Time Warner Cable Hoists Customer on its Own Petard

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B's neighbor in the apartment complex got cable installed. The cable hookups for all apartments are located in a common utility closet. Shortly after his neighbor got his cable installed, B noticed his signal strength was vastly degraded.

B’s neighbor in the apartment complex got cable installed. The cable hookups for all apartments are located in a common utility closet. Shortly after his neighbor got his cable installed, B noticed his signal strength was vastly degraded.

After finally convincing Time Warner that this was in fact, their problem that they caused, they said they would send a tech out but required B to be at home. B doesn’t want to take off from work. Time Warner certainly had no trouble messing up his cable without his presence, why should he be there when they fix it? And that’s where the two parties stand.

While we admire reader B’s pluck and resolve in the face of the unrelenting incompetence of Time Warner Cable, part of us is just like, dude, why don’t you just take a sick day?

Read more, after the jump…

UPDATE: The complaint may have got someone to actually give a damn. That and his responses to your comments, after that more button there on the left.

B writes:

    “I’m in an apartment complex divided up into small buildings of 12 apartments each. Each building contains a locked utility closet on the ground floor, and inside this room is each individual apartment’s cable hookup to the main tap. Since residents have no access to these rooms, cable techs working at the complex either carry a key or pick one up at the onsite leasing office.

    On Thursday of last week, a cable tech performed work in my building for a neighbor. Later in the day, I noticed my connection periodically locking up. Upon checking the cable modem status page, I discovered that my previously good signal levels (+3 dB downstream / 45 dB upstream) had changed to -11dB downstream / 55 dB upstream. On Friday the downstream levels degraded to -13, and by Monday they were bouncing around between -12 and -15 while the upstream remained pegged at 55. Apparently in the process of servicing the neighbor’s hookup, the tech had moved my apartment’s connection to either a bad port on the tap, split the signal, damaged the connector, or otherwise interfered with my signal.

    The first hurdle to jump through was convincing Roadrunner’s nationwide tech support gatekeeper to refer this problem to the Binghamton office for resolution. Starting on Thursday, I began exchanging emails with tech support describing the issue and its root in the technician’s work in the utility closet. At first they claimed my levels were “well within our operational bounds”, and responded with a form letter about general troubleshooting steps. Eventually they agreed that the signals were low and that a tech needed to be dispatched. However, they stated that the local office would refuse the work order unless I performed the steps on their troubleshooting script. Originally their script assumed I was using Windows XP. When I informed them that it was OS X 10.4 Tiger, they provided instructions for “OS 10.3 Panther” and “OS 10 Jaguar”. I guess nobody told them that 10.4 Tiger came out last year and that they should update their form letter?

    Anyway, when I got the chance on Friday, I did what they asked and sent the results…
    1. power cycled the cable modem
    2. speed test at speedtest.stny.com
    3. traceroute test to http://www.yahoo.com
    4. ping test to http://www.yahoo.com
    5. ip address (seems like the modem’s mac address would be more useful, but whatever)

    They wrote back and said sorry, we can’t file a work order unless you disconnect your router and let us know if the problem still exists. Of course it is impossible that a router could change the rf signal levels reported by the modem, which they already agreed were poor, but I had no choice but to do this step. Obviously the signal levels did not improve, and I reported this to them.

    Then they wrote back and said sorry, you need to perform the troubleshooting steps again without the router connected. So once again I redid the 5 steps and gave them the results. Finally, they submitted a trouble ticket.

    On Saturday, I received an email from agent “M1” in the Binghamton office. M1 stated that “When i run a test on your modem i do indeed see a problem with your signal levels. This will require a service call.” He went on to request that I give him a call to set up an appointment, and that it would require me to be home. I wrote back explaining how the problem was caused by work outside my apartment, in the building utility room, and could therefore be fixed without having a tech come into my apartment. (Of course M1’s email confirmed that they could read the poor signal levels from the office, and logically they would be able to likewise confirm the levels had been restored after the tech came.)

    M1’s response was “ok, i will get that service call put in for you, for them to check it in the utility room, but without someone home we cant check to make sure the signal strengh was restored. they would need to put a meter on the cable in the apartment to test it. but i will definately get the service call put in for today if possible or tomarrow at the latest if you do not see any results by monday please contact us again.” (He appears to have “forgotten” that it was possible to read the signal levels from the office.)

    On Sunday evening, I came home to find a tag from Time Warner Cable on my door stating that they came at 5:30pm and nobody was home.

    On Monday, when I was able to get in touch with M1 he wrote back that the tech had not performed any service: “well i apoligize he did not make any adjustments. they marked the order as “not done” reason being “not home”. I did write it right on the work order to adjust it in the utility room but they say they cant adjust it without someone home. I was wondering if it was possible to have someone home for an apointment or maybe we can call someone to meet the tech there, they can give up to a half an hours notice. The reason we cant run the test from the office with them on the phone is there is no gaurentee that they will be able to get through to a rep in a reasonable amount of time so it throw off his whole schedule for the day. and even if the do adjust it at the utility room and it looks good there, a problem might still be happening and we need to make a seperate trip.”

    Further emails from me went unanswered, so later on Monday I called M1 and explained my view that the problem was caused by their tech working outside my apartment, that it could be repaired and verified outside my apartment, and that there was no technical reason I should have to rearrange my schedule to let a tech into my apartment for them to fix the problem that they themselves created last week. He stated that it was their policy and that there are no exceptions. I asked to speak to his supervisor, “C”, and left a voice mail message for her. A few hours later with no callback, I left another voice mail for C. She called back and said she must have misheard my phone number and had been trying to reach me all day. However, she was as unyielding as M1. I asked to be transferred to C’s supervisor, “M2”. I then left a voicemail for M2, who at least called me back shortly.

    M2 continued to insist that I or someone else needed to be home to let them in the apartment and “approve the work”. When I explained that from a technical standpoint this was unnecessary, and that I should not have to be inconvenienced by a combination of an outside problem that their own negligence caused and an arbitrary policy, she decided to try another excuse. The story suddenly became that they needed me or someone else over 18 to be in the apartment to release them to work in the common utility room for legal/liability reasons. She stated that they could not come on the apartment property without me being home. I pointed out that the tech had in fact already entered the apartment building and left a tag on my door, so this did not seem valid. Furthermore, I pointed out that I have no jurisdiction over the common utility room, and I certainly do not have the authority to decide whether to release a tech from liability for work he performs in the common space. Then the story changed again. She tried stating that I would need to be there to physically provide him access to the utility room. I of course pointed out that tenants have no access to the room, so whether I am home or not, a tech needs to bring their own key or get one from the office on their way in. She disingenuously denied that they know how to get this key, despite the fact that the complex has hundreds of apartments and that cable techs are here working in those rooms frequently. She demanded I provide the phone number or someone who could provide the utility room key, and refused to accept that this was information that they already had and that I (and the other tenants) did not. After arguing for quite some time and getting nowhere, she stated that all she could do was set up an appointment for the next available time but that if nobody was home they would not perform the repair. Having been worn down by this point, I said fine, whatever. Then she informed me that the next available window was three days later, on Thursday, and that there was nothing she could do to get someone out earlier.

    Well, I was incensed. Having gotten nowhere with M2 (the supervisor of C, who was in turn the supervisor of M1), I asked M2 for her supervisor M3. M2 informed me that M3 was gone for the day and that either I could leave a message for M3 or that she would do it, but that either way she would have to give M3 a “heads up”. I said fine, I’ll leave a message.

    That’s when something bizarre happened. I was placed on hold (with music playing) for a long time. Eventually, the line went silent. As I tried to discern whether I had been disconnected, I suddenly heard a voicemail system say something like “recording stopped, press # for more options”. There had never been any greeting or announcement that I had reached voice mail! Sensing something was odd, I hung up and redialed the call center. I asked to speak to M3 and was grilled by the csr on who I was and why I needed to speak directly to M3. I was placed on hold, but the csr did come back on and say he was putting me through to M3. This time I actually heard the voice mail greeting with M3’s name, and went ahead and left a message.

    That’s where things stand so far, but what exactly happened when M2 said she was transferring me to M3? As far as I can tell, while I was on hold M2 dialed up someone’s voicemail (maybe M3’s, maybe not) and waited for the greeting to end. Then M2 may or may not have said something herself prior to taking me off hold. Since I heard nothing after being taken off hold, it wasn’t clear whether M2 was still listening with the intent of eavesdropping on the message she assumed I would leave for M3, or if some other funny business was going on. Either way, this seems a clumsy and transparent ploy.

    Overall, this has been a real stomach-churning Time Warner customer service horror story, and my issue is still unresolved. The Binghamton office seems to be staffed at all levels with people who simply don’t care about the customer. Sadly, DSL or any other broadband alternative is unavailable in this complex.”

UPDATE: B gets a call back. He writes:

“Followup… received a call back today from someone else with an M name. This person was very reasonable and said they would see what they could do without me being home, and otherwise they will call me before coming over on Thursday. So there is at least one nice person working there with some flexibility.

Regarding comments….

P33KAJ3W – You make a good point. A complicating factor seems to be that modifying the tap configuration ends up affecting several apartments, not just the one for the customer that made the service call. Ideally every resident whose drop is touched would need to be home, but obviously this is not practical. Hopefully TW will check the signal levels remotely for the others when they fix mine, whether or not I am home. Otherwise my problem might just be pushed off onto someone else again. I wonder what the usual procedure is for situations like this?

LTS! – Good point also. I guess it got to be a bit of an argument of the principle, and might have been carried farther than needed. However, I did end up with a reasonable compromise today. Also, I don’t have TV service from them… just internet. My TV viewing comes from rabbit ears and watching dvds.

billhelm – I think you’re jumping to a very wrong conclusion here. I didn’t put it in my message, which was long enough already, but I do have BS and Masters degrees in electrical engineering. My coursework included rf, transmission line theory, modulation standards, networking protocols, and so forth. I’ve read the docsis specs that apply here. In terms of knowledge of what Time Warner techs can do, last year I had a nice tech service my cable who took the time to show me in detail what their brand new “meters” could do. I forget how many thousands he said they spent for each of them. In addition to the expected channel metering and spectrum analysis, the thing could act as a cable modem or a cmts and transmit/receive test data, and could display latency, packet loss, etc. From the utility room, they could use these two modes to test the link without anyone in the apartment… acting as a cmts, it could test the integrity of the drop to the modem in my apartment. Acting as a cable modem, it could test the entire rest of the signal path up to the headend.”