Cory Farley, voted "Best of Reno" 26 times in 27 years by readers of his column in the Reno Gazette-Journal, takes an unconventional look at topics from presidential elections to the best way to cook Brussels sprouts.

Location: Verdi, Nev, United States

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Where is the FCC when we really need it?

The Federal Communications Commission, protector of the public morals and bane of intelligent broadcasting, has been in the news the last couple of years more than any regulatory body ought to be unless fire trucks are rolling up in front of the building.
It began, if memory serves (the service has been spotty lately), when the nation except for me was horrified by not seeing Janet Jackson's boob during the Super Bowl halftime show.
There are boobs I'd rather see than Jackson's, but . . . well, you know, one in the hand. If I'd been watching, I would have looked. I wasn't, because it was halftime and I was in the bathroom or something. But I did check the tape 15 or 20 times, and here's what I saw: No boob.
Somebody must have seen one, though, because the FCC initiated a huge crackdown, supposedly responding to public outcry to clean up the airwaves (personally, I was crying out, "Could you either zoom in on that thing or stop titillating us with it?").
As is so often the case with the Bush administration, though, there was a catch: Nearly all the "public" complaints, way over 90 percent, came from one group, the Parents Television Council. These self-appointed deciders of taste flooded the agency and the Congress with mail. The FCC at that time was headed by Michael Powell, son of Colin (Nepotism alert! Nepotism alert!), who--along with Congress--folded like a cheap chaise longue. The FCC dealt out record fines, including one of nearly half a million dollars to Clear Channel Communications for a Howard Stern comment I won't repeat here (it was gross, but half a million bucks?).
As a result of all this moralizing, now we get to watch movies wherein two thugs beat on each other awhile, bullets fly, blood flows and one snarls into the face of the other as his hands close around his throat, "This is for what you did to Monica, you rascal!"
And yet (at last! The point!) Charter Communications roams the Truckee Meadows unchecked.
I've written about Charter, your local cable company, before. In a previous life, I got letters at least weekly from people complaining about crappy service, bad reception and the absolute worst customer relations team ever put together.
I didn't live in a Charter area, and I wasn't sympathetic.
"If you're unhappy with the service," I told dozens of readers, "cancel it. If enough people do that, they'll come around."
Then Charter moved into my neighborhood, and now I have to apologize to all those people.
No point in going over the details, which will be familiar to most people anyway, but let me hit the highlights:
  • Charter came to my neighborhood, replacing another cable company I previously believed to be the worst ever. Faced with the choice of Charter or no television at all, I signed up.
  • The reception was excellent and the channel selection was five times as large as we'd had before. I rejoiced.
  • The screen went blank. I phoned the only Charter number I had, to report the trouble. Before I could get service, though, I had to enter my account number. I hadn't received a bill yet, so I had no way of knowing my account number. After nearly 20 minutes in the automated answering system, I gave up.
  • I went online and got "live help" from a person who sent me a string of canned responses that didn't bear on my problem. When I asked if there were a supervisor or other sentient being available, he typed that his supervisor would tell me the same thing he had and disconnected.
Eventually that problem got fixed (I got the number of a local Charter person from a friend who's done this dance before). But then:
  • I didn't get a bill.
  • I didn't get a second bill.
  • I didn't get a third bill.
After not getting the second one, I called Charter to ask why I was getting served for free. Again, I was asked for my account number, which I still didn't have because: No bill. I eventually did get hooked up to a person through the 24-hour full service hotline. She told me to call back during business hours.
When I did, they asked for my account number.
A couple of days ago I got a letter promising immediate termination of my service if I didn't pay my past due bill, $140.10. That at least gave me the account number, so I called and--it's a miracle!--talked to an actual human.
After some linguistic accommodation, we figured out that they'd been sending the bills to my street address, which has no mail service, rather than the post office box, and the post office had been returning them. I gave the correct address, and the woman assured me she'd made a note on the account so the service wouldn't be shut off. I mailed a check that afternoon, returning the tear-off stub and tossing the rest of the paperwork, containing my account number, into the trash.
Next morning the service was shut off.
I called to report it, and the first thing they asked for was my account number. By this time I'd learned some tricks, and I managed to get to a person after no more than seven or eight minutes.
"Without your account number," she said, "there is nothing I can do."


Blogger honkytonkman said...

Okay, let's see if this works; been having some trouble getting posted here.

7:54 AM  
Blogger honkytonkman said...

Well, whatyaknow? It worked.

Okay, let's see now, you fought Charter for months over service and bills and no account number and then you finally received an account number and then you promptly threw said account number away leaving you once again without identity.

Ah, gee, do you think maybe you should have hung on to that number for awhile?

7:56 AM  
Blogger Ann Onn said...

I hate to sound like your mom, but do you throw out all your bills right after you pay them? I guess that would eliminate the time and space spent on filing them, but surely this isn't the first time you've needed information (or proof) from bills you've paid. Do you at least shred or burn your credit card bills?

Good luck with Charter. My Internet access is through them, and one day they came to shut off our neighbors' service and shut ours off instead. That took three days to straighten out. Since then I've paid for a dial-up service to have as a backup.

10:06 AM  
Blogger nancyp said...

I don't deal with Charter anymore, but when I did I'd go to their office (on Prototype Drive in south Reno) and camp there until the problem wass fixed.
It was a nuisance, but it worked.

10:46 AM  
Blogger Pogonip said...

Not only do you throw the bill (with the only record you have of the account number) away, but you are still writing checks? Doesn't your credit union or bank offer a free bill-paying service? At the cost of postage, it's a no-brainer to let them write the checks or do the automatic transfer, and keep a lovely record of everything so that it can be printed out at tax time.

12:09 PM  
Blogger mindervillain said...

I think I wrote you this in your previous life, but what the heck,if it was worth saying once ....

When I had the pleasure of dumping Charter, I actually got a twofer in the pleasure department - I dumped their internet service as well.

Now I'm with Direct TV. I wish I could say my TV watching has become problem free - it would be close if I hadn't gotten their version of TiVo. I've been through three DVR boxes (the FedEx guy says DVR returns to Direct TV are becoming a major part of their business), I have to reset the unit regularly and when the picture isn't going blank on a recorded show, the sound's about to go silent.

Nevertheless, the picture is excellent, I have few if any problems with regular TV watching, and, among the local contract service guys they send out, I occasionally get one who knows what he's doing.

It's all relative, but without Charter, I've become a happy TV watcher.

1:03 PM  
Blogger Ken A said...

The FCC is just looking for reasons to fine radio and tv stations. That whack job senator from Alaska, Ted Stevens,(multi billion dollars for the "Bridge to Nowhere") wants to pass a law fining stations hundreds of thousands of dollars for a slip of the tongue. You would hope that it would be better if a Demo is elected Pres but don't count on it if it's Hillary. She wanted to pass a constitutional amendment to make burning the flag a federal crime. She also put up quite a stink about a hidden "easter egg" on a video game. It's a lot easier to tell the populace you are protecting their children by censoring free speech then protecting free speech.
Also Cory, Just a question. How did you get the notice for shut off if all they had was your street address? I have Dish TV and I too have had to send back a couple of DVRs but by in large I'm pretty happy with the service.

2:31 PM  
Blogger Michael Lee said...

Oh good! It's Charter bashing time...

I have Charter, and due to a very lengthy story, I reluctantly ended up with Basic Cable, Expanded Basic, Digital Cable, HDTV, Movies, Internet Service, and Telephone, all to the tune of over $180 per month.

One of Charter’s main ad campaigns stresses all these services and only one customer service phone number.

At the beginning of this year, I got really cost conscious and wanted to dump a bunch of services. All I want is HDTV and the Internet Service. I called the magic number, entered my phone number (hey, I at least had that!) and had the rep shut down the phone. I then said I only wanted the HDTV. He said that was a different department, and could I please hold. I was switched, had to enter my phone number again, which was now disconnected. I fiddled around until I got another customer rep, whom spent over 20 minutes trying to get me Basic Cable and HDTV (the minimum requirement for HDTV). She then discovered that because I had dropped my phone, the system would not allow any changes for a day or two. Meanwhile, I could either make an appointment for somebody to pick up the phone modem or take it down to the office on Prototype, all a real convenience.

I went to the office the next day and turned in the phone modem. The customer rep there spend about ½ hour working the system and finally getting the rest of my services changed.

Here I am about 3 weeks later and I still have all the services. I can’t wait to see my bill this month. Gotta love 'em.

(Name withheld so all my service aren’t disconnected)

3:44 PM  
Blogger sabjoro said...

I have not had any cable service since I got fed up with the old one back in 74.

They added 7 cents to my bill and no one could explain why I had the increase. I told them to remove it from my bill. They said they couldn't. I told them to remove my cable. They said they couldn't be there for a few days - this was on a Friday. I unplugged the cable myself and coiled it around the power pole and told them where they could find it. They were there in 30 minutes - faster than a pizza delivery.

Now if it doesn't come over the air for free then I don't watch TV. There is not that much on worth paying for it.

5:31 PM  
Blogger tuzoner said...

Loneliness seems epidemic in this country. Witness all the TV madness. I just don't get it. Would the world end tomorrow if all TV service was disrupted for the day? A week? A month? The way many consider the TV their best friend, I think it might on a personal level. Try reading a good book. Take a stroll in the neighborhood park. Biking riding is fun and good for you. Or just a simple walk around the block. Bottom line: Get you arse off the couch and go out and enjoy life!

6:39 PM  
Blogger ReconRanger said...

Consider this:

What businesses charge you a fee in order for you to become their customer? What businesses require you to pay money in order for them to be willing to deliver a service or product from which they profit? I submit this limited list:
Telephone companies (installation or hook-up fees)
Utilities (hook-up fees)
Cable TV companies (hook-up fees, converter box fees)
Gyms (initiation fees)

Telephone and utility companies are government regulated and one of the ways they keep down monthly costs is to charge users when they come aboard the grid. Cable TV companies and gyms are private, for-profit organizations that have exploited the average consumer’s ignorance. If you pay a cable company to hook you up or pay a gym for the privilege of completing your paperwork, you deserve to have cable.

The truth is, the companies know they are bandits and will back off if called on their stuff. I joined 24-Hour Fitness about a year ago and my “fitness counselor” explained to me how much I had to pay to “enroll.”

“I’m not going to pay you to become your customer,” I said. “Do I have to go talk to Gold’s Gym?”

No, he assured me, that fee could be waived.

A few years back, it looked like I would be awarded a government contract. The government is notoriously slow-pay, so I approached a local guy who buys government contracts at a discount but pays now.

“I have to charge you a $200 filing fee,” he said.

“You have to charge me $200 in order for you to buy my contract at a discount?” I said.

Well, that fee could be waived, he assured me.

Ruminate on this, people: if you have 180 TV channels and a $150 monthly bill, you might want to consider running a log of how many hours you watch those channels and what programs you watch. You know, a cost-benefit analysis.

As for me, I have absolutely no problems with Charter Cable. I can’t conceive of a moment when I’d buy their services.

8:16 PM  
Blogger tuzoner said...

More dumbfoundedness courtesy Charter:

Cable Co. Empties 14,000 E-Mail Accounts

4:42 AM  
Blogger tuzoner said...

Looks like the FCC is on a roll:

"Nude Buttocks May Cost ABC $1.4 Million"

"The agency said the show was indecent because "it depicts sexual organs and excretory organs - specifically an adult woman's buttocks. The agency rejected the network's argument that the buttocks are not a sexual organ.

My take: Who knew one's butt was a sexual organ until the FCC told us so?

I mean, how gay is that?

Nudity may cost ABC $1.4 million - from (free registration required)

5:05 AM  
Blogger Wistuh said...

Because I had foster kids who adored cartoons, I subscribed to basic service DTV. Prior to subscribing, I had only received free 'antenna-on-the-roof'type programs. One day (after the foster kids had been re-united with parents) I stopped receiving DTV service after 6pm. Apparently the serviceman who came to the house couldn't figure out what the problem was as it was not yet 6pm. So he fixed every little thing he had been trained to do and I was charged for all of this on my next bill. I called customer service to complained. The rep said that though problems that didn't exist had been 'fixed,' I still had to pay. I dropped DTV that very day and am going to buy an antenna again. If they aren't for sale anymore, I am going to the library.

8:39 PM  
Blogger Wistuh said...

I had DTV, not Charter. It was a crappy service but the foster kids adored cartoons so I got it. Before this I'd only had absolutely free, antenna-on-the-roof tv. It was fine.
After the kids were re-united with their parents, I kept DTV, dazzled by the Immaculate Reception. One day, I stopped receiving service after 6pm. The serviceman came to fix the problem around 9am. Because there was no problem until 6pm, he couldn't find what was wrong. So he fixed every little DTV problem he could think of-even ones I didn't need-and I was billed for all. When I complained to customer service, and was told I actually had to pay for these needless repairs, I dropped the service that very day. I am going to buy another antenna and get it installed. In the meantime, the library has loads of advertisement-free books.

9:01 PM  
Blogger Susan Richards said...

I had our Charter TV service disconected two months ago. The Dish installer disconected my Charter internet. I called Charter to have the internet reconected. The guys came out and took the cable equipment. Now Charter is still sending me bills and says ther is no record of my cancelling the service or returning the equipment. The call center reps won't give me a name of a big wig to talk to..Good greif

11:02 AM  
Blogger Susan Richards said...

oh..when I asked for a supervisor I was disconnected too..a pox on those people

11:17 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

I worked for them in the seventies and it was really bad then. I have worked for several since. I've had Charter for the last seven years here and it has been flawless. It isn't $7.95 anymore though.

7:26 PM  

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