City renews Comcast contract, but questions customer service

Let me start by saying my husband and I are DirectTV subscribers out of necessity, and we use CenturyLink for telephone and internet, so I don’t have personal experience with Comcast.

On June 3, the Vancouver City Council (with the exception of Jack Burkman, who was ill) voted 5 to 1 in favor of a 10-year, non-exclusive cable television contract with Comcast, but the vote didn’t come easy. Councilors, after hearing two residents testify about terrible experiences with Comcast customer service, asked plenty of tough questions of a Comcast representative before agreeing to renew the contract.

I love it when councilors act like they are making a difficult choice, when the truth is they have no choice at all. No other cable company has offered to provide service here. Yes, the city council could have voted to reject the contract, but that would have just meant city staff would have to negotiate a different contract with Comcast.

During public testimony, one woman said she went to Comcast’s Vancouver office, only to be told no one could answer her billing question and she had to call the Comcast customer service line.

“I got a fella named Jose in Guadalajara, Mexico, and I wondered if he knew anything about our franchise in Clark County.” she said.

A second woman said she spent more than a total of 28 hours on the phone with Comcast representatives. She said she kept getting notices she had a balance due, even though she faithfully paid each bill on time by check.  She eventually canceled her service. She said she was told repeatedly that Comcast doesn’t make billing mistakes.

“There are not enough bad words in the English language to describe their treatment and customer service that I endured,” she said.

“And by the way I think I’ve talked to everyone in every single country,” she added. “Half of ‘em you couldn’t even understand.”

Jim Demmon, the city’s cable television manager, gave the council some perspective. He said there’s 81,000 cable subscribers and his office (360-487-8702) received 14 complaints about Comcast last year and 25 complaints so far this year. 

In a survey of 400 cable subscribers, 85 percent responded they were either “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with Comcast customer service. In an online survey of 1,400 subscribers, the satisfaction rate was 78 percent, Demmon said.

Fred Bateman, chairman of the Vancouver/Clark County Telecommunications Commission, said people can always bring complaints to the commission to investigate.

Councilors Jeanne Harris, Larry Smith, Bill Turlay and Jeanne Stewart all asked questions about customer service, but it was Boyscout Bart Hansen who cast the “nay” vote after he didn’t get a straight answer from Comcast’s Sanford Inouye.  Boyscout asked Inouye, the senior director of government affairs for the Oregon/Southwest Washington market, if Comcast makes it “free and easy” for customers to view their billing history.

Inouye said he wasn’t sure if he could answer the question, then added if a mistake has been made, customer services representatives are responsive.

That wasn’t good enough for Hansen, who said, “I’m not going to be supportive of this.”

Inouye later said managers at the Vancouver store should be able to answer questions and resolve billing disputes.

Mayor Tim Leavitt, who mentioned he once had a question about his bill and was able to get his answer during a quick online chat with a customer service rep, ended the meeting on a positive note. He noted Comcast supports local nonprofit organizations and, speaking to Inouye, he said, “You have a reputation for doing a good job, some people will be unhappy here and there, (but) take care of them and we’ll be OK.”

Stephanie Rice

Stephanie Rice

I cover Vancouver city government. Reach me at or 360-735-4508.

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