Adventures in Comcast support

We live outside San Francisco, and Comcast is our cable provider. We wanted to watch college football on TV so I visited Comcast’s website to add the “Sports Entertainment Package” for $10 per month. Immediately after turning on the big game, we found that the BTN channel was in old-style “standard definition” (SD), not HD. On top of that, Comcast’s channel feed was so terrible that it was almost unwatchable: we couldn’t always see the football.

I contact Comcast’s tech support to help find the HD version of the channel. This is the transcript of that conversation:

Problem: Can’t find BTN HD
CHAT ID: 9244E213-3F78-4690-87BA-6A69C55B7A90
Comcast tech: Hello Kirk, Thank you for contacting Comcast Live Chat Support. My name is [TECH]. Please give me one moment to review your information.
Comcast tech: How’s your day going?
Me: My Issue: Can’t find BTN HD
Me: Hi [TECH]
Comcast tech: Hello Kirk.
Me: I added a sports package to my account so I could watch football on BTN.
Me: But I can only find the SD channel, not the HD version.
Comcast tech: I am glad that you have brought this concern to our attention.
Comcast tech: I am glad that you have brought this concern to our attention.
Comcast tech: Rest assured that I can definitely help you to ressolve your issue today and I’ll be more than happy to assist you.
Comcast tech: But before we start, may I ask you a few questions please?
Me: Sure!
Comcast tech: Thank you.
Comcast tech: For account verification, may I have your account number please?

Note: the web page I’d been looking at when I started the chat showed this information. Comcast’s own systems apparently don’t communicate with each other. I logged into the website in another browser tab so I could copy and paste my account number.

Me: Umm, let me look.
Comcast tech: Sure.
Me: [long number]
Comcast tech: Much appreciated, thank you so much.
Comcast tech: Kirk, may I place you on hold for 2-3 minutes while I am reviewing your account and checking the BTN HD channel for you please?
Me: Sure.
Comcast tech: Much appreciated, thank you so much.
Comcast tech: Thank you for patiently waiting.
Me: Certainly.
Comcast tech: Kirk, upon reviewing your account, I see that your current package is the Preferred Double Play and you added the Sports Entertainment Package for you to access this Big Ten Network. However, youcan’t access the BTN HD, Right?
Me: That is correct.
Comcast tech: Thank you.
Comcast tech: Would you mind my asking what channel is the BTN SD on your end please?
Me: 403


Comcast tech: Thank you for that information.
Comcast tech: One moment please?
Me: Sure.
Comcast tech: Much appreciated, thank you so much.
Comcast tech: Thank you for waiting.
Comcast tech: Kirk, I am seeing here that you added the Sports Entertainment Package just today. Right?
Me: Correct.
Comcast tech: You were able to access this BTN in SD channel and not in HD. Right?
Me: Correct.
Comcast tech: Thank you.
Comcast tech: May I have the serial number of your box please? It is located at the back/bottom of the cable box with HOST S/M or MCARD SN and it starts with M1, MA, PA, PK, SA or GI.
Me: This will take a moment as I tear my living room apart.

I was being a little sarcastic. Our cable box is installed in an entertainment center and I had to disconnect several cables to get at the box. I’ve worked tech support before, though, so I understand that the tech had a procedure to follow and I went along with it.

Comcast tech: Sure.
Comcast tech: o problem.
Comcast tech: No*
Comcast tech: I’ll wait for the serial.
Me: [another long number]
Comcast tech: Thanks for the serial.
Comcast tech: Just hold on please?
Comcast tech: Thank you for waiting.
Comcast tech: Kirk, I am still on the process of troubleshooting your box.
Comcast tech: I will also send a signal directly to your box.
Me: It just rebooted (or something very much like it).
Comcast tech: The signal I sent will turn off the cable box, you may need to turn the cable box manually using remote or by pressing Power on the box.
Comcast tech: Signal fully sent to your box.
Me: It’s showing a “ONE MOMENT PLEASE” message.
Comcast tech: No worries, that is normal. We just need to allow the box now to load all its data.
Comcast tech: Kirk, are you still getting the One Moment Please message?
Me: Now it says: INTERACTIVE SERVICE – XOD, To activate service, press OK
Comcast tech: Just follow the instructions please.

I’ve been following the instructions. Don’t get snippy.

Comcast tech: Press ok.
Me: Now I’m in XFinity on demand.
Comcast tech: Okay.
Comcast tech: Hold on please?
Me: For the record, my house guests are about to revolt against me. We’ve missed two touchdowns.
Comcast tech: I certainly understand that, Kirk. I am sincerely sorry for the inconvenience.
Comcast tech: Just hold on please?
Me: Holding.
Comcast tech: Thank you.
Comcast tech: Kirk, upon double checking here, the Big Ten Network in HD channel is not available in your area.
Comcast tech: What available is the BTN SD only in your area.
Comcast tech: I am sorry for that, Kirk.
Comcast tech: I hope you understand.

What? First, that’s ridiculous. Who wants to watch football – on a premium channel, no less – when they can’t physically see the ball? Second, it would’ve been nice had the tech checked this before resetting my cable box.

Me: I do not wish to be rude to you, [TECH], because you have been very helpful.
Me: But no, I don’t understand. Is that a joke?
Me: I would pay $10 a month to watch football with horrible picture quality?
Me: That’s unacceptable.
Comcast tech: I perfectly understand you, Kirk. I understand the frustration that you have right know. However, as much I love to give you this BTN HD but Comcast doesn’t have an agreement yet for BTN HD in your location.
Comcast tech: I hope you understand.
Me: No, but whatever. My cable box is still rebooting. My guests are leaving to go to a local restaurant.
Comcast tech: I already exhausted all my resources to address your concern today. I found out that this BTN HD is not yet available in your area.
Me: You did that after rebooting my cable box, which still hasn’t started back up. I wish you had checked first.
Comcast tech: I am sorry to know that your guest went out to a local restaurant.
Me: Because you broke my TV.
Comcast tech: My sincere apologies for the inconvenience.
Me: How long is this expected to take to restart?
Comcast tech: We need to allow the box now to load all its data. This may take 45-60 minutes for the box to download all its settings. You may see an error on your On Demand, To Be Announced on your Guide and One Moment Please on your channels.

Our guests are not amused at this revelation.

Comcast tech: Nope. The regular channels will only take 10-15 minutes to restart.
Me: OK, I think we’re done here.
Comcast tech: Kirk, again, I do apologize for the inconvenience. I know how important for you to watch the football game.
Comcast tech: Thank you.
Comcast tech: Is there anything else that I can help you with?
Me: For the love of all that is holy, please don’t help with anything else. No.

It’s been well over an hour now and our cable box is still unusable.

Comcast, this is why people are cutting the cord. I expect to do so later this week.


While I almost never buy extended warranties, conventional wisdom is that you should always buy AppleCare for an Apple laptop. You have up to a year after buying your laptop to purchase the extended coverage. At a high level, you’re basically buying an insurance policy for a piece of hardware with a specific serial number. Why does Apple make this so difficult?

I bought my MacBook Pro directly from Apple’s website. Here’s how AppleCare purchase should work:

  1. I log in to their store website.
  2. I view my order history and find my laptop.
  3. Apple has my MacBook Pro’s serial number on file with this order, and they also have a list of equipment covered by AppleCare. Since my laptop isn’t already covered, the site displays a “Buy AppleCare” button next to it.
  4. I click the “Buy AppleCare” button, choose to use my billing information that Apple already has on file, and click “Buy it now”.
  5. I get a confirmation email and move on to other things.

A lot of people bought their laptops through other sources, like local dealers, chain retail stores, and so on. Since Apple might not have any record of their purchase, here’s how that process should work:

  1. A customer visits Apple’s store website.
  2. Under “Mac Accessories”, they click “AppleCare”.
  3. They see a new form titled “What’s your Mac’s serial number?” and a link to how to find that information.
  4. When the user enters their serial number, the website looks up that part information and selects the appropriate AppleCare plan for their hardware.
  5. They add the plan to their cart and check out normally.
  6. The user gets a confirmation email and moves on to other things.

In reality, the process is far less polished and, well, un-Apple-like:

  1. I logged into their store website and looked for a process like the one I described above.
  2. When that failed to materialize, I browsed around until I found the AppleCare plans in the store.
  3. After some rooting around, I found the correct plan and added it to my cart.
  4. I was given the option of picking my plan up in an Apple Store or having it mailed to me. Wait, what? Pickup? Mail? For a warranty? Fine – mail it.
  5. After a couple of days, my AppleCare plan arrived in the mail. It came in a large cardboard box with a tiny cardboard box inside it. The tiny box contained some printed material and a registration number, but no Apple stickers or anything else I’d actually want.
  6. Per instructions, I went to a separate section of the Apple website and entered my laptop’s serial number (which they already have on file from when I bought it last year!) and the AppleCare registration number (which they already have on file from when I bought it a few days earlier!).
  7. I agreed to the Terms of Service, which were identical to the now-completely-unnecessary printed copy that came in the box.
  8. After submitting those numbers, Apple asked if I wanted my coverage certificate sent by email or by postal service. “Telegraph” and “carrier pigeon” were not available options, so I chose email.
  9. Apple informed me that I’d successfully completed my application, that my registration was now in progress, and that I would receive my certificate when they had finished verifying my registration.
  10. That was over 12 hours ago. I didn’t get any kind of confirmation email, but my browser history helped me find the status page so I could check in on it today. It’s still stuck at “Registration in progress”, presumably while Gertrude from Accounts finds my punchcard in the filing cabinet.

I’d probably shrug the ordeal off if I were dealing with Best Buy, Microsoft, or some other company not known for their customer service. But Apple? This was the opposite of the kind of experience they usually provide and I’m disappointed that the process was so clumsy.