Goodbye Comcast! Hello Metronet!

Where I live, in West Lafayette IN, there is one local TV station. The next nearest TV stations are in Indianapolis. Over-the-air TV reception isn’t very good without a large mast and special antenna. It is a natural market for cable. Internet service also suggests cable connectivity as a good idea.

When we moved here, 26 years ago, a cable company was firmly established. I believe it was Cox Communications at the time. We subscribed at the apartment where we first lived. For the next 6 years, the service was okay, although we suffered through occasional outages. In 1992, we bought a house. Shortly after moving in, we dumped the premium cable channels and got DirecTV. Although we occasionally lose reception during severe storms, the customer service has always been great, and it simply works. We made sure the new house we built in 1998 was wired for DirecTV as well as cable.

Somewhere in that span, Cox sold their business in the area to Comcast. Comcast had a poor reputation for customer satisfaction, but they made all sorts of representations to the Public Utility Commission and local governments about better service and low prices, to which they mostly held…for a few years.

My Internet service was originally via dial-up modem, but that didn’t result in very good connectivity. In the early 90s, I was able to get a leased line into the Purdue telephone switch for a dedicated modem circuit, and that had much better connectivity. Later, when that service was no longer offered, I got ISDN service that was a pain to get installed, but worked quite well thereafter. Sometime in the last two decades, I switched to DSL, and then to cable modem service because it was much faster for the cost — coax beats twisted pair over the longer haul. We also had basic cable TV (although still depending mostly on DirecTV, but wanting something with the local station when the weather gets bad) so I was able to get a bundle price for both. Still a big chunk of change, but there weren’t any real options.

Our relationship with Comcast has been rocky. Several times a year — sometimes dozens — the Internet service will die. We’ve had to have new cable to the house twice, and I don’t know how many times we’ve had to call about problems. Once, I had to escalate to 3rd tier tech support to get anyone who could understand what I was telling them. To get all the local TV stations inside the house on the basic package I needed to install (at my expense) a cable amplifier. And they continue to nickel-and-dime us on charges of one kind or another. It has not been my best experience as a customer, but as I said, there were no real options unless I was willing to take a big hit in network throughput or price.

There is little wonder why Comcast got the “Golden Poo” award in 2010 from The Comsumerist for being the worst company in America. At one point, they had the dubious distinction of being the company or agency with the worst public image in the country — even worse that the IRS!

Earlier this year, I reported to Comcast that our Internet service was dropping and resetting several times a day. Our TVs also stopped being able to access some local channels (with a message that the signal was too weak). The first customer service person I contacted claimed it must be a problem with my Windows registry settings, which is interesting as a Mac directly connected to the router was experiencing the problem. She was clueless when I informed her it was not a Windows machine. (“If it isn’t a PC you should have a business account — your service is only for personal computers.”) The next caller tried to blame my firewall for the problem, but I persisted and got a service call scheduled. The tech showed up, hooked up an analyzer outside the house, and diagnosed it immediately as a signal that was too weak and with interference. He said he’d schedule a head-end service call. It took him all of 2 minutes to determine what I knew, but it had taken me hours to get to that point.

That was two months ago. I’ve seen some activity with a new cable run through the easement, but no call back from Comcast: The service ticket was never closed out with us. The Internet service is mostly back — usually — but we still can’t get some of the TV channels. I made new calls to service, but they told me it must be because of a problem with my equipment. In one case, I was told it was because I didn’t have their set-top boxes installed…on digital cable-ready TVs that have been receiving all those channels for a decade. Neither would even call up the old service order to look at what the tech had found. Then, earlier this week, we got a letter in the mail telling us that Cpmcast will start encrypting all TV signals in mid-December and unless we have their (rental, of course) adapter boxes on all our TVs, we won’t get the signal. Thus, they have found another way to try to squeeze revenue out of customers.

This time, however, there is a choice. Metronet has moved into the area now, and has been laying fiber optic cable throughout town. They expect to be finished in our neighborhood next week. I just signed the order for service installation. I will have fiber to the house, 50/25Mb Internet (with 100Mb service to the Purdue.edu domain for a small upcharge), and basic cable and a new Internet phone line, all for less than I was paying Comcast for Internet alone. I don’t have to rent a modem. I don’t have to pay extra for a reasonable speed. I get all those services as part of the package. (Although I do need to rent or buy an adapter for each TV where I want reception.)

Having competition in the basic utility market is a good thing. Now if only we could get a little more competition in the cell phone industry….

(If you’re in the West Lafayette area and are interested in Metronet, let me know — I’ll give the contact info for the salesman. There’s a referral for new customers, and I’ll split it with you if you sign up.)

I’ll lose my email address at comcast.net, but I hardly use it and I have dozens more (including 12 entire domains I “own”), so that isn’t much of a loss. (Did I mention that Comcast only offers unencrypted POP service?) If you have a “comcast.net” address for anyone in the family, you should migrate it to something else.

Bottom line: Goodbye Comcast! Hello Metronet!

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Great Service

A number of people have read my post on the Spafford/Spofforth/et al family history.  That was part of a longer trip to England that was part family vacation, and part graduation gift to my daughter.  Overall, we spent 10 days in England.  It was a first visit for my wife and daughter, and about my 8th or 9th so far.

We had a great time on the vacation, starting in London.  We saw a lot of the usual sights — The Tower of London, Tower Bridge, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Harrod’s, Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, the British Museum, the new Globe Theater….

Tower Bridge

Tower of London

Westminster Abbey

Houses of Parliament

We also enjoyed simply walking around, sampling the food, and seeing various sights.    After that, we took the train to York, and spent several days touring there, including the side trip to Spofforth Castle.  York is a wonderful place to visit — so much history in that city, and all within a short walk. We wish we had had several more days there.  If I get time, at a later date I may write up some of my recommendations for travelers on this blog.  However, I can highly recommend York as a place to visit for anyone interested in history.

The main point of this post, however, is how wonderful we found the service at the three Hilton hotels where we stayed.  In London, we stayed at the Hilton Metropole.  The hotel is in the latter stages of a major renovation, and we got some of the new rooms.  Travelers from the US often find European (and elsewhere) hotel rooms small and cramped, but the rooms we stayed in were “US scale.”  More importantly for us was the staff.  Everyone we met was friendly, helpful, and went “that extra kilometer” to answer questions.   The concierge did a fantastic job with his recommendations, including not only tourist sites, but pointing us to interesting pubs and providing us with tips on getting around.  (There is an Underground station almost across the street; with an Oyster card, it could hardly be easier to travel.)  In the restaurant at breakfast, one server got to know us so well that while I was in line waiting for a table she prepared a cup of “American coffee” for me before I even sat down!

Clifford’s Tower

Inside York railway station

In York, we stayed at the Hilton York.  These rooms were typical European size, but neat and clean.  The view was outstanding — I would look outside my window and see Clifford’s Tower across the street (although it was the side with the garderobe — thankfully, no longer in operation :-)).  The location was convenient to everything we wanted to see in the old city, and the restaurant was wonderful, too.

What really made our experience in York, however, was the above-and-beyond service by the concierge.  I had originally reserved a  car with National Car Rental for the Sunday we were there so we could travel to Spofforth.  I had a confirmation for a car with automatic transmission (driving on the left would not be a big challenge; working a manual transmission on the “wrong side” at the same time would have been too much).  The rental office was normally closed on Sundays, so I checked in at the office when we arrived Friday to see how we would get the car — only to be informed that there was no car.  A confirmation number made no difference (“They should have mailed you that we don’t have automatic transmission cars.”).  None of the other rental places at the train station had available cars for Sunday, either.  Had I shown up Sunday morning for the car, I would have been very rudely surprised — not that it wasn’t a rude surprise at the time.  When we arrived at the hotel, somewhat crestfallen at this news, I asked the concierge if he could suggest alternatives.   He said he’d get back to me.

Over the course of the next hour, he checked all the other major car rental locations in the immediate area (no cars available), then had checked with several local cabbies and services.  He found one willing to drive us out to Spofforth and back for a very reasonable charge, and who would pick us up at the hotel Sunday morning despite streets in the area being largely closed for a charity marathon; we’re still not sure how he managed to get a spot in front of the hotel to pick us up.   The driver entertained us with stories about the countryside to and from Spofforth, and the whole episode ended up being cheaper than renting the car — even when factoring in the train tickets to Manchester instead of the one-way rental.

Yes, that was our way back to the US.  From York, we went to Manchester.  We spent the night at the Manchester Airport Hilton (why break a streak?).  The rooms were great, and once again, the service was wonderful.  By this point, my wife & daughter were both a little fatigued from travel (I travel so much, I am used to almost anything) and were a bit picky about dinner.  Our server at the hotel restaurant, Masons, went out of his way to be accommodating, including getting the menu from one of the other venues in the hotel with an alternate selection for my daughter to choose from, and managing a list of substitutions for my wife’s meal.

Every traveler has a range of experiences when traveling.  Sometimes, the little things make a huge difference.  Our trip was made all the nicer because of wonderful service by the people at the Hilton hotels where we stayed; this has been our typical family experience with Hilton properties over many years.  In this case, they even helped avert a big disappointment caused by National Car Rental (boo!) — which, by the way, has never sent me any notice about the reservation cancellation, or any explanation, and certainly no apology (big Boo, Hiss!).  I will not rent with National again unless forced to (my employer has some rules for within the US), and you may wish to use my experience as a warning.  On the other hand, our experience with all the Hiltons was quite good, and we don’t hesitate to recommend them!

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