Hello pot, meet kettle (aka No, I don't want Comcast phone service, dammit!)

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2008/02/18 10:01 -05:00, original URI: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/michkap/archive/2008/02/18/7769509.aspx

These are my opinions, not Microsoft's. They are not even informed opinions. So please feel free to weigh them with that in mind....

Disclaimer: There is some kind of Comcast/Microsoft relationship, I think. To be honest, I have no idea.

I don't know a whole lot about being a monopoly.

Of course everyone assumes I am full of it when I say that. I work for Microsoft, after all. And they admitted to being a monopoly. So I must know all about them.

Well, not so much.

The bulk of the people in the company have nothing to do with either the reported OEM deals made for Windows or the reported strong-arm tactics using one market dominance to try to influence other markets. And they also are not involved in the architectual decisions that combine or sever components.

I know what I hear, which is what people on the outside hear. Believe it or not, senior VPs and corporate VPs don't talk to me about their decision-making process, either (I know a few of them and have even had hot cocoa with on occasion with one of them, but we didn't talk about this kind of stuff).

In effect, I know what you know about Microsoft as an "evil monopolist" and really nothing more, other than the fact that I know that a lot of what people believe isn't true since I get to see groups and how they work together. And how they don't work together even when I wish they would. I am so frustrated by the slow adoption of custom cultures/custom locales into Microsoft Office that if OpenOffice or really anyone else contacted me interested in integration I'd be happy to help them, just so some customers would get to see the power of having this feature available to them. Line up and integrate! :-)

Anyway, you probably know what I mean if you read here at all.

But this blog isn't about Microsoft, even though this Blog often is and even though so far I have just talked about Microsoft.

You see, in the past few years I have received countless pieces of mail from Comcast.

Now me, I am a Comcast customer, so this is kind of to be expected. I have all of the pay channels like HBO and Showtime, and I also have high speed Internet service.

Most of the mail I receive is not to do with my monthly bill or any of the channels I have or could have.

It is pretty much all about switching to use Comcast for my phone service.

I really don't want to do this, and I have made it clear that I do not. I have a minimal service landline phone service through Verizon that has an uptime that Comcast can't touch. And I know they can't because I know how often my cable goes down in a month and how much it has gone down and they have admitted to me that when one service (phone, cable, Internet) goes down they all probably would.

And every time I have tried to get some kind of service (another cable box, a different cable modem, a new channel package) they look for the best deal for me and the one big red flag that they ask about is whether I want the phone service -- if I get that, then they can always offer me a better deal for whatever service I am asking for. Even though it has nothing to do with that service.

When I tell them I am not interested, I feel like Donald Sutherland arguing with the pod people in that Invasion of the Body Snatchers remake, they make it clear how easy it is to just get the service -- cheaper for a year, an additional cable box free, a great package deal, whatever I want is mine if I sign on for the phone service.

I'm not joking when I expect they'll be offering neck rubs and sports massages any day now, if only I say yes to the PS (phone service, as a clever rhyme).

I point out that when we had the huge power outage in the end of 2006 (the one that I blogged about here and here) that my phone service was up (it was the only way I could blog in that time), and the cable/broadband service was as gone as the power was (in fact they were not up until almost a week after the power finally came back up wso it was even more gone -- Bill and Karolyn Slowsky would have been proud of me for my week of being a slow dial-up connection!).

They give up at that point, sadly -- how can they argue that point, really? But it does not stop the next ten mails (I once got three in a single day) or the way that they will offer me phone service again the next time I work with them. Even at the end of technical service calls and calls about service problems and outages -- it is never the wrong time at Comcast to push the phone service.

I'd really hate (under the circumstances) to work for Comcast and lose a love one -- I suspect that I'd be expected to sign up mourners at the funeral for Comcast phone service -- that is how pushy this all feels!

It has gotten to the point where the first thing I say when dealing with Comcast is that they should not offer me phone service, no matter what they do. They laugh a bit and then usually don't offer it (sometimes they do anyway), but I can tell where in the script they are skipping the push for phone service even when they respect my request.

Now, generally speaking, cable service is a "legal monopoly" since most markets don't give you a lot of choice in which service you want. It has kind of always been that way.

Technically Comcast is currently the biggest cable company in the US and the second bigger broadband company in the US.

Clearly they are bundling phone service in their cable signal, and making it the number one possible deal as they try to sign up every person they can. If it were not for the fact that I am stubborn son a bitch I am sure I would have taken the deal by now.

If I were a phone company, I'd be more than a little concerned about a monopoly bundling competitive technology in a way to coerce customers to use the technology.

Isn't this push to try to turn their monopoly (cable service) into increased market share for their other technology (their bundled phone service) the kind of crap that Microsoft was getting accused of all this time, trying to leverage one de facto monopoly to affect product placement and market share in another market? It isn't like they are offering up their cable lines to rival phone service, either. And they also aren't bundling phone service for free to people who download it, either. Compared to even what Microsoft was accused of in relation to Windows an Internet Explorer, they aren't even shooting par.

Now I know there are lots of differences and I know that I am not comparing apples to apples, or even apples to oranges. Hell, I may be comparing apples to bicycles or apples to pro wrestlers here.

But I do know that this is a pretty hard push and given the reactions that Comcast employees have to my reactions I suspect that I am either a rare holdout in this plan to bundle the three services together, or these people have received training to make me think that I am a rare holdout.

Like I said, I don't know much about monopolies. Sounds funny when a Microsoft employee says that, I know. But I really don't.

And I know even less about coercive monopolies (I have heard the term, and that is the extent of my knowledge), where companies take that market share and flex those muscles to try to become bigger in a way that is not well-thought-of.

I'm not turning away from the Comcast services I do like, in the end; I'm just not turning toward the ones I don't.

But isn't what they are trying to do in this market that is illegal, at least by some broad definition of the word? An illegal that is made legal by deregulation, perhaps, but then at least kind of slimy? And in that case perhaps an argument for some de-de-regulation so they stop coloring so far outside the lines?

Yes, I know since I work for Microsoft this is clearly a case of the pot calling the kettle black an whatever, but damn.

What's up with Comcast here, anyway?

I'm just tired of a relationship that is all about a sales pitch.

No, I don't want Comcast phone service, dammit!


This post brought to you by(U+ff2d, aka FULLWIDTH LATIN CAPITAL LETTER M)

# mdmhvonpa on 18 Feb 2008 2:48 PM:

I work for a large company that is DEEPLY in bed with comcast.  We do ... unpleasant things ... for them.  We are also DEEPLY in bed with Comcast's hated competitor (who is busily eating their lunch).  We do a lot of additional unpleasant things for them too.  Our equipment is in your home.  There is a Battle Royal going on right now; expect the pushing to increase to unprecedented levels.

Being a running dog capitalist is an idealogical pain, but the pay is good.

# Henry Skoglund on 18 Feb 2008 5:31 PM:

Don't worry, the same kind of marketing is used here in Sweden as well. My ISP (Bredbandsbolaget) calls me regularly, a couple of times per year, a conversation similar to this occurs:

"Well good evening Mr. Skoglund, today is your lucky day, you will receive from us a fancy new Nokia cellphone for free.

... Blah blah

And the only condition is that you switch your landline phone to us.

We'll even help you fill in the form..."

If I'm in a bad mood I reply "Sorry but my phone is a rotary dial device. No dice." That causes at least a pause. If the salesperson is young chances are that technology is unknown to him/her.

And yes, rotary dial telephones connected to cable or ADSL boxes cannot dial out, only answer calls. I know, because my uncle, turning 79 this year, has a rotary dial telephone. When he succumbed to Bredbandsbolaget's IP-telephony some years ago I helped him troubleshoot why he couldn't place any calls.

But as you mention, they're very persistent. They can even make you feel a bit antisocial. "Why are you holding out on us"...

(Perhaps they borrowed some marketing tactics from the Nazi political party in Germany in the '30s: "Now all your neighbors in your block has switched to our party. Why are you so stubborn. Maybe you are not the sharpest knife in the drawer..")

Thankfully that power outage argument works every time!

Rgrds Henry

# ComcastCares on 18 Feb 2008 9:09 PM:


On behalf of Comcast, I would like to thank you for the feedback regarding the amount of mail for our Digital Voice product.  We do have ways to limit the marketing material you receive.  If you send me an email with your address and contact information, I can work with my local contacts to make sure we limit the amount of mail you are receiving from us.

Thank you for being a Comcast Customer!

Frank Eliason

Comcast Executive Offices


# Gwyn on 18 Feb 2008 10:45 PM:

I doubt that message really was from a Comcast exec, but if it was then he should realize that it shouldn't be up to Michael to get Comcast to reduce the of pushy salescalls and emails and phone support that Michael is getting from Comcast.

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referenced by

2008/03/30 The weird and unpredictable nature of the effects of positive vibes

2008/02/20 More fun and games with Comcast (aka the A&P of my Cynicality)

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