A company that overpromises what it can deliver should never deal with a lawyer.
That's what Comcast did with Minneapolis attorneys Richard Fuller and Charles Horowitz, who recently opened a shared law office. They ordered Comcast's business-class Internet service and, along with it, Comcast's customized e-mail service that would make the law office's e-mail address "name@RFullerLaw.com."
The new e-mail address was ordered in late March and was to become available in early April. But by the second week of May, the lawyers not only didn't have their own brand-name e-mail service, they had no e-mail service at all because Comcast couldn't seem to turn it on.
Because Fuller is a lawyer who likes to get to the bottom of things, he kept calling Comcast until he finally got a technician who explained that Fuller's law firm wasn't the only one having a problem. In fact, the technician said 7,000 Comcast business customers nationwide had been affected by a long-lasting computer glitch in mid-February, Fuller recalled. (Comcast later disputed the 7,000 customer number Fuller said he was told, but declined to offer specific figures. Comcast said less than 1 percent of its business customers nationwide were affected.) As a result of the glitch, requests for customized e-mail addresses were frozen and, in the meantime, Comcast was technically unable to issue the same customers ordinary e-mail addresses, the technician told the attorney.
"What annoyed me was that we had signed up for the e-mail service at the end of March," Fuller told me. "By then Comcast had known for a month and a half that they couldn't provide us with the e-mail service they sold us."
As a result of Fuller's complaints, Comcast offered the two lawyers $50 a month off the cost of their Internet service during the e-mail outage. But Fuller wasn't impressed.
"We're a business, and having e-mail access is worth a lot more than $50," Fuller said.
When I contacted Comcast last week, it acknowledged the problem, apparently for the first time since I can find no news stories about it.
"Our national team has been working hard to identify and correct all outstanding issues, and we expect to have the process completed by mid-next week [the week of May 12]," said Dave Nyberg, a Comcast spokesman in St. Paul. Nyberg also said that Comcast had contacted Fuller's law office partner Horowitz to make amends.
But Fuller told Comcast it was too late because the two lawyers had already decided to drop Comcast and had signed up for an identical custom e-mail service from a competitor, telephone company CenturyLink.
"We reached the point where we just got tired of dealing with Comcast," Fuller said on Monday May 13. "I understand that the CenturyLink Internet service isn't as fast as Comcast's, but it's fast enough for us."
To it's credit, Comcast turned the tide late Monday. In addition to apologizing and fixing the attorneys' e-mail service, Comcast offered the lawyers three months of free service and free installation, a value of about $450, Fuller said. As a result, the lawyers relented and agreed to remain Comcast customers, but they didn't tell the Star Tribune about it until Thursday, after an initial version of this column had been published.
If there's a moral, it may be this: Even big Internet service companies can have serious computer failures that aren't their fault. The bigger failure is not being candid about it with customers.
E-mail tech questions to steve.j.alexander@
gmail.com or write to Tech Q&A, 425 Portland Av. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488. Include name, city and telephone number.