Columnist Richard S. Bogartz: The joys of dealing with technology

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Prequel: My pre-adventure began with my failed digital video recorder.

I’ve learned you are never sorry when you get the best appliance model you can afford but often sorry when you don’t. I decided on a TiVo Bolt. Anticipating possibly having to send it back, I decided to get it at Best Buy rather than having to pack it to send it to Amazon. One left at Best Buy. The box was beat up. A return or worse. I ordered from Amazon.

The adventure proper: The following events occurred in the fog of sometimes frantic frustration so there may be incorrect details. I connected TiVo to the TV. Nothing.

At the Comcast office, I learn I must activate the TiVo and then the M-card. “What is an M-card?” I’m told approximately that it is a way of protecting you from having your cable signal stolen from you.

Actually, an M-card enables the TiVo to unscramble the encrypted cable signal. A few hours later it occurs to me who was really being protected against the theft of the signal.

To activate TiVo so I could activate M-card so I could escape this project, I was to go to a website listed in a Comcast booklet. The website did not exist.

I called the problem-shooting phone number and eventually reached the right place where I discovered that to activate TiVo I needed a service contract: $15 a month or $150 a year or $500-plus forever. I went yearly. I used my 15 digit TiVo Service Number, lovingly known as a TSN, and agreed to pay the money for using my appliance.

To activate M-card I needed information that could be shown on the TV screen. Except, I couldn’t. I called Comcast. The helpful person tried her best, having me repeatedly run a sequence of events on TiVo to no avail. Finally, she called a more advanced helpful person who guided me through a different sequence that revealed the information I needed: the 13-digit Cable Card ID, the 13-digit Host ID and the 11-digit Data Number. For some reason, the 16-digit Unit Address was not needed.

The M-card was now activated and I actually could watch some of my subscribed channels. Some. Not all. Get ready. This is where the fun starts.

I go to the Comcast office. Their records show me subscribed to limited basic plus extended basic service. I was receiving limited basic but not extended basic.

At home, I call Comcast. A helpful person runs me through steps on TiVo. We test for the lost channels. No go. We do it again. No go. She informs me that I have been listed with the upper-level folks who know how to solve this problem, but rather than have me wait on the phone, they would call.

A day later I get impatient, open the window, scream, and then call back. This time I reach a different helper. She runs me through some of the steps. Informs me there are people who can solve this but she does not have their phone number. To get the number she must email a supervisor. Hearing back from the supervisor takes a long, long time.

Eventually, the next day, I hear from the “third-tier” helper who in moments has solved the problem. Then, he gives me his phone number so that if I run into any problems I can call him directly!

As I reflect on how very nice each person at Comcast had been, trying to help, and being wonderful about it, but how truly screwed up the company is that a first-tier person doesn’t have the third-tier phone number she needs to get her job done (but I now do), I gain a sense of what others have been talking about when they say what a horror it is to deal with Comcast.

Richard S. Bogartz is a professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.