Comcast Customer Service Double Fail


Dora: the modem cat © 2008 beatneko

Two significant events happened with my Comcast information services this week: I got a letter to call them to arrange an unnessesary upgrade to my TV equipment, and without any notification I was aware of, they made changes to the Internet service that broke my company's VPN connection software.

Please contact us as soon as possible to arrange an unnessary equipment upgrade

So, we all know the Digital TV Transition came and went, and the government imposed new rules dictating that over the air broadcasts will be digital-only from now on. Most of us know that this doesn't necessarily dictate any change to cable TV companies' method of transmitting any channels from the central office to you via cable, regardless of how they receive this particular channel in the central ofice before relaying to the customer --- but cable companies used the hoopla over the transition as a (well-deserved) excuse to get rid of their analog-only receivers and pack more digital channels into the same space. Here is what Comcast is doing in Boston:

If you want to receive channels 24 through 96 and you don't have a digital Comcast TV receiver, you must upgrade now.

So far, so good, right? I am currently paying for and receiving only channels 2 through 23, which is their cheapest (unadvertised) level of service, and I will continue to receive these channels in my analog TV without any additional equipment.

Last week, I got a letter that layed out exactly what channels were being converted to digital format, and strongly requesting that I call them immediately to arrange an equipment upgrade, despite the fact that it is not necessary for me, specifically, to upgrade my equipment!

How many old folks are using the same TV package as I am and got this letter, called them, and got slammed into upgrading to a more expensive level of service?

In summary, I got a less-than-clear letter about an major service change that doesn't affect me. Next, I have an even more irritating story.

We're adding helpful features to our DNS infrastructure to assist you in failing to connect to your VPN

This was discussed on Slashdot, so I knew it was coming, but I do not recall getting any notice directly from Comcast about it.

In a nutshell: breaking away from standard DNS protocol, Comcast modified their DNS servers so that instead of correctly responding with "no information avaialable" to requests to map unknown hostnames to IP addresses, the DNS servers respond with the IP address of a Comcast search/ad web site

You have to be a networking expert to to notice the problem with this scheme, but to such people, the adverse effect is painfully obvious: This change will likely break the VPN client you use to connect to your company's private network! Most VPN clients depend on the "no information available" answer; when you look up, and after your ISP's public DNS servers report no answer, only then does the VPN client try again by asking your company's private DNS server for the IP address.

Comcast's DNS change was implemented to "get [you] where [you] want to go online even faster and easier than before." Quite contrarily, I was not able to connect to my company VPN last night until I remembered about this change and fixed the problem on my end. (The fix was to temporarily switch my computer to use OpenDNS instead of Comcast for DNS, while I wait for my automated opt-out request to be fulfilled at Comcast.) If I didn't know what I was doing, I would have had to wait at least 9 hours for my company help desk to open and help me.

As I said above, you can opt out this standards-breaking idiocy, but I wasn't properly informed. How many hours will be wasted at different company help desks this week first, figuring out why so many clients can't connect to services inside VPNs, and then helping them fix it?


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Comments (5)

the dns opt out website doesn't seem to be working .. I wonder if they actually reversed this change

Have you waited a day or two? The workflow seems to be: 1) customer request via web form. 2) wait. 3) work is done. 4) email notification sent to customer.

They said the wait could be a while, but in my case it was about 18 hours, give or take.

Or... did you get no response from the request form web site? It seems to be an internal service. I can't access it from my office but I can access it from my home file server.

Okay, I have to amend what I said. When I look at the Comcast web site it seems that my "Basic Cable" package actually includes a handful of digital channels such as WGBH World and WGBH Kids (these are Boston public television broadcast channels). So I guess the letter wasn't ENTIRELY irrelevant. I certainly could have been worded better. I'm sorry I'm not quoting it here in the blog post; I've lost the letter itself.

I apologize for the experience and I appreciate the feedback. I will be sure to share it with the appropriate department.

In regards to the channel transition, analog channels occupy more space that digital. We are moving analog channels to digital format so that we can have more space for additional channels. As a result, we are offering free DTA (digital to analog) converters. Please feel free to reach out to me if you need assistance in getting the DTA converters.

Mark Casem
Comcast Corp.
National Customer Operations

Thank you Mark. I do appreciate that Comcast's support teams are working hard to fix problems as soon as they are detected by any means -- including the practice of monitoring Twitter and blogs.

I understand the need to convert more TV channels to digital format, and as a very light consumer of your remaining analog channels, I fully support your decision, but my support is moot since it doesn't affect me. I am concerned that others who have my service level (channels 2 - 23 analog) will be confused by the letter and might easily be talked into upgrading to a higher level of service, something the letter did not say was necessary.

I do not support the protocol-breaking Internet DNS change. In my opinion it is unhelpful at best and destructive at worst (incurring local employer help desk support costs to figure out why the VPN broke.) Considering the serious harmful effect it has on a significant portion of your users and the minimal positive effect (a search page instead of a host-not-found error message -- this function should be provided by the browser and not by the ISP!), the change should never have been deployed.