Sunday, July 14, 2013

Tied up in cable

Here's something to do when lounging around in a hot summer day: Make up a list of your favorite utilities, in reverse order of how much you hate them. Electricity, heat, etc.

I'll wait.

Was the cable company at the top of the list? I thought so.

Customer service is the usual problem. If something goes wrong with the power, there's a good chance that you'll can call a phone number and have someone at least understand the situation. But traditionally, that's never true about your favorite cable television outlet.

Here's today's real-life example.

The New York Mets played the Pittsburgh Pirates today. The game was not on SportsNet New York, which is owned by Time Warner Cable. It was on WPIX in New York City, but out-of-town cable systems can pick up the broadcast and show it on another station. In this case, the game was on Channel 87, which is a local access channel that usually shows the ARTS network. This station broadcasts opera videos among other items; it is nothing if not restful.

Once David Wright replaced Maria Callas at 1 p.m., we were ready with baseball ... with one problem. The sound level of the broadcast was basically a whisper. Our television goes from 1 to 100 in sound, and 100 wasn't loud enough. Obviously, there was a problem with the feed into the cable system as all of the other channels were fine.

Experience teaches us much about dealing with a cable problem on a Sunday afternoon. The first issue will be talking to an actual person who knows what he or she is talking about. It's not exactly easy to find a number that doesn't have a recording in such circumstances. Lots of "call during business hours from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m)" or something.

But if you do get through, you can bet that he or she won't be able to solve the problem too easily. And that was the case today, and the person on the other end of the phone had us try some techniques with the converter that were doomed to failure.

Admittedly, it's fair to say the phones weren't ringing off the hook at the home office. I don't know what percentage of people can even get Channel 87, since a converter is needed. And, not many of those people are interested in seeking out a Mets' broadcast under most circumstances. Anyone eager to see the game probably gave up after thinking of picking up the phone and moved on to the two other games on the dial.

At our house, we turned up the volume - closed captioning wasn't even working - and did the best we could. At least there was a partial happy ending for the Mets' fan of the house, as the New York beat Pittsburgh.

In the meantime, the cable company dropped further down the national rankings for monopolies. You wouldn't think you could fall further than last.

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