“3 Cables and You’re Done”

I had a little reminder a few weeks ago that nothing is ever as simple as they say it will be. Especially with IT and cable/streaming services. Now before you read on, please know that I have the utmost respect for IT professionals of all trades (my son-in-law is one), but this story is way too funny and familiar not to share.

A friend of mine, let’s call her “Leslie”, needed to switch out her ancient cable TV box with a new HD version. There was one specific channel she wanted to watch but it was only in HD. Her service provider – I won’t say who but I’m sure many can figure it out – said she could do it no problem. It was just unplugging the old box and plugging in the new with three cables – the power cable, a coax cable, and an HDMI cable. They sent her the new box with the cables, instructions, and a UPS return label. I’m not sure why they wanted the old box back because it was useless to them. In fact, I think they spent way more money on the return postage than the box was worth, but that type of “logic” fits this company.

When Leslie got the new box, she looked at the tangled mess of cables behind her TV – the same kind of cable dysfunction that many of us (at least me) have behind our TV – and realized very quickly that the very nice lady from the cable company duped her. Wisely, instead of attempting to deinstall the current box and risk making a bad situation even worse, she called me for help.

This is more organized than the back of her TV set

I went over to her house, assessed the situation, sorted out the cables, and quickly switched the boxes. I held my breath and watched as the new box booted up and fun little messages skipped over the screen. After several minutes, an account verification prompt popped up. We were making progress. I entered Leslie’s info, selected English as the language, and watched as flashing little white dots told me everything was working and to wait a few minutes. So, we waited. And waited. And waited. And…waited.

An unsettled feeling crept up my spine. I’ve been down this road before, and things never ended well. Ever.

I checked the cables, rebooted the box, and was rewarded with more watching, waiting, and flashing white dots. After one more failed attempt, and another ten minutes of frustration, Leslie called the company to ask for tech support. Ten years ago, I had the unfortunate pleasure of having an account with this company and knew where this call for help was going.

An automated voice system answered her call. Leslie asked for technical support, and for the next 20 minutes I laughed as she argued with an automated system. Leslie kept repeating – actually yelling – that she needed to speak with technical support, and the system kept responding by looping her back to the main menu and twice, after thanking her, hanging up.

It was hilarious.

Finally, Leslie decided to take the backdoor approach and asked for “new accounts.” Lo and behold, a real person came on the phone. Leslie explained she needed technical support and before she could say anything she was transferred. Back to the automated menu!

Leslie was ready to throw her phone through the TV. She tried the “new accounts” approach again and another person answered. Leslie wisely told the representative she needed to talk to a person at tech support and do not transfer her back to the main menu. Seconds later, a man came on the line with a pleasant, “Technical support, how can I help you today.” We felt like lottery winners.

Leslie quickly made sure the tech support guy had her cell number and would call back if they got disconnected. No problem, he said. We spent the next hour running through various troubleshooting tasks for something that was really simple – three little cables including a power cord. The guy was great and each time we made a little progress in the process, he got excited. At one point he said his supervisor was listening and even she was getting excited as we got closer to getting the new box to work.

This poor guy.

However, all that progress was fool’s gold. No matter how far we got, the end result was the same. Those dang flashing white lights telling you the box was working on it when in reality it was stuck in a loop. Kinda like the automated customer service loop Leslie fought with earlier in the day.

Eventually the tech support rep determined the box was working fine but the coax connection in the wall was too old (20 years old) to handle the HD signal and needed to be replaced. Leslie spent another 20 minutes on the phone with the guy setting up a date for a technician to come out to her house. While she slogged through a loooong list of COVID requirements with the guy, I took five minutes to put her old box back in service.

Something that should have taken 5-10 minutes ended up taking well over two hours. And with no resolution.

Three days later, two cable technicians showed up at Leslie’s house, checked her coax wall connection, and told her that wasn’t the problem. They went outside to check a box on the side of her house. Three hours later, they told her the box was outdated and needed to be replaced.

They could come back the following week to make the switch. No problem.

In the end, Leslie did get her new HD cable box to work. I have yet to ask her if watching that one channel was worth it. I’m afraid what she might do to me.

So, remember this story when somebody says, “Pssh, it will be easy. No worries. Three cables and you’re done.”

That’s when you should start sweating.

Have a great day!

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