By now, almost everyone has heard the exhausting telephone jostle between a tech journalist trying to cancel his Comcast Corp. (NASDAQ:CMCSA) account and the tenacious customer service rep who wouldn’t let him go without a fight. One unexplored aspect of the phone conversation -- which went viral earlier this week when Ryan Block of AOL Inc. (NYSE:AOL) posted it to SoundCloud -- is a bold superlative the Comcast rep used in his attempt to convince Block to stay: “Fastest Internet in the country.”
“You’re not interested in the fastest Internet in the country?” the rep asked goadingly. “Why not?”
Were it true, it would be a convincing bit of rhetoric. The problem is, Comcast is not the fastest Internet service provider in the United States -- at least, not according to the most recent survey from Speedtest.net and PC Magazine. Published in September 2013, the survey ranks Comcast the third fastest broadband provider, behind Midcontinent Communications at No. 2 and Verizon FiOS at No. 1. “Verizon FiOS continues to set the pace for Internet speed in the United States,” the magazine wrote.
So did the phone rep in question go rogue, or does the “fastest” claim represent a broader mandate for Comcast employees to make unsubstantiated claims? A spokeswoman for Comcast said the company doesn’t claim to be the fastest Internet in the country, and it doesn’t train its reps to make such assertions. She referred International Business Times to the statement released Monday stating that the behavior of the phone rep in question was “unacceptable and not consistent with how we train our customer service representatives.”
The phone rep in question, who still hasn’t been identified, also referred to Comcast as the “No. 1 provider of Internet and TV service in the entire country,” and the “No. 1 rated” provider, and repeatedly uses the word “faster” when comparing Comcast to Astound Broadband, another provider in Block’s area. With 2013 revenue of $64.7 billion, Comcast is certainly the largest pay-TV company in the country, but groups that rank it near the bottom of customer-satisfaction surveys might take issue with the “No. 1 rated” claim.
The viral phone call is being held up as an archetype of hardline customer-retention tactics, and few who have been on the receiving end of a sales blitz by a cable-company phone rep would disagree. In Comcast’s defense, however, the overt “fastest Internet in the country” claim doesn’t appear to be part of the standard script. We reached out to a few Comcast phone reps posing as potential customers seeking information, and none made such a claim when asked about speeds. Asked if Comcast’s Xfinity is faster than FiOS, one phone rep said it depends on a variety of factors, such as the area of coverage and the particular package a customer chooses. When we asked flat-out if Comcast is the fastest in the country, the rep said such superlatives are more about “technology bragging rights” than any individual customer’s experience, and that in reality, the two companies are constantly trying to one-up each other with faster options. In the broadband arms race that is the 21st century, that’s probably true enough.
In PC Mag’s 2011 speed survey, Comcast was ranked the second-fastest broadband provider, behind Cox Communications. But it had the fastest average download speed of any provider that year. (The survey’s rankings takes both upload and download speed into consideration). In the past, Comcast has used that survey to boast that it is “the fastest Internet provider in the nation,” and some promotional offers on the Comcast website still use it as a bragging right. But it’s not a prevalent claim in company’s promotional materials. Buried in the fine print is the far less glamorous reality that “actual speeds vary and are not guaranteed.”