Vivaldi's The Four Seasons (which is a nice enough tune the first fifty or so times, but makes you want to scream after you've heard Comcast's scratchy loop of it a few hundred more). After a while someone answers with "Comcast, may I help you?" She has no idea why I've been forwarded to her, and I have to start from the beginning and explain why I'm calling.

She tells me there's no 10-12 time window, this is an all-day call and they might show up any time before 10pm, but they'll definitely show up today, or if not, they'll call me (uh huh). I ask if we need to be present. She says, surprised, "No, this is a drop bury, it's just an outside thing." I tell her the woman who just forwarded me to her told me not to call it a drop bury since it had been changed to an install, and so did both of the people I talked to on Tuesday; and that on Tuesday I was told that the reason no one showed up then is that they don't want to do just a drop bury without an install. She is baffled and says "Your records here say it's definitely just a drop bury."

Having gotten that straightened out, she forwards me to someone in Sales who can schedule an install after the drop bury. He says "I see here you're scheduled to have the bury done on April 22, so we can schedule an install after that." "Wait, what's that about April 22? We were told they were supposed to be here today. This is the first I've heard of any April 22 date."

Over the course of a long conversation, he unravels the part nobody else has bothered to check into. He says the drop bury actually involves 8 visits, most of which are just some local contractor coming by to measure something, or the county people we saw yesterday. He claims that all the previous dates when we were told the bury was going to happen and nobody showed up, probably somebody did show up, spent a couple minutes measuring something and then left. None of these dates were actually for the bury itself, nor for the followup visits that have to happen after the bury to run the cable from the streetside to the house. That last part isn't expected to be finished until April 22, and anything anybody has previously told us to the contrary is wrong.

Once we finally get that clear, he schedules an install (which is something that has to happen after the 8 stages of the drop bury are finished) for April 23, flagging it so we still get the promotional deal we were originally signed up for, which has long since disappeared.

I'm not sure I believe any of this, considering everything else Comcast has ever told me has been a lie. But this at least had the ring of truth (or is that "truthiness"?). Maybe we're finally getting the real story, and the real schedule.

So, the whole process will be 9-1/2 weeks from start to finish, or 2-1/2 weeks from now. If what he told me is right, and none of it gets further delayed. Sigh. We definitely should have started DSL back in February when the installer couldn't install.

Tuesday, April 22:

No one has showed up for the drop bury. Imagine our surprise.

Meanwhile, I get an email reminding me of my install appointment tomorrow between 1 and 3 pm. I decide not to cancel it. Maybe the installer will be able to get more information than I can over the phone.

Wednesday, April 23:

The installer arrives at about 1:15. He wants to know where the power meter is, as that's usually where the cable comes out. Apparently he knows nothing about our waiting for a drop bury. We show him the power meter and all the flags coming to the door for where the drop bury was supposed to go.

He calls Comcast. They confirm that we had a drop bury scheduled for yesterday, but that it's been rescheduled. He says that drop buries can happen within a window of 11 days on either side. So maybe someone will show up within 11 days of now. They don't actually have an installation date scheduled.

He also tells us that the company that's supposed to do the drop bury (which is not Comcast, and there is no way of finding out who it is or contacting them directly) has the wrong phone number for me, and it's a phone number which has been disconnected. He says he's given them the right phone number; but considering that I've confirmed my phone number with Comcast every time I've called them (since they never call back), I'm sure they still have the wrong one and there's nothing I can do about it. Evidently once a phone number gets attached to a Comcast account, even if it's wrong, there's no way to change it.

The installer says to call Comcast and set up an install when we see a cable outlet appear outside our door, since they won't know when it happened. Right.

I ask if Comcast ever actually does drop buries. He says oh sure, there was one just last week over at the other end of White Rock, they happen all the time.

We finally give up and decide to look into DSL, like we should have done in the first place back in February when the first installer couldn't set us up.

Monday, April 28:

No progress on DSL, but we come home from an afternoon library trip to find a utility van parked on the street where the bury is supposed to happen. It's the same guy Dave talked to at the beginning of April when he was working on the phone lines at the other end of the lot. He's sympathetic and says yeah, he hears lots of complaints about Comcast's contractor not doing things when they're supposed to. He gives us their number so we can call the contractor directly, something Comcast hasn't been willing to do.

Tuesday, April 29:

I call the contractor's number. First I confirm that they have the right phone number for me -- they do -- and that we don't actually have to answer for them to come out.

I ask about the status of the dig. She says it needs a permit and they're waiting for the permit to come through.

Um? I say. We were told the permit was there more than a month ago. The county people have been by and painted all the access lines and verified there's nothing in the way.

She insists they're waiting for a permit.

I call the county utilities number, but give up after waiting on hold for fifteen minutes. We decide it's better to try going there in person.

So we do. The Public Works Dept. controls excavation permits, which is what would be needed here. No such permit has been applied for anywhere near our location, any time in the past three months. But he mentions that before they can get an excavation permit they have to apply for a traffic control permit, which is with the Traffic Department. He gives us directions to their building.

At the Traffic Department, the person we were told to ask for isn't there, but the gentleman who is there is the person who oversees all permits, and he's quite sure that none have been applied for in many months on our street. He's also never heard of this particular contractor; he's fairly sure they've never applied for any permit with his department. "But that's normal -- this is Comcast, you say? Their contractors usually don't apply for permits. They just hope we don't catch them working."

While we're talking, the person we'd originally been told to contact gets back from lunch. He takes an interest and does a computer search. Nope -- definitely no permits ever applied for.

Later that day, I call the contractor back. "You said you were waiting for a permit ... are you sure about that? The county says no one has applied for one." She takes my number, says she'll check with her boss and get back to me. She calls back quite soon: her boss says yes, they definitely applied for a permit. I say the county evidently didn't get the application. She says maybe it was a traffic control permit instead. I say we talked to them too, they didn't get a permit application either. Hmm, she says. They'll look into this and get back to me. Maybe she can get me the permit number.

Meanwhile. Dave is looking into DSL. The news isn't good -- Dish wants a 2-year commitment, while the only local provider we can find seems to have gone out of business -- they don't answer their phone or email, there's no office address listed on their site (just a PO Box), and the office address Google has for them looks long abandoned.

Wednesday, April 30:

Dave stumbles on a phone number for CenturyLink DSL. Their deal isn't too unreasonable, and they say they can mail us a modem and it should arrive Friday. We sign up. We don't know whether any of the phone jacks in the house actually work, but it's worth a try.

Thursday, May 1:

One of the guys from the county's traffic department calls me in the afternoon to let me know that the contractor has applied for a permit. I guess I shamed them into it. The county will be reviewing it and says someone might be out Tuesday.

Friday, May 2:

The CenturyLink DSL modem arrives as promised. We fire it up and it appears to be making a connection. Their setup pages don't work very well -- pages that don't load or go to the wrong place, text fields that don't let you type in them, checkboxes that don't let you check, things like that. Dave uses the Mac and switches from Chrome (which they apparently don't support at all) to Safari and eventually gets through the configuration pages that seem to be most important.

And it works! Wooeee, we have internet! Even with the broken setup pages, it wasn't that hard and didn't take long.

And it's even fast! We're getting up to a megabyte per second. That's about triple the speed we used to get in San Jose.

We really should have done this two months ago.

Will Comcast's contractor actually dig anything on Tuesday? Who knows? Do we even care?

Tuesday, May 6:

Dave and I had a bet. He was convinced they'd finally do the dig this time. After all, they finally actually applied for a permit. I couldn't see why this time was any different from any of the other times.

I won. No sign of anybody.

Friday, May 16:

While I was at a doctor's appointment, Dave made an executive decision and signed up for a contract with Century Link. Which is fine with me -- we're happy with their speed, it's much cheaper with a contract, and it'll probably be at least a year before Comcast gets around to digging anyway.

Tuesday, May 20:

I was getting ready to be picked up to carpool to a meeting when the doorbell rang. It was Comcast's contractor!

Dave and I went out and showed them the flags marking the route the cable was supposed to take. They nodded, then asked, in broken English, "Okay to dig under driveway?"

"Whaa-aa?" we said. "The cable goes from there" (indicating the box across the street) "to here" (indicating the line of flags across from the box, same side of the driveway.

They went over and pointed to the box on our side of the street, on the neighbor's property -- the box the Comcast installer had explicitly told us could in no way be used for our cable service. No, we don't know why, we told them, but every Comcast person who's been here has been insistent that we can't use that box, we have to use the one across the street.

We pointed to the painted lines on the street, the ones that have been there for a month or more, the ones that the county people left after inspecting the area and determining it safe to dig. We point out that digging across the street is the reason they had to get a traffic permit. We tell them that the cable under the driveway is why the cable was torn up in the first place, and that we're expecting to have our driveway graded some time soon, so they put a new cable there, it will probably just get torn up again. Not that any of that matters since Comcast says we can't use that box anyway.

They look at us blankly and say "We dig across driveway?"

My ride arrives. I have to leave. Dave tries for another five or ten minutes, but he has to leave too. So he finally gives up, tells them no, don't put the cable across the driveway, go back and confirm with their supervisor about the job they're here to do because that isn't it.

I guess they left. There were no signs of digging when we got back.

Later, I check the dates. It's been 18 days since they applied for a permit. I'm pretty sure the county told us a permit is only good for 11 days, or was it two weeks? Any, less than 18 days. So they probably didn't have a permit any more to dig across the street anyway ... not that that necessarily has any bearing on whether they'd dig.

Thursday, June 12

The doorbell rings at 10:40. It's a Comcast contractor.

They want to dig across the driveway. They say the first installer didn't know anything, he was wrong about not being able to use the box that's already on this side of the road. They say they can run a cable from the other side of the road through an existing conduit to the box by the neighbor's driveway, then dig a trench across the driveway to run the cable to the old location next to the garage.

They don't need to dig across the road since there's an existing conduit; they don't even need to park in the road. So no need for a permit.

We warn them we're planning to have driveway work done, so the driveway is going to be dug up at some point, and they need to put it as deep as possible. We even admit that we've signed a contract with CenturyLink for DSL. No problem, they say, they're being paid by Comcast to run this cable, so they'll go ahead and do it.

We shrug and say fine, go for it. We figure we'll mark the trench across the driveway afterward, and when we finally have the driveway graded, we'll make sure the graders know about the buried cable. They do the job, which takes less than an hour.

If they're right that this setup works, that means, of course, that this could have been done back in February or any time since then. There was no need to wait for a permit, let alone a need to wait for someone to get around to applying for a permit.

So now, almost exactly 4 months after the first installer came out, we may have a working cable installed. No way to know for sure, since we've been happily using DSL for over a month. But perhaps we'll find out some day.


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