My Latest Problem With Charter Communications

It is of course, no surprise to anybody how totally our local Cable Company, Charter Communications, sucks ass. In the past couple of years, we’ve discussed the absolute lameness of their HD-DVR, how their regular DVR drove Kirk & Kassia away from TV completely, as well as the amazing difficulty their customers have getting their technicians to show up for scheduled appointments

So here’s the deal: since last Thursday, nearly all of my digital cable channels are out. No HBO, no BBC America or Sundance, no ESPN HD. For whatever reason, the HD versions of our six local channels, as well as all of the analog channels like Sci-Fi, are still coming in.

Because we were able to get NBC’s Thursday night (and Lost), as well as Sci-Fi’s Friday night, I waited a bit, hoping it would magically reappear. Sometimes shit happens. Also, I didn’t wanna wait forever on hold to eventually deal with a disinterested person working from a call center sweat shop if I didn’t really have to.

But come Saturday morning and it was still down, I figured I would have to suck it up, and call.

The first time I called on Saturday morning, I chose English as my language, entered my phone number, entered that I wanted technical support for my cable box and got a pre-recorded message that there was an outage in my area and assured me that “technicians were working on fixing it.” Somehow, I doubted that was true at 5:43 AM, but I assumed that it was true in spirit!

The second time I called, it was early Sunday morning, and after doing all of that stuff above, got through to a very nice person who listened to me explain that all of my digital channels were out except for the HD versions of the local channels, and that I didn’t have a cable box, but rather a dual-tuner TiVo with two CableCARDs. This was not the last time I would have to explain this to people: I mean, why don’t they make a note already?

In any event, she said that she would send a magic signal to my cable box–CableCARDs, and in about an hour or so, everything would be fixed. Whoo-hoo!!

Problem solved! Er, except for that part about being fixed, which really didn’t happen at all. Which is why, in retrospect, it was ironic that after “solving” my problem by pushing the magic button, she then tried to upsell me with Charter’s non-cable offerings, like high-speed internet and phone.

You know what, Charter? Solve the problems with your core business, then worry about expanding your subscriber base with your other sub-standard offerings.

The third time I called, around lunchtime on Sunday, I did all of menu stuff, and explained to the guy — BTW, at no time did I have to wait more than a minute to talk to an actual human being, so that is one positive — the thing about the digital channels, blah blah blah, and he said: “Oh, there is an outage in your area.”

Right. And how long should it take to clear up? About 5 hours or so. Why has there been an outage since Thursday? He didn’t know, he hadn’t been to work for a couple of days. Why would the HD versions of my local channels be fine, but the HD versions of cable-based stations not work? He didn’t really know.

Dodgy, right? 3 different people, three different answers. None of which were helping me in any way, shape or form.

The fourth time I called, it was Monday evening, and after going through the voicemail but prior to talking to an actual person, they hung up on me, but I didn’t take it personally. Though maybe I should, because it was after identifying myself to the system by entering my 10-digit phone number. If I was them, and recognized that this was the fourth call in 3 days from the same person, perhaps I’d “accidentally” hang up, too.

The fifth time I called was right after the fourth time I called. Once again, after explaining that I didn’t have a cable box, but rather a TiVo with two CableCARDs, the lady offered to send the magical healing pulse, reminding me of a short story I started (but never finished) way back in the early ’90s called “The Armageddon Across The Street.” The premise of the story was that the Cable Company destroyed all of Fresno — maybe even civilization — with one of those pulse signals. Except for my apartment, which didn’t have cable because I had just moved in and it hadn’t been hooked up yet.

The sixth time was Tuesday afternoon. I had given up, and when just asked for a guy to come out and figure out what the hell was going on. No doubt to replace the CableCARDs that they had just replaced in December.

She said that they had time open on Wednesday. I said, nope, we have jobs and stuff, so howz about this Saturday? Keep in mind that we are talking on Tuesday. No. They had no slots open on Saturday. Once again, we have jobs and can’t wait all day for the Cable Guy to show up, so they can’t do anything until the Saturday afterwards.

Over two weeks after the initial problem first showed up, they can (hopefully) fix it. And that fix will most likely involve swapping out two CableCARDs for two other CableCARDs.

I could do that, but they have those CableCARDs on super-secret lockdown, NOT for civilians like me to touch. No, they would rather I wait an extra week until some bored technician comes out, swaps the cards (grand total: 3 seconds), and then waits on hold (yes, amazingly enough, even the Cable Guy has to wait on hold with Charter) while some even more bored person gets around to authorizing the cards.

Now that, ladies and gentlemen, is putting the customer first. No doubt the point is that they don’t want people stealing cable using unauthorized CableCARDs, but I don’t know why they should worry about that when the CableCARDs barely work in the first place!!

In any event, I was finally losing it on the sixth phone call, because at some point I said, “and you’re lucky that I’m getting the HD versions of my local channels, because if I wasn’t, I’d already be on the phone with DirecTV.”

Which is a damn good point. Why, in the name of all that is holy, aren’t I already on the phone with DirecTV? No doubt that Tim Gaskill has been honing his “I have DirecTV and I love it!!” comment since he clicked on this story.

One word: TiVo. Actually, to be more specific: TiVo Series 3 with the DVR Expander and TiVo Desktop Plus 2.6.1. Sigh.

If, as a wise man once wrote, the DVR is the most perfect technology ever devised for TV viewers, then the TiVo Series 3 is the absolute epitome of that technology. I’ve had mine since it came out in September of 2006, and I can think of only two things wrong with it:

  • In the grid view, there is no indicator of whether or not a show is set to record (which is a pain if you like to pick and choose among the late night talk shows).
  • There isn’t an easy way to see how much hard drive space you have left.

Other than that, the TiVo Series 3 is the best piece of technology that I own, bar none. Better than the iPhone. Better than the Squeezebox. Better, even than the Logitech Harmony One Universal Remote. And that’s just the bare-bones Series 3, but with the addition of the DVR Expander (essentially a specialized 500GB hard drive which literally took a few minutes to install), and now the TiVo Desktop Plus, it’s gotten even better.

Here’s the thing about TiVo Desktop Plus: you can easily transfer video files you’ve downloaded from the internet to your TiVo, and watch them without having to mess the a PC desktop. It’s the last 5 feet, right there.

You know how Sci-Fi butchers and mutilates their Dr. Who broadcasts, all in the name of a few extra commercials? Well, with the TiVo Desktop Plus, you can — hypothetically, of course — download the U.K. broadcasts of those same episodes, not the crappy commercial-infested Sci-Fi versions. Then, you can easily watch them on your TiVo, all the while knowing all along that you’ll buy the DVDs the second they come out, so you aren’t stealing, you’re just previewing.

(Not that we ever actually get to watch our Dr. Who DVDs, as they always lent out to our friends.)

You know how there are TV shows like Everwood and Larry Sanders, where the rights holders are too lame to actually put out the entire series on DVD? Apparently, there are versions out there in the internet, and apparently they are easy to watch via TiVo Desktop Plus — though you would buy the DVDs a second.

I haven’t even mentioned Amazon Unbox, or all of the easily accessed podcasts which have now become part of our lives. If TiVo could somehow strike a deal with iTunes, it would be game over, though not likely.

The point is that — right now, at least — the total and utter awesomeness of my tricked-out TiVo outweighs the evil corporate ineptitude of Charter Communications. But just barely.

And if DirecTV would let me use my Series 3, I would jump ship in a second. But I guess that they’re too lame, as well.

So for now, until they make it impossible for me to use my TiVo — which I have no doubt that they will do eventually, at which point I’m gone forever — I’m stuck with Charter.

Which is my problem.

15 Responses to “My Latest Problem With Charter Communications”

  1. Tim G. says:

    * In the grid view, there is no indicator of whether or not a show is set to record (which is a pain if you like to pick and choose among the late night talk shows).
    * There isn’t an easy way to see how much hard drive space you have left.

    I get that TiVo is awesome. All I will say is that the HD DVR from DirecTV does both of the above.

    My question is this: What is the picture quality of a downloaded YouTube video or some other video file on the HD TV?

  2. Jim says:

    It depends on the original quality of the broadcast, as well as the quality of rip.

    Let’s say that the Dr. Who episode I’ve seen so far was equivalent to regular-def Sci-Fi broadcasts — letterboxed 480p — but I’ve seen other downloads that are 720p full widescreen HD quality.

    Obviously, the higher quality of what you’re seeing, the larger the file size, longer the download, etc.

  3. Tim G. says:

    One day I will have to blog about how terrible DirecTV is. I guess I would have to experience an “outage,” or whatever you cable masochists call it, before I could justify that.

    All about the productivity.

  4. Jim says:

    Actually, I would love for you to blog about anything . . .

  5. Tim G. says:

    OK. Can I blog about Bob Dylan? Or has that been done already.

  6. Jim says:


    And yes, but not from your angle.

  7. Anonymous says:

    please no more church on t.v. that seems to be all I get

  8. Anonymous says:

    I really think Charter knows what we watch the most and all of a sudden they take it off. why should I have to pay for spanish tv, or for those stupid cooking shows. They are just trying to make us order more channels and we will be paying more and more.

  9. Joe The Cable Guy says:

    if there was a an outage in your area ,doesn’t matter if its 5:00 a.m. or 5:00 p.m. those techs work through the night , trust me i’m one of those techs who is up on the pole at 2:00 a.m. trying to restore service in wind and rain while people like you dog us

  10. Jim says:

    Joe (unless your name is actually Sam),

    There wasn’t an outage in my area. Unless you are so incompetent that it takes you two weeks to resolve an outage. Which I doubt. My guess is that you’re great at your job, which why you’re up at 2:00am fixing problems.

    This was a problem with the CableCARD technology that the people that you work for gave me.

  11. Thomas Mackey says:

    My picture is cut of on the top and bottom.
    Charter says it’s my TV.
    Never had the problem with Direstv.

    Any solutions????????

  12. Raine says:

    Hate to tell you – I’ve experienced Charter, Comcast, and Direct TV. In my opinion, they all pretty much suck.

  13. Tom Dunn says:

    I have the same Series 3 Tivo with two Charter cablecards and I, too, cannot determine why HD cant come through two CableCards, one Tivo 3 and show up as HD on the screen. Magic signals didn’t help me either and the techs who brought the CableCards stood by while I got them to work!They said “We’ve never put any of these in yet”. I get the damn signal to my house, but cant get it to the tv! Could it be the ancient coax? Could it be the Curse of the Electricity Gods? The sad part about all this is – there is no one to ask!!! All they can do is, apparently, collect a paycheck! What is the problem with our TIVO/tv/Charter hookup? You got the answer yet?

  14. gary says:

    My cable box is the worst I have ever had, it is not even listed on the charter cable list of boxes and it has no guide system that is usable………………….


  1. […] As part of our failed cable experiment, we were lucky enough to receive a single bill for service. While we didn’t get credit for the lousy service or a little cash back for dealing with the incessant dinner-time marketing calls, we did get to see that we, the customer, were being billed back for the “franchise fee” the cable company pays the City of Pasadena. […]