Trilogy Of Set-Top Terror: Cable Box Horror Stories From Consumerist Readers

Image courtesy of Robert S. Donovan

Earlier this week, we asked readers to send in their tales of set-top woe when dealing with their cable and satellite providers. We’ve already received a number of emails and we’re just beginning to sort through them, but here are a couple that caught our eye.

1. The Box That Nuked The TV

After Chad and his family moved to Alabama, they had no other option but to go with Mediacom, a little-known (and even less-loved) cable and internet provider.

They came home after a lightning storm to find that not only was the cable box not working, but neither was anything connected to it. Nothing else in the house was affected.

Turns out lightning hadn’t hit the house, but the jolt of power had come through the cable line and fried the box, affecting everything connected to its HDMI ports.

Chad says he had to “raise hell,” but Mediacom eventually promised to send out a tech a few days later. Meanwhile, they’re still being charged for service and for a box that was more functional as a footstool than a TV receiver.

The tech came out and claimed that everything had been installed properly, and Mediacom replaced the cable box and modem — while still charging Chad for the month of service that he’d lost.

Jump ahead a year and — you probably figured this out — Chad says it happened all over again. A surge came through the coax cable, frying the cable box and destroying the TV.

“I called Mediacom to get someone to come out,” writes Chad. “They then told me it was going to be three months before someone could be sent!”

He then played the escalation game, going through the various levels of customer service before ultimately deciding to cancel his Mediacom service.

Thankfully, AT&T U-Verse was now an option for Chad and his family, and they soon sent out a tech to set up his service.

“On the day of install, I asked their tech to check the previous install. We both went out to the box to discover the grounding cable was not installed properly,” Chad tells Consumerist. “The insulation was never stripped back so my house was never grounded at the coaxial line.”

In case there was any doubt who ran these lines, Chad says they were stickered and dated by Mediacom, which wasn’t done trying to screw him over.

Even though he’d returned the equipment after canceling his service, the company nevertheless sent Chad a $1,000 bill for cable box, modem, power adapters, remote, and an external hard drive.

He had his return slip showing that he’d taken all of this equipment back weeks earlier, but when he went to the local Mediacom office, they were closed.

“I went to the regional office with my slip,” says Chad. “The office rep and I argued back and forth for the better part of an hour. My return slip was not for the equipment that was missing even though the dates matched. Eventually, they tracked down the actual serial number of the box to find that I did return it like they said I didn’t.”

But wait — it’s not over yet. Now Mediacom wanted to charge Chad for damaging the equipment, as if he’s a mythical lord of lightning.

“The woman who ran the regional office came out to speak with me. I showed her the names and times of the CSRs that I spoke to on all the occasions we talked on the phone,” writes Chad, who says reading Consumerist prepared him for these sorts of situations. “She also saw the return slip, photographs of the botched install, chat transcripts from the previous year, and the phone number on my phone.”

Though he says he was ready to take Mediacom to court over this nonsense, Chad says the company finally relented. Of course, if they had grounded the cable properly to begin with — or fixed it after the first lightning strike — this horror story would never have happened and they would still have a subscriber.

2. A Happy-ish Ending

TiVo has long sold DVRs that will work as cable or satellite receivers for certain providers. Consumerist reader David has been using his TiVo instead of renting a box from Comcast for several years.

What he didn’t realize until recently was that Comcast has also been charging him — veiled as a $10/month “HD Technology Fee” — for the cable card that authorizes David’s TiVo to access Comcast feeds.


David didn’t find out about this fee until after calling Comcast to see if he could get a better deal on his existing service (FYI: We predict a 67% success rate at Comcast).

“We talked about the bill in detail and they told me I should not have paid that fee,” writes David. “I was paying it for three years so I asked ‘What can you do for a good customer? What kind of credit can I get?'”

Rather than offer him a free month of Starz or a couple months of faster internet, David got what he called “the shock of a lifetime — a $400 credit on my bill.”

So now David is currently enjoying his Comcast service without having to worry about making a payment until Halloween.

While this is indeed a good end to David’s story, it would also have been nice if Comcast hadn’t erroneously collected the $400 to begin with.

3. The Box in the Closet

Time Warner Cable customer (not a good sign) Terry also thought he could go the TiVo route to save a few bucks on all the fees associated with leasing a box from TWC.

Just as in the previous tale, Terry needed a cable card from TWC in order to get the TiVo to work properly. Of course, this being Time Warner Cable, the first couple of cards they sent were worthless.

To get the monthly lease charges off his bill, Terry needed to return the old TWC box. However, when he got to the local TWC office and turned over the leased box, Terry says he was told his bill would jump up by $50/month.

The customer service rep “tried a few things but couldn’t get it to come off without raising the rates,” writes Terry, who says the rep told him she’d need to call the corporate office and get back to him. With nothing to do but wait for that promised call, he took the box back home with him.

“A week went by and I didn’t hear anything,” says Terry, who decided to call up TWC customer support directly. “They too said the same thing, they couldn’t remove my box/guide service without my monthly rate increasing substantially. I finally escalated enough to get to a rep that was as helpful as possible and explained to me that the current promotion I was in required the cable box rental fee.”

When Terry asked to be switched to a plan that doesn’t require a rented cable box, he says he was told that they all have this requirement.

“Basically if I wanted to turn in my cable box I would be paying the standard rates for my service, no discount at all,” he explains to Consumerist. “There was no way to keep current services (or even close to my current services) and save money.”

So where is that precious, expensive device now?

“Currently I have the TWC box sitting in a closet,” says Terry. “It’s cheaper to keep than return. So lesson learned here: Even if cable boxes go away, the cable companies will find a way to get that lost money back.”

Have a cable box horror story to share? Send it to with “Cable Box Misery” in the subject line.

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