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The Comcast Cage

September 15, 2011 – by Per Christensson

About six months ago, I posted an update about the ridiculousness that is Comcast. I was optimistic that my experience with Comcast would improve, but alas it has only gotten worse.

About three months ago, Comcast finally rolled out the new Xfinity TV guide in my area. This was exciting news, since the previous guide interface had not been updated since the 1970s (that is not hyperbole, it is a statement from a Comcast representative). Unfortunately, the new guide is a complete non-improvement over the old one. It has a dark blue background that makes the text difficult to read and is super low resolution, just like the old guide. Everything looks extremely pixelated, especially on an HDTV. Not a very impressive update for 2011.

The appearance of the new guide is bad and the navigation isn't much better. It is actually more difficult to use than the old interface. It is harder to browse upcoming shows for a specific channel and it is more difficult to set up DVR recordings. There are are also two major bugs that I repeatedly run into. One prevents me from adding channels to my Favorites list and the other occasionally does not let me view information for a specific show.

If the appearance and navigation aren't bad enough, there are advertisements in the new interface! When you scroll down through the list of channels in the new guide, there is a leaderboard style ad at the bottom. You have to select the ad before scrolling to the next page of channels. Do I really have to view unwanted ads when I am paying a monthly fee for a service? Come on, Comcast.

One of the new Xfinity features I was really looking forward to was the "My DVR" feature, which lets you set up recordings over the Internet, using your iPhone or computer. That's something I have been waiting for years to be able to do. However, this feature was not included in my upgrade. I called Comcast to ask why I couldn't use the My DVR feature and they simply told me it was not available in my area. Yet I still pay as much as everyone else in the country for the service. I asked when the feature would be available and they said it would be a few months. Well, that's interesting, because those are the same words I was told last summer. I checked again in December, and I was told the My DVR feature would be available by the end of February. Now it's September, so I'm not getting my hopes up.

The Comcast "upgrade" also updated the system software of my cable box, so it operates differently now. The box makes even more noise than it did before and now I can't put it into standby mode when it is recording a show. I can't even tell it to go into standby when the recording finishes. Previously, I could press the power button while the DVR was recording and it would cycle down all functions, but still record the show. Apparently that was too efficient. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, cable boxes can consume more energy than a refrigerator. This recent Comcast update appears to have exacerbated the problem.

So I'm not thrilled with Xfinity. At least I didn't lose any features. Or did I? It turns out the picture-in-picture feature no longer works. I used that feature all the time before the update, so I called Comcast to ask why I couldn't get it to work with the new software. The representative told me they removed the picture-in-picture feature from my box since other customers didn't have it. Seriously? If that's true, I guess Comcast should remove the My DVR feature from everyone else, since I don't have access to it. I still find myself pressing the picture-in-picture button every few days out of habit only to be reminded that it doesn't work anymore.

I wish that was the end of my rant, but it is not. I checked my Comcast bill last month and it went up $35 from the previous month. There was no notification, no warning, no heads-up, just a $35 increase out of the blue. I called Comcast to ask what happened and apparently I had a two-year promotion that expired. I asked if I could renew it. They said no. I asked what else I could do and they said my only option was to remove services to lower the monthly fee. Since I have the basic "triple play" package, there was not a whole lot I could remove. I said I was pretty happy with the Internet and digital phone service, but wasn't thrilled about the cable TV situation (to put it nicely). I asked Comcast to remove the TV service altogether.

The representative informed me that my townhouse association pays a large portion of my cable bill, which I already knew. Then she said that it only applies to the TV service, not the Internet or digital phone services. She then proceeded to explain that if I removed the TV service, I would actually pay more than I am currently paying since I am getting a discount by bundling all my services together. If I dropped the TV service, the $50+ my association pays (which I pay through my association dues) would be wasted money. The only option, it appears, is to stay with Comcast.

I feel like I am locked in a cage – the Comcast cage. I want to switch to a different provider, but I can't. I suppose I could try, but then I would be wasting over $50 a month, which I am currently credited through my association dues. Comcast wins either way. At least the company has stopped using the adjective "comcastic" in their advertisements. I guess the irony of the word was not lost on them.

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