Don’t believe the (post-disaster) hype.

Not a whole lot to say about this. After declaring publicly to the Consumerist that my mom wouldn’t be charged for her unreturned cable box in the midst of the hurricane-induced mess at the shore, she received a bill, asking her to return her equipment. Which she was in fact charged for.

So… yeah. My folks are still assessing the damage to the house. I don’t know if the box is there, ruined, or otherwise. But regardless, she was not supposed to be charged, and she’s already received this.

Comcast Cares™.

A bit of follow up on my Comcast post.

So that post I wrote about my mom’s issues with Comcast really had some legs. It was my most retweeted post on Twitter (ever), got picked up by Consumerist, submitted to Reddit, and landed on Hacker News. (Update: and as of about 10:30am on 11/2, Huffington Post too.)

As you’d expect, people are sharply divided. There was a lot of support from all kinds of people who felt, as I did, that the situation was poorly handled. On the other hand, this being the Internet, there were plenty of contrarians who relished telling me how stupid I was for even bringing this up, and insisted I was being a whiny bitch for not writing about the people who perished in the storm. I was told “this is how business works” and regaled with tales of economics that fully explained (FULLY EXPLAINED) exactly why I was wrong, how I was wrong, and insinuated that I not only did not understand a free market economy, but that I should be thankful (as should my mom) that the situation wasn’t worse.

Oh, Internet.

We are thankful that it wasn’t worse. We’re not idiots; we’re grateful to have lived through this disaster when others didn’t. We weren’t hurt physically, but it’s tough to come to terms with the kind of loss my family feels, despite the fact that it’s not of the mortal variety. The post was not designed to overlook the struggles of others, nor to minimize their problems in favor of bitching about a company I didn’t like. No, I wrote it because it needed to be written. I wrote it because I do understand how business works, but if corporations get to be treated as people for tax purposes, then they should act like people in other situations occasionally as well when common sense would call for it.

It’s not about the money. I’m pretty sure my mom can afford to pay for the box. It’s about how in the face of extreme conditions and personal suffering, they had nothing better to say to a longtime customer besides “too bad”. I got a lot of shit for expecting the company to pay for my mom’s troubles, when so many others were in the same predicament. How brazen I was, suggesting that Comcast eat all that money! How dare I question their policies? Business is business, and that’s the world we live in.

Well, if you read the post, I didn’t ask them to pay for the box. What I said was that they didn’t care. They do community outreach, and plant trees, and host events, and that’s great. But when people really need them, they didn’t offer to offset the cost, they didn’t offer to delay the fees, they didn’t even offer understanding. What they offered was a big “not our problem”.

The point of the post was not to get them to pay; the point of the post was to illiustrate what I saw as a completely insane situation and request. The shore looks like a nuclear bomb hit it, but their concern is for the used cable boxes and the equipment fees they might lose out on. “Comcast Cares” is lip service, used when it suits them. It would have been not only easier, but probably more sensible to have anticipated this (the storm wasn’t exactly a surprise) and have any kind of PR statement prepared. Even if the intention was to have everyone pay (well within their right to do so) then deliver the news with a modicum of compassion. Offer to delay the charges. Offer a voucher. Offer anything. They’re going to take a huge loss on all that equipment anyway; if you think it’s not going to get written off in at least some way, then “you clearly don’t understand how business in America works.”

I was looking for a reason as to why I had to write the post I did just to get someone to give a shit. That’s the story, people. No one cared about it until I raised hell. I shouldn’t have had to bring it up at all.

My mom and dad’s house might explode, but Comcast wants its cable box back.

I just spoke to my mom for the first time since the hurricane started. We’d been texting a bit here and there so I knew she and my dad were ok, but she called me just now because she was really upset.

My parents have two houses in Mantoloking, NJ. Mantoloking, for those who might not know, was one of the most devastated areas of the state. There was a tiny bungalow on a narrow sand street that they would rent out to friends or use as an extra place for family that visited them at the beach. That house is gone now; one of many houses that exploded or burned as the result of a gas main rupturing. There is nothing but burnt sand left for blocks. She’s upset about that – we all really loved that little place, and it had a special spot in our hearts and was beautiful.

The house they live in for half the year is two streets away. The gas main on this street is also ruptured and hissing explosive fumes into the air. The street is inaccessible by anything other than a boat and completely devastated but their house is still standing as far as we know. However, she’s been told that if the wind shifts and the fire moves, this entire area could ignite. My parents would lose everything they have there as would everyone else on that street and likely the adjacent streets. She is, understandably, very upset about this.

She called me in the midst of this chaos to tell me that she just got off the phone with Comcast. We have Comcast service at the shore; in the summer my mom turns the cable on while everyone is around at the beach, and in the fall calls to suspend it. She usually does it around this time each year.

She was trying to explain to them that they stood to lose the entire house in an explosion and that the authorities were having trouble even reaching the area to cut the gas to prevent this. She mentioned that she wouldn’t be able to return the cable box and equipment because the storm had basically destroyed the area, and the house was perilously close to being destroyed completely as well.

Comcast’s reply to her?

We’re very sorry, but the price of the equipment will be charged to your account if you’re unable to return it.

That’s right: in the middle of a natural disaster, the worst our area has seen in decades, at a time when my parents have already lost one house and stand to lose the other, as well as everything in it (remember, it’s not a rental so it’s fully furnished and they live there for part of the year – there are family keepsakes, antiques, and the like) – at a time like this, Comcast has essentially told my mom “tough shit”.

She spoke to a supervisor who echoed the same thing. Comcast was very ‘sympathetic to the situation’, but according to policy, the company must assess fees against unreturned equipment, no matter the situation.

Apparently, even in the face of utter devastation and potential loss of life, Comcast’s policy is to reclaim all equipment furnished, or issue charges against the accounts of equipment holders. You know, it’s not like my mom is lazy, or decided she didn’t feel like returning the box; she’d need to charter a boat or helicopter to even get to the house to get the box (which is probably underwater to some degree to begin with, so there’s got to be some kind of charge for that). Oh also, while she’s there getting the box for Comcast, the house might catch fire or the whole street might explode. So as you’d expect, it’s not something she’s likely to be able to do anytime soon anyway.

I can’t even begin to fathom the insane corporate decision making that led to a policy like this. This is a company for which a popular motto is “Comcast Cares”. The facts of the matter are as follows:

  • Comcast does care. It cares about reclaiming equipment in the face of unspeakable disaster. And about charging fees for equipment that does not get returned, even if there is no physical way within the realm of possibility in which to do it.
  • Comcast, does not, in fact, care at all about you. Not even a little. House burned down? Fuck you, pay me. House about to explode at any minute? Fuck you, pay me.

Here’s a quote from that “Comcast Cares” page I linked to above:

"It’s a wonderful thing to have people work together for the benefit of others.”

-Ralph Roberts, Comcast Founder

Unless, of course, working together for the benefit of others gets in the way of your bottom line. Because in that case, well, you know.

I just don’t even know what else to say about this. It’s unbelievable. Please share this wherever you like to share stuff. I don’t need everyone to boycott Comcast or whatever. I’m just incredulous at the response to this kind of situation. And I’m guessing my mom’s not the only person to have had a phone call like this today.

Putting your money where your mouth is on App.net

Yes, I backed App.net.

In the eleventh hour. After it had long since been funded. After everyone had done it. Right before the end.

Because I was conflicted. I was conflicted because on one hand I didn’t want another social network that I had to deal with and keep track of, but on the other hand I wanted to put my money where my mouth was. Like many people, I don’t like what’s happening with Twitter and I want to see something different come to fruition. Unlike many people, I am not clamoring for yet another network that I have to keep track of.

I realize that the network effect will not take place for a very long time, if at all, but I am prepared to make the jump if and when it becomes viable. In the meantime, I plan to stay on Twitter and do all the things I have been doing because Twitter remains the place where my information is piped into my brain. My friends are there. My colleagues are there. I finally got my sister there, damn it. I just thought that at this point in my life, it was worth something for me to actually put money behind all the complaints that I am liable to make against free services and the business choices they make.

I have no delusions of grandeur about App.net’s potential for success. Nor do I really want to stop using Twitter. Admittedly, a small, selfish part of me wanted to just grab my username. But a larger part of me wanted to actually throw some support behind a handful of guys who are trying to make something good come out of nothing. Twitter’s recent post about API changes and the effect it will have on third-party apps is, to a lot of us in the space, the death knell for the service as we’ve grown to love it.

Why did it take me so long to make the choice? That’s a deeper question. Part of me wanted it to fail. Not to be right, but because I was hesitant to make a change. Because change is hard. And part of me (I think) still likes a struggle. Still likes to feel like I’m fighting out from under a weight. Twitter has been instrumental in the last few years for me because of what it’s become and what it’s allowed me to do. It’s changed the Internet for me. Forever. But I’ve changed with it. And now that it’s changing, I don’t know quite how to feel. And that leaves me with even more questions. Like, where exactly do I draw the line with the service and the value it provides for me? Where do I say enough is enough? And where and when do I jump ship for something else?

As I said, change is hard. But new stuff is fun. But the people you like are there. But you want to be over here. I don’t know (none of us do) what’s going to happen. I just know that I don’t want to sit around complaining anymore. I want to do whatever little I can to change.

The power of the internet, focused locally.

It’s always amazing to me when something happens through actions on the internet that affects me in my actual life. On Friday such an occurrence came to pass, and it was one of those moments in which you realize what a truly valuable communication tool the web has become, and in this case, particularly Twitter. Twitter, derided by many in its path to prominence for being just a vector for sharing lunch preferences; Twitter, celebrity soapbox; Twitter, armchair activist bullhorn. It’s always been a tool to me, for conversation, and a connection to people with like-minded interests.

At the office on Friday, we were testing a BlackBerry app that we’ve developed in tandem with an Android and iOS version. Something wasn’t working quite right, and we couldn’t determine if it was the app itself or our handset that was acting up. A sheepish query wandered through our conversation – “does anyone know ANYONE with this phone so we can find out what the problem is?” – and the stark realization that indeed, no one knew anyone with that particular phone became apparent.

I sounded the alert on Twitter – a last resort – and my post was retweeted and seen by someone not even following me at the time. It turns out, this guy not only had the phone we needed, but he was less than fifteen minutes away from our office and was happy to loan us the device. Elated, I made plans to meet him and set out to claim my redemption.

Within a single hour, with Twitter’s help, I managed to get the backup device for our testing, and meet a fine gentleman who ended up running in many of the same online circles I did. Our social Venn diagrams never crossed for whatever reason, but that was quickly rectified, and I marveled at how quickly the entire scenario played out.

It’s stuff like this that makes me tolerate the deluge of stupidity and ignorance surging through the internet. For every million asinine YouTube comments that make me hang my head in shame and lament humanity, there’s one thing like this, but it’s the rarity of it that makes it so special.

Huge thanks (again) to @jdipane for the RT, and to @azeis for coming through with the clutch play.

[Cross-posted here]