A brief Cablevision rant
I've come to hate Cablevision.
Oh, I like its high speed Internet access service, Optimum Online. It's blazing fast and generally reliable, albeit a tad on the pricey side, but as a cable TV company Cablevision is the pits. It suffers from all the problems of a monopoly: high prices, piss-poor customer service, and a lack of certain channels that most other cable companies in my area routinely provide as part of basic or enhanced basic packages, such as Turner Classic Movies (available from Cablevision only in the most expensive digital package), BBC America, or Trio.
I was reminded the other day of one of the reasons (well, several, actually) that I hate this company so much. We have two TVs, one in our family room and one upstairs in our bedroom. The cable signal to the TV in our family room has always worked pretty well. In contrast, the the one in our bedroom has been dicey almost from day one, but ever since we switched to digital cable it's always been a problem. Channels pixelate badly, freeze, and the box even turns off and reboots seemingly at random. Often, channels don't even come through at all, and I know it's not the box, because hooking the same box up to our other TV does not result in the same problems. Similarly, rebooting the box repeatedly didn't help. Because we mostly only watched the 11 PM news and Letterman when up there, it didn't bother us too much, mainly because it was usually the premium channels that did this. Besides, both my wife and I work, and taking an afternoon or morning off to wait for the cable guy just never seemed to be worth the pain it would take to get one to come out. Several calls to customer service and going through troubleshooting routines didn't help. I was convinced it was the cable connection, because our other connection worked fine, suggesting that a service call might require major rejiggering of the cable itself. Worse, many months ago, I scheduled a service call to deal with this very problem, and the repair guy never showed up. I was fed up.
Basically we just lived with it, with me occasionally making calls and going through trouble-shooting routines that either didn't work or only marginally (and briefly) helped. A few weeks ago, though, the broadcast channels started doing the same, and the other day, after procrastinating and taking the temporary measure of occasionally hooking the cable directly into the TV (which gained back the broadcast channels but lost the digital channels), I finally got fed up enough to do something about it. I called customer service.
First off, since the last time I went through this, Cablevision has added an annoying computerized "customer service" system that speaks to you with "artificial intelligence" using a creepily inhuman sounding female voice, much like the system Sprint PCS uses when you call customer service. "She" sounds like a female version of HAL 9000. I hated that system enough, but at least you can get past Sprint's electronic gatekeeper if you use the right phrase or just request a representative. Not so this electronic gatekeeper Cablevision has employed, whom I'm now dubbing "She-HAL 9000" and whose dedication to keeping you the customer from getting through to a real human being rivals the tenacity of Heimdall in guarding the Bifrost Bridge and preventing trespassers from entering Asgard. A horde of enraged frost giants could be trying to get past this electronic fortress wall, and their catapult projectiles would bounce harmlessly back, rebounding on them with devastating power.
But enough of the Norse mythology references, as much as I like them.
"Hello," said She-HAL 9000. "Tell me what your problem is."
"My picture is pixelating and even freezing up."
"Please repeat." I repeated it. "I didn't get that. I'm going to list some complaints. Please repeat the complaint when you hear it." She (it?) listed five or six problems, none of which quite fit my problem. I picked one that was the closest and ran with it.
What followed were 15 minutes of ever increasing frustration. My temper and blood pressure steadily rose as I tried to go through this damnable system. The computer had me reboot the cable box twice. The first time, as I waited for the box to reboot, the she-HAL 9000 "helpfully" kept telling me that it could take "several minutes" for the box to start up. (Thanks, I never would have guessed that myself.) After I rebooted, it asked me if the problem was fixed. I said no. So it went through the same troubleshooting routine again! My answers slowly got louder and more insistent and then finally more laced with profanity. I was beginning to feel like Sysiphus, pushing the stone up the hill, feeling as though I was getting closer to the Holy Grail of finally talking to an actual live human being, only to have it roll down again. Unfortunately, She-HAL 9000 was impervious to my best cussing, which usually resulted in a reply along the lines of "please repeat."
I did. With gusto. (Never mind what cussing like a longshoreman at a computer says about me.)
Finally, after the troubleshooting didn't work again, the machine asked, "Would you like to speak to a customer service representative?"
"YES!" I bellowed.
Finally, a live human being, capable of understanding more than a few preprogrammed phrases! Of course, by this time, I was in such a thoroughly foul mood that, had I been more in control of myself, I would have realized that this could only end badly. Either that, or what was to come probably wouldn't have irritated me nearly as much. Nonetheless, I tried to compose myself and explain my problem, after pithily (I thought, anyway) pointing out to him why Cablevision's new electronic gatekeeper was an object worthy of derision and destruction.
That's when things got off on an even worse foot, when he said, "Well, if you don't want to do what it takes to take care of this..."
If I don't want to do what it takes? If I don't want to do what it takes. I pay this damned company well over $1,000 a year for cable and Internet access, and they expect me to jump through hoops and run the proverbial electronic gauntlet to get service when their crappy product isn't working?
I restrained myself, but it took a Herculean effort. When I got to the end of my explanation, the customer service representative, in his infinite wisdom, sized up the situation, and asked me what model number cable box I had. I told him. "Do you turn your cable box off at night?" He said.
"No. Why do you ask?"
"Well, there's your problem," he said, in a condescending tone.
"There's no way that's the problem," I said, "because I have tried turning off the cable box for extended periods of time and rebooting. I've tried all sorts of permutations, with no effect."
"I'm telling you, that's probably the problem."
"Don't insult my intelligence." I finally muttered, exasperated.
"I'm not insulting your intelligence," he said cooly. "I'm just giving you information about your cable box."
Now I was really pissed. Was he really telling me that (1) despite the fact that I had told him that I've turned this box off many times for hours at a time that doing it again one more time would fix a problem that none of the previous shutdowns did or (2) that Cablevision was using boxes so ridiculously badly designed, so primitive, that they have to be turned off overnight or they cease to work properly until they are? I couldn't tell, but either option painted a very bad picture of the company. It's either moronic customer service or bad equipment (or both). Never mind that the installation guy never mentioned anything of the sort, and there's nothing in the cable box instruction manual saying anything of the sort. I went back and forth with this guy, trying to restrain my temper and avoid losing it. This guy wasn't worth it. Finally, he said dismissively, "I have an appointment aon Friday between 2 and 5 PM. Do you want someone to come out?"
"I'll take it," I growled into the phone, knowing that I would be at work. I didn't care. I could always change the appointment later; Cablevision does have a phone menu option that lets you reschedule already scheduled appointments, as I had found out in previous encounters. It's only to make the first appointment to have someone come out to check it out in the first place that you have run the gauntlet of She-HAL 9000 and then the cable version of David Spade's impassable receptionist, the one who wouldn't let Jesus Himself pass. I will admit, though, that, if I could have reached through the phone, down the line, to the switching station, and to the customer rep's phone, grabbed him by the lapels, and pulled him through to face him, I would have, just so I could cuss him out face to face and give him an eye-gouge, Moe-style. But why bother? Just get the cable guy out to our house and forget the annoying customer service flack.
And, in case you're wondering, out of curiosity, I did do what the David Spade wannabe recommended and turned off the cable box overnight. Guess what?
The picture was even worse in the morning.