Comcast wanted man to pay $19,000 after falsely advertising service on his street

Comcast wanted man to pay $19,000 after falsely advertising service on his street

Aurich Lawson

What’s it like to spend $10,000 for Internet service and wait six months for Comcast to hook it up? Jonathan Rowny knows the answer.

Rowny and his wife and child moved from Virginia to Washington state in May 2021. Rowny told Ars that before closing on the house in the city of Buckley, he checked Comcast’s website to confirm that he could sign up for broadband.

“I went ahead and placed my order and scheduled the install for the day after we moved in or whatever… I think it was about four days before closing [on the house] that Comcast canceled my order,” he said. Rowny said that someone from Comcast called him with the message that “your house is not serviceable.”

Comcast initially told Rowny that he’d have to pay over $19,000 for a line extension. After spending a couple of months investigating his options, Rowny hired a contractor to do part of the work and paid Comcast to do the rest, for a total of about $10,000.

Construction took a bit longer than expected, and there was one final frustration after the line extension was completed: Comcast wouldn’t send an installer to Rowny’s house because the company’s records incorrectly showed the work wouldn’t be done until April. Rowny had to contact a senior vice president to get that issue sorted out and finally got service in mid-January.

ISPs give false availability information

We confirmed last week that Comcast’s online ordering system was still giving false availability information on Rowny’s street. At another house about 400 feet further down Rowny’s street, the address checker said that Internet service is available, and the website let us add an Internet plan to the cart for purchase. That was on March 29, and we notified Comcast of the likely error.

Comcast has since corrected the address checker so that it now says the home is “out of footprint” and “Xfinity service is not available at this address.” A Comcast spokesperson told Ars that this address “doesn’t have service and is not currently connected to our network, and we have never had a request for service construction to that address… that is an error and our local team is looking into why it is listed on the site.” If someone had ordered service for this address before it was corrected, that person would have faced the same problem Rowny encountered in May 2021. We also asked Comcast if it is evaluating the rest of the area for similar mistakes and did not get an answer.

Customers getting false information from ISPs about broadband availability is a story we’ve heard numerous times over the years. You may remember our article from last year about a couple who was incorrectly told by Comcast that service would be available, then found out that they’d have to pay $5,000 for a hookup and had to wait six months for Comcast to complete the work.

Rowny’s similar problem eventually had a happy ending, but getting there wasn’t easy. He spoke to Ars via phone and email and provided us with emails he exchanged with Comcast and other companies that ended up being involved in the project to connect his house.

Rowny’s neighbor already had a Comcast connection, but the cable lines hadn’t been extended to Rowny’s house. “The thing that really frustrated me is my neighbor had Internet,” he said. “I confirmed that by checking his address, and then when I moved in, I met him and he told me that yeah, Comcast came down the street [to install service] but they didn’t go down the side street.”

In the immediate area, some homes have Comcast and some don’t, Rowny said. “Our neighborhood basically has one [Comcast] trunk with a few branches. All of the houses on the trunk have it and then randomly some houses on each branch street will have it,” he said.

Rowny said his neighborhood is “on the edge of suburbia.” Buckley is a small city but isn’t in the middle of nowhere. “I’m five minutes from Costco… I wouldn’t consider it rural,” he said. “I’ve lived rural, I had cows in my backyard, but I do not have cows now. Admittedly, there is a horse in the neighborhood.”

When asked how many houses near Rowny’s have service, Comcast told us that “three homes have the network extending from the road (including Mr. Rowny’s).”

Comcast’s first estimate: $19,052

Rowny made plenty of phone calls to Comcast and visited a Comcast store, where a manager gave him information about the process of getting service to a house that isn’t hooked up. Comcast told Rowny on May 15, 2021, that he would have to pay $19,052 for a line extension because “this home is approximately 503 feet away from our plant and unfortunately, this location is not serviceable by Comcast at this time,” as an email that he shared with Ars confirms.

“The part I’m struggling with is that the neighbor, who as far as I can tell is the same distance from the plant, has had Comcast since 2013,” Rowny told Comcast in a message at the time. “I’m having a hard time understanding why that house can get Comcast but I am unable without paying a minimum of $19,000.”

Comcast’s price estimate dropped to $13,853 after a site survey revealed the work would be a bit less extensive than initially thought. Rowny provided us with a June 2021 invoice from Project Resources Group, a construction project management firm hired by Comcast, that shows the $13,853 price.

Unsatisfied with that amount, Rowny investigated whether he could do part of the work himself to lower the amount charged by Comcast. The work estimate included placing a “new tap in an existing pedestal” and a “new vault,” plus 436 feet worth of trenching (less than the original 503-foot estimate).

Of that 436 feet, 153 feet were on Rowny’s property. Rowny said he “asked, ‘Can I do it myself?’ Because I can hire a guy with a backhoe to put some conduit in, and they said, ‘Sure. You can do that.'”

Rowny paid a vendor about $2,950 to install 153 feet of conduit underground, mostly under his driveway. That significantly reduced the amount of work Comcast needed to do, and Project Resources Group provided a new quote of $7,102. Rowny decided to pay it.