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.

Author: Seth Clifford

I'm here for the open bar.

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