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  • Not All Cable TV and Internet Experiences Are Bad

    September 12th, 2007

    I know, you love to hate your wireless phone company, your local car dealers (unless you work for one of course), and certainly that company that provides your cable TV service and perhaps the Internet.

    Of course, there are good reasons to feel less-than-pleased with such businesses, because they are notorious for delivering bad service and equally bad customer support. I know I’ve had any number of war stories to tell over the years with those three and others.

    Yet, from time to time, I’ve had encounters that aren’t so bad. Take our local cable TV provider, Cox, which proclaims to visitors to its site that: “With more than 6 million total residential and commercial customer relationships, over 22,000 employees and a firm commitment to education, the Cox team is widely regarded industry leaders, having earned multiple distinctions in customer satisfaction, diversity practices and company strategy. In 2006, Cox received highest honor in in J.D. Power and Associates’ residential cable/satellite TV customer satisfaction study as well as in 2005 for customer satisfaction among high-speed Internet service providers.”

    Among cable TV companies, Cox is dwarfed by Comcast and Warners, but they are all busy competing with local phone companies and satellite TV services to give you entire suites of bundled services. Not just TV and the Internet, but telephone landlines, and even, through partnerships with Sprint, wireless.

    I’m sure each and every one of you has a horror story to voice with one of these firms. In the normal course of events, however, despite the horrendous complexities of their networks, the systems do manage to function well enough to satisfy millions of people.

    Where a company proves its mettle, however, is when things go wrong. Indeed, there’s plenty of opportunity for that here in Arizona, where summertime temperatures frequently exceed 115 degrees in the shade, and the vast underground and above-ground networks of fiber, coaxial, copper cables, amplifiers and distribution networks required to maintain a cable system can easily break down.

    And don’t get me started about car batteries, although we’ve been lucky so far this year.

    Indeed, we encountered some difficulties this summer, during which time the Phoenix area had more days where temperatures exceeded 100 degrees than at any time in recent years. Early in July, TV reception became flaky, with occasional bouts of tiling (image breakup) and distorted sound. Clearly the digital ones and zeros weren’t getting through correctly, as the set top boxes had to work overtime to provide data correction.

    At the same time, my Internet connection also would become unduly slow for lengthy periods. Normally, download speeds are supposed to exceed 12 megabits, and usually they do.

    Getting a handle on all these problems proved difficult, simply because there were, in the end, several causes. Through it all, the Cox support and service people distinguished themselves as friendly, hard-working people who were dedicated to solving the problems and making sure the fixes took.

    In recent weeks, they’ve been at my home a number of times, and I’ve occasionally observed them hanging out near the wiring panels nearby, diligently monitoring the systems for hours on end to make sure everything worked perfectly, or as perfectly as possible in a highly imperfect world.

    Just this morning, in fact, one of their representatives called me about their solution to our most recent problem. Knowing I was technically savvy (they have, of course, been to my home and the word gets around), she was quick to talk in her native lingo, referring to a bad drop (defective wire in “cable TV talk”) and how it caused packet losses and other issues that contributed to some of the problems I had with my Internet connnection. Once they isolated this particular issue, they were quick to bypass that drop — er, wire — until it could be replaced.

    In the end, it was that, plus a combination of aging splitters, a defective amplifier and other wiring issues that caused most of the troubles. In addition, they had to split our cable node, because the growing number of people using their Internet services had exceeded their capacity in this neighborhood.

    Now I am not sure what it cost them to perform all that repair work, but certainly it far exceeded my monthly bill for the cable bundle. They also gave me a generous credit towards that bill for the troubles I encountered.

    Through it all, in fact, our regular Cox phone service never missed a beat. The local remnant of Ma Bell, Qwest, has to be shaking in their boots over this, as Cox continues to aggressively encroach into traditional telephone service.

    As I said, you always expect things not to work when it comes to cable TV and related services. But when the cable company fixes the problems with a smile, you have to feel a little encouraged to know that some stories indeed have happy endings.



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