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Dealing with the Dinosaur – Facing Down Comcast – Mona-The-Hammer-Shaw

October 20, 2007
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nd the man could cook too. Some of our most intricate discussions were about recipees.

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A few months back, in a moment of psychic confusion, I decided to upgrade my phone service to take advantage of some of the wonders of the modern age. I called my local provider, Comcast, to make the necessary changes. My phone, internet, cable system is not all that complicated, rather simple in the greater scheme of things and I expected the shift to go off smoothly, and hoped it would as Nancy, my wife, a spiritual luddite at heart in the best sense of the term, was not exactly enthralled by my need to remain electronically relevant.

The process was anything but gentle.

It took 3 sub contractors and finally a Comcast technician and three weeks to get the system working again half as well as it had before. During that time there was a 10 day period when we had no phone service at all and during that time two family emergencies (of course) took place that we only heard of belatedly. The last guy, the Comcast technican, had to come back twice on the same day, until the system finally got off the ground. I called the company, demanded we not have to pay a month’s service and got that. It’s worked ok since but the whole thing – combined with the rightwing newscoverage comparable to Fox News – has left a pretty bad taste.

Probably because of all that, it was with some pleasure that I read the following piece in the Washington Post, sent to me by my old Peace Corps Tunisia friend Phil Jones. So it appears – as is the case with so many things – there is a broader context to my situation. First there is the article itself which might be entitled `Hammer in Hand: Stepping Beyond Pacifism’…then there is the website Comcast Must Die – the potential impact of which has hardly been probed. Add to this the fact that compared to internet in Japan, France, Korea and a whole other slew of countries, that offered here in the US of A by Comcast and like-minded vultures is quite mediocre and actually not all that `high speed’.

Immanuel Wallerstein had some interesting reflections on the subject in a recent commentary Commentary No. 219, Oct. 15, 2007 entitled “Japan, the United States, and the World-Economy” in which he points out how US internet service is more expensive and slower.

” The United States at 4.8 was fourteen times slower than Japan and at $3.33 twelve times more expensive. It is piquant to note that France, so frequently scorned in the United States for its economic backwardness, while not up to Japan’s level, was over three times faster than the United States (17.6) and half as expensive ($1.64). ”

Wallerstein explains the dilemma:

“The explanation of this enormous discrepancy is the relation to the capitalist market of enterprises in Japan and in the United States. For Japan to be what the Times calls a “broadband paradise,” Japanese enterprises have had to make heavy investments and give deep discounts to customers. They do this on the theory that disregarding short-term profits and pouring billions into long-term projects will pay off eventually. This was the philosophy that allowed Japan to create one of the two fastest railway lines in the world – the Shinkansen. Its only competitor in this field is France’s TGV. The United States, as everyone knows, has a miserable train system known as Amtrak, which hardly anyone uses and is always losing money.”

“The two crucial differences between Japan and the United States is that U.S. corporate executives are under great pressure to justify any capital expenditures that might eat into this year’s returns, and that the U.S. government is unwilling to give financial incentives to companies to help finance long-term investment.”

“The reasons for both are obvious. U.S. corporations today are dominated by a speculative ethos, in which top personnel turnover is constant and buyouts ever on the horizon. This year’s bottom line is all that matters to a CEO who may not be in a position to profit from next year’s bottom line (not to speak of next decade’s bottom line). And the U.S. government is spending all its money on military investment and tax breaks for the very wealthy. There is nothing left over for long-term capitalist investment. The Japanese are instead investing in a “once-in-a-century transformation,” according to Kazuhiko Ogawa, general manager of the network strategy section at Nippon Telegraph & Telephone.”

It is highly unlikely that Mona-The-Hammer-Shaw has read Wallerstein. But she seems to have learned how to get Comcast’s attention..Read just below from Thursday’s (Oct. 18) Washington Post:

Taking a Whack Against Comcast
Mona Shaw Reached Her Breaking Point, Then for Her Hammer

By Neely Tucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 18, 2007; C01

Sometimes truly American virtues arise in outlaws who — by dint of heroic but questionable endeavors — display the mettle of the national character.

For instance: The Dillinger Gang, robbing banks (and destroying mortgages) when banks were foreclosing on the poor. Stephanie St. Clair, matron of the numbers racket during the Harlem Renaissance, striking a (dubious) blow for both gender and racial equality. Junior Johnson bootlegging liquor during Prohibition (the benefits of which were self-evident).

Fear not, fellow Americans! In these dark days of war, pestilence and Paris Hilton, a new hero has arisen. She is none other than 75-year-old Mona “The Hammer” Shaw, who took the aforementioned implement to her local Comcast office in Manassas to settle a score, and boy, did she!

This was after the company had scheduled installation of its much ballyhooed “Triple Play” service, which combines phone, cable and Internet services, in Shaw’s brick home in nearby Bristow. But Shaw said they failed to show up on the appointed day, Monday, Aug. 13. They came two days later but left with the job half done. On Friday morning, they cut off all service.

This was the company that has had consumer service problems serious enough to prompt the trade magazine Advertising Age to editorialize that Comcast and other cable providers should spend less on advertising and more on customer service. And has spawned a blog called ComcastMustDie.com that’s filled with posts from angry customers.

So on that Friday, Mona Shaw and her husband, Don, went to the local call center office to complain.

Let’s pick it up, mid-action, according to Shaw:

Mona demands to speak to a manager. A customer service representative says someone will be right with them. Directs them to a bench, outside.

(Remember, it’s mid-August.) Mona and Don sit.

Tick, tick, tick, goes the clock. Sit, sit, sit, go Mona and Don.

For. Two. Hours.

And then — this is the best part — the customer rep leans out the door and says the manager has left for the day.

Thanks for coming!

Oh, the sputtering outrage!

The insulting idea that, as Shaw puts it, “they thought just because we’re old enough to get Social Security that we lack both brains and backbone.”

So, after stewing over it all weekend, on the following Monday, she went downstairs, got Don’s claw hammer and said:

“C’mon, honey, we’re going to Comcast.”

Did you try to stop her, Mr. Shaw?

“Oh no, no,” he says.

Hammer time: Shaw storms in the company’s office.
BAM!
She whacks the keyboard of the customer service rep.
BAM!
Down goes the monitor.
BAM!
She totals the telephone. People scatter, scream, cops show up and what does she do? POW! A parting shot to the phone!

“They cuffed me right then,” she says.

Her take on Comcast: “What a bunch of sub-moronic imbeciles.”

Being a responsible newspaper, we must note that this is a misdemeanor, a crime, a completely inappropriate way of handling a business dispute.

Noted.

Who among us has not longed for a hammer in this age of incompetent “customer service representatives,” of nimrods reading from a script at some 800-number location, of crumbs-in-their-beards plumbing installation people who tell you they’ll grace you with their presence between 12 and 3, only never to show? And you’ll call and call and finally some outsourced representative slings a dart at a calendar and tells you another guy will come back between 10 and 2 next Thursday?

And when this guy comes, pants halfway down his behind, he’ll tell you he brought the wrong part?

And there is nothing, nothing you can do.

Until there! On the horizon! It’s Hammer Woman, avenger of oppressed cable subscribers everywhere! (Cue galloping “Lone Ranger” theme.)

“I scared the tar out of some people, at least,” she says. “It had never occurred to me to take a hammer to a phone company before, but I was just so upset. . . . After I hit the keyboard, I turned to this blonde who had been there the previous Friday, the one who told me to wait for the manager, and I said, ‘ Now do I have your attention?’ ”

It wasn’t all fun.

“My blood pressure went up around my ears. I started hyperventilating. They had to call the rescue squad and put me on a litter.”

By the time it was over, she recalls, there were an ambulance, two police cruisers and a sergeant’s car in the parking lot. Shaw received a three-month suspended sentence for disorderly conduct, a $345 fine in restitution and a year-long restraining order barring her from the Comcast office.

“Truly a unique and inappropriate situation,” says Beth Bacha, a vice president for Comcast. She says company policy forbids disclosure of clients’ records, but did say their files note that the service record wasn’t exactly what Shaw has indicated. Besides, “nothing justifies this sort of dangerous behavior.”

Bacha noted that Comcast has more than 25 million customers, the overwhelming majority of which are very satisfied with their service.

Manassas police spokesman Sgt. Tim Neumann says there have been other police calls to that Comcast office, but he doesn’t know what prompted them.

Bob Garfield, who runs ComcastMustDie.com, wrote last week he was happy the site had become an outlet for “so much deep-seated rage,” but hoped customers would “keep the hammer assaults down to a bare minimum.”

From what we can tell, Mona Shaw is not, actually, a raving lunatic armed with construction tools.

She is a nice lady who lives in a nice house. She and Don are both retired from the Air Force (she was a registered nurse). They have been married 45 years. She is secretary of the local AARP, secretary of a square-dancing club and takes in strays for the local animal shelter (they have seven dogs at the moment). She has a heart condition. She lifts weights at a local gym. The couple attend a Unitarian Universalist church.

Police gave her the hammer back, though she swears she’s content to ride off into the sunset of True Crime Stories in America, never again to go Com-smash-tic on her local cable provider.

She does, however, finally, have phone service.

On Verizon.

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