Thursday, September 15, 2011

Networkless

"Thank you for choosing Time Warner," the cheerful Time Warner Cable human said after I'd signed up for their cable service. However, he did get one thing wrong there -- I didn't choose Time Warner. Because who in their right mind would voluntarily CHOOSE a company that has some of the worst customer service on record? No, I was FORCED to sign up with Time Warner because on occasion, I would like to watch television.

Previously, I had Dish Network. I got to CHOOSE Dish, and I choose wisely. Dish just freaking WORKED. While I couldn't use Tivo with it, the Dish DVR was as close to the Tivo interface as I've seen. It worked great. A few hiccups here and there but if don't live in storm country, the satellite rarely goes out (and by rarely, I mean almost never). Any trouble I had was resolved immediately. I never had to push eight zillion buttons, wait on hold, and give the rep 87,000 numbers and addresses and bullshit to get my problem solved.

Unfortunately -- and satellite, I BLAME THE FUCK OUT OF YOU FOR THIS -- I no longer face South, which means I cannot have satellite. Because the government doesn't actually give a shit about people who rent apartments (or people who don't have kids, or don't have construction jobs, but that's a whole separate rant), if you don't face South you are shit out of luck for satellite. Now, if you are lucky enough to face the right way, you have a choice -- Dish, or DirectTV. THAT'S A REAL AND ACTUAL CHOICE and because those two companies are competitors, they kinda have to deliver or their customers will split.

Time Warner, or Comcast, or insert your shitty monopoly here, doesn't have that problem. If I want to watch TeeVee, I HAVE to have Time Warner fucking cable. I can't even get OTA channels with an antenna. So that is my only option.

Well. That and Bittorrent, but you can't Bittorrent sports and frankly, it's only sports that keeps people from completely cutting the cable cord. Think about it, people -- we can get television programs ANYWHERE. We cannot, however, get sports. And that's how the cable companies keep you.

So I was forced to go back to this company that I had happily fled when I went to Dish. Guys, IT'S WORSE NOW. And here's how.

The sales pitch: Seriously, if I call you because my cable doesn't work, don't try to sell me Internet or phone service. Don't lie to me (because you think I'm just a girl who doesn't know any better) and tell me that I pay more for my SonicNet internet service because it's a "third party," when my internet speed is just perfect for me, it hasn't gone out one freaking time, and Sonic is a dream to deal with. Don't try to sell me bundles, assholes, BECAUSE I AM NOT STUPID.

The Motorola DVR: Oh my freaking GOD have you people used this thing? Have any of you, gentle readers, ever used a Motorola product that WORKED? The DVR needs to be rebooted almost daily and if you get an emergency alert (wickedly plentiful and right in the middle of the day on Time Warner), it freezes the thing and you have to reboot. Nothing about the interface works the way a thinking human would want it to. All these guys ripped off Tivo, and NONE of them could get it right? There are about five extra steps in this thing, for anything you want to do. Want to extend recording times? No problem, if you are a technomage who can read the mind of a Motorola and figure out where the FUCK they put that option! The DVR, combined with the Time Warner interface, is NOT made for people who watch TV. You can't even tell what's on, for fuck's sake! Rather than the utterly blissful Tivo guide menu, this crappy thing scrolls from side to side but because it can't actually FIT titles on there, all you usually see is one word or blank spaces. And don't even THINK about actually speed-scrolling through the menu, because you can't. You only get guide data for about a week, and you can only see five channels at a time because they plant a big honkin' ad for some fucking thing at the bottom of the screen.

And if you have to reboot this thing (AND YOU WILL), all the guide data vanishes for about a day while the menu reloads or whatever shit Motorola and Time Warner want it to do. The "techs," however, think it only takes half an hour to reload, which is fucking hilarious.

YOU LOSE GUIDE DATA. YOU CAN'T TELL WHAT'S ON. FOR DAYS.

This is normal to them.

Switched digital video: This is cable's answer to bandwidth issues. Basically, instead of a channel always being on and accessible, an SDV channel is not on until it's accessed. What this means is, there is constant two-way communication going on between your shitty Motorola DVR and the cable node. So if you have signal issues -- or just a MOTOROLA -- then you are going to have problems getting your SDV channels. The other thing SDV channels do is quit on you. Because if you're tuned to, say, TVG (which, sadly, is SDV) and you're watching it all day long, the fucking DVR assumes you're NOT watching it and switches to a non-SDV channel to conserve bandwidth. It should tell you something about this "technology" that it's illegal for network channels to be SDV. Right? I'm horrified that the FCC allowed this shit. Especially since they want to eventually move ALL cable to SDV. MY GOD. ALL OF IT. GONE, IN AN INSTANT.

I find it curious that companies that constantly extoll their fantabulous laser-quick Internet have to develop a new technology to save bandwidth.

But the biggest problem with SDV is what it's done to Tivo.

The FCC was forced to make a ruling telling monopolizing cable companies (i.e., all of them) that they HAD to offer cablecards to third-party DVR customers. The cablecard is the decoder that is built into the shitty Motorola boxes and unscrambles your cable signal because if there's one thing a corporatocracy cannot abide, it's theft... unless they are the ones doing the stealing by forcing the government to legalize it. Although the cable companies fought like a mother, they finally were forced to allow this. Of course, they charged customers for the truck roll it took to "install" the cablecard, and more often than not the techs had NO fucking idea what they were doing. So people had trouble pairing their cards with their Tivos. The FCC stepped in AGAIN, and mandated that the cable companies had to allow self-installs. Now, lemme just say, if there's something easier than putting the card into its slot, calling the cable company and reading numbers off a screen, I'd like to know what it is. Authenticating and pairing a cablecard is easy.

Because of the two-way, non-digital SDV technology, the one-way Tivo device needs yet ANOTHER FUCKING PIECE OF MOTOROLA EQUIPMENT (did I mention the cablecards are Motorola?) for this to work. Enter the tuning adapter, a piece of black plastic with the most irritating blinking light this side of a Cylon's eye. The tuning adapter is SUPPOSED to be responsible for getting the SDV channel and then sending it to the Tivo.

Except it doesn't. Work. AT FUCKING ALL. I decided I couldn't take the Motorola anymore and went and bought a Tivo. That was two weeks ago, and I haven't been able to get the Tivo working with the Time Warner/Motorola crap equipment.

What's really extraordinary about the tuning adapter is that it has this enormous set of diagnostic screens, and a little hole on the back of it for diagnostic equipment. But according to Time Warner, they have no way of knowing what any of it means. I mean, SERIOUSLY??

Time Warner couldn't give less of a shit about this. At least this is data I've gathered from the three weeks and dozens of service calls and four home visits (another tech is coming tomorrow, God fucking help me) that have been required to put me back at the same fucking place I started. And there have been some CHOICE lies and comments made during this time. One rep, who literally had NO IDEA what the tuning adapter was, said, "I don't want to point fingers, but..." while the Tivo rep was on the phone. Seriously, "Cindy" was a fucking moron, and the fact that Time Warner KNOWS it's their cables and their signal that is the problem didn't matter to Cindy. But at least she didn't promise to connect me with a supervisor and then hang up on me, like the next one did. Or how about the guy who told me that their DVR was the best on the market? Or the other guy who claimed that my TELEVISION was the source of the problem, when the fucking thing isn't even hooked INTO the television? Or the guy who said that the HDMI cables NEVER work and you have to use component cables? Or the guy who said he couldn't stand how loud the Tivo hummed? Which was my favorite, because the Motorola DVR sounds like a submarine diving.

I could go on.

Incidentally, when you have to have one of these guys come to your house, they read you this interminable thing about how an adult has to be present and the tech will call half an hour before he gets there. Except that the tech never calls. He just shows up. More annoying, though, is the fact that you get an automated call confirming the appointment, but you had better answer the phone because you have to press 1 to confirm it, or it'll either keep calling you, or dump your appointment. Also, these calls happen at the crack of fucking dawn. Pleasant.

Mostly, the techs do one thing -- check the signal coming out of the cable. Except for the worthless and useless home visits, this reminds me of my times on the phone with the Dell guy in India, who kept telling me to reboot the computer when it turned out, at the end of the warranty period, that they had fucked up the motherboard.

Anyway.

Because the cable companies have such a strong monopoly, and because Time Warner, Comcast, Verizon and AT&T got together and, like the five families, split up Southern California so they wouldn't be in competition, some of us are stuck with horrible, overbearing, underwhelming service from a company that we did not want to begin with.

Back when I first got cable, you plugged the cable from the wall into the Tivo and turned it on. Voila! Television. But that wasn't enough for the cable companies. They didn't control enough. They couldn't charge enough. People could still watch a lot of their sports on the networks. Luckily, HD and digital cable arrived and the networks became indistinguishable from cable, which meant that most people couldn't get OTA signals anymore anyway and just all started signing up for cable. THAT meant that cable companies could start charging zillions of dollars for sports packages, and movie packages. And the majority of sports migrated to cable. And then the cable companies started buying studios, and vice versa, and now everyone just owns everyone, which is why DirectTV owns tennis and you have to pay hundreds of dollars to watch football games that you used to be able to watch for free. Want to watch the baseball playoffs? Well, I sure hope you have TBS and your SDV works or you're shit out of luck!!

Why do networks HAVE to provide only on cable and satellite? Why can't I buy a subscription to ESPN, or TVG? No seriously, why?

I get about 2,000 channels and I watch about twenty of them. Which means (because of the Motorola DVR's interface) that I have to constantly search through this shit to get to my channels. I didn't have this many channels on fucking SATELLITE, for Christ sake! Nobody needs this many channels. Why do I need two hundred Spanish channels, or a hundred Korean channels? Why can't I just have the channels I fucking WANT? They are pretending that they're delivering us bang for our buck but it's the opposite. They're inundating us. Overwhelming us. And then, when they've worn us down, they try to sell us bundles of other shit that doesn't work. My God, can you imagine having phone, cable AND Internet from the same place??? Seriously, WHO DOES THAT? ARE YOU INSANE?

Gentle readers, this is deliberate obfuscation, a wearing down of the American consumer, making us so punch-drunk that we're now used to spending six hours on the phone with these fuckers, rebooting their worthless, shitty equipment over and over again, waiting hours for a cable guy who's only going to check the signal, make disparaging comments about your third-party equipment, and then vamoose. And they don't care if the problem is ever fixed BECAUSE YOU HAVE NO OTHER OPTION and they get paychecks, so there's no reason they should care. If you think this is EVER going to get any better, you are a fucking idiot.

I realize there's no way to stay outta the way of the man. The world is run by these megacorporations, and they're getting their bright, shiny tax breaks from the American government in exchange for campaign money. But you do have to wonder why nobody has taken out a cable guy. Fuck the post office. At least your mail gets delivered. Is there anyway to NOT stand for this?

Aside from giving up my sports, of course.

Because THAT I will not do.

But when the studios bleat about people stealing movies and television shows from the Internet, maybe they should take a good, hard look at WHY this is happening. It's easy to just label people as criminals but if all you want to do is watch Breaking Bad and you've spent three bone-wearying weeks trying to get defective equipment working -- equipment and service that you are paying for, of course, because NO BREAK FOR YOU -- then does downloading an episode really make you a criminal? You know what makes you a criminal? Deliberately creating rolling blackouts in California so you can make a pile of money, then being recorded on a phone call laughing about it. Setting up Ponzi schemes with the government's help, and then lying to naive people about how great these mortgages are. Making a pile of money off war.

But no, it's people downloading off BITTORRENT who are the criminals. The rest of these fuckers are installed in government.

I've already registered one complaint with the FCC against Time Warner Cable, and I doubt it'll be the last one. I know, how dumb am I to think that a government agency is going to do shit to its corporate overlords?

I hear Bittorrent calling...