It's Comcastic, or: I Accidentally Bought a House Without Cable

Published Sunday, February 22 2015

UPDATE 1: See the FAQ At The Bottom of This Post

UPDATE 2: Be sure to read my follow-up post. Spoiler Alert: It has a happy ending!

This is a very long post, but it needs to be long to properly document all the trouble we’ve gone through with Comcast. In short: We moved into our new home in January after verifying that Comcast was available. They said no problem, and we ordered their service. After moving in, and only after a month of confusion and miscommunication, we discovered the truth: There’s no Comcast service on our street.


Late last year we bought a house in Kitsap County, Washington — the first house I’ve ever owned, actually. I work remotely full time as a software developer, so my core concern was having good, solid, fast broadband available. In Kitsap County, that’s pretty much limited to Comcast, so finding a place with Comcast already installed was number one on our priority list.

We found just such a place. It met all of our criteria, and more. It had a lovely secluded view of trees, a nice kitchen, and a great home office with a separate entrance. After we called (twice!) to verify that Comcast was available, we made an offer.

January 29, 2015

This was our first interaction with Xfinity. Earlier in the month we had placed a separate order with Comcast Business for stand-alone Business Internet, but they said they couldn’t provide us with service, so they cancelled the order on us. They suggested that we contact Xfinity and get consumer TV and Internet instead. That sounded like a fine idea to us, we like TV! So that’s what we did.

We ordered our service on January 29th. We went with the Digital Starter package and the “Blast 105” Internet service with a 2-year contract, very standard. They told us that we would have a tech visit us to do the install on January 31st between 10 AM and 12 PM.

January 31, 2015

The tech came out as scheduled. The first thing he expressed to us was surprise that we didn’t already have a Comcast box on the side of the house. We searched the property, and in fact, there was no Comcast box anywhere. Now, there is a coax utility box, but it wasn’t Comcast’s. That originally confused both of us, but on further inspection, the utility box with coax running into it used to be hooked up to a satellite system on a pole near the house (with the dish now removed), so it wasn’t CATV at all.

The tech told us that in order to get service, we’d need to have coax run from the road to our house, which would probably also involve installing a new service pedestal along the way. He called to set that up for us, and told us he was going to do something called a Drop Bury Request to bring in service. He filed a ticket and went on his way.

February 3, 2015

Not having heard anything from Comcast, we called them on the 3rd to confirm the Drop Bury Request. They gave us a ticket number (#027246726) and promised us that someone would call or email us about it.

February 6, 2015

We hadn’t heard anything from Comcast, so I placed a follow-up call to their support line. We were told nothing. The support person couldn’t even look up our ticket number for us, so we ended the call.

I decided to call back a few hours later and spoke with someone named “Walter”. They were also no help. So I called back a third time and spoke with “Leila”, who scheduled another tech visit to come out and see what was going on on February 9th.

Around this time, we had an un-expected and un-scheduled visit from a technician, before the 9th. Regrettably, I didn’t write down his name or the exact date of the visit. He just appeared out of nowhere and asked us where our cable box was. We explained that we didn’t have one, but that we did have a Drop Bury Request in place. He looked perplexed. He told us that there was no way a Drop Bury Request could possibly get us hooked up, we were too far away from the cable infrastructure. We asked him to contact someone at Comcast to get things resolved, and he left.

Februrary 9, 2015

The scheduled tech dropped by on the 9th, as promised. Just like the previous two techs, he had absolutely no notes on his work order about any Drop Bury Request, any pedestal, or any construction. He just showed up expecting to hook up a cable box and go on his way.

We explained, yet again, that we did not have cable service to the house, and that we were trying to find out how to get it serviced. He couldn’t help us, but he promised to escalate the issue to Comcast Engineering.

Well, that sounded extremely promising. He said that Engineering would be able to get things moving, and then he left.

February 12, 2015

On the 12th, I called and spoke with a Comcast salesperson named “Lee” to ask about progress. There were two big issues on my mind. First, what does “serviceable” mean? All along every step of the process, Comcast kept promising us that our property was “serviceable”. What precisely does that mean? The Comcast support agent told me that “serviceable” meant that there was a cable run to the house.

That was a bit of a stunner. I explained, very clearly, that there was no cable run to our house at all. How can our property be called “serviceable” if there’s no cable here? They didn’t really have an answer for me.

But, more importantly, the second issue I wanted to know about was the progress on the Comcast Engineering request. I was put on a brief hold, and the support agent came back to tell me that they were working on it. His exact words were, “They assured me that they will bring you service.”

That was good enough for me, I figured things were moving along fine.

February 13, 2015

I just wanted to follow up on the Engineering Request and get more information, so I called again on Friday the 13th to find out what the next step was. I spoke with a sales support agent named “Jessica”. I explained the history of my requests, and she looked at all the notes on my account. At this point she put me on a lengthy hold to “speak with Engineering”.

She came back onto the line and told me that things were progressing just fine. Good news! They’re just in the process of pulling permits for construction, which can take a long time. She said they might have some more information in about a week.

Well, I was overjoyed. I figured that was that, the wheels were finally moving. Little did I know.

February 17, 2015

Again, I wish I had written down the exact date, but another tech came by unannounced. Just the same as the other techs, he had no knowledge of any engineering request, no knowledge of any Drop Bury Request. And, just the same as the other techs, he thought he was just going to install a cable box and go on his way. Needless to say, there was nothing he could do, so he left.

We had a second visit shortly after that from a site surveyor, who said he was just looking for the nearest cable node. He wasn’t there to bring us service, just do surveying. He mumbled something about how it was going to be a very expensive job, then left.

February 20, 2015

So, I gave it about a week. I called back on the 20th to find out what progress had been made. I spooke with “Matt” in Sales.

Matt looked at my notes, and said he couldn’t find anything about an engineering request. He said that engineering doesn’t necessarily update your notes anyway, so it wasn’t that surprising, but there was a bigger problem: He said that my order had “timed out” because it sat so long. He would need to re-order service for me.

I was floored. “Timed out?” How can that even happen?

Anyway, I took the opportunity to upgrade my order to an even more expensive plan, hoping that “greasing the wheels” of capitalism would make the process move a little faster. I asked for the works—The Digital Preferred bundle with TV, Internet, telephone, HBO, HD, the whole shebang, with a two-year contract. Couldn’t hurt, right?

“Matt” then told me that in cases like this, Comcast can often do a “temporary drop” to get service started while waiting for construction. Well, awesome. I didn’t actually expect a temporary drop to work, but I figured it was worth trying. So he scheduled a tech to come out between 8AM and 10AM on the 21st.

February 21, 2015 - Morning

The tech showed up at about 9 AM. The very first thing he said was, “I hate to tell you this, but I don’t think you have cable!”

Wow. Really? Do you think?

Just like each and every tech that had come out before, this one had absolutely no notes on his work order about our situation. He was just there to hook up cable. He said there was no way he could do a temporary drop because we didn’t have cable run to the house. He left.

February 21, 2015 - Afternoon

At this point I called Sales again to figure out what my status was. I spoke with “Pat”. What Pat said shocked me. According to her notes, the work was done. On the 17th, she claimed, the survey work was done. Then, on the 21st (the same day) the installation was done. So, according to her, we now had service.

I explained that no, we did not have service. No outside work had been done. No construction had been done. No engineering work had been done.

To move forward, we had to open a whole new order for service, same as before.

And what about that Engineering request? Well, Pat couldn’t find any reference to an Engineering request. She saw nothing in my notes to indicate that any Engineering request had been made.

She opened a new “ER-1” Engineering ticket (#027574739) for me and promised that I would be called or emailed within 24 hours.

February 22, 2015

I gave them their 24 hours and heard nothing, of course. I called back and spoke with “Mark” in Sales. He looked over my notes, and told me that the ER-1 ticket had been closed as an “invalid ticket” because it did not involve a Drop Bury Request.

To his credit, Mark seemed pretty shocked at how I had been treated. I explained that we’d been visited by six techs so far and all of them had said the same thing. I explained that we’ve been trying to get new construction. I explained how frustrated I was.

I think this was the most productive call I’ve had so far, because I finally got the clear picture of what’s going on. Somewhere in Comcast’s system, there’s a check box that says that I already have cable service to the house. Every time I call to ask about new service, someone looks at this checkbox and concludes that I don’t need construction. Whenever a ticket is opened in regards to construction, it’s closed automatically because the system believes it’s not necessary. So I am literally in a Catch-22.

Mark did give me a good lead. He gave me the phone number for the Comcast New Construction Department (1-866-772-2281) and told me that I should give them a call on Monday. They deal with new home construction, subdivisions going up and so forth, so they may not be exactly the correct department to call, but hopefully they will have more information than Sales has.

Mark also claims that he has opened a New Serviceability Check request. I anticipate that nothing will come out of that.

February 25, 2015

This has been a very interesting week.

On Monday, this very blog post made its way to the Comcast planning office via a follower on Twitter who (and I promise I did not know this) works for Comcast. They called me almost immediately and were very apologetic about the entire situation, on a personal level.

This led to a serviceability engineer coming out to measure the exact distance from our house to the nearest Comcast plant. It turns out to be approximately 2500’.

I was given a very rough initial estimate of $20 per foot to do the line extension work. Now, that sounds high to me. I don’t know what will come of this, but at least there’s some movement going on, and that’s more than I could have dreamed possible a few weeks ago.

The next step will be for their engineering department to work out exactly how the cable would run, via what poles, how much is underground, etc., and come up with a final price.

February 26, 2015

Oh, this is fun. I got a call from a generic Comcast call center this morning asking me why I cancelled my latest installation appointment. Insult to injury, they started to up-sell me on all the great things I’d be missing out on if I didn’t reschedule! I just hung up.

I don’t anticipate this had anything to do with the line extension. It was just what happens whenever you cancel an installation, I guess. Still, I cursed under my breath.

March 2, 2015

It’s now been 34 days since the saga began. Right now, things are in a holding pattern. I’m still waiting to hear back from Comcast about what the total cost for a line extension will be, and I’m sure it could take a few more days (at least) to get the results from Engineering.

In the meantime, I have done a tremendous amount of research about CATV infrastructure, and learned more than I ever really wanted to know about it. In addition, I requested and obtained a copy of the franchise agreement between Kitsap County and Comcast so I could better learn about my rights and Comcast’s obligations in providing new service.

I think the take-away of this whole thing so far can be summed up in two bullet points:

March 12, 2015

It’s been a while since an update, but there’s just not a lot of news right now.

Last Thursday, the 5th, two engineers from Comcast (Robert and Ken) came out to do another survey in preparation for a final engineering design. I’ve been warned that the initial, pre-survey price estimate was between $56,000 and $60,000 for the extension. Now, I wouldn’t have to pay all of that out of pocket — Comcast is supposed to pick up part of the cost, but I don’t know how much.

I haven’t heard anything else from Comcast since March 5th, and I don’t know what the final estimate will be. I don’t know how much I’ll have to pay out of pocket, and I don’t know how long it will take. So, that’s where we stand.

In the mean time, we’ve started to look at excavators who could do the trenching work for us. If it would be cheaper for us to do the trenching rather than Comcast, I’d rather go that route. It might save a significant amount, I don’t know.

There is still so much left unknown. The waiting is the hardest part.

March 20, 2015

This is a hard update to write.

We got bad news on Wednesday, the 18th. At about 3:45 PM, Robert called and told me that Comcast will not do the extension. No ifs, no ands, no buts, they just won’t do it. They wouldn’t even give me the chance to pay for it. Too much effort on their part.

I’m devastated. This means we have to sell the house. The house that I bought in December, and have lived in for only two months.

I don’t know where we go from here. I don’t know if there’s any kind of recourse. I do know that throughout this process, Comcast has lied. I don’t throw that word around lightly or flippantly, I mean it sincerely. They’ve fed me false information from the start, and it’s hurt me very badly.

This whole thing would have been avoided if only Comcast had said, right at the start, that they didn’t serve this address. Just that one thing would have made me strike this house off the list.

I don’t know exactly how much money I’m going to lose when I sell, but it’s going to be substantial. Three months of equity in a house isn’t a lot of money compared to sellers fees, excise taxes, and other moving expenses.

So, good bye dream house. You were the first house I ever owned, I’ll miss you.

Frequently Asked Questions

I wanted to address a few FAQ’s about this post, this seems like a fine time to make some clarifications.

Q: Why Didn’t you check this before you moved?

A: Oh, but I did. Having broadband of some kind was an absolute requirement for our new home. Before we even made an offer, I placed two separate phone calls; one to Comcast Business, and one to Xfinity. Both sales agents told me that service was available at the address. The Comcast Business agent even told me that a previous resident had already had service. So I believed them.

Q: Why didn’t you get this serviceability status in writing?

A: I tried. When I asked for serviceability in writing, I was told it just wasn’t something Comcast could do, that they have no process for it. We were simply assured, verbally, that there was service here. And, besides, they clearly did believe that I was serviceable, or they wouldn’t have sent six techs out to hook me up.

Q: Didn’t you even check to see if the house was wired yourself?

A: We did. The house is actually loaded with coax. There’s a coax drop in almost every room, in fact. Moreover, on the side of the house is an unmarked grey box that feeds the coax into the house. From this box, two coax cables disappear underground. So, to our (at the time) untrained eyes, this sure looked like CATV infrastructure.

It turns out, though, that this was satellite. Years ago, a previous owner had satellite TV, and the underground coax used to feed a dish that is no longer there, on a pole next to the driveway.

Q: Shouldn’t you have expected that your rural property didn’t have cable? Why were you surprised?

A: I’ve addressed this question in a whole new post

Q: What about other options? Have you looked at DSL?

A: You bet we have! Our local provider here is CenturyLink. I called them almost immediately after the first tech said we didn’t have service. We were told “No problem! We’ll get you hooked up right away.” The very next day, they called me back and corrected themselves. “Actually,” they told me, “it turns out your area is in ‘Permanent Exhaust’, so we can’t add new DSL customers. No, we have no plans to upgrade anything. So sorry, and bye!”

Needless to say, we were not happy.

Q: Lots of places have fixed point-to-point wireless. What about that?

A: We also looked into this very quickly. In fact, there is a wireless provider that serves much of Washington (StarTouch). I called them to inquire about pricing, but was stopped short. “I’m very sorry. We used to serve your area, but last year somebody built a building between our tower and Poulsbo. We lost a lot of customers. There’s nothing we can do for you.”

Q: What about wireless networking with a neighbor?

A: We haven’t ruled this out yet, but a couple of things make this very challenging. First, our terrain makes it pretty difficult. We have trees here, big trees. To establish a clear line of sight to any location with broadband would require us getting above the tree line, which is about 100 feet (30 meters). We’d need to build a large tower just for that. Second, point-to-point wireless is degraded in the rain. We live in Washington. It rains here a lot. And finally, it may be difficult to find a neighbor willing to work with us. All that said, it is absolutely still worth investigating.

Q: Well, what about Satellite?

A: The TV service would be just fine, but it carries a huge penalty for broadband. I work remotely full-time, and I require a VPN to access the main office. Satellite does not guarantee any support for VPN use (though I have heard a few anecdotal reports of people having success). The monthly bandwidth caps are also a killer, giving very little leeway in overage situations.

Q: How are you getting any work done right now?

A: I’m living off of a Verizon JetPack mobile hot spot. It’s frightfully expensive and has a 30GB per month cap, but it allows me to get my work done, at least. I spend all day on a VPN back to company HQ and use close to a gigabyte a day, so I bump up against the 30GB cap every month. That means I have to be pretty careful with my data use. No streaming, no games, nothing fancy.

When I want to download a big file, like an OS update or a VM image for work, I go to the local Starbucks. Their Wifi is great.