Monday, October 1

Hating On Comcast and Major League Baseball (Again)

(Gym: yes)

The good news is that the Cubs made the playoffs. The bad news is that I apparently won't be able to watch the games in HD. For the first time, major league baseball's TV contract calls for the first round to be aired (cabled?) almost entirely on TBS. That in and of itself isn't a problem since I (and most other people) have cable. The proble is that, at least in The Hbg, Comcast doesn't carry TBS in HD. There have been rumors for a while that Comcast will be adding TBS HD to systems around the country before the playoffs, but so far the only place I've seen that confirmed is in Boston.

I called Comcast this morning and got a surprisingly helpful CSR who checked and told me that it is "in the works" but no date has been set for it to be added. So, it looks like, for the first time in three years, I won't be able to watch the playoffs in HD. It's not a huge deal -- I mean, I'll still be able to see the games -- but it does sort of suck that, in pursuit of the almighty dollar, MLB has seen fit to downgrade the quality of its playoff coverage. That ain't right.

(By the way, I'm not alone -- according to Consumerist, Comcast Chicago hasn't added TBS HD yet, either.)

[UPDATE 2:40 PM]: I've already gotten a bunch of search hits today from people looking forinfo on TBS HD and Comcast, from around the country. So, does anyone have TBS HD on their Comcast system? And if so, can I come over on Wednesday?

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Wednesday, August 8

756, Barry Bonds, and Beating A Dead Horse

No, the horse in question has nothing to do with steroids.

First of all, congratulations to Barry Bonds for becoming the MLB home run king. I lived in the Bay Area in the late 1990s and saw Bonds in person more times than I can count. The year he hit 73 home runs, we went to close to 20 games and I swear it wasn't until August that we went to a game where he didn't hit a homer. Leaving aside the question of what substances he may have used to aid him, I feel privileged to have seen the greatest home run hitter in major league history up close (And I do mean up close, thanks to our friend Art's incredible seats) numerous times.


Photo of the swing, taken by Brady and available on Flickr.

For all the Giants fans out there, I'm sure it was a nice moment last night, when Bonds hit a ball deep into right-center field to break the record, and the scoreboard played a message from Hank Aaron, with Willie Mays and Bonds' family on the field to celebrate with him.

I wish I could have seen it. But, thanks to MLB's asinine blackout rules, I couldn't. As I've posted about numerous times before, I live in an area where four teams, the Pirates, Phillies, Nationals, and Orioles, are blacked out. That meant that last night's game, broadcast on ESPN2, wasn't available to me, even though I don't get Nationals games OTA or on my cable system. In fact, when you look at the map of MLB blackouts, you can see that the Nationals' blackout area covers all or part of six states.

That's all of the District of Columbia, Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia, and parts of West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina. By my estimates, this area covers a population of over 22,000,000. I have no way of knowing how many of those people get Nats games OTA or on their cable or dish systems, but I guarantee you it's less than half. If people living in Harrisburg, 120 miles from Washington, don't get the games, what are the chances that people living in Charlotte, 400 miles away, do?

I and many others have railed for years about the MLB blackout rules, which are both arbitrary and unfair. I don't begrudge a blackout system -- local television channels generate revenue from their airing of MLB games, and I understand their right to protect that in their territories. But preventing people outside those ares from watching games is counter-productive, and actively hurts MLB.

Here's how the blackouts should work. If you get a channel, either over the air or on your cable or dish system that broadcasts a team's games, that team's games should be blacked out on Extra Innings, ESPN, etc. If you can't receive a team's games on a local channel, that team's games should be available to you. It's that simple.

Here in Harrisburg, that would mean the Phillies would continue to be blacked out, since we get Phillies games on CW15 and Comcast SportsNet. The Pirates, Orioles, and Nationals games should be made available to us, at least until Comcast decides to carry MASN in PA like it's supposed to.

This would open up large areas of the country to see lots more games, which would build allegiances and create new fans, and it would be done without hurting the revenue streams of the local broadcasters or the teams themselves. In fact, I'd wager it would increase attendance (and therefore revenue), since a person would be much more likely to drive to see a team in person if he's had the opportunity to watch the team on TV.

As long as this ridiculousness persists, people are going to complain about it. Major League Baseball, it's time to start paying attention, make some changes, and stop alienating the very people who have made the league the success it is today.

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Thursday, July 12

What If You Already Know Both Devils, And They Both Suck?

I need to go take a shower, I think, because I just agreed to give more business to Comcast.

(Results 1 - 10 of about 703,000 for comcast sucks)

I opened my Comcast bill this morning and saw that it had gone up by about twenty bucks (one of the disadvantages of paying bills by auto-pay is that these sorts of things can happen without noticing, if you're not paying attention, which I often am not). So I called customer service and found out that the promotional deal I had, whereby I was getting HBO for free as well as a discount on my digital service, had expired. Not surprising, seeing how it was a two-year deal and we moved here about two years ago.

So I started talking to the sales rep about what he could do to lower my bill, since honestly we were pretty much at the high end of what we could justify for cost of television, and another 20 bucks would have put us on the road to Dish Network. The rep started pitching me the Comcast Triple Play (cable, phone and Internet) deal, which I had been interested in but had not paid too much attention to because the Comcast web site said it was for new customers only.

My rep, Dan (at extension 98Z), assured me that this was not the case. As much as I hate Comcast (and honestly, with the exception of the MLB Extra Innings BS earlier this year, they hadn't done anything to me specifically -- I basically hate them due to my daily reading of The Consumerist), the idea of getting all three services from one company was appealing, and even more appealing was the ability to extricate myself from my current phone & Internet provider, Verizon. Again, Verizon hadn't done anything to me specifically, but they had done plenty to plenty of other people, and I hated them in sympathy.

(Results 1 - 10 of about 1,140,000 for verizon sucks)

We went over what I currently had (number of TVs, HD, DVR, etc.) and came up with a price that, when you compared it to what I was currently paying for cable (through Comcast) and phone and Internet (through Verizon), was about fifty bucks a month cheaper. Not a bad deal, especially because it included more premium channels than what I currently get. Plus, I had the MLB Extra Innings package, and if I had switched to Dish, I would have lost that for the rest of the year.

I went over exactly how much everything would cost, what I would get as far as phone service, Internet, thanked him for his time, and hung up. Of course I had to talk this over with D-Jo, and once I did and we agreed to make the change I called him back.

This is where things start to go my way. I dial, someone answers, and I ask for extension 98Z. "That's me," the guy says, which is interesting because when he answered the phone, he didn't say his name was Dan. No big deal -- I used to work in phone sales and we used to make up names all the time. it's an easy way to track leads.

Anyway, I tell him I just spoke to him and wasnt to sign up for the Triple Play deal. "No problem," he says. I go through my personal info again so he can pull up my account. "And which offer did you want to go with?" he asks. I decide, for one of the few times in my life, to keep my mouth shut, and it works out well. The next thing he saus is, "was it $129 a month?"

As a matter of fact, it wasn't -- he had, not 10 minutes before, quoted me $159 a month, which is a little higher than the $99 a month Comcast advertises, but I figured what with the multiple TVs and the HD and stuff that I wasn't going to get the $99 deal. But I like $129 better than $159!

"Yes it was," I tell him. And then I go down the list of everything we talked about before, to make sure that, at this price, I'm still going to get everything we talked about earlier. He agrees, starts the sale process, and I start thinking about the additional $30/month Comcast just put in my pocket. I know that salesmen for these sorts of companies are allowed to reduce prices as they see fit, and of course the second thing that goes through my mind (after "Thirty bucks! Score!") is that I should have said that we agreed on $99/month.

But I'm not greedy. And besides, we'll see if it all works out as well as it seems. I'm planning on any number of hidden fees, startup costs, equipment rental charges, and whatnot to show up on my bill, not to mention the fact that I figure there is absolutely no way the installer will actually show up when he's supposed to (if he doesn't, there's a theoretical $20 credit waiting for me). And I'd say the chances of my phone and/or Internet being off for some portion of the next two weeks (Between now and when the install is scheduled to happen) are about 50/50. But hey, I'll be paying $90/month less than I did this month. Beers are on me!

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Friday, May 4

Comcast Redux

Since Consumerist published the email address of Comcast's CEO yesterday, I took the opportunity to ask him a few questions about his company's handling of the MLB Extra Innings package:

From: Christian Ruzich
To: brian_roberts AT comcast.com
Date: May 3, 2007 11:30 AM
Subject: Comcast And Extra Innings

Dear Mr. Roberts,

I'm writing today to try to get some information from you regarding Comcast's carriage of the MLB Extra Innings package. A few weeks ago I went through a long series of calls with various Comcast Customer Service Reps, because at the time my Comcast system was not carrying all of the channels in the Extra Innings package. Eventually, this problem was corrected in my area (Harrisburg, PA) but I know that it is still the case in Boston and other places that not all of the channels are available to people who subscribe to the package. Not only that, there have been multiple instances of Comcast refusing to give partial refunds to people, even though Comcast is not offering the full package to them.

Throughout the process I was confronted with Comcast employees who seemed to have no idea exactly what was going on. At various times I was told:

* The missing channels (GAME 11-14) would show up on the GAME 1-4 channels
* The channels would be added once the NHL playoffs were over
* The channels would be added "tomorrow"
* There wasn't enough room on the system to add the channels, and they would never be added
* The addition of the channels was a "regional" decision and no one at the corporate office was involved in the decision
* Comcast was only offering 10 channels, not 14, throughout the country (despite the fact that, at that moment, people in the Chicago area were getting all 14 channels) and therefore mo one was eligible for a partial refund

None of those responses turned out to be correct, and though (as I said) this problem was eventually resolved for me, I wonder why it has not been resolved for everyone, throughout the country. I know that Comcast received the right to broadcast MLB games at a very late date, but it seems to me that even with that the situation could have been handled better. Comcast should have proactively offered the package at a reduced rate for those people who were not able to receive the entire package, or at the very least your customer service representatives should have been instructed to give refunds to people who called to complain that they were not receiving the channels they had been led to believe they would receive.

I have another question about the Extra Innings package as well. The MLB 07 launch memo from iN DEMAND to its affiliates included a paragraph about games available in high definition:

"iN DEMAND will again be providing a High-Definition version of select games already included in the MLB EXTRA INNINGS package. These bonus HD games (approximately 5 per week) should be made available to all existing package subscribers with HD set-tops and television sets."

However, when I inquired about the availability of games in HD, I was told repeatedly that these games were not available and, in fact, would never be made available to me. Why is it that Comcast has chosen to ignore the request of iN DEMAND, and not make these games available to its subscribers?

Thank you very much for your time. I look forward to hearing from you.

Best,

Christian Ruzich
I got an email back from Cynthia Asbury in the Executive Office in the afternoon, and I'm awaiting an actual response to my questions.

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Tuesday, April 24

Final (?) Comcast Update

My GAME 11-14 channels showed up over the weekend. Success! Of course I have to say that my efforts had absolutely nothing to do with the channels appearing, since every call I made met with absolutely no success. My flurry of emails seemed to do no good, either, since almost no one responded to me. Just to break it down, I phoned or emailed the following people/organizations about Comcast's deceptive business practices, and got the following responses:

Comcast: Every call I made got me a different response, all of which ultimately turned out to be incorrect. I did get a refund for the first three weeks of the season. Or, at least I'm supposed to get a refund; we'll see if it actually happens.
The Consumerist: Got a "thanks, we'll check it out" response, but no article about it, though they did make a post in response to a similar email from commenter Phildogger.
Deadspin: No response. Where is the love, Will? Is it because I'm a Cubs fan?
WHP CBS 21 News: No response.
WGAL NBC News 8: No response.
ABC 27 News: No response.
Fox43 News: No response.
State Representative Ron Buxton: A staffer from Representative Buxton's office called me within an hour of receiving my email and told me that, according to their office, the channels would be activated on Friday. They were off by two days, but still I appreciate the quick response.
State Senator Jeffrey Piccola: No response.
Congressman Tim Holden: No response.
Senator Arlen Specter: No response.
Senator Bob Casey: No response.
Senator John Kerry (because he's the chair of the committee which held the hearings about the Extra Innings deal): No response.

I'll keep an eye on my inbox over the next week to see if anyone else replies. For those of you in places like Boston who aren't getting the additional channels, keep up the good fight and please drop me a line if the channels show up on your systems.

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Friday, April 20

Today's Comcast Update

Shockingly, it looks like the information Congressman Ron Buxton's office gave me was correct. This morning, when I checked my Comcast guide, I saw four new channels, 781-784. The channels are listed as "TBD," bu that's where GAME 11-14 should go; I'll check later today to see if games actually show up.

So if that's the case, it looks like Harrisburg, at least, will have all 14 channels once the NHL package ends. I'm not sure if there's been any improvement in Boston and elsewhere -- anyone have any updates?

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Wednesday, April 18

According To The Comcast Executive Office, "All The Games" Means "All The Games We Carry"

I just got off the phone with Judy in the Comcast executive office. I called the executive office to get a phone number for my regional office, since regional numbers aren't available anywhere on the Comcast website or on my bill.

While I had her on the phone, I asked about the status of the four additional channels, and when they might be turned on in the Harrisburg area and other areas (like Boston) which aren't currently carrying. She said there were no plans to add the additional channels, at which point I asked what the process would be to get a 30% discount for the missing channels. Imagine my surprise when she told me that I wasn't eligible for a doscount because Comcast only carries ten channels, not fourteen!

When I told her that, for example, Comcast in Chicago was getting all fourteen channels, she had no response other than to reiterate that Comcast was only getting ten channels.

I decided to tack in a different direction, and ask for a 30% discount on the grounds that I had been mislead by Comcast's advertising, which boasted that I would be able to "catch all the action," which I took to mean "watch all the games." Judy informed me that what it actually means was that I'd be able to watch all the games Comcast offered.

Now, I looked at the page on Comcast.com advertising the Extra Innings package, and I suppose this is technically covered by the sentence "Not all programming and services are available in all areas." Still, I feel this is patently deceptive advertising -- at no point does Comcast mention that they will only be offering 70% of the channels in some areas. Plus, when I go to the guide channel that lists all the games available, I'm shown games on all 14 channels, not just games on the 10 channels that are apparently available to me.

So we have Comcast practicing deceptive advertising practices, and charging customers as much for 10 channels in Harrisburg as they charge for 14 channels in Chicago, or that DirecTV charges for 14 channels across the country. That doesn't seem right, does it?

If you'd like to talk to Judy, or anyone else in the executive office, call 215-665-1700. And if you're a Comcast subscriber in Chicago, or anywhere else that is getting the GAME 11-14 channels, post in the comments or send me an email at ruz at cruzich dot com. I'd love to talk to you.

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Tuesday, April 17

My Tax Dollars At Work

Now this is excellent response from a public servant -- on my way home from work I got a call from someone in State Representative Ron Buxton's office, saying she got my email and letting me know that according to their information, Comcast would be adding the missing four channels on Friday.

She asked me to please call the Representative's office on Friday if that didn't happen, and I assured her I would.

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Comcast Extra Innings Update

I just got off the phone with Juanita Evans at the Comcast corporate office. As the original commenter here said, she was very nice, and I certainly appreciate that she took the time to call me back after I feft her a message this morning.

She was, however, completely unhelpful. After saying that it was a mistake and that she shouldn't have been mentioned on "that website" (which is, I imagine, this website), she said that there was nothing she could do. She said that this should be handled on a regional level, and that they were having the same issues where she was (Boston).

I asked her what she meant by regional -- I'm in Harrisburg PA, and is there someone who covers just my city, or all of Pennsylvania, or what? She suggested that I look on my bill, call the 800 number for customer service, and express my concern that way.

So, basically, the brushoff. Today's call will be to the customer service number (1-800-COMCAST), to start the process of asking for a partial refund since they are not providing the service I'm paying for.

UPDATE 4:10 PM: Based on the good idea that commenter Phildogger had, I've emailed all four local Harrisburg TV stations, as well as my state and federal senators and representatives.

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Saturday, April 14

Comcast, Extra Innings, The Consumerist, And You

Well, after three calls to Comcast this week about the four missing channels, and after an anonymous commenter posted about his attempts to do the same from Boston, I decided to escalate things a bit. I just sent the following email to Ben Popken, editor of The Consumerist.

As I say in the email, I encourage everyone who's a Comcast subscriber with an incomplete Extra Innings package to call the phone number that our anonymous commenter provided. After all, we're only getting 10 of 14 available channels, which is about 71%. I don't see why we should be expected to pay more that 71% of the fee.

Are you still missing the additional Extra Innings channels? Post a comment and let me know where you are, and also let me know if you've called Juanita (her number is below) and what she had to say.

Here's the email to The Consumerist:


Ben,

I'm hoping the Consumerist can help put a little pressure on one of everyone's favorite companies, Comcast. Obviously you know what happened with Major League Baseball, DirecTV, and the Extra Innings package. Last week Comcast turned the EI package on, but they only made 10 of the 14 channels available.

I called them last week to find out when the other channels were going to be made available. The first CSR I talked to told me that the channels started back over at 1 after 10.

Me: "So the GAME 14 game will be on the same channel as the GAME 4 game?"
CSR: "Yes."

I figured I would just call back and try to get another CSR, since I wasn't up for explaining that those two games started less than a half-hour apart, so I was pretty sure the first game wouldn't be over before the second one started.

The second CSR didn't know what I was talking about, but as soon as I mentioned that I could just switch to DirecTV and get all the channels, I got transferred to a retention CSR right away. After a few minutes, he told me that the Game 11-14 channels weren't going to be added to the Comcast channel lineup until the following day.

Shockingly, the next day came and went and the channel weren't there. I didn't get a chance to call back for a few days, but I called back last night when I noticed that there were games on the Game 11-14 channels that weren't available on my system (some of the games on the other channels weren't available either, but that's a blackout problem with MLB and a subject for another email). This time, the first CSR I talked to knew what I was talking about and said that they were still trying to find space to put the additional channels, and that the problem was that "the government" let them have the EI package at such a late date that there wasn't room for the channels, and with the NHL playoffs going on they were still trying to figure out how to get the additional four channels on the system.

I am planning to call again on Monday, for two reasons. First, the "free preview" ends Sunday, which means that as of Monday we have to pay for the EI package (although I did get my April bill and I've already been charged the first installment of the fee). I'm encouraging people to call on Monday and point out that since we're only being given 71% of the available channels, maybe we should only be charged 71% of the cost.

Second, a commented posted a link on my blog to the following document:

http://www.tsq.com/alerts/MLB%2007%20launch%20memo2.pdf

This is a memo from In Demand to its affiliates on April 5th reminding them about the additional four channels and urging them to submit the authorization form and launch the channels as soon as possible, something that several Comcast affiliates have yet to do.

Oh, the memo also mentions up to five games per week in HD which "should be made available to all existing package subscribers with HD set-tops and television sets." They haven't done that either, at least not here in Harrisburg.

The anonymous commenter was nice enough to pass along the phone number and extension of the person in Corporate who he spoke to about this, and I urge all Comcast Extra Innings subscribers who don't yet have their additional four channels and/or HD games to call her:

Juanita Evans
1-888-309-2583 X44283

As the commenter says, "She is very, very nice, and is trying to help. Please be polite, but insistent!"

Thanks,

Christian Ruzich
The Dilettante's Dilemma

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Sunday, April 8

How Comcast and Major League Baseball Are Conspiring To Piss Me Off Today

So here we are. It's 40 degrees and windy outside, so we're all hunkered down in the house. D-Jo just came back from the hospital with the new baby, so I'm with Zosia in her playroom, and I figured that since it's the first Sunday afternoon of the baseball season, I'd like to watch a game.

I switched from DirecTV to cable last year because the cable system (Comcast) had a lot more HD channels, and since I bought a nice, big HDTV as a present for selling my website, it made sense. I've had the Extra Innings package on DirecTV for the last few years, and expected that when the season started I'd buy it on Comcast.

Then of course came all the recent unpleasantness with MLB attempting to give DirecTV an exclusive on the Extra Innings package, and Congress getting involved, and MLB extending the offer to Dish and cable, and then at the 11th hour (actually at the 13th hour, since it happened after Opening Day) cable coming through and matching the deal.

So I signed up, but didn't get a chance to watch any games until today, what with the new baby being born and all. I turned on the schedule channel, and this is what I saw:

Channel Match-Up Time
GAME 10 Baltimore vs. NY Yankees 1:05
GAME 9 NY Mets vs. Atlanta 1:05
GAME 8 Philadelphia vs. Florida 1:05
GAME 7 Seattle vs. Cleveland PPD/Snow
GAME 6 Pittsburgh vs. Cincinnati 1:15
GAME 5 Arizona vs. Washington 1:35
GAME 4 Toronto vs. Tampa Bay 1:40
GAME 14 Chicago Cubs vs. Milwaukee 2:05
GAME 13 Minnesota vs. Chicago White Sox 2:05
GAME 12 St. Louis vs. Houston 2:05
GAME 11 Detroit vs. Kansas City See note
GAME 10 LA Dodgers vs. San Francisco 4:05

And here's where the fun begins. There were, originally, 11 early games. One was cancelled due to weather, leaving 10 games for me to theoretically watch. However, my channel guide only goes up to the GAME 10 channel. I called Comcast customer service, because the game I wanted to watch was on GAME 14, and asked where I could find that game.

The first CSR told me that the channels started back over at 1 after 10.

Me: "So the GAME 14 game will be on the same channel as the GAME 4 game?"
CSR: "Yes."

I figured I would just call back and try to get another CSR, since I wasn't up for explaining that those two games started less than a half-hour apart, so I was pretty sure the Toronto/Tampa game wouldn't be over before the Cubs game started.

The second CSR didn't know what I was talking about, but as soon as I mentioned that I could just switch to DirecTV I got transferred to a retention CSR right away. After a few minutes, he told me that the Game 11-14 channels weren't going to be added to the Comcast channel limeup until tomorrow.

So, out of 10 possible games, four were unavailable thanks to Comcast. That left six games to watch, right? Well, no. I live in Harrisburg PA, an area that MLB has decreed has four "home" teams: the Pirates, the Phillies, the Orioles, and the Nationals. That means the games from all four of those teams are blacked out here, even when they aren't on other channels. Today, only the Phillies game was on another channel.

So, out of 6 possible games, four were unavailable on Extra Innings due to Major League Baseball. That left two games, one of which (Mets/Braves) was available on TBS.

That left a grand total of one out-of-market game available to me on this, the first Sunday afternoon of the baseball season. Not exactly the sort of all-access viewing we've been promised, that's for sure.

Maybe the GAME 11-14 channels will show up tomorrow (though I'm not holding my breath). Maybe Major League Baseball will change the archaic and ridiculous blackout rules (even less likely). Until then, all I can do is write nasty emails, bitch, moan, and watch the Blue Jays beat the Devil Rays.

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