In a world of unstable employment, horrific security issues, and governments on the verge of economic collapse we all have to pick the fight we are willing to “die on that mountain” for… Today, I’m picking my cable, phone and internet provider.
This is a story replete with villains, dashing heroes, swarthy companions, and high adventure. So settle in and enjoy my tale of woe.
April of 2011 found us with a house full of out of town guests during my children’s spring break from school. We began to notice something interesting happening on the television. The channels from two to sixty eight were coming in fuzzy, while the channels above that, were not coming in at all, when you tuned in to the higher channels you got a message on the screen which read,
One moment please
This channel should be available shortly
Ref code: s0012
This began around ten o’clock one night and continued into the next day, so a call was placed to Charter Communications, our provider. They promptly scheduled a call and let me know when to expect the service technician. The Charter minion arrived toward the end of the allotted two hour window and promptly began telling me what the problem was, we had a vcr/dvd combo in line on the cable that was creating a signal issue. I looked at him a bit sideways as he began to inform me that when people put vcrs in line they always mess up the signal. I asked the obvious question at this point, “Then how do you use them?”, which he ignored. I then told him that I didn’t think that was the issue since we’ve had the unit for years and haven’t experienced any problems until the night before. He ignored me again and earnestly maintained that the vcr was the culprit and needed to be removed from the line to ensure a clear signal, so I allowed him to bypass the vcr. The problem remained. He then went into a long explanation that there was obviously an interruption in the signal due to a bad digital cable box. He then went to his truck and retrieved a new box and replaced the old unit. The problem remained. Then, after much head scratching, the minion fell upon an idea that was certainly the issue, a problem with the cable within our home, a poor connection or piece of equipment such as a ground block or splitter was creating a signal drop. He then went to his truck and gathered a length of cable and his trusty ladder. He shimmied up a pole and connected his cable to the main line and ran it across the yard and directly into the cable box. The issue remained.
The minion was at a loss for reasons and words at this point. We were standing in front of the television discussing the issue as he looked about the place at the multiple dogs, mess, wood chips, children, and visitors… along with a plumber who was onsite repairing the oft exploding pipe under the sink.. Yes, it was one of those visits where everything decides to end its own life all at once to make sure we have the best possible time with a house full of people. Attitude was pouring from the minion as he attempted to let us know that Charter was in the process of installing new hi-tech cable in the area. While I spoke and he looked for an exit, God himself intervened and the picture popped into focus. The bag of rancid onions I was waving under the minion’s nose vanished as he became all smiles… He then continued with his explanation of the new cable being the culprit, that the nodes had to have time to switch over from one channel to the next and that we should be fine. The trail of dust he left as he exited the drive way hung around for several hours after his hasty departure from the obvious pit of hell that is our home…
The services continued at their usual lack luster rate of operation (slow internet) over the next few days, until one fateful night… while watching Bill Maher on HBO the picture pixilated and froze, the screen went black and after a few minutes the dread creature returned…
One moment please
This channel should be available shortly
Ref code: s0012
The problem came and went over the rest of the weekend, lasting anywhere from a few seconds to a few hours. Monday found me on the phone with Charter, again going over the same story, “All of the channels from two to sixty eight become fuzzy and all of the channels over sixty eight drop completely, including the music channels and on demand.” Another service call was scheduled. The call we had at this point saw a much younger and friendlier minion cautiously approaching the door. He listened to the situation and then began a two hour crawl all over our home, tracing each line for any sign of a loose connection or bad piece of equipment. He came in at the end of his search to ensure us that a bad ground block was the issue, he triumphantly presented the beast which had held our home in the grips of poor service for these many days. I looked upon the twisted, rusty abomination as he smiled down in victory at the lifeless form in the palm of his hand. We whispered in awe that such a small thing had reeked such havoc… I then hit him with the dread conversation stopper, “If this was the culprit, why then, would the issue be there when it was bypassed by the last technician?” The triumphant smile faltered on his sweat laden face… giving way to a slight shoulder shrug and then the hasty offering of the ticket for me to sign as he too sped away in his moment of glory…
The Charter service then continued to limp along over the next week or so… A Saturday evening had rolled around and we had settled in for an evening of watching a movie via ‘on demand‘, we picked one of the newest releases that we wanted to see and ordered the movie for a twenty four hour block. Ten minutes into the movie the pixilation returned and the image froze until on demand went out and gave us an error message, pleading with us in its dying rasp of breath to contact Charter if the problem continued. The problem continued, for four hours, with the usual fuzzy and dropped channels.
Once again I called Charter to offer my displeasure with their service and my hopes that the problem would be rectified, once again the evil witch of Charter mountain assured me that a service technician would arrive the following day to make sure we remain happy with their commitment to quality service.
The following day a service technician did indeed arrive at our home, this time the Charter minion brought a minion of his own… I told the pair of them the entire story, adding that I believed this to be a signal issue coming in from the main line, I truly did not think there was a problem at our location. Promptly ignoring my pleas of sanity, they set about the house crawl once again… This time the creature offered to me as evidence of foul play was a demented splitter that was most assuredly the master of doom, having a few loose wires poking from its side, the splitter laughed up at me from the zip lock bag that now contained its evil... I again voiced my opinion that while it was a good thing that this evil was now vanquished from premises, there must be a larger evil at work here.. I caught few of the minions words as they sped up the driveway headed to the safety of the nearest waffle house…
What followed was a Summer of a few days of allowable service followed by the loss of channels, followed by countless minion crawls, until one day a valiant hero arrived on the scene. This minion assured me that he could, without question, locate and slay the evil that had befallen our home. The crawl began again in earnest. His report told a different tale… “Your signal is too high, I have to call in for a line crew to check for problems…” Exactly fifteen minutes after the minion’s departure a single strike of lightning came down like the very finger of God and smote every Charter service on the property… phone, cable, and internet had all perished in the attack. We called in to report an outage.
The next day saw no sign of life from Charter or their services at all… That evening we readied ourselves for a meal in the village. We were walking to the car when a truck came down the driveway, an obvious line crew had appeared on the scene at last. A small minion jumped from the truck excitedly telling me that he had gone down the road and evened the signal, noticing a burned amplifier on the pole across the road from our place that was the culprit of our outage… He held the creature aloft in triumph as he explained that the lightning had slain it in its duty of providing us quality service. We went in and checked, everything had been restored to its proper function, slow internet, uneven television signal and spotty phone connection. I informed the minion of what the situation was and he told me that he would return to check the line the following week.
Two weeks later the channels began dropping out again. Once again I called Charter and replayed the history of events leading up to the latest call and subsequent line crew visit. This time, however, I spoke to a supervisor… I was, once again, assured of quality service being restored to our location as yet another minion was dispatched to do battle with this lingering evil. The next few days saw three consecutive calls placed and ran, each time the same thing was done, a crawl and assurances of quality service, along with a coupon or two for movie rentals at fifty cents each from on demand. Yes, they were attempting to buy off our silence. On the last service call the team of four, yes four, minions replaced all of the ground blocks, connectors and splitters located on this property. The valiant hero was the lead man on each call. He left us with a literal shrug of the shoulders, a wish for good luck and the statement, “All of our equipment is functioning properly, you’re going to have to call your local power supplier to have them check for voltage fluctuations in your power lines, because that must surely be the reason for all of this… Meanwhile, we have listed your modem to be watched so that if this happens again, we can come out and check the signal to see when it drops out.”
The next day I called the power company and they sent a crew out to check for voltage fluctuations. They arrived twenty minutes after I called, metered the line for a bit and told me everything was fine. We talked while the meter was reading the voltage. The two gentleman laughed heartily when I told them the reason for the call. They then informed me that they do several of these calls for Charter each day, “Fluctuating voltage is the out they use when they can’t locate the problem.”
A few days of normal service went by when the dormant evil once again awoke while watching a movie. I was positively hasty, as tree beard would say, when I phoned the evil witch lord atop Charter mountain to let her know that this was entering the realm of ridiculous. I told her that I wanted to speak to a local service supervisor, she assured me that she would have one call. No one called. Later that day yet another minion arrived at my door, not knowing anything about the ongoing saga, I relayed my tale of sorrow to him. He phoned his supervisor to “get his take” on the pile of refuse that had settled in over us. The supervisor promptly told the minion to vacate the property as he would have a “level two” minion dispatched immediately to our place to take care of this once and for all.. A couple of hours later the level two minion approached me in obvious fear and empathy. He was here to “shoot the lines for noise” noise being any interference that could originate from anything electrical that operates on the same frequency as the signal, causing a disruption in said signal. Level two minion then proceeded about his noise shooting endeavors, checking the “modem report” telling me that the signal had been correct on both the incoming and out going feeds, I pointed to the two readings between three and five pm the previous day and asked why they would be reading normal during that time, being that the internet and phone were both completely out during those hours, he said nothing. A couple of hours later I went with him to walk the lines back to the road, all the while he checked each line. He came up with nothing. He checked the signals for each channel with his meter and wrote everything down on his ticket as he left. Assuring me, once again, that this would be taken care of. He actually had his supervisor call me, I spoke with him for over an hour, going over everything that had occurred. He told me that they work in conjunction with Charter as a contractor and that the problem was that each time I called in, the witch of Charter mountain would enter the call as a new call and that each time a level one minion was sent out to see what was going on. The fix at this point was to have Charter trucks continually drive around the area and search for a dropped signal until they found the guilty home that was creating this “noise” that was bringing about all of our sorrow and woe. Charter would then isolate the home, fix the problem with filters, and we would all be happy once again. The obvious question flowed from me at this point, “If filters fix this problem, why not make them a standard piece of equipment upon installation, thus eliminating all of this frustration?” He remained silent for a bit then assured me it would be taken care of.
Indeed, for the next few weeks things seemed to settle down to the usual service, only now ‘on demand’ had a “stream” of pixilation that would fly across the screen every few seconds. The feed would not freeze, so we simply put up with it.
Then came the moment of clarity. I awoke one morning to discover that the phone and internet were out. I hopped on my cell phone to check email and our facebook page. I was met with a status update from someone that lives within two miles from here that stated, “Paying Charter $190 a month for cable, phone, and internet, then having to update my facebook status with my cell phone doesn’t make me a happy camper…”
By lunch time his status had been inundated with responses from people around the area experiencing the same problems. Slow internet connections, intermittent and spotty phone service, and fuzzy to dropped cable channels. I began to talk with people in the area and discovered a trend. I called Charter and told them what was going on. Again, I was met with promises of better service and assured everything would be ok. This is an ongoing, area wide issue…
Another call was put in to have a local service supervisor give me a call… they can’t do that. There is no way for them to send an email to a local service guy and simply have him call me without placing an actual service call…
The next day, at the allotted time, the service minion appeared. No one had called me, and again they had sent another minion out to assuage the unruly customer. I could tell from the smile on his face that he had no knowledge of the situation. I stood in the driveway and told him what was going on, he said that he was going to call his supervisor and see what he could do. I went inside and awaited his assurances of better quality service soon to come. In twenty minutes he came in and told me that his supervisor had pulled him off the call and that he had called an actual Charter service supervisor who informed him that another line crew had been called and was now in route to the area to find the problem. The line crew was under strict orders to contact me once the problem had been located and repaired. Two hours later we noticed the picture going in and out on the television, hmmmm… someone was doing something… A few minutes later a truck came down the driveway and I was met with a another minion who told me that he had found and replaced a “bad component” on a road a few miles from here that should correct the evil cloud of poor quality phone service.
“What about the issue with the cable?”
“I don’t know anything about a cable issue..”
Son of a… I then proceeded to tell this minion the entire story. He stopped me at several points to correct what I had been told, saying things like, “That’s not true” or “That wouldn’t effect your service..” I went inside and checked the phone and internet, they were both working, and… the internet was working faster than it had ever worked. Praise Zeus.. I had never seen internet at this speed, it was like having a new toy… he left me his cell number and told me to give him a call, but he didn’t assure me of better service to come. He openly told me that the phone and internet should work better now, but the what he did wouldn’t have any affect on the cable reception. So he said, “Call me when it happens again and I will head in this direction.”
The ‘on demand’ did not have any pixilation streams and everything seemed to be working correctly, so we enjoyed an uneventful evening of television and super fast internet connectivity.
I awoke this morning and came in the front room, turned on the television to get a weather report, and lo…. No cable service at all… I cussed under my breath and headed to the phone. What’s this? No internet and phone either. Excellent… I took out my cell phone, headed to the porch for a clear signal and looked up the minion’s cell number. I didn’t want to call him at five thirty, so I sent him a text. The cable came back on, with fuzzy lower channels and no upper digital channels, and the phone and internet kept coming and going. Imagine that. After a few hours of no word and intermittent service, I decided to call him. I dialed his number and got a message telling me that his number had been disconnected. Immediately I called the main number and worked my way through the propaganda to a live human being in Bangladesh, and simply said, “Supervisor” over and over until I got a supervisor. All I could say at this point, through clenched teeth, was, “I want to speak to a local Charter service supervisor right now.” Eventually they got the message and assured me an email would be sent to the appropriate people. An hour or so later the phone started ringing, I was outside and headed in but was too late to catch it. I checked the number and saw that it was one digit different from the minion’s number in my cell, so I called it right back, it was him. He told me that he was headed in this direction and would see what he came up with. A couple of hours later he called me to check and make sure that everything was working correctly, at that minute, it was.
He informed me that he thought he had found the problem… “An amplifier on a pole across the street had been replaced some time ago, probably when we called to report the last outage, but whoever replaced it had not put the required new style connectors on, he just forced the old connectors into the new amplifier, wallowing out the new amplifier and creating a spotty connection…” This is the same pole that I spoke of to each minion that came here, “Every time there has been a problem it’s always been associated with something on that pole across the road in my brother’s front yard if you want to go check it..” Nobody ever did…
I came inside, sat down at the computer and began typing out this blog post. A few paragraphs ago I was interrupted by the sound of a truck’s “reverse beeping” I went to the door to be met with the sight of a Charter van backing into place. I walked out to tell the new minion the story and have him allow me to sign a ticket and be on his way. He informed me that he was here as a follow up and that his boss was in route to the location, along with the boss of the contractors that had been haunting this place for the last few months. I told him about the amplifier and connectors as the people in charge pulled up next to him. I then related the entire story to the both of them. The Charter supervisor cut his eyes to the contractor supervisor several times as I spoke of what I had been told over the last several months.
That ended up being a two hour meeting in the driveway that ended on a decent note. Right this second everything seems to be working. The internet is working at a high speed, the phone is working and there doesn’t seem to be any loss of channels. This, of course, could all change at any second…. But now, I have the cell numbers of everyone involved and can call them all as soon as it happens again, you know, so this can all start over from the beginning…
And to think.. It only took seven months to actually get anything done…..