Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Well, That Was Annoying...

How Satellite TV Supposedly Works.
(Diagram does not show the massive amounts of cash needed to propel the system.)

Rather than regale you with more nautical, historical tales of submarines, destroyers, battleships, aircraft carriers, and heavily armed sampans (which could, in theory, defeat the "mighty" LCS), I have a tale of misery to share. It is a tale which, while not "needing" to be told, should be told. As a public service announcement kind of thing. While I was tempted to title the post "AT&T delenda est," I didn't, for AT&T is a hydra, cut off one head, several more will appear. Trust me.

First some background. When first arriving here in Little Rhody, fast by the shores of Narragansett Bay, we weren't really in a hurry to sign up for cable TV. We had survived quite nicely in Germany on one to three channels in English and the few German channels available via antenna. The variable number of English channels was dependent upon whether or not the Dutch/Belgian stations were showing an American TV program at any particular moment.

We also remembered cable TV from our time out on the Great Plains, (well, Omaha) and were not impressed with the content available for the significant amount of American dollars required to access such a service. Being a right cheap bastid, I was content with the few local channels available via "rabbit ears." (Seriously, we were still using those as late as 2004 I think it was.)

Eventually though I realized that my salary as a civilian was rather a lot larger than my pay had been as a Master Sergeant. So one day we decided that this newfangled DirecTV thing was perhaps worth the output in hard currency for the acquisition thereof. For the price of a mere fifty simoleons the good folks at DirecTV would come to the house and mount a wee antenna on the roof, facing in the optimum direction for satellite reception. The equipment itself we bought at Best Buy, no muss, no fuss as the domicile had most of the coaxial cable needed already installed.

Within a period of perhaps an hour we now had access to jillions* of channels of stuff. One of my personal favorites being The History Channel, back when the programming contained actual history and not the reality TV crap they seem to purvey in this day and age.

Well, we had those jillions of channels when it wasn't raining hard or snowing. Well, hard rain is rather a "thing" when one lives but a stone's throw (okay, it's further than that, but its close) from the mighty Atlantic Ocean. There seem to be no gentle rains here in Little Rhody fast by the shores of Narragansett Bay. Nope, when it rains it pours, each rainstorm seems to herald the end of civilization as we know it. Always driven by winds sufficient to make the use of an umbrella rather wishful thinking, if not an outright comedy of epic proportions. (Go ahead, ask me how I know, having walked across the parking lot at my place of employment attempting to maneuver my umbrella to keep from getting soaking wet. Usually all I managed to accomplish was keeping my head dry, from the waist down it looked like a pair of hip-waders might be a good investment on my part.)

Anyhoo, all that being said, it was a grand ride on DirecTV when the weather was okay. Gradually though, things changed. All the progeny grew up, moved out, and established families of their own, far from the ancestral hearth. DirecTV was kept around for those rare, yet precious, times when the grandkids would come to visit and expect to watch hour upon hour of My Little Pony and Dora the Explorer. (The latter program taught me to say "Yo soy Dora" with the aplomb and native accent of any denizen of the Spanish-speaking lands. Though that is somewhat akin to going around and saying "I am Groot" in the English-speaking world. Laden with meaning but it sounds like the same thing over and over again. But it does annoy my granddaughters so it is a skill I cherish.)

Anyhoo, on Saturday last, The Missus Herself marched into the Command Center at Chez Sarge, handed me a sheet of paper and demanded that I, "Do something." Glancing at the sheet of paper I noted a bill in the amount of something well north of a hundred Yanqui dollars for the latest installment of DirecTV.

"Ouch!" I exclaimed.

"Indeed!" she agreed.

To the phones I went, after discovering that the website for DirecTV was nearly as forthright and understandable as the Dead Sea Scrolls. Have I mentioned that some time ago AT&T, they of telephonic communication fame, had taken over DirecTV? No? Well, they did. Much like when they took over my cell phone provider (Cingular) I was not thrilled with their acquisition of the provider of my television content. DirecTV used to be acclaimed for their customer service. Note the tense used in that last sentence...

After yelling at the automated menu system enough times...

"Would you like to add a premium service to your DirecTV package? Press 1 for..."


"Stand by while I connect you to a representative..."

What, I have to talk to a congresscritter? Nah, that's just what they call them, representatives. Very fancy that is.

So I was connected with a very nice lady who, once my account was accessed on the ever present computer, noted that I had been a "loyal customer" since 2004 (might have been 2005, I don't remember). At that point I noted that my loyalty was under severe strain and what-the-hell am I getting for this exorbitant price?

She agreed that my bill seemed "a little high."

A "little high"? Seriously, the monthly bill seemed higher than the national debt of some of the smaller countries on the planet. A "little high"? That's like saying Everest is kind of a big mountain. That the ocean is kind of big and hey, kind of deep too.

After the nice lady had managed to "talk me off the ledge" she explained that apparently someone had taken certain liberties with my account, such as adding new programming, a super keen neat-o "protection plan..."

"You mean like a Mafia protection plan?" I asked, somewhat smart-assedly.

"Heh. No sir. This plan covers the event of us having to dispatch a technician to your house. Normally that's a minimum ninety dollar charge. This covers that."

"So, for a hundred and twenty bucks a year, I can avoid that ninety dollar fee?"

"Well, it does sound bad when you put it that way."

"Yes, get rid of that. Don't want it, don't need it. Now what else can we do to drop this ridiculous price short of canceling the service altogether?"

"Let me dig into this further sir, I'm going to put you on hold."


Silence. Suspicious silence. No elevator music silence. Refreshing, yet disconcerting.


Why did my phone just click, I thought to myself. Looking at the face of my cellular device, I noted that I was no longer connected to AT&T. Hhmm...

Hitting re-dial I once again fought my way through the automated menu system and accessed an actual human being.

"I was speaking with Marissa, please re-connect me with Marissa."

"Hello Sir, my name is Peter. How may I help you today?"

"Connect me with Marissa, that's all I want you to do."

"This is a big company sir, I don't know any Marissa."

"So you mean to tell me that I have to start all over again, from scratch as it were."

"How can I help you sir?"

"Disconnect my service, immediately."

"Uh, uh, let me connect you with a supervisor."

Once I was connected with a supervisor, another nice lady who again had to talk Sarge down off the ledge, I explained what had happened. She did not start saying she didn't know Marissa, nor that AT&T is a big company, she accessed my account on the computer.

"Let me see if Marissa started modifying your account before we go any further."

Whoa, I thought to myself, I've actually been put in touch with someone who can operate "off script."

In short order, the cost to me (on a monthly basis) had been reduced significantly, which convinced me to keep DirecTV as my TV service. I mean, all I really want are the local channels and those few extras that come as part of the basic package. I didn't want the following channels at all -
  • The Golf Channel
  • Fox Sports
  • ESPN "The Ocho" (Yup, just kidding there.)
  • The NHL Network (while I like hockey, I don't like it that much)
  • The NFL Network (used to be good, too much "fantasy" football and draft news and rumors now for my taste)
  • A bunch of others I don't watch and don't want to, like The Weather Channel, I stopped watching them when they started naming freaking winter storms. Bastids.
Anyhoo, the bill is now much smaller than it was, like maybe two-thirds of what it was. I mean I don't watch much TV anymore, a ball game every now and then depending on the season, most of which are carried on my local channels.

Yes, the grandkids can still watch My Little Pony and Dora the Explorer when they come to visit. I mean, I'm not a complete Luddite.

Oh, the time it took to reduce my DirecTV bill, roughly two hours.

Yeah, that was annoying.

Yo soy Dora...


* An approximation, to be sure.


  1. The Costco price for Direct TV was and likely still is $42/mo. for the basic 500 or so channels.

    I haven't had any problem with the service, but did need to call once and they gave me "Bob" from Hyderabad, whose grasp of the lingua franca was not extensive. I demanded to speak to an American and they gave me a number to call in Texas. Based on the quick resolution of the problem, it actually was San Antonio.

    1. Fascinating, so Costco is cheaper than the folks who own the product. Time to do some research methinks.

      I think I've talked with "Bob" from Hyderabad, couple of times. Go off script with that lad and he's all at sea.

  2. Two-thirds of " well north of a hundred dollars".....yikes! Being a cheap bastid myself only have over-the-air TV, no Dish/cable, never had them, not watching much TV. The automated services are sloooow and maddening, not to mention the scripts followed when you finally get to a live person.

    1. The automated services are essentially useless. I'd dump the TV thing altogether if it wasn't for the occasional money-ball game I like to watch.

      Oh, then there are the cooking shows, I can't cook but I enjoy watching people that know how. (Bear in mind I am capable of charring meat and overcooking vegetables, I'm in no danger of starving, I'm just not very good at it.)

  3. I used rabbit ears until digital TV was foisted upon us. Out here, we are in the coverage area, but have very poor coverage. And with "Digital TV, it's either on or off", it was mostly weird cubes and strange colors. We paid for TV when Weekday Wings was a thing. But not in the last 20+ years.

    An Aside: I very nearly stroked out watching a show a while back. There wasn't a shot that lasted more than 3 seconds. It was just this mad flipping from perspective to perspective. Gadzooks! I had to wash my eyes out with an old movie. Something that doesn't snap like a jumpy film strip. I'd rather watch a security camera than what passes for entertainment now.

    LL hit some good points too. Our internal help desk is a grab bag of nationalities (cheaper than Americans I suppose), and indecipherable accents. I learned College Algebra from an Indian that was freshly arrived at Texas Technical, so I know I can decipher accented English. But some are easier than others!

    Glad you managed to save some filthy lucre. It seems to be harder to do nowadays.

    1. Ah, help desks, it's almost as if the companies are trying to be ironic.

      What passes for art these days in film is anything but - jumpy shops, quick cuts back and forth, it's trash.

  4. The Constitution of the United States of America clearly states, in plain, simple English that: A) Hallmark and Hallmark Mysteries; B) HGTV and DIY; and C) Food and Cooking channels shall be provided. As head of my household, I fully do my best to obey my Supreme Leader. But Dish and Sinclair, which decided to purchase all those Fox Regional networks, have been in a contest which one can recycle beer in the longest/highest arc. Since August!!! I have my rights, and the right to watch the Cardinals and the Blues shall not be infringed!!! Except they are. :P

    And worse, they are being infringed at a cost of $124.00 and some change each month! Well. So after about four years, we have, effective 3/15, cast off Dish; I was looking at DTV again (I too had been a loyal customer--since ca. 2001), but your episode gives me pause.

    What really chaps my buns is the fact that I am paying for VH1, MTV, and a plethora of other "channels" I never have, nor ever shall, watch. So I pay for something I don't use. Period. So... We have a nice little antenna up atop the superstructure, and it receives electromagnetic radiation quite well, even when it rains, pours, snows, or ices up.

    But it would be nice to get the Constitutionally-mandated channels for She-Who-SHALL-Be-Obeyed, and Those sports networks that used to be the norm, as well as Fox News/Business, and also OANN. Because.

    Oh, and Looney Tunes...

    1. "which one can recycle beer in the longest/highest arc" - that right there is priceless. Took me a few moments to untangle that, but when I did, sprayed the monitor I did. Most excellent comment Jim.

      As to the rest, fortunately The Missus Herself seems quite content with the programming she has on her iPad, mostly Korean TV shows. All I want is the occasional cooking show and the occasional money-ball event. Everything else I stream on my computer.

      I had looked at Dish a while back, didn't see any reason to switch, still don't. Now I'm trying to convince myself to ditch the DirecTV dish as well and get some modern rabbit ears. We shall see what the bill looks like next month, if it's too high, then bye bye DirecTV. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

  5. My TV/internet/phone cable combo is stupid expensive, but then I do watch a lot of tv and need the internet and Mrs. C wants a land line. I figure if things get tight I have stuff to get rid of like too much cable and a monthly storage unit storing shit no one wants but my almost compulsive hoarding wife "has to have." To paraphrase Mark Twain I don't want to be "A sinking ship with no cargo to toss overboard."

    1. I was tempted by "the bundle" but resisted. We still have a land line which fields all of those "this is the IRS" calls. So that is a source of amusement as well.

      I almost went the storage unit route, then decided it was cheaper to let mama throw stuff out rather than keep it, "just in case."

  6. I haven't watched live TV in years. Why allow Joseph Goebbel's descendants access to my brain? And No, I am not entertained by overpaid thugs either. We do have wireless internet access which is much faster than satellite ever was, so we ditched Direct TV altogether. If we watch anything, it comes through Amazon Prime and Mrs J and I will watch an episode or two (Magnum P.I. currently) and then read. My blood pressure is much better now, thank you.

    While we are pretty much exclusively cell phone users, living in the country with no neighbors very close, we still have a land line. The ringer's off, there is an answering machine. Haven't checked it in years.

    The purge continues. Latest episode was a dining set we inherited when Mrs J's father passed (2006). It went to the lady who cleans our guest house. She was very happy to get it, saying she looked forward to not sitting on the floor. She may be receiving more stuff shortly.

    As to tech support, if I can't understand them saying hello, we have a strange connection failure almost immediately and a redial. Magically when I do understand them, that failure disappears. Just me, trying to help quality control. (and my blood pressure).

    Today's project? Put together the new push mower. Old one died when I tried to replace the pull rope. The U2B video on replacing it, didn't quite work for that model mower. It was 20 years old at the time of death. Cause of death, recoil spring coming out of the housing. At a great rate. Uncoiling in all directions. Entangling itself. My blood pressure underwent a significant increase for a short period. Bad language also ensued. But...I forestalled another phone call from the Manager at Lowes inquiring about my health.

    1. I'm still trying to convince myself that keeping DirecTV was a "good" idea. (That may change.)

      Good first pass criteria, "Did I understand what the person answering the phone just said." As I only talk on the phone when it's absolutely necessary (Mom, kids, rarely the wife) I'm not real good on the phone anyway. Give me someone muttering with an accent, I'm out.

      Sorry "Bob" from Hyderabad...

      Assembling a push mower? Sounds like fun. (Can't decide if I'm being sarcastic or not.)

      Great comment BTW, almost Beansian.

    2. Now THAT's a compliment! Thanks, Boss!

    3. Lemme see how to assemble a push mower. Hmmm, this handle thingy is folded over, so loosen up two bolts, flip top part of handle into correct position, tighten the two loosened bolts.

      Gosh. Tired. Must rest. Hydration needed. Nap approaching...

      It's a push mower. It's not like you're uncrating a crated Jeep. And to assemble one of those was... attach wheels, attack windscreen, put all tools in appropriate places, gas and oil, drive away. Almost as easy as assembling a push mower.

      Some sarcasm utilized in the preparation of this comment.

  7. I've avoided the issue by not having a TV. My internet bill is another story. Comcast/Xfinity, with an exclusive provider deal with the building management. My cheapo cell carrier, Cricket, got bought by AT&T. Since then I've had "issues". In both cases we have a local retail outlet which allows me to visit in person.

    1. "Bought by AT&T" - the kiss of death, sorry to say.

  8. Ah, yes. Stuck between the Missus and ATT. Picture a turtle shell with two eyes peeking out. The ATT part is truly love/hate. Mostly hate lately.

    IIRC, we started out with PAC-Bell and a land line. Then ATT for commo, and the only cable TV (ha! I just typed cable TB) available was Comcast. Not long before we moved, I recall stopping by their office. They had a rent-a-cop posted because some PO'd customer had vaulted the counter to 'splain their issue(s). I would have cheered him on.

    We eventually bundled everything through ATT--land line, cell phones (kids too), and TV which did save some money. Loyalty counts for nothing. The promo prices suck you in, but then the promos expire, which is where we are now. My impression is that they are pushing dish to get away from hardwire. We have never had a dish. On the plus side, we had a tech come to our house about two years back. Don't recall the issue now. This guy was great. He took one look at our hookup and said "Wow, this is really old". He went up in the attic and dropped and new high speed wire in the wall, then went outside and cut a slit trench all the way to the back of our neighbors yard where the little green box sticks up, and ran new wire out to there as well. All at no cost.

    We have Uverse, some 200+ channels, mostly junk. I don't even have to take off my shoes off to count the number of channels we watch. And History channel is NOT one we get. My wife likes Lonestar Law and Pickers, and the DVR function is handy. The way the Telecom industry is being sliced and diced, bought and sold, makes shopping a real crap shoot these days.

    We also keep a land line just as a backup if the power goes out. Ringer is turned way down, and we delete the voice mail when the mood strikes us.

    1. You're not missing anything not having the History Channel, they used to be good. Used to be...

  9. Does anyone remember back to when Ma Bell was turned into a bunch of “baby” Bells?
    It was going to increase competition and force prices down ...right?
    What an example of unmitigated corral dust.

    Back when MFB and I built “out in the country” we were about a quarter mile from the nearest cable.
    The cable company refused to extend any further.
    It was prior to satellite tv.
    We were stuck using rabbit ears and were limited to three stations, two commercial and PBS.
    Now, MB, She Hulk, and I are bundled (or bungled).
    The landline is mostly a garbage collector.
    She Hulk is really the only one who watches tv, Hallmark and Netflix.
    The Internet is a constant issue, made worse when the grandkids come over, because of the provider’s equipment limits.
    There is much research taking place, but no suitable substitute has been found ...yet.

    Recycled Beer Arcs WBAGNFARB

    1. I remember when Ma Bell was "broken up." Still waiting for those prices to drop...

      Concur with your last.

    2. When they broke up the phone companies I had big savings, I could buy a phone for less than the rent I paid and in time I had a choice of which phone company I used.

    3. Didn't work out as well for some. But glad someone benefited.

  10. I, too, have the dreaded... Bundle. Cable and internet.

    I could go with some sort of dish except I live in an oak and pine hammock surrounded by oak and pine swamps and barrens in Florida, which means even though I live in the 'Sunshine State,' due to the tree canopy and humidity and cloud cover and rain and, now, apartment policy, I can't do dish.

    So I have internet and tv from Cox Cable. Had them for tv for 30 years, switched to cable internet after AT&T (hissssss) decided to be boneheads and charge me over $75 each for the two landlines, charge me double what I was paying for Cingular, and double my internet costs. So... Cox for internet and tv.

    I've been a Cox customer for 30+ years (does this make me a Cox sucker?) even when they continue to insist that problems with signal strength are my fault even though I kept telling them that their feed line was full of water because issues only occurred during heavy rain or any condition that creates humidity (remember, I live in Florida, humidity is a way of life here) and they've sent tech after tech after tech to try and find fault with my house and even when the tech on the line says no one else on my feed line is complaining and I tell the tech that no one else on my feed line has cable and suddenly a light springs up in their bony little heads when I say I'm talking to my state and national representatives about lousy service and, whoa, suddenly we have a brand new feed cable throughout the neighborhood because they discovered, quel suprise, that there were cracks in the casing of the line because it was soooo old and, poof, like that, perfect service unless there's so much Florida falling on the antenna farm that it can block out the satellite feed. Two friggin months before I move.

    Yeah, don't like looking at my combined bill because expensive. Individual services aren't that expensive, but add on all the fees and taxes and taxes on fees and fees on taxes and suddenly what should have been a $150.00 bill is over $250.

    I'm waiting for a loyalty program that is as good as 'introductory low rates' that new customers get. Still haven't gotten it.

    Overall, though, Cox beats out AT&T for customer service and prices. Admittedly, that's not saying much as AT$T has set the customer service bar so darned low and the customer price so darned high.

    1. As soon as I saw "I've been a Cox customer for 30+ years" I knew where you would go with that. Thanks for not disappointing me. 😆 Good one. Reminds me of a French-Canadian friend of mine BITD who said he'd rather be a Pepsi drinker than a Coke sucker. (Funnier if you say it with a French-Canadian accent.)

      The fees and taxes, what a gigantic rip-off. Thanks gubmint.

      Beansian by the way, very.

    2. Well, it would have been even more beansian but Blogger decided to pre-edit my reply and did a facebook to it (that would be: making the post reply disappear for 30 days or more...)

      At least by dropping the landlines I am no longer paying taxes to pay for the Spanish-American War.

      Yes, there were taxes on landlines to pay for the SAW. Congress tried to get rid of the tax around 2002 but I don't know if they were successful. Maybe they replaced it with a tax to pay for the Mexican-American War. Or the War of 1812. Or to pay for the broadcast rights of the epic fights between Gilgamesh and Enkidu.

      Do I hate fees and taxes? Yes, yes I do.

      Like with the electric bill. I pay a flat rate charge of $15 just for accessing electricity, then pay one rate for the first 850kW and then a higher rate for the above-850kW and one fee for the first 850kW/kW and then a higher fee for over 850kW/kW. And then get fee'd on all of the above. Then taxed. All because I used... X amount of electricity.

      Friggin fees and taxes and taxes on fees and fees on taxes and and and and and and. I use less energy but the fees and taxes keep climbing so I end up paying more and more even though I'm using less and less. GAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!

  11. AT&T is drowning in debt over all the acquisitions they made the last few years. $160 billion in debt makes a company jack prices up as . They just introduced their online streaming service (which they think is a cable replacement) since it has a 2 year contract associated with it but the pricing is only guaranteed for the first year after which it almost doubles. They promised they'd expand their network if they got a tax cut, they didn't. Lousy company.

  12. thanks for the reminder Sarge, to call AT&T and threaten to cancel in favor of some other service provider. Then they will transfer me to a customer loyalty agent who will then reduce my bill for another year.

  13. One of (the two) local cafes has a big sign out front proclaiming "DON'T BUY DIRECT TV"

    I'm not nearly intelligent enough to avoid brainwashing by teevee so I threw that infernal contraption away more than a decade ago.

    I've got a decent regional mobile carrier with a local office staffed with local ape-lizards. A huge blessing! I also have an internet only cable connection which has only doubled the monthly bill over the last 20 years. As long as I keep quiet, maybe no one will notice...


Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)
Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

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