Comcast is a business, and their goal is to make ever increasing profit. Yes it's horrible your family and hundreds of others lost everything due to a natural disaster, but that's not Comcast's fault or problem. When you signed up for service from them, I'll bet it's in the fine print that you are responsible for returning the cable box.
If it got stolen, that's not Comcast's problem.
If your hot water service burst and spilled water all over the cable box, that's not Comcast's problem.
This is the world we live in. You can't choose to have the benefits of cheap cable, then complain when the company wants to keep making profit, and enforces a contract you signed.
EDIT: To be clear, I personally hate that this is how the world works, but I accept the reality that it's true.
And part of that is Brand Management AKA not looking like dicks after a hurricane level event and adding to people's misery.
(You might write to the state's attorney general's office. I'm sure enough complaints will result in a token slap on the wrist, if that makes you feel any better.)
Can someone explain where the people defending iffy business practices are coming from? Has no one here rented from a shady landlord who tried to charge you $$$ for stains on the ten-year-old stained carpet that was already worthless when you moved in, and the practice didn't appear indefensible then?
I understand the OP probably spoke to some low-level grunts who might not be able to bend the rules even if he wanted. And the only way to solve this might be to escalate it to the level in Comcast that is allowed to think. But it definitely not "how the world works" - it's just how the Comcast works, and that's bad for them if it does. Business and profit is not contrary to having basic human decency towards your customers - actually, it is usually goes better if you do.
So yes they're a business and of course they should make money, but that needs to be balanced out by the needs of their customers. It might be overdue for cable companies and the phone companies to be broken up. In fact it might be a good idea that they be broken up every ten years or so given their immediate power over consumers.
They would need to be broken up the same way that AT&T was broken up back in the day. The breakups allowed for the sharing of infrastructure by various competitors so that you could call Sprint, MCI, or whomever for (at very least) your long distance service and possibly your local service as well.
You only really competition if you can choose your cable provider wherever you live.
It's very difficult for a start-up cable company or ISP with an innovative product, say, a la carte pricing, to get going because Comcast can undersell them (or offer the same innovative product) for as long as it takes for the start-up to burn through their capital. They can do this because 1) The start-up's limited capital prevents them from opening in every market at once; and 2) Comcast's national presence allows them to use the profits from one region to subsidize service in the region where the start-up is competing. It's probably cheaper to just buy Comcast than to try to beat them in a race to the bottom.
That doesn't change the reality of today.
And, as a counterexample: I got an email from PNC Bank saying that they weren't going to charge people for overdrafts and suchlike from now until November 5th, on account of Sandy. It's as if this particular corporation is comprised of people, some subset of whom sat down for two seconds and thought about something other than the bottom line.
Note that even if PNC are motivated by not pissing people off or garnering good will, I'd still call this working as intended. Without an incentive to behave well, the temptation to revert to behavior like Comcast's is all too easy.
Comcast might not be legally at fault, but I have no doubt that they are ethically. When companies behave unethically, it ought to be sung from the rooftops - that is how you put a cost on unethical behaviour.
You are damn right I can, and I damn well will and I will be as public as possible about it.
This is the world we live in.
The costs still get passed on to customers, but are distributed among all customers, are not incurred as an additional fee or cost at a time of hardship, and Comcast's size and negotiating power against an insurance company would almost certainly result in more favorable rates and terms than an individual could secure.
To say nothing of the brand management issues which would be avoided.
This is when society should step in. There should be consumer laws (and some countries has those) that protect the consumer in cases of service contracts and natural catastrophes. For example in Sweden, such protection exist which covers both natural catastrophes, and wars (Lightning strikes are excluded).
Cheap? $120+ a month for television is not cheap.
If you do eventually get a bill for not returning the cable box, just go to the local Comcast office (the place you were supposed to return the boxes to) after things have settled down, and explain the situation to a local employee who actually has some discretion in how to respond to the situation. I'm sure you won't be the only one in the area with this problem. Expecting call center reps thousands of miles away, who have probably heard every variant of 'the dog ate my cable box' story at least twice, to waive the charge immediately, without any proof, and no directive from higher up, is asking a bit much. I'm guessing the Comcast staff in the hurricane zone have a few more pressing concerns right now than adjusting bills that haven't gone out the door yet.
Yes Comcast handled it badly, but if I were worried my house was about to be destroyed, I would not be thinking about disconnecting the cable box. (In fact I have had my house flooded, and I can tell you nothing like this ever even crossed my mind).
But judging from the response here, clearly lots of other people think of the box as a part of Comcast's infrastructure that happens to be portable. And from that point of view, it makes sense for Comcast to eat the cost--just like they'll eat the cost of their cable lines being torn up in the hurricane.
And I suppose that if the vast majority of people have the latter view when they're signing up for cable, then Comcast should probably change their policies to fit that model, and just charge for loss or damage caused by the user.
Now it really depends on how it is done but when I had comcast I did the same thing and I was always able to get someone on the line to replace it on their dime because of the monthly fees. Granted I never have had a hurricane blow through an office I think most of the time they are willing to work with you.
Most rental contracts (for anything) that I've seen make the owner responsible for normal wear and tear and so-called "Acts of God".
If you rent an apartment, you're not generally responsible for the rebuilding costs if it gets blown away in a hurricane or tornado.
Here's an example lease:
If Comcast stuck a mandatory $3/month "cable box insurance" fee on everyone's bill people would be posting about how they are money grubbing assholes, but if they are effectively insuring all of their leased equipment against loss then they are doing exactly that except just not putting it as a separate line item on the bill.
I am a business person and I understand that profitability is the bottom line, but these companies make billions of dollars and this is unacceptable behavior from community members. Those rules and return policies are put into place to prevent theft, not to handle disasters, personal or national.
In this case, the only thing I see is that this may not be the best moment to bring that message, but I also wonder how anybody would even think of giving Comcast a call so short after this happened to them.
"Honey, the house is on fire..."
"I better call Comcast and cancel internet for the winter."
Comcast should provide a grace period 30-60 days, but that's about it.
It's not like they would be ok with Comcast saying "We're having cash flow issues, so we took the liberty of charging you double this month"
Why this is dumb on Comcast's part: this is day 2? post Hurricane and now Comcast's greed is front and center in the national press. This is not smart, especially considering the relatively small amount of money at stake here. How much does Comcast spend on advertising? With this move they've basically erased the equivalent of tens of millions of dollars in advertising for far less value in return. No company wants a PR failure of this magnitude. Especially considering that Comcast is already one of the most hated companies in existence.
This was not a good move for Comcast and they are going to lose far more than they could possibly gain.
The CEO has to make rules, one of which is that they charge fees for all boxes so that people have no incentive to try to game the system. The rule must be consistent across the board. He or she also knows that the people implementing this rule will be low-paid and are not the right people to make the choice about what excuse to accept.
Further, he or she (the CEO) realizes that if your house is destroyed, you're going to put in an insurance claim, including possibly for any lost property belonging to services contracted to the house.
For this reason, they're not cutting you a break. They need a consistent policy that doesn't have any loopholes. It's not much different than computer security, actually. You eliminate ambiguity and make upstream rules.
That isn't to say it doesn't suck. Then again, it's a drop of suck in an ocean of suck. I've seen the pictures of some of the devastation and my heart goes out to the people there. If I thought they needed my services, I would give them a discount.
This brings me to the meat of this rambling post: go Consumerist style but instead of complaining to Comcast, offer it up to them as an opportunity. You mentioned how they often go out and do community initiatives. Suggest to them that they reach out to the recently devastated and offer a free cable hook-up and services with monthlies at the regular rate. You never know, it could work out for them, since all the devastated homes will need some kind of internet, and whoever makes it easiest may win over the harried homeowners.
What that blog post does not say is just how much Comcast have charged their subscribers for the lost modems, but one would think it is more than the present value.
Of course there are shades of grey inbetween but I'd be fascinated to know exactly where the blame lies inside Comcast.
Why would comcast let them off? Is the bank going to let you off on the payments of your home or car if it gets destroyed? No, of course not... it will be covered by insurance. Why would comcast be any different?
"Verizon offers phone charging and free calling for Sandy victims"
Yes, easy way to get more customers to sign for you in the future... Comcast just failed there...
Could it simply be that at the rates they charge, a box is easily paid off in a couple of years, and any additional rental fees are pure profit?
You would think that would have a procedure in place to address these types of situations, for good PR at least.
Where it the/a reasonable policy for dealing with them?
Surely, this is an area where a little application of oft vaunted "best practices" might actually be appropriate?
(Local crews and crew management should be able to at least approximately validate the legitimacy of such claimed circumstances.)
Comcast get a handle of this stupid situation.