Verizon FioS and Comcast Cable.

Hows that grass on the other side or crow doesn't taste good no matter how it's served. 2009



Early in 2009 Comcast, most everyones cable company, at least in the western Washington area, informed all their customers that set top boxes are now going to required . Well, required if you wanted to receive all the channels you are now paying for. If you were paying for or happy with the 13 or 20 channels then skip the set top boxes. This mandate effected any Comcast customer that had multiple TVs, especially more than 3. More on that later. Now this is counter to what most folks have been hearing from Comcast concerning the “analog to digital” conversion that the country is going through.

The message from Comcast was that, “if have Comcast you have nothing to worry about”.

The fact is, the analog to digital conversion, has nothing to do with mandating set top boxes. Then why set top boxes now ? Comcast is going through a project to convert all their customers from any thing analog to digital.

So what does this mean to you and I. Well, if you have a TV connected to Comcast and you enjoy and are paying for 100 plus channels? A set top box is in your future. That is if you want to continue receiving 100 plus channels? Straight from wall to your TV will only get you somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 to 25 channels. Above channels 30 something, it is fuzz and noise. If you have more than 3 TVs (I had 5) you will be paying more now to receive the channels above 30 on TV number 4 or 5, or 6....etc. The same channels you were receiving last year for the same price. Why are you paying more ? Comcast gives you only 3 set top boxes. More than 3 and you pay for the additional boxes. Like I said, I have 5 TVs, so I had to make a choice about the most viewed TVs that would get a set top box. Do yourself a favor and just get the set top boxes or additional set top boxes and activate them, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Once I found all this out I was quickly getting discussed with Comcast. Especially, after I nonchalantly came home one night after work after receiving my 3 set top boxes to install them and get them activated. How hard could it be. I have more than 15 years in the information technology industry. It will be a simple inconvenience. After I put them on the TVs I had selected( I was not going to succumb to them trying to force more money out of me for the same channels I was receiving last year on all my TVs.) I was ready to activate them. I called the phone number to get them activated.

When I did so, the first question was to where is the paper that came with your set top boxes. I said it's right here. That's how I got the number to call you. I was informed that there is a piece of paper that had the serial numbers of all the set top boxes. I had nothing like that. Now, I throw nothing anyway( ask my wife ). So this was my first set back. I was informed that the nice neat job I did connecting the set top boxes to and from the wall and the VCR s or DVD players I had to disassemble so I could find the serial numbers on the bottom of the set top boxes. OK, well that was a little annoying but , oh well. That done, I was asked to turn the set top boxes on and leave them on so they could be updated. This was going to take approximately 60 minutes. Fifteen minutes later, my wife and daughter came home and I had to tell them that the TV would be unavailable for about another 45 minutes. How was I suppose to know that “Survivor” was on that night ? They actually wanted me to call Comcast up and tell them to postpone this update. After a few emasculating moments I convinced them that we should wait till the update is completed.

45 minutes later the boxes were updated and I received a automated phone call that told us so. The next hurdle was to get the remotes to work with the TVs. Now I have had several universal remotes. It takes finding your TV in the manual and putting in the right code but what happen next was absolutely beyond the pale. One TV was straight forward and simply. The other two took literally hours. I spent time going through the instructions but at best I could only get either the TV to turn on and off but no volume or volume and no on and off. I bit the bullet and made the call to the Comcast support. With the support person on the phone it still took several hours. The support was able to get to reach the set top boxes remotely and they had to reset them more than 3 or more times. Then we would go through the exercise of pressing the key combo on the remote and moving through the different available codes by pressing the up channel button. Now that we have the TV remotes all in sync and my set top boxes are active, all that, and it's only after midnight. I started down this road shortly after 5pm. As you might be thinking I am quite aggravated at this point. This aggravation provoked a response that I now regret woefully. No I didn't threaten anyone or use four letter words(although that was close). Once the support person had all my TVs and remotes synced up the support person asked me if I wanted to take a survey or leave a statement. Well of course I did !. I wanted to at least leave them with what I thought about their process and their digital upgrade project. No four letter words were used and no threats made. One of my last words were though was, FioS. Do yourself a favor. Get the set top boxes and go through any inconvenience it takes. Or they actually have an option to have a support person come out and do all of this. Cable is your friend, but I'm getting ahead myself.


A short time after all of this I was considering FioS. FioS is Verizons fibre optic services. These services include TV, phone services and internet. Phone services. Phone services brought to you by the phone company over fibre. Something that has been done for many years now. The phone company, the people who have managed and developed several copper wire line technologies like ISDN or my favorite, DSL. I have a DSL and a business class account with a Bellevue ISP called Avvanta. I have been with them for almost a decade. I started out with dial up and as I needed static IP numbers I was able to get an account with 5 IP and standard 768/128 DSL. They have higher speed DSL options but to date the greater speed would be over kill for my web presents, Email server and the work related use of this link. This was originally managed by Verizon but a few years ago I was given the option by my ISP to have my ISP manage the link and account together. This turned out to make financial good scents as well as saving a little sanity. You see, when Verizon wanted to get into the online business, that is the consumer side of the online business, they reclaimed all those user@verizon.net accounts.

There was a time when if you had an account like that, your account was actually managed by a company that Verizon had contracted with to manage it. Who knows what happen, either way they wanted to take all this back. How do I know ? Well, it's not because I had a Verizon account. It's because when they took all these accounts over. It would appear they simply went through and found all those user@verizon.net accounts and started managing them. If you were not using Verizon as your ISP ( like me ) your DSL line simply stopped working. My DSL line stopped working.

My first call was to my ISP. When I told them that my DSL line was not working they asked if they managed the DSL line or did Verizon. At that time Verizon managed it. It was a line item on the bill I got every month. The line item that I payed to Verizon every month. When I told them Verizon they suggested I have Avvanta manage it. That is exactly what I did but not because they suggested it. What motivated me to have Avvanta manage my link was when I made the call to Verizon to tell them that my DSL line no longer works. They asked me for my online user name. I said, what online user name ? They replied, yourname@verizon.net . I told them I don't have one. They told me I don't have a DSL.

I said I have had this DSL line for now years. I have been paying Verizon for this link for years. It's on the bill. No. You don't have a DSL link. This went on for almost a week. I had to make calls during my time at work and every time I got someone on the phone the reply was the same. “Sir I don't show that you have a DSL link.” How can you get a bill and pay a bill and the people you pay the bill to not know you are paying them for it? My first temptation was to simply stop paying the bill and I would surely get attention then but I didn't have that kind of time. All 3 of my children were in college at the time not to mention the internet technology I had started playing with. Three or four days later I finally reached a support person who could quite possible become the president of Verizon if she gets discovered. More than likely she was just the cleaning lady who happen to pick up the phone. I don't mean to demean this women. My point is that Verizon suffers from the ignorance of the customer service people not knowing or being informed about the systems or services they support and represent to customers. She actually took the time to figure out why this guy thinks he has a DSL line when everything she has been told says he doesn't. She had me go over the Verizon bill including the circuit number. She is the one that told me about Verizon reclaiming the consumer online business.My guess is that Verizon thought they weren't getting a big enough cut.

Wow, that's quite a story but what does that have to do with Cable and set top boxes ? Well, remember my last words? FioS. I did a lot of research into the transport, compression algorithms, latency and installation used by FioS verses cable. FioS is without a doubt superior. It is ! Higher compression rates, more content delivery, higher resolution picture. It has one. Only one fatal, undeniable flaw. It is managed by Verizon. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

A week or so after my late night with Comcast and set top boxes I was determined to head down to the local Verizon store and start the discussion about FioS. Now I had already talked with my ISP, Avvanta, and asked them if I could keep them as my ISP if I moved to FioS. The answer was no. Verizon FioS is a closed system much like Comcast and I would have to go with Verizon as my ISP.

I didn't want that at all. Number one, these guys seem like old friends to me now not to mention that the SOHO account I have with them is far more feature rich than anything Verizon could offer me for the same price. So the internet offering over FioS was out.

So I was out in the front yard working on my daughters car the day I had set aside to go down and start the FioS conversation. Low and behold a Verizon rep happen to be crossing right in front of my house. Stephen. What luck ! Or so I thought. But I'm getting ahead of myself. We had quite the discussion. I asked him if I went with FioS for TV and phone what effect that would have on my DSL line ? The answer was, “that would not be a problem”. I was skeptical. No worries, he put me on his cell phone with a customer service person, Sue, to discuss my possible order of FioS. I voiced my concerned about a move to FioS that might effect my DSL line. She assured me that there was something that the techs do that would allow my DSL line as well. Now I know there is a way to tunnel or run DSL over fiber. My assumption was that they would do something like that. After a discussion about features and cost I signed up for TV and phone services over FioS. I could really show Comcast and I could get free long distance and battery backup for the phone in the case of a power outage(which we seem to have a lot of in my area)and they waved the installation fee.

This will be one of my greatest and best decisions. I had already been evangelizing FioS to friends and family. I had already talked my folks into the full meal deal from Verizon. Phone, TV and internet. Every time I had gone over to my folks house everything seemed great. I remember being very impressed. What could go wrong?

A few days later an acknowledgement of my order had come in the mail. With it, came a service order number that I could go out to the web and verify my order. Upon doing so I noticed that my supposed order was not anything I ordered at all. They had me down for the wrong TV package and no mention of additional set top boxes. Good thing there was a customer service number I could call and get this all worked out. I did call. I repeated the package I wanted and the number of set top boxes required plus I mentioned the DSL line again. My order was altered to reflect exactly what I wanted and I was assured again that my DSL line would survive. The next day I checked my order again online. Viola, order changed. Relieved and satisfied I awaited my day of installation.

I even took the day off. During my wait I received several items in the mail concerning terms of use, early disconnection and the such. One key phrase, that at the time I didn't think much about, was that I had 15 days to decide about the services. After that I would be charged $119.00 for discontinuing any or all of the services. A couple days before the installation is to be done a Verizon utility truck shows up to complete the run from the street and bring the fibre up to house. This was simply a slice in the grass in which they bury the single mode fibre up to the house, with a healthy extra length for slop, strain relief or relocating it under the fence(like I did, it's a good idea).

The day of installation came. I had been talking at work about the benefits of FioS and the technology but my only concern was my earlier dealings with Verizon. Several other people at worked had regaled me with their phone company stories of turmoil. The voice in my head was talking. Not the usual voices that tell me to kill people(just kidding) but this voice was the smart one. This one kept say “are you sure about this?”. I had already removed or disconnected the Comcast boxes just waiting for my new Verizon set top box. The installer was suppose to show up between noon and 4pm.

Of course he showed up at 3:30pm. That part is pretty much what everyone has come to expect from any installer. Although I had enough of the voice in my head and decided that if he show up after 4pm I would simply tell him I changed my mind. Hey, I'm under my 15 days right !

The installation starts outside. This is the part I really didn't like although being there did make a difference. The installer originally was going to place the ONT( optical network terminal ) outside of the fence line. I told him I really wanted to put that behind the fence and my advice for anyone that might be foolishly considering FioS to do the same thing. The ONT is a rather considerable size unit. My home owners association freaks about the littlest thing so I thought they would really freak about this. The ONT is in size the same as your current cable box although it sticks out away from house quite a bit more. The installation of the outside box took about an hour and half. I had cleared the ground where I wanted the fibre to come under the fence, plus I ran a fixed power outlet to the wall where I wanted the battery backup unit in the garage. About this time I mentioned that I had the DSL line that could not be interrupted. He acknowledged me but didn't really offer any techno answer to my concern.

After my all nighter with Comcast the next move was utterly amazing to me. That is setting up the set top boxes. He even did two more boxes than I did during the all nighter. We found ascetic places to place the set top boxes and with a few point and clicks the remote was synced with the TV. How could that be? It took me hours? After that he had to go out to his truck to activate the set top boxes. Ah, I thought here we go. This will take an hour or two. Well, not really. It took 10 minutes. Wow this is really going to be a great decision I made. I knew it . I just knew this would be a good idea. Take that ! little voice in head.

He showed us around the remote we checked the phone and asked a few questions my wife even stopped him before he left to ask one more question. That should have been my pause to assess everything. I mean everything. Have you figured out what didn't get tested before he left. If you said my internet connection. You are right. Enamored with new technology and filled with ignorant assurances from people who have no idea what they doing. We ordered pizza and watched and played with our new TV and phone service. Before the night was over we discovered that the picture quality of TV is spectacular. Although the on demand movies are completely unwatchable. It's pixilated, jumpy and annoying to watch. By this point the voice in head is suicidal.

The next day, I go to work as usual and started talking about my new FioS TV and phone service. It's better than I thought. Until.

I have several servers running across my DSL link. A web server, a Email server but at work I log into my servers at home to check, verify and test some of the outside internet facing servers and interfaces my company has. Not to mention log into my office from home in order to work issues remotely in the middle of the night. I went to the usual command line to log into my home servers and found the prompt did not come back. I tried a http request to my web server. No reply. What the heck ! Now we have a lot of power outages and some of my aging equipment is not always reliable. So I called my wife and asked if we had had a power outage. No, no blinking clocks here. So I had her walk into to the small computer room I have to make sure the systems were up(routers, firewalls....etc). Yep, everything is up. My wife was going to call Verizon about the pixilation anyways so I asked her to mention that my DSL line is down and could it have anything to do with the FioS installation? While she was doing that I went out to Avvantas' website to see if they were experiencing an outage. I mean after all, I had assurances from four people from Verizon that I should not worry but be happy. Well, the bad news came from Avvanta. I told them I had put FioS in and they said you don't have DSL. As a matter of fact they had a disconnect notice for the 14th of April. Now I know I didn't issue that disconnect notice. Why would I ? I deliberately did not get Verizon internet because I already had a service that was ,as far as I was concerned, better than anything I could get from Verizon at the same price point.

I heard back from my wife, her news was far worst than mine. She was informed that the technicians usually rip out the copper wire that the phones line and in my case DSL line came across. Going back would be impossible. We just have to get the internet bundle. I am paraphrasing because I did not take the actual call. But I heard this very thing being inferred when I eventually talked to customer support folks. Can you say bait and switch. After work, my web presents now gone, Email server backing up, testing work internet interfaces at critical mass and a family member studying for her masters I armed myself with every phone number that I had collected and started calling. The one thing that Verizon excels in is not actually talking with people and I suspect actually not listening to people. Heres some free advice although after reading this I would not blame you for completely ignoring the idiot who actually thought Verizon to be honest and responsive and responsible for their actions. If you need to get attention. Cancel something. Thats how I got their attention. I canceled my FioS services less than 24 hours after getting them. Once I got a hold of someone that might be able to facilitate this I heard the pivotal question. “Is the copper wire still there?” Fortunately, I had the cell number of the tech that did the install. I quickly called him to find out if the copper could be put back. He apologized about the circumstances but he did assure me that the copper was still there. He actually expected to come back that night to put everything back. What he needed was for Verizon to authorize that.

Like I said, Verizon excels in not talking with people so by the time I get back the customer service center to let them know the copper is still there. Their service centers were closing. I was informed to

call the support center back between 8am 6pm to get this resolved.

The next day at the stroke of 8am I am on the phone calling the support center. Marching through the phone tree now I reached someone in cancellation. I informed them how they lied and all I want now after less than 36 hours was to have FioSs removed and my phone and TV service restored to what they had been before any Verizon employee showed up at my house! She was only able cancel service. She has no idea about reversing or backing out FioS. Now, if they give you that option why is it that they have absolutely no process for backing it out. Can you say predatory marketing. The person in cancellation switched me over to a technical services person. I explained my plight to the tech again for the 20th time(someone should show Verizon how to write something down) he ask me. Did you know your DSL line came over your telephone line ? Yes. Did you know you were getting digital voice services? Yes. Then I asked him why four Verizon employees would assure me that my DSL line would not be effected? And who exactly placed the order to discontinue my DSL account at my ISP ? No definitive answer came. Although at that point I was making real traction to getting this fixed and reversed. After reviewing the notes on the order he came back and told me he was going to have a technician out there that day ! I originally heard something like a week. Later that day I did hear from the technician at my home and I gave him a more truncated version of the story. Again I heard, “did you know your DSL comes through your phone line?” I asked him if there was any technology to tunnel DSL over fibre. He was under the impression there was not or I'm convinced he was told there was not. There was a shift in attitude shortly after that. He told me the physical portion would be done soon and what would take the real time would be to get me back on the switch equipment at the head in office. This is what I needed to hear. By about 4pm my internet presents was restored and Email started to flow once again. In order to get anything done at work now, I ended up staying till almost 9pm. The next morning I switched our cable back to Comcast. I gladly disassembled the FioS connection from the ONT and reconnected the Comcast connection. I yanked the Verizon set top boxes and will contact someone next week to pick these up. We have not heard from Verizon since all of this. I mean to make sure we don't get a bill one for any of this fiasco so I will need to call and make sure the services have been canceled. Knowing what I know now and actually knew before this, I will more than likely have to call more than once to do that.


Ah, Comcast. They will probably get a Christmas card from us this Christmas. I may even paint my truck as a Comcast advertisement who knows. Comcast may have inconvenienced me one evening but they surely did not try to lie, deceive or ruin my job. The point and lesson learned here? There are some companies you can not trust. If you ever distrusted them they should not be given a second chance. They probably have only deepened their ignorance and sharpened their deceptive ways. If there is any message in this to companies that is, always put that best foot forward. That best foot has to include honesty and informed, knowledgeable employees.


Final words:


The grass only looks greener on the other side. My DSL line is not going to last for ever. As a matter of fact it's days are probably numbered. I think when that time comes I am going to take the lead from my ISP, Avvanta, not some monopoly that could cares less about satisfying customers and cares more about stealing market share from a competitor and will resort to most anything to do it. My advice, if you build it, they will come. Put out a good product or offering and people will voluntarily flock to it rather than be forced there by predatory practices. Verizon is obviously trying to make up the cost of all the dark fibre and Comcast is trying to improve an aging copper infrastructure. Both have their merits but I have my doubts if one size fits all. If one of these or other providers provide the majority of the services you need in a way you can live with go for it. But if not, subscribe to what you need and leave the rest.




Me:

I am not a Comcast employee nor have I ever been. I am not a High definition watching couch potato nor do I need to download anything at 100Mbs speed. Well, that last one might be cool although I do not require that from home right now. These are actual events that happen. As a matter of fact there are probably people who are reading this that know me and work for either Verizon or Comcast that can lend credence to it's authenticity. I encourage you to do so.


Followup:
Do you remember me mentioning the disconnect order that Verizon put in that I did not authorize. The Verizon folks did come and put everything back the way it was suppose to be. Everything worked just as it did before they screwed everything up. Except when April 14th came. Their disconnect order went through. My DSL line was disconnected. My internet access was terminated. I tried to call Verizon. The numbers I had for the techs just rang and rang. When I called the Verizon support. All they could tell me is, yes, your FioS service had been cancelled. I called my ISP. They were trying to get Verizon to go into to the head in office(this is the point closest to your home where your phones, and in my case DSL line, terminate and are owned by Verizon ) to turn my DSL line back on. No answer ever came from Verizon. This, again, went on for several days........ So I called Comcast. I had looked at other ISPs like Clearwire( I really dodged a bullet no going with them ). When I called Comcast they were at the house. I had a Comcast router in hand, connected and just for a few dollars more than my DSL line. There, of course, were some differences. Instead of 5 static IPs I only had one. Not to mention that I am now moving data in Megabits rather than Kilobits. I still kept some of the features offered by my original ISP. Email and shell access. The lesson here is. A little inconvienance is much more preffered than deception, lies, ignorance and having to be forced to buy something you really don't want. When the opportunity presents itself. My plan is to wash my hands of Verizon all together. I guess as of 2010-2011. Verizon passed off their phones business to Frontier. Still. No quarters. Some years ago I did have Verizon as my cell carrier. Not anymore and not ever again.