Powerbook Explodes After Comcast Plugs In Wrong Cable

A Comcast customer’s Powerbook exploded after a Comcast tech plugged coax, connected to her computer through her modem, to an electrical wire.

Her story, inside….

    “I ordered high speed broadband internet from the local cable company. On November 16, 2006 a technician arrived to install it.

    He connected the coaxial cable that was coming into the wall from outside into a cable modem for Mac. He then connected an Ethernet cable out of the modem and into my fully loaded Apple 15″ Powerbook.

    After over an hour, and with the installation CD still spinning in the laptop, the technician said he still could not get the proper signal into the modem/computer. He said he was going to trace the coaxial cable from the wall up onto the roof and see if he could solve the problem.

    About 10 minutes later I was standing on the back porch just outside the window of the computer work desk when I saw a bright flash of light accompanied by a very loud explosion at the work desk. It was as loud as an illegal M-80 on the Fourth of July. After being stunned and confused for several seconds, I ran inside my home into a thick cloud of grey smoke which smelled like gunpowder. Then I ran outside and yelled for the technician, thinking that perhaps he had been electrocuted.

    Everything on the desk was blackened with soot and burned either partially or completely. Three external hard drives, a digital camera, videotapes, papers, CD’s, etc. The floor, wall, and radiator cover were burned, along with the tabletop.

    Every cable that was connected to the laptop, Ethernet, Firewire, Power, and USB, was forcibly shot out of each portal, and each portal covered with the black soot. Metal bits and electronic debris from the power cable hub and other cables was scattered around the room and some wires had split apart into copper shreds. Molten silver metal flecks are still lodged in the windowsill.

    A supervisor arrived later that day and after surveying the scene and materials, conceded that their company had caused the accident. He noted, in particular, the internally fried coaxial cable.

    It seems likely that the young technician connected the rooftop end of the cable to a similar-appearing, but now obviously incorrect electrical cable. In any case, both technicians stated that the company-installed “system” of cables on the roof were “a real mess” and were unsafely stretched over and near an electrical box and associated cables.

    Their company has assumed liability but has been disappointingly slow in rectifying the damage, work interruption, and substantial inconvenience they caused. I am happy to say that the technician was not hurt in the incident, and that my data was recovered by OnDeckTech successfully.”










And that, folks, is why you should always backup your data. — BEN POPKEN

MacInferno Part II: The full story of how the cable company incinerated my Powerbook [MacWork]


Edit Your Comment

  1. adamondi says:

    Over a month, and still no compensation from the company that readily admitted that it was their fault? Sound like it might be time to employ the services of an attorney in getting what you deserve.

  2. logie-al says:

    Well if I had 3 external drives, I personally would not have backed up to something else. I back my data up to a single 250gb external and keep it with me at most times. But to have something this catastrophic happen and kill everything in one fell swoop… I guess it just goes to show what you think can never happen, can.

  3. Fuzzy_duffel_bag says:

    Was this Time/Warner? They certainly like to employ the “big mess of cables outside” technique. With the way stuff dangles off all the buildings in my neighborhood, I’m amazed anyone gets reception.

  4. AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

    I’m glad I back everything up on DVDs.

    Anyway, good to hear nobody was hurt.

  5. scoobydoo says:

    That’s a Comcast signup package. Wouldn’t surprise me.

  6. snazz says:

    wow! luckily you were not anywhere near the computer or sitting in front of it tinkering while he was doing this.

  7. The Unicorn says:

    Is it too late to re-do the list of the biggest business blunders of 2006? I’d take a sleeping Comcast tech over one who made my laptop explode any day of the week.

  8. Absolutely incredible. The lengths of incompetence astound. It’s one thing for human error to occur within the dark confines of a poorly-maintained utility rat’s nest.

    It’s quite another for the agent of a billion-dollar company to cause this much damage and then have that company take over a month to fix the problem.

    There should have been a $5,000 check in our submitter’s hands within five business days — no question about it. Billions in revenue plus obvious negligence equal no excuse to provide anything but immediate satisfaction.

  9. homerjay says:

    I’m still not understanding how this could have happened. What could he possibly have connected this thing to that would carry that much power and still look like something you should connect a coax cable to??

  10. Hoss says:

    Reminds me of the Beverly Hillbilly episode when Jethro climbs the telephone pole to hook up Granny’s phone. Granny was holding the phone to her ear waiting for Cousin Pearl when Jethro hooks it up the the transformer. Next we see Granny, still with the phone to her ear, smoking and covered with soot.

    I think Jethro was Comcasts first hire.

  11. Magister says:

    Well, if it was a Vista machine this wouldn’t have been a problem. (Insert name of your favorite OS)

    Scary stuff…

  12. She needs to be on the phone with Comcast’s executive relations group NOW, so they can make sure her new MacBook Pro is on it’s way for Christmas – and that her old machine is on it’s way to DriveSavers in time for the new year.

    This is complete and total negligence that could have killed the customer. Comcast needs to get on the stick, and if this lady hasn’t been on the phone with the executive suite, it needs to happen now.

  13. scoobydoo says:

    I’m wondering what kind of box they hooked her up to, it caused way too much damage to be “regular” 110V from a fused outlet. I bet it was a utility box with a larger fuse, especially if it was on the roof.

  14. Hoss says:

    I would not be quick to accept a new laptop from the company. I would be concerned that accepting the laptop would be seen as settlement. I think she should meet with a lawyer — in the least she needs a new laptop, new desk and whole-house cleaning to get rid of the smoke damage. But I’d also be concerned about hidden damage — did this effect the TV, phone or any wiring hidden in the walls? Should she be compensated for time off from work, etc?

  15. Grrrrrrr, now with two buns made of bacon. says:


    I’m with scoobydoo and homerjay..what the heck did this tech plug the coaxial cable into anyway? I can’t think of any reason (even a really far fetched one) why any kind of coaxial connector would have AC on it, so this guy must have gone out of his way by poking around in electrical boxers. What did this guy do..take wirenuts and try to splice the coax into the 220V air conditioner box???

    Having a “mess of wires that all look alike” is not an excuse. Anyone with any knowledge of electricity at all should be able to tell AC wiring from low-voltage wiring. This tech is lucky he didn’t electrocute himself or the customer, or set the building on fire (or all three at once).

    I really dislike living in a sue-happy litigation nation, but in this case, I’ll make an exception. Time to consult an attorney. Comcast should have insurance for this, and they’ve already admitted that it was their fault. There’s absolutely no reason why they should be dragging their feet.

    P.S. To the Comcast tech…I don’t think you should be allowed anywhere near anything with wires. Try..say….gardening.

  16. Grrrrrrr, now with two buns made of bacon. says:

    Err…boxes, even. Stupid typo!

  17. e57 says:

    On electrical forum we are discussing this incident, and we would appreciate some more information or pictures of ‘what’ the cable guy connected to.


    FYI I never let cable guys or phone tech’s in my home…..

  18. dannns says:

    That looks like a bad ground. Probably her house has a wiring problem and it wasn’t properly grounded. And all the current from the air conditioning and everything from the house went through the laptop’s power connector, and that’s why it is burned in that area.

    Maybe Comcast should try to prove that her home was in an unsafe condition and not following the electrical code, which put the Comcast technician at risk.

  19. mess of wires that all look alike

    Yes, darn those skinny black plastic covered things. How’s a technician supposed to know, anyway?

    Clear case of negligence. She should have a new Mac Book Pro by now – but should also refuse to sign a settlement. Other equipment may be damaged.

  20. dannns says:

    That looks like a bad ground. Probably her house has a wiring problem and it wasn’t properly grounded. And all the current from the air conditioning and everything from the house went through the laptop’s power connector, and that’s why it is burned in that area. At the end the technician might not have done anything wrong, poor guy who risked being shocked by a bad house wiring.

  21. Theora says:

    I agree with previous posts – absolutely, absolutely meet with an attorney before you accept *anything* from the company. It’s in their best interest to screw you, so even if you think you’re getting a fair deal, you’re probably not, and you’re going to want someone who knows the law on your side. (And bonus, they’ll probably have to pony up for your legal fees, to boot.)

  22. halfawake says:

    Well, it did say it was a PowerBook . . .

  23. valkin says:

    Comcast is probably talking to their own lawyers to determine liability. If the home wiring is at issue, it could be deemed not their responsibility.

    I would totally contact a lawyer to go after Comcast fast, not only for the cost of the laptop and equipment, but for cleaning, negligence, etc.

  24. Trai_Dep says:

    Shards of molten metal embedded in the window sill? Wow, so happy you don’t have pets, kids, hot giggalos or yourself permanently scarred by this. They were SO lucky.
    …Well, the letter-writer too.

  25. oblongata says:

    The technician must’ve been trying to look brighter than he apparently was :)

    Not all is lost. Your PowerBook is now a party accessory — http://www.obsoletepc.org/?bp873df72c3ffca

    Lucky you didn’t have to front these comcastic fireworks in person.

  26. PhilKarn says:

    For reasons apparent from this article, section 820-33 of the US NEC
    (National Electrical Code) requires cable TV feeds to be grounded
    where they enter houses. A lot of cable installers don’t seem to
    bother; I had to fix this when I moved in. I wonder if the safety
    ground was missing here? If so, that’s another count of negligence
    against this cable company.

    I’ve always been a little surprised that the electrical code allows
    cable TV even with these grounds. Look at the cable TV line running
    along a typical power/phone pole. It’s usually uninsulated. Now look
    up at the top of the same pole. Those are the primary (high voltage)
    power lines, and they’re also usually uninsulated. If a storm or an
    accident causes a primary wire to fall on the TV cable, you can guess
    what might happen in the houses in that neighborhood. Even proper
    grounds can divert only so much fault current away from people and

    Telephone lines also share poles with power lines, but they’re always
    insulated, the phone company tends to be more attentive to protection,
    and line isolation transformers in modems and phones are standard

    If fiber-to-the-home ever replaces phone and cable TV, events like
    these can be a thing of the past.