Cutting the Cord (or: Bright House, you're fired)
TL;DR: Our cable company has offered poor support for our TiVo; cut our channels and allowed our service to degrade; mislead us about possible solutions; and finally wasted our time by sending a contractor to our home instead of a clued-in employee who could handle the issue. And, now that we're going to pursue other options for putting moving pictures on our television, they plan to charge us for cutting the cord. Since I've been looking to write here more, I've just been given a nice excuse to rant.
Bright House has basically a local monopoly on cable TV here. So, we've been a customer of theirs for cable and internet over the past few years.
This is the thing, though: We've spent a lot of money on a cable subscription. In exchange, I expect great and even proactive customer service. I guess I'm unreasonable, because instead we're expected to pay more for less and to accept hassles and up-selling instead of support—because they're almost literally the only game in town. But, other options are getting good enough and we can learn to do without.
You see, we have a TiVo. We like our TiVo. We got one when the girl worked at the company, and we've never gone back. Having one is like living in the future. Yes, Bright House offers their own DVRs, but they're inferior products and we don't want one. So, as far as I'm concerned, Bright House is just a video supplier for our TiVo.
Unfortunately, over the past year, they've done a crappy job. They're transitioning to Switched Digital Video, and that's something our TiVo doesn't support out of the box. As we eventually found out, there's a tuning adapter that could fix things. But, rather than tell us about that up front—and maybe offer to send us one as a part of their transition—they've instead sent us a series of letters listing channels we're going to lose because we rent CableCARDs.
Since I've got better things to do than call the cable company, I put off contacting them. In the meantime, we lost channels as promised. Other channels not listed in the letters began to degrade and became unwatchable.
Finally, I sent an email. A week or so later, they called and left me a voicemail, which described the installation fee and monthly rental rate of a tuning adapter. This, on top of what we already pay for CableCARDs and the underlying cable service itself. At that point, we were pretty annoyed. The cable bill was already high and new fees seemed to appear every month—and they wanted us to pay even more just to get what we'd originally signed up for.
Yes, I understand that SDV will let them make more efficient use of resources and offer exciting new services and yadda yadda yadda—but, to me, it just looks like they're breaking the video feed into our TiVo and expect us to pay more to fix it. It's pretty shady and customer-hostile, this stuff. Oh wait: Didn't some of these guys get fined by the FCC for SDV hijinx not too long ago?
So, rather than jump on getting a tuning adapter installed, I bought an antenna and went retro. It turns out there are over a dozen over-the-air HD channels in range. That might not sound like a lot, but you'd be surprised how much watchable stuff is packed into the major networks versus the other 1000 channels we got on digital cable. The theme here is free and good enough.
True, some of those channels are a pain to tune in using a dinky little indoor antenna, reminicent of the "rabbit ears" days. But, for most of the past month, we got by pretty well. The TiVo works nicely with an antenna. It's a decent Netflix streamer, too. (Though, to be honest, the Xbox 360 works better, can get Hulu Plus, and plays videos from our network. TiVo really, really needs to catch up fast here.)
Having given TV a trial without cable, we decided it was time to call Bright House back to sort out this TiVo thing, one way or another. Since I'm a proven procrastinating wuss about calling the cable company, my wife called and scheduled an appointment for a tech visit.
Here's the fun part: They told her we didn't need a tuning adapter. Instead, they had "HD boxes" which would do the trick. They could install those for free, reclaim our rented CableCARDs, and we'd get a break on our bill at the end. I was dubious, but that sounded surprisingly good!
So, the tech arrived today, near the end of the 2-hour window. He came armed with two Motorola DCX3200 set-top boxes. I thought they must have some kind of control connection to be slaved to the TiVo. My cable-tech-fu is pretty weak, but I assumed they knew what they were doing.
But, no: The tech—who was a contractor and not a Bright House employee—took one look at our TiVo and shrugged. He had no idea how to make these boxes work with that thing. So, he set one up alongside the TiVo and called back to headquarters to schedule another appointment—this time with an elusive real Bright House employee who apparently knew about these things. You know, the guy whom they should have sent in the first place.
I've no real complaints about the contractor: His installation of the set-top box was fine—it was just the wrong solution altogether. Yeah, I could probably finagle something with an IR blaster, but it doesn't seem worth it and probably doesn't work in HD. We could also keep the appointment next week and hope that the bona fide Bright House employee knows what he's doing and leaves us with a working tuning adapter. But, trying to be happy about that starts to feel like Stockholm Syndrome.
After the contractor left, we thought a bit and my wife (again, because the phone is my kryptonite, and I'd be useless without her) called Bright House to cancel our cable.
We wanted to keep the internet access—but even here, they did their best to make us think twice about staying their customer at all. It turns out that to break up our cable/internet bundle, they need to "rebuild our whole system" and that incurs a fee as large as what we paid to install cable in the first place.
The funny thing is that it wouldn't have been hard to keep us happy. Do a little work up front to help keep our TiVo running, and we might have spent even more money on cable. Now, we're looking very hard at alternatives we'd been too complacent to consider before.
But, I guess that's the problem: This is all very old news. They don't really want our TiVo on their network. So, instead, they sent letters promising degraded service and followed through on it. And, when contacted to address the issue, they botched it altogether. Clearly, if third-party set-top boxes and the customers who use them were a priority beyond just avoiding FCC fines, they'd have the right people and processes in place to keep us happy. I think we've gotten the message, now.
Where's that leave us? Well, our bill will be cut in half, at least after we pay for the new setup fee. We'll need to be more mindful and intentional toward what we watch on TV and how we get it, but somehow I think we'll manage. Past that, I think it'll feel good to pay less for a service provided by a company that doesn't really want our business and has a strange notion of customer service.
In the meantime, I think I'll be on the lookout for a better internet provider so we can ditch Bright House outright. The problem is, I don't think the market around here is exactly rife with competition.