Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Switching from CenturyLink to Comcast: last rats off the sinking ship

I was on hold with CenturyLink's “retention” service. That’s where support sends customers who request escape. The first 8 minutes of hold sounded like this ...


I heard it on my iPhone because our CenturyLink landline is dead. Again. It’s been dead for about 5 of the past 10 days, despite a technician visit.

After 8 minutes of hum-buzz the line switched to classical music and, at 17 minutes, a woman answered. I told her I was calling to turn off my internet service. She said she couldn’t hear me, and a few seconds later she hung up.

I'm filling out the MN State Attorney General Consumer Complaint form and I’ll see if switching our landline number to a burner phone forces a service kill [1]. Not coincidentally, here’s the past year of CenturyLink share prices compared to S&P and Comcast.

Screen Shot 2015 08 06 at 6 04 41 PM

Yeah, they’re dying.

Happily I switched to Comcast for Internet services today. Yes, Satan, but a Satan harried by millions of angry customers. So we have allies. On the other hand, we may be among CenturyLink’s last 10 customers. Not much help there.

For the sake of those still stuck in the DSL era, here’s are the things I didn’t know about switching to Comcast:

  • You have to browse Comcast’s site carefully to find the listing of all internet-only services available in your area. We’re in the backwoods of St Paul, our faster sister city of Minneapolis pays about 20% less for faster services. Here we have two choices, and one of them is dying. Comcast ain’t exactly sweating.
  • There’s no contract.
  • I wanted good upload speeds, so I went for the St Paul 50/10 “boost" option. I was never able to find the upload speed on Comcast’s site, but that’s where it helps to have a geeky customer base. Google found the numbers for me. My speed test is indeed showing 50+ Mbps and 10+ Mbps. It’s listed as $45/m for 12 months plus $5 in taxes/fees, then jumps to $76/month + more tax/fees (unless competition shows up here, which is damned unlikely). Installation is $50 for the minimal install, $40 for a “wall drop”. We went for a very simple closet jack.
  • Modem rental is $10/month. I needed the initial setup to work so I went with the rental for now. In 4-6 weeks I’ll order something like the ARRIS SURFboard and bring the rental unit to our local Xfinity store. Be interesting to see if/when the rental fee stops. My DSL modem was a router with NAT services, but the rental unit is a bridge. My AirPort Extreme now has a pingable net facing IP address. Feels a bit naked. 
  • I have no access to the rental modem — it’s a black box. I assume Comcast can configure it.
  • Don’t try to get any Comcast rep on the phone. It might not be as bad as calling CenturyLink, but it’s still very bad. Chat is likewise awful — they are forced to divert to a sales script and slow to answer real questions.
  • The Comcast web site is an antique. It works better on Chrome than Safari, I suspect it’s made for IE 7. Contrary to a misdirecting prompt the 1990s email client does support forwarding. It also supports RSS feeds, which would be a great trivia question answer.
  • The process of scheduling an installation is pretty good including multiple reminders. No problem there. The post-install phone satisfaction survey is too long — don’t even start it.
  • There were several things that didn’t work on the Comcast registration site. SMS authentication didn’t get through to Google Voice (spam block?) and I couldn’t add a Yahoo address as secondary email. 
  • The xfinity Connect app for iOS is probably worthwhile, I didn’t let it access contacts.
  • There are WiFi hotspots for Comcast customers but they aren’t very interesting.
  • Password (in)security involves 3 painful SecretToYouButNotToHackers questions that can’t be avoided.
  • Comcast is supposed to be able to test a modem post install for signal strength. In Saint Paul this can take an hour to work, our installer called after he left to say the signal strength was too high (we have no splitters, new cable, etc) and the modem would disconnect. So he returned and added a filter. I tried Comcast’s SpeedExperience modem test tool but it couldn’t retrieve any modem data. 

That’s it. For today, I’m happy in Satan’s kingdom.

[1] We’d wanted to keep the wired landline because we’re on a cheap home security plan. I think that’s not an option any more...

Update 8/7/2015

  • As of August 2015 this is the direct number to change service or close an CenturyLink account: 800-244-1111. My spouse, E, has magical powers honed through years of working with health insurers and schools. She called that number and had us on CenturyLink’s $20/month minimal landline service in under 20 minutes. Pure magic.
  • CenturyLink has a customer relations page to use when "you are not satisfied with the resolution of your issue after contacting one of our Customer Service Centers or one of our Customer Experience Centers”.  That page has a link to an "email form”. The link no longer works, instead you go the page for revising feature sets. Shocking :-).

Update 4/12/2016

  • Comcast has worked quite well for us. I’m watching for the expiration of our 1 year pricing and anticipating the negotiation to follow. Amazon is now reselling Comcast services — it provides clear price information for 1 year contracts vs. no contracts. We expect to switch between Comcast and CenturyLink every year or so — while I campaign for Google Fiber every chance I get.

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