by Matthew L. Schafer
The review of the merger between Comcast and NBC will likely start back up tomorrow. This comes after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) stopped the half-year review on June 24 after Comcast and NBC failed to adequately answer FCC questions. The review of the merger is also about to heat up as the July 8th and July 13th merger hearings in Chicago approach. The hearings will involve the public, FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, industry officials, citizen advocacy groups, and United States Representatives.
The July 8th House Subcommittee on Energy and Commerce hearing is entitled Thursday meeting “Comcast and NBC Universal: Who Benefits?” While the answer depends on who’s being asked, the question “Comcast: Who Benefits” has a much clearer answer–one that’s worth describing before even considering the ramifications of a merger with NBC.
Comcast has been cited for running a notoriously awful customer service operation. Comcast customer service has inspired such websites as www.ComcastMustDie.com, which was maintained by media critic Bob Garfield, and www.Customer-Circus.com, which tracks customer service calamities across different industries.
Since 2007 Comcast has found itself on MSN Money’s Customer Service Hall of Shame List. Each year, Comcast has claimed a bottom three spot. In 2010, 34% of Comcast customers rated Comcast customer service as “poor.” Comcast was beat out of the bottom two spots by Bank of America at 34.6% and by AOL at 42%. In 2009, J.D. Power and Associates also placed Comcast in the bottom three television providers in each of its four regions.
Currently, 2200 people have filed complaints about Comcast with the Better Business Bureau (BBB). Over half of all complaints are service or billing related. The American Consumer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) relfected the complaints at the BBB. The ACSI ranked Comcast as last in consumer satisfaction among telephone providers and second to last among cable providers.
While the ratings place Comcast’s lack of customer service in context amongst its competitors, raw customer feedback may be most revealing. On Twitter, a slew of choice words directed towards Comcast appear every day.
“In line at Comcast, trying to swap out a bogus modem,” one tweeter said. “By the look on everyone’s faces, you’d think this was the line for the slaughter.”
Another user wrote similarly, “Comcast was rated 3rd worst customer service. Cable dude showed up 20 minutes late. The time frame was from 2-5pm. Living up to standards.”
Customers are also venting on Youtube, posting videos of sleeping repairmen and recordings of calls with Comcast customer service. Between Youtube, Twitter, and stand alone websites Comcast is earning the MSN Money label “Companies Americans Love to Hate” and the Consumerist awarded entitled “Worst Company In America.”
It doesn’t appear that Comcast will be making significant gains on its customer satisfaction ranking as it just announced that its California consumer’s would be facing an almost 4% rate hike–a hike that has become a yearly occurrence since its inception ten years ago the Sonoma County Press Democrat reports.
While Comcast is not winning over customers, they are trying their best to win over lawmakers on the eve of the merger with NBC. The Center for Responsive Politics reports that Comcast has contributed $2,376,002 to campaigns in 2010, in addition to the $12 million it spent lobbying the United States Congress in 2009.
Despite the valiant attempt, some congressmen aren’t biting. Sen. Al Franken [D-MN] wrote a letter on June 21 to the FCC protesting the merger, and also spoke to the consequences of the merger at Solicitor General Elena Kagan’s June 30 confirmation hearing.
“The proposed Comcast/NBCU merger fails to promote competition, diversity or localism, instead wreaking havoc on those very values,” Franken wrote. “I urge the Commission to examine the numerous direct and collateral effects this merger would have o n consumers and small and rural cable companies; on people’s cable bills; and on the programming they view on TV and on the Internet.”
Comcast has plenty of work cut out for itself if it wishes to prove it is more than a substandard company defined by its awful customer support. Perhaps before the FCC lets the merger move forward adding to Comcast’s customer base, they should mandate that Comcast reconcile with its current customer base. If it cannot handle the scope of its current operation, it seems obvious that it will not be able to handle Comcast + NBC.