Nearly everything went smoothly with Louis Moravec and Susan Thauer's holiday-week move from one Philadelphia neighborhood to another. The truck and crew arrived on time to take their belongings from Queen Village to Northern Liberties. The gas and power were functioning at their new home. Even Dec. 30's weather cooperated.
The lone exception? Their Comcast cable and Internet service. Moravec had timed an appointment to have it connected on the morning of Dec. 31, and Thauer took off work to await the technicians. But by New Year's Eve, all they had were apologies, promises of $40 in credits, and a load of frustration - a load that would pile up astoundingly over the next three weeks.
Before their service was finally hooked up Friday, Moravec and Thauer figured they had spent more than 50 hours on the phone with service reps from the hometown cable and Internet giant - much of it on hold for as much as two hours a pop.
When technicians did show up, they repeatedly came without the right cables or equipment to outfit the newly built house. When they didn't show, the couple heard what seemed like bizarre excuses. They were told, for instance, that when a service rep offered an emergency appointment, the rep was merely making a request to dispatchers free to turn it down.
Amid the mess that Moravec said "borders on the Kafkaesque" came the final absurdity: notice that they were about to be billed for another month's service.
Near-monopoly cable companies rarely fare well in customer- satisfaction surveys, and Comcast isn't an exception - it basically sets the rule as the nation's largest cable-TV and broadband provider. Last year, it was again named Consumerist.com's "Worst Company in America." And it's still recovering from this fall's double-whammy of complaints - first about malfunctioning X1 cable boxes and then about missed appointments, messed-up statements, and other problems it blamed on a problematic transition in billing systems.
To its credit, Comcast finally got its act together Friday - connecting the Moravec-Thauer home and offering a public mea culpa.
"We clearly failed Mr. Moravec and are working to make things right for him," a spokesman said, saying the couple would be credited for the inconvenience they suffered. "This was unacceptable on a number of fronts, and we are digging into what happened so we can address and correct for future customer interactions."
It's always tough to suggest how any single story fits into a broader narrative, and this one is no exception. Thankfully, though, Moravec did it for me in an e-mail blast sent to Comcast executives, public officials, and journalists.
Moravec said he had been a consistent defender of Comcast. "I like having such a renowned corporation headquartered in the City of Brotherly Love, sort of a cornerstone here," he wrote.
But along with his frustration, Moravec's experience also brought an epiphany - one that fits squarely into a big debate playing out in Washington, where Comcast is busy both defending its proposed takeover of Time Warner Cable and fighting calls for tougher regulation of all broadband Internet providers.
Moravec, 44, is the controller at a local nonprofit. Thauer, 43, is a lawyer who often needs to work from home. They both need Internet access - as will their 7-year-old daughter, Amelia, as she moves ahead in school.
"As you are well aware, Internet and cable TV have become utilities," Moravec wrote. "They are no longer a luxury."
Lobbyists for Comcast and other network owners are working to persuade the Federal Communications Commission not to acknowledge what Moravec now calls obvious. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has already signaled plans to reclassify broadband as a "telecommunications service," subject to tighter regulation, from its status as a lightly regulated "information service."
Next week, I'll discuss how reclassifying broadband could make things better for consumers in ways beyond its primary goal of preserving an open, neutral Internet where one company's bits aren't favored over another's.
Moravec's story is one more sign that change is long overdue.