It’s annoying when your landline telephone is on the fritz. But to Dan O’Brien, telephone problems are more than a nuisance. It could be a matter of life or death.
Both homes, according to Dan O’Brien, have had a series of telephone and cable television issues. Service provider Comcast has come to the homes dozens of times in an effort to repair the problems.
Without success, O’Brien said.
Teresa O’Brien uses a life alert system that allows her to press a button on a pendant if she has a medical emergency. The system uses the telephone to call emergency services – if the telephone line is operational.
It wasn’t operational on Dec. 16, 2011, according to O’Brien, 57.
“Of course the worst possible thing that could happen came through,” he said.
Teresa O’Brien had what her son describes as a neurological attack, and when her home health aide reached for the phone, there was no dial tone.
“The aide had to go out to her car and get her cell phone,” Dan O’Brien said. “Thank God my mother had the aide there and she didn’t have to press the life alert button because it wouldn’t have worked.”
And it’s not just the O’Briens who report service troubles. Bamboozled has spoken to many other neighbors, plus a member of the local rescue squad, and all reported service troubles that they say Comcast technicians haven’t been able to fix.
Some even reported they were told by Comcast reps and techs that the issues were caused by an underground wiring problem that could take two years to fix.
Comcast denies those claims, saying each home’s issue is unique to that home.
A CUSTOMER AND HIS MOM
O’Brien contacted Bamboozled weeks before his mom’s most recent medical emergency and hospitalization.
He said the Comcast trouble started in July 2009 when he moved into his home. The phones in his and his mom’s homes frequently lost dial tone, dropped calls, had sudden static and other issues. Their televisions, he said, often pixelate and the cable boxes freeze.
“Last month they wanted my 90-year-old mom to go behind her TV to reboot their system. She can barely walk,” O’Brien said.
O’Brien said he was a trouble-free Comcast customer in North Jersey for 28 years, but in Holiday City, he said dozens of Comcast techs have been to both homes yet they’ve been unable to correct whatever’s amiss.
Frustrated, O’Brien said he regularly called for help. He admits losing patience with customer service reps and techs at times, and he tired of missing work to wait for service techs.
The last straw, he said, came after a conversation with a rep who works out of the president’s office.
“[He said] that there is an infrastructure underground wiring problem in all of Holiday City that they cannot fix for at least two years,” O’Brien said.
Soon after, O’Brien stopped to chat with Comcast technicians working in the development. He said two techs at different locations said the area had underground wiring problems, so all their troubleshooting wouldn’t fix anything.
Then a second rep from the president’s office also said there was an underground wiring problem, O’Brien said.
Finally, Comcast offered O’Brien and his mother a $25 credit for 12 months for “service interruptions,” but O’Brien said the rep from the president’s office backpedaled and said the credit was not because of an underground wiring problem.
Credit or not, O’Brien said services still aren’t reliable, and outages continue – like the one on the day his mom needed medical help. O’Brien said his neighbors – many of whom are elderly and need working telephones – claimed the same.
“Comcast knows about the wiring problems, yet continues to not do the necessary replacement of the underground wiring that they finally admitted to me is the problem in all of Holiday City,” he said. “How can they continue to charge for services they are not delivering?”
OTHER TROUBLED CUSTOMERS
Paul Dericks, 62, lives on the same block as Teresa O’Brien.
He said he and his wife started having phone troubles when they switched to Comcast’s triple play deal for television, telephone and internet service in the summer of 2011.
Dericks said two months ago, Comcast rewired the house and added a new junction box outside.
“The tech told me that the problem is outside my home and it’s a Comcast problem between the cables underground and going out to their network,” he said.
He said he was also told by a telephone rep that there was an underground wiring problem.
Disruptions continued through December.
“Dropped calls, no dial tone, calls straight to voice mail,” Dericks said. “Most recently after Comcast came four times in one day it wasn’t fixed but there was a new problem – crossed lines and a `baahhhhh’ sound when you pick up the phone.”
Ron Mudzik, 68, lives with his wife Lucille on Dan O’Brien’s block.
He said his cable TV pixelates and he also has internet troubles.
“One of the tech guys said… all of the outside wiring was old and that’s where all the problems come in,” Mudzik said.
Jim and Carolyn Burns live on the same block as Teresa O’Brien, and they’ve had trouble with their telephone.
Burns also volunteers with the local rescue squad a few blocks away, which Burns said has had trouble with Comcast service for at least a year.
“There’s background noise, calls can’t go through, calls get cut off, sometimes crossed lines,” he said.
Then there’s Joan Mongiovi, 58, who lives down the street from Dan O’Brien and reports trouble with her television and her telephone.
“The television keeps pixelating, the boxes go out – freezing – and the boxes have to be reset,” she said. “The phone problems? Not working, no dial tone. It’s been random. You never know when it’s going to happen.”
She said her problems started since she became a triple play customer more than a year ago, and she said she gave up calling for service help because techs can’t seem to fix it.
Lily and Frank Ingargiola live around the corner. They contacted Bamboozled after seeing a flyer posted by Dan O’Brien asking residents with Comcast troubles to contact The Star-Ledger.
The Ingargiolas reported cable boxes that “go off for a few hours,” and they’ve had telephone troubles, too. Lily Ingargiola, 77, said the couple recently bought a new telephone to combat dropped calls and static. She said she hopes the new phone fixes the problem, but it’s too soon to know for sure.
Bamboozled spoke with others in Holiday City who reported similar problems, but you get the idea.
Each customer we spoke with said Comcast does come promptly to work on problems but the problems never seem to be corrected. For that reason, some of the customers said they stopped calling in the trouble reports.
Some wondered if there was an underground wiring issue. Others wondered if Comcast was somehow over capacity after it offered triple play services.
“Through our ongoing, 24×7 monitoring of the network and the additional attention we placed on the immediate neighborhood, we know there are no widespread service issues affecting Holiday City,” said Comcast spokesman Jeff Alexander in an emailed statement. “In fact, the area is fed by multiple, entirely separate network sources.”
Alexander said when Comcast initially heard concerns from Dan O’Brien, the company’s techs “took immediate action and worked as effectively as they could with limited access to the home.”
This included placing a team on the street to monitor the signal strength and replacing the connection into the house, he said.
“We detected nothing ongoing in nature,” he said. “In following up, we repeatedly heard the customer express satisfaction with the service.”
O’Brien disagrees, saying he reported issues often, and while Comcast trucks did come, the service issues continued.
Alexander apologized for any Comcast-related problems that customers may have experienced, and he said the company addressed complaints with straightforward remedies such as tightening connections in the home, swapping set-top boxes and replacing old batteries.
He said a 2011 “network enhancement” – which he described as “the full system including Holiday City” – “speaks to why a widespread issue isn’t feasible.”
But customers who have had multiple service visits said they don’t see the enhancements.
We asked the customers why they haven’t switched service providers if they’re not happy. Some said no other providers in the area offer a triple play option, and others have said they plan to switch, but they haven’t done it yet.
Still, it’s curious that so many homes in such a close vicinity can have so many similar service problems.