Spoke Too Soon, CableCARD Support Still Sucks.

Back in February, I reactivated the Moxi HD DVR to evaluate Moxi Mate extender functionality. (It’s quite nice.) And had a phenomenal CableCARD install experience. The tech was in and out in 35 minutes, with zero problems. Leading me to believe the CableCARD landscape had seen improvement. But maybe I spoke too soon. As the process of moving that CableCARD to the new TiVo Premiere has been unfun… and unsuccessful. Those cable gateways can’t get here soon enough.

But before we get on to what is essentially a lengthy blow-by-blow bitch session, let me ask if I’m alone in this: What are your experiences migrating CableCARDs? And let us know if you happen to operate in the FiOS TV Nirvana, where cards don’t require pairing. Now, on with my tale…

As I’m wont to do, I regularly tweet my adventures in tech. And I’m perfectly comfortable calling out companies and technologies that don’t perform. Someone at Cox Communication was listening, as they responded last night:

Hello Mr. Zatz- My name is XXXXXXX XXXX, a VP at Cox Communications, I saw your tweets and want to apologize and get you help asap. We tried to call tonight but did not reach you. Can we come out tomorrow? You name the time. My apologies for the problems, they are unacceptable. Thank you,

My reply this morning…


I’m sorry someone was compelled to get you involved late on a Sunday and I appreciate the outreach. On the other hand, it appears you have a broad organizational support problem which cost me about 5 hours over the last week. It also costs you, as I know phone and in-home service don’t come cheap. Not to mention the harder-to-measure costs related to customer satisfaction and perceptions surrounding competence. Which, I’m sure I don’t have to tell you, are even more relevant in our region where Verizon provides an alternative.

The backstory… I originally called into tech support to pair a currently issued and active multistream CableCARD with a new piece of TiVo hardware. In theory, I’d simply read off the relevant CableCARD and DVR identifiers to the phone rep who re-pairs it in the system. We’re talking something that should be a ten minute call.

But that first ~30 minute call went down something like this. “I’m going to send a hit to reset your boxes.” No, don’t do that.” “Done.” At which point both my SDV tuning adapters went into a ten minute reboot. A sometimes risky proposition as those switched stations don’t always immediately return, often requiring additional reboots (of them and their associated DVRs) and/or waiting a day for things to sort themselves out on their own. And, of course, this didn’t address my pairing request and reason for calling in. I probably didn’t help myself in how I initially presented the issue to the phone rep. Then again, he clearly had very limited familiarity with CableCARDs. And I quickly gave up on him.

My second call, of ~45 minutes, went slightly better. She readily admitted her technical deficiencies, but was determined to assist – often putting me on hold to request backup. I thought she was going to get it done, but each time she tried to pair the CableCARD it’d come back with a failure message on her end. What we didn’t know at the time is that prior “troubleshooting” by one of the phone reps had dissociated the CableCARD from an outlet, thus prohibiting service. We ended the call by scheduling a technician between 8AM – 10AM on Saturday.

So, Saturday morning rolls around. I get a call at 8:16, from whom I presume to be the technician, asking if I still had problems and need servicing. “Uh, yeah.” He tells me he’ll be there before 10. At 10, I call in and ask where the technician is. The phone rep says he’s not answering his Nextel, she’ll check with his supervisor. After a few minutes on hold they say he’ll be there at 10:45. I ask how you normally handle blown appointments and the rep says she’ll credit my account $20.

At 10:50, I call in and ask where the tech is. After the rep comes back from placing me on hold, she says it’ll now be 11:30. At which point, I say cancel the Saturday service appointment and put me through to a supervisor. Who didn’t seem overly concerned in having a rogue subordinate or with my inconvenience. But he kindly rescheduled a tech for Sunday 5PM – 7PM, because I wasn’t planning on losing all of Saturday waiting around (for someone who obviously didn’t want to be there).

Given my luck thus far, I was very pleasantly surprised when the technician showed up promptly at 5PM on Sunday. However, I was discouraged to see he didn’t have a computer with him. Additionally, he told me straight up that if he had problems, we’d have to schedule another visit since the warehouse is closed on Sundays. And that’s apparently where every Cox CableCARD is kept. Basically, he had no more tools than I. And did just what I did by calling in for pairing. Fortunately, the folks on the other end of his line know a little bit more about the technology they support. Their first discovery was that the CableCARD in question wasn’t associated with an outlet. Once they got that resolved, a subset of channels appeared. But, despite his call to three different techs, they couldn’t ultimately get the card paired or provisioned correctly. Leading to appointment #4, currently scheduled for next Saturday, 8AM – 10AM. Presumably when another tech will show, perhaps on time and perhaps with the proper equipment.

However, we’ve collectively wasted enough time on this project. You win. And I give up. Please cancel my upcoming Saturday appointment, I do not want to reschedule. I’ll keep this specific CableCARD and tuning adapter in service, with partial functionality, for the time being. If/when I lose the current subset of subscribed channels or get tired of missing the other channels I pay for, I’ll drop off this hardware and have one less active outlet on my account.

Thank you,
Dave Zatz

31 thoughts on “Spoke Too Soon, CableCARD Support Still Sucks.”

  1. I should add that I’d be much more forgiving of the technical issues if someone had actually showed up Saturday morning. Missed appointments are unacceptable without a call and that particular point will be conveyed to the local franchising authority.

  2. I’m not at all surprised by this encounter. My experience with RCN has been similar–they’re largely unfamiliar with CableCARD, and EVERY TIME I’ve requested support, the rep says something along the lines of “I’m not very familiar with this–we don’t do a whole lot of these.” Worse yet, RCN has insisted that CableCARD support requires a truck-roll, refusing to allow (often better-informed) customers to pick up and install their own cards.

  3. If you’re living in a fios neighborhood now, why are you giving this a second thought? Good prices, no compressed digital channels, no SDV, Internet speeds that always hit the advertised speed rate…it doesn’t even really seem like a choice to me.

  4. Soooo gald I have Fios! I upgraded both my TivoHds to Premieres and all I had to do was swap the card from one tivo to the other. Too bad verizon still requires a truck roll and cant ship you cable cards or pick them up at a local presence store. They could easily add the host/data id fields to their self install stb web page and save some of their field techs the embarrassment of showing up to install something the dont have much clue about.

  5. Random, my building isn’t wired for FiOS TV. (FiOS Internet only.) It’s all around me, yet unavailable. Water, water everywhere… Plus, I believe FiOS now requires an X month commitment and they have raised rates. Regarding Cox, until now support and service was generally good (as far as cableco’s go), more importantly my Internet has been rock solid. When we re-enter the housing market later this year, we’ll re-evaluate our options.

    Also, maybe ironically, we’ve been nominated for a CableFAX Best of the Web award to be presented this month. Not sure how this impacts our chances… ;)

  6. A Comcast tech missed the original appointment when my wife and moved into our new house back in August. It was a cablecard setup for the TivoHD at the time. The tech called and said he would be there in 10 mins. Never called back and never showed up. Ended up calling customer support who was not able to get a hold of him either. My thought was he saw the cablecard setup in the work order and decided not to show. I would be more forgiving if he would have just stated up front that he knew nothing about them.

    Fastforward to today. When I received my Tivo Premiere, adding the cablecard to it went smooth. The tech was in and out in 15 mins. Both tuners work, both tuners recored (ran into that problem with my first cablecard install).

  7. I cant say I have had a problem with RCN in the DC area, They came out 2 years ago and put a cable card in my TiVO HD and it has always worked perfectly and I Just swapped it over to the Premiere a few weeks back without a problem

  8. Northern Virginia FiOS nirvana here. I’ve got two TiVos, a Series 3 and a slightly newer HD unit. Four CableCards total, and I have never had a single problem since the original install back in 2007. I could gripe that I’m still renting 4 cards vice 2 M-Cards, but I haven’t really bothered calling to ask for a swap. Setup was painless, aside from the day-long Verizon scheduling window that they give you. The only technical glitch was that the FiOS ONT was pumping out a signal that was initially too hot for the TiVos causing pixellation, but the tech recognized the problem and attenuated the signal down. No problems since.

  9. Cablevision isn’t much better. After 5 to 6 visits, 3 CABLEcards and me telling that there was a problem with the service to the house, they ran a new cable from the pole. The tech said “The service to your house is over 25 years old, I’m gonna run a new cable.” No problems since.

  10. The fios install process should be what everyone follows. I had someone show up to do an install on a digital cable tuner. I had to show him where to get the info. He did everything himself remotely. No calling in. Just sitting in my basement with a wireless card uploading everything remotely. We had one bad card and tried another. Took 20 minutes.

  11. This is a political/economic issue, not a technical one. Imagine if SIM cards were the same. Because of the Cable Companies monopolistic practices we do not have the iPhone equivalent to the Cable Box.

    Instead we are stuck with crappy Scientific Atlanta boxes that work perfectly on their system. Hmm imagine why.

  12. Just had Charter do my TiVo HD about 2 weeks ago.

    On the day of the appointment, about 1 hour into when it was supposed to happen, I get a call from the supervisor telling me, “You need a cable install?” I said, “I need a cableCard installed.” He then says, “Oh, I don’t have one of those…” This is when I specifically asked, and it was on the ticket, for an M-card. So he tells me he’ll have to reschedule but can come around to hook up my cable modem. So he hangs up and I just figure, “What the hell, I’ll plug the thing in and answer the stupid questions and see how far I get…” I was able to get the cable modem installed so I called him back and told him, “I got the cable modem working. If you can find that card for me with the time I saved you and still make it out I’d really appreciate it.” He then tells me that the only cableCard is ~40miles up the road in a different city (which seems stupid to me in that the cable company is literally 1 mile from my apartment – no cards there? How does that make any sense?). Anyway, he says he’ll send someone by tomorrow for an install. I agree.

    The next day a different installer shows up with a card but he’s pretty clueless in how to get it working. He does know enough to call numbers in but as far as thinking through the problems (like local channels showing but no HD channels showing so maybe they just forgot to turn that service on) he just seems dumbfounded. I think he was here 2 hours most of the time on the phone waiting for them to tell him something (never offering up any of his own thoughts – no ideas like, “Hey – it looks like you get that one package but you were expecting this other package on top of that… Maybe it’s just turning that second package on and we’ll be done…”). Nope, he just waits someone to tell him what to do.

    I think that part is what kills me about so many representatives for companies these days. They’re not trained. They don’t have any interest and if you ever fall ‘off script’ they are completely lost and have no where to go. No logical thought process of … Hmmm… Maybe I’ll try… They just stop dead..

    He was a nice guy. Nice guy doesn’t equal thinking guy, though.

  13. My TiVo Premiere is set to be delivered tomorrow morning. I have a comcast appt scheduled for Wed morning. I specified a multistream card on the work order, hopefully that message is conveyed to the tech.

    My first cc experience, the tech knew little about them, but all of my research and reading tivo community forums, we worked it out and had 2 s-cards up and running after an hour or so.

    The next experience is when i moved in with future wife and had comcast install another cable card on the same tivo (she already had an account in her house, it was easier to return the old cards and get a new one on the other account). Tech showed up with an m-card, we had it running in 15 minutes and he was out of there.

    The next appointment i am little worried because i have had good luck so far. This is will be a second card on another outlet and i am hoping they don’t break everything…

    dave, your cox stories scare me. hopefully your publicized opinion on this blog and twitter gets you back to normal asap.

  14. Adam, exactly. Their own boxes come pre-installed with CableCARDs and pre-paired. If they had to eat their own dog food, you know we’d have a web widget to enter the data and take care of this on our own in 90 seconds.

    Jon, to their credit, a few Cox reps have reached out several times today. However, dealing with the cable-co requires a certain type of patience that I’m out of at the moment. I may revisit later in the week.

  15. Verizon is a circus of clowns, and you got to speak to the ringmaster! The ringmaster is still a clown though, so you were better off to drop the issue all together.

  16. I just had Comcast here in the Santa Cruz, CA area and all went quick and smoothly installing the card in my Tivo Premiere.

  17. why are cable cards so hard to setup compared to satellite access cards? I just called Directv a few weeks back to reactivate a dormant box that I own. read them the access card, 2 minutes later after bouncing a signal off a satellite and down to the box it was activated. Do cable companies make it difficult because they want you to use their boxes and pay them the high rental fees?

  18. I recently had to effectively migrate my cable cards because I replaced the hard drive in my TiVo Series3, which undoes the pairing. It wasn’t painless, but it also wasn’t horrible. I did the whole thing over the phone. It took maybe half an hour total. 5 minutes on the phone with the first person, then waiting 15 minutes for it to start working, then another 10 minutes on the phone with a second person to make it actually work (apparently the first person didn’t do it right).

    My previous two activations (first when I bought the S3, then a month or so later when I had to swap it out for a warranty replacement) were completely painless. I just called them on the phone, told them the numbers, and it was done.

    This is with Comcast in the Seattle area.

  19. I am lucky I am on FiOS. When my Premiere XLs came in, I pulled the cards from my TiVo HDs and just plugged them into my XLs.

    I then took the HDs over to my mom’s house where she also has FiOS and the installer came out Friday to install the “video card”, his words, which he had never done before. I handed him the instruction sheet I had printed from TiVo.com since the installer at my house asked if he could keep the original for future reference. The install maybe took 30-45 minutes from install to using his thumb drive on my mom’s PC to complete activation. It went really smooth especially considering he had never done one before.

    As smooth as it was, I wouldn’t have trusted my mom to be there and everything just to work.

  20. Hi All,

    We had a fairly smooth install from FIOS in Massachusetts, mild comedy though when making the initial call to setup the CC install as at the end of the call the nice CSR lady tried to upsell me to the Verizon HD DVR which apparently has the advanced feature of …

    CSR: ” … Pauses and rewinds live TV”
    Me: “Errr Tivo *is* a DVR”
    CSR: “Oh yeah, I even have a Tivo too”

    Tech came out, installed the card in to the new Premiere and we went through the 20 minute activation, authentication and verification steps but couldn’t get the CableCARD to talk to the network to get its Channel Map and the Tivo diagnostics showed it wasn’t paired properly.

    I think that this was my fault as we kept the Verizon STB for VOD and occasional light Live TV watching and I’d routed the cable from the wall to the STB and from the STB to the Premiere, the instructions do say to go direct from the wall to the Premiere. Once the tech installed a splitter so that the Premiere had a more direct cable feed and the backroom boys hit the CableCard again everything sprang to life.

    Other than that must say I’m really liking the new Premiere, we upgraded from a 7 year old single tuner S2 that finally succumbed to old age and we love the new box. Dual tuners, much faster transfers to/from my PC (Tivo Desktop 2.8) and Linux server (Galleon), better picture quality on the 720p LCD TV than the S2 and lots of new toys to look at in terms of podcasts, OTA tuners and other features. Old news to the S3 and TivoHD owners I guess though.

    Just have to hold the wife off from upgrading our other S2 in the bedroom as I hate to replace working hardware with new shiny just because …


  21. And this (and all of the responses) is why we stick to analog cable and two S2s. I do not like the cable company, and do not want them near my house. Every experience has been bad. A couple of years ago, I succumbed to a cold call to install a Charter cable modem; promised 16Mbps at $25/month for a year. After two months, I called and they said no…. 10Mbps and only 6 months. They didn’t know how that sales person could have possibly promised something that was not on the product list. Also, when I ordered I told them I wanted a Charter employee and not a sub. Well, you know this plot line. Of course, some smelly dude in a smoke-belching little truck with a magnetic sign showed up. I sent him on his way quickly.

    I still believe that TiVo should build their own service force to subcontract to cable companies for anything to do with TiVo installations.

  22. I too had Fairfax Cox cable and gave up after 6 months because the tuner adapter kept failing. I’ve been with FIOS for over a year and couldn’t be happier. Never had a problem.

  23. Hm, something happened. Not sure if Cox intervened remotely or I’m just lucky, but it looks like I have all my channels tonight. However, the CableCARD info screens still suggest it’s not provisioned. Who knows! (The VP did respond to my email above earlier today with her sincere apologies and that they’d see what they could do without a home visit.) Update (~7:40PM): Tuning adapter just spontaneously rebooted. Ten minutes later switched stations were available once again. Hm.

  24. Another less than satisfied Cox customer here. I am out in Las Vegas and have had Cox cablecards for the last 1.5 years.

  25. Oops – hit enter accidently

    Continued from above…

    I am in the process of upgrading from TivoHD units to the new Premiere units. I received the first Premiere and installed it. I removed the CC from the TivoHD and installed into the Premiere – knowing that it wouldn’t be paired.

    I called Cox CS, stating that I needed to pair my CC with my new Tivo. The CSR put me on hold only to come back stating that a tech visit (at a cost of $30) was required. I began to go into my ‘the tech is only going to read a set of numbers which I can also do’ speech but stopped as I know she is only going from a script. Knowing I still had one more Premiere coming, I elected to wait and schedule a tech visit after the second box arrives.

    I received a customer survey from Cox yesterday. In the ‘other comments’ section, I shared my frustration with their inability or unwillingness to allow CableCARDs to have the option of being a self-install. I know that most likely my input will be ignored so I was pleased to hear that Dave is putting up a good fight on our behalf (not that Dave should also be frustrated but at least his online presence serves as a voice for us).

    If I had another choice in CableCARD providers (no FIOS in Las Vegas), I would leave Cox in a heartbeat. And therein lies the problem, Cox (and many other CC providers) know that they have a captive audience. As a result, they have chosen to provide minimal service to CC customers.

    As an aside, three months ago, I had to replace my TivoHD. I swapped the CC and called Cox customer service and explained to the tech that I needed to pair the CableCARD. He sounded new as he said, ‘I am not sure if I can do that but let me try’. He then asked for the Host ID and CableCARD numbers, which I read to him. Three minutes later, I was up and running. So, it is not a case of ‘can’t do’ but rather a case of ‘won’t do’ which makes all the more frustrating.

  26. When techs have a 2+ hour window, I feel like they have an obligation to call if they are going to be even five minutes late. It would be one thing if they said that they would be there at 10:00 A.M. and instead they showed up at 10:15. A no-show is totally unacceptable and should not be tolerated by any company that values customer service.

  27. Sounds like we’re pretty lucky in the Bay Area with Comcast and CableCards. Comcast allows us to pick up the CCs and install them ourselves. All that’s needed once we install them is to call Comcast and voila…we’ve got cable! I’ve done it with my Tivo HD and my bro did it twice himself with his Tivo HDs, and no issues with the CCs.

  28. Cox Las Vegas here as well, bought the TiVo HD as soon as it came out. Cox originally showed up with two S-Stream cable cards, so for 6 months I had to pay an extra $9/mo on my bill because of the additional outlet fee plus the extra $2/mo cable card, plus $30 for the truck roll.

    The guy shows up and ends up rebooting my TiVo through the “pull the power plug” method. I told him not to but he still did it anyways. After 4 times, the TiVo green screened and he had to come back another day.

    So six months later I pay another $30 for the truck roll to trim $9/mo off my bill to get an M-Card instead of two S-Cards.

    The additional outlet fees are awful. Its whats keeping me from getting a second TiVo.

    On the self-install note, TiVo would need to do a better job on helping the not-so-smart users with the self-provisioning process. IE if it found an unprovisioned CC, put an item on the menu to take you directly to the screens with the numbers highlighted in bold, blue font. Then Cox or whoever would have them on a web page, a few minutes later the TiVo reboots and all is well.

  29. Dave,

    As you suggested the obvious fix is for the FCC to force cable companies to ship their STBs without the cable cards, and require customers to go through the SAME process to provision & enable them as for any customer using the cablecards in TVs or Tivos or whatever. As you suggest we’d suddenly see lots of experienced techs, online widgets for enabling service, tools to debug issues, etc etc pop up almost instantaneously.

  30. In stark contrast I was able to pick up 2 cablecards for my old S3 about 10 blocks from where I live in San Francisco, install them myself, and call in the host pairing information. Was rocking within 30 minutes.

    Obviously the fix is:
    Have support that knows cablecards.
    Hand these things out, don’t do a #*()!@ truck roll to plug in a card.

    Please, for crying out loud, comcast, stop making your own support people sit on hold for 30 minutes to get host pairing information to the next support tier. Let them submit it in a webpage — this little thing called auditing can find the morons when they do bad things.

  31. I’m sad to hear CableCards continue to be such an issue.

    They were the reason I delayed a move from DirecTV back to Comcast a couple of years ago. Thankfully, when I did have the CC installation, it went very smoothly. I purposely made the service call for a weekday, and clearly noted it was for a CableCard installation. When the installer arrived he mentioned that when scheduling permits, he gets most of the CC installs in our area. Watching the process, I was surprised that it so heavily relied on two humans to read and match a string of numbers over the telephone! I wonder what percentage of issues are as straightforward as the strings read by Person A at the installation site not matching the strings typed by Person B at the Service Center.

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