Simon Higgs Reports From Telephone Hell

Simon Higgs is having a surreal experience trying to move his cell phone service from Verizon to Comcast. All he wants to do is (1) keep his same telephone number (this is the much-vaunted “number portability” that we are supposed to be able to enjoy; and (2) have working reliable phone service. It's not that easy.

Here are his reports from the front:

Day 4

So far the process has been a nightmare, but the impossible has recently happened which is still really annoying but is also a little amusing. Everyone says what has happened can't be done, but since I used to work for a Telco and know what I am seeing in front of me, I don't believe them for a minute.

This particular number of mine is currently stuck mid-port whereby it rings on both the Verizon and Comcast networks totally independently of the other network. I've been told this is totally impossible but I've verified this with both Comcast and Verizon's people by dialing 611 on each physical line pair. Verizon's line comes up as owned by Verizon. Comcast's line comes up as owned by Comcast. Both line pairs are working independently for exactly the same physical number within exactly the same area code.

What this means is that if I call my number from a Comcast number, the Comcast pair rings. If I call my number from a Verizon number, the Verizon pair rings. Yes, I know it's not supposed to do this but it is.

Day 5

Well. Comcast have a problem with denial. It works like this. I can call Comcast on the phone line that their records say does not exist. I just dial 611 (611 is the number that shows which telephone company owns a number). They then proceed to tell me I can't do that because the line doesn't exist. The fact the conversation is taking place proves to me, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the line is working. No, it's not says Comcast. This gives you some idea of what I have been putting up with for the last few days…

At this point in time we have a working phone line inside Comcast's telephone network appearing at a phone jack inside the house. The same number is also working at Verizon's jack inside the house because it hasn't been disconnected from Verizon's network yet. For those with doubts about this, my house has a couple of 66 blocks inside and has separate Cat 5 cables coming from each providers demark point. From the 66 blocks, I can see exactly what is coming in from each provider's demark. This is how I can see two separate dial tones for the same telephone number.

Let me clarify this again. Two telephone providers, two physical line pairs, two dial tones, but only one physical phone number which is simultaneously working on both telephone providers jacks. Impossible say Comcast! Hah!

Back to the story. Today they tell me the port can't be completed because they don't own the line. I ask them why not. They said they needed 7 days. I asked them just how many 7 days waits this would take. Then they said they had the number and gave it back to Verizon when the work order was cancelled. So now they've cancelled the work order they can't tell Verizon to drop the line from their network.

The result on my 66 blocks? Both companies are routing the number. No, we're not, say Comcast. Oh yes they are, says I. The Comcast line pair rings when dialed from inside Comcast proving, again, that it exists and is being routed by Comcast. No, it doesn't do that, say Comcast.

Now that Comcast has resorted to calling me a liar, I ask them they can't send someone out here to prove me wrong. Nope. They won't do it. They need to investigate the problem without actually looking at the evidence on hand at the customer's premises.

Finally we turn to Comcast's customer records. Denial is the overwhelming part of the problem here. These records are woefully WRONG now. Because the port was not completed their records indicate that the number/pair was never turned on. But out here in the real world, it was turned on, and I keep telling them this. No, it wasn't turned on say Comcast. Remember, I'm calling Comcast by dialing 611 from the Comcast line pair that doesn't exist in their records.

Now it gets better. It turns out Comcast can't open a new work order because their computer won't accept the number to be ported. I tell them that's because the number already exists inside Comcast and they can't port in a number they already route. They keep telling me it doesn't exist and Verizon own the number. Yes, they do. But so does Comcast if I can dial 611 and Comcast answers. You see what I mean? We've been here before. Several times.

This work order business is apparently rather important to Comcast people. It's exactly what is required to have Comcast actually do something. Like call Verizon to have them drop the number from their network. Without this work order, Comcast will do exactly nothing about the situation. Also Comcast tell me that while Verizon owns the line, they can't open a work order to fix this. Huh?

So after taking much abuse by inept Comcast supervisors and my patiently asking why I am continually being called a liar (I'm only telling them exactly what I see at my house on their lines), Comcast has escalated this to somewhere beyond the reach of mere mortals. Somewhere beyond where normal people are allowed to call. That's the story they're now spinning for me. OK but… Whoa… why am I so dizzy…

Well, we must be pretty high up now because there have been 4 escalations for this in 5 days. And, every time I call Comcast back, they have precisely nothing new to tell me. But they're working as hard as they can on this. Right. Of course they are.

Earlier today I called the California PUC in San Francisco. They transferred me to Evelyn Souse's voicemail at Comcast's executive offices. I haven't received a call back yet. Or maybe I did get called back and it didn't get routed to my Verizon voicemail because the call originated from a Comcast number…

Day 6

Just after I filed the last update, I was given the local engineering test numbers. These numbers are used by field engineers to verify the identity of a particular phone line. After you call the test number, a robotic voice from the switch replies with the phone number assigned to that pair of wires. I now have MP3 recordings of both the Comcast and Verizon switches responding with the identical telephone number. They are completely different female voices telling me the same identical number. Verizon's switch responds with an extremely mechanical, low bit rate/old codec voice, almost Dalek like. Comcast's switch responds with a much smoother overall feel indicating a much newer and better compressed recording, yet is still somewhat mechanical.

I'll complicate things by now telling you that prior to all this happening I was an existing Comcast telephone customer and that I already had two working Comcast phone numbers when all this started. I'd been satisfied with the service so far so the entire exercise here was to drop one of those existing numbers and replace it with my last remaining Verizon number. Literally all that had to be done here was to change the number coming in on that pair of wires.

The Comcast field engineers did do this part right. That line now responds with the Verizon number (and, of course, so does the Verizon pair). The people answering the phones say this work was not done and all their behaviour is based upon this incorrect assumption.

One of the other “items” on the work order was to refer people calling the dropped number to the other pre-existing number. i.e. “xxx-xxxx has moved – the new number is yyy-yyyy”. You'd think this would be simple. But, alas, the work order was cancelled, remember?

So, on Day One, they physically disconnected the xxx-xxxx number, like they were supposed to. But, because their records show it is active, I am still being billed for it. I mind that less than the fact that they won't put a referral on that number like I've asked because it shows up as an active number in their computers. I finally managed to get a trouble ticket opened for this. I've just been told this morning that, because it is showing as active in their computers, the only way they can open a trouble ticket is to open it for having no dial tone. The number has been correctly disconnected. It shouldn't have dial tone, it should have a referral message. Comcast actually told me that in order to put the referral message on the line, it needs to be reconnected so they can disconnect it. There just aren't the words…

Also, I should tell you of the real time-frame involved here. I originally called in this request on 9/17/2003. The tech showed up at my house 7 days later (there's a 7 day wait, this is OK) on 9/24/2003 but couldn't complete the port because the work order was cancelled by someone inside Comcast. Who did this? No-one will tell me.

I called Comcast after the tech left, to find out what was going on, and they assured me that someone would come back in 7 days. I made an appointment. Two days later (9/26/2003) I called back just to double check. Sorry sir. This work order was cancelled. No one is coming out to you. What the…?

So I somehow got them to issue a new work order on 9/26/2003. After my second 7-day wait, October 3 2003 rolls around and that is where my Day One starts dealing with this fiasco. This isn't really Day Six. Today is actually the 22nd day since I put in a request for this job. Today is Day Six of having one phone number routed on two seperate phone networks. It's also Day Six of the second work order, which also has been cancelled.

While I'm writing this, Comcast's repair department called me. They tell me that the number is active on both Verizon and Comcast networks. Hey, they deal with real engineers who know a thing or two about this. Finally! Then they told me it would definitely be fixed by Friday. So far I've been told every single day that it will be fixed in two days. All the deadlines have been missed. So I'm skeptical, and not going to hold my breath.

Then the repair person said something really ugly. They told me the truth about the situation. But the truth is sometimes ugly and it was a ballsy thing to do, but I'm OK with it. Sort of. We are going to be experiencing dropped and misdirected calls while both phone companies route the same number. I knew that already. Maybe I'm still in denial over it, because I just don't want to think about that. I believe this can be fixed…. I believe this can be fixed…. I believe this can be fixed….

Unless something drastic happens to report later today, I'm going to spend the rest of the day getting a life.

All quotations © Simon Higgs, 2003, reprinted by permission

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