It's very fashionable to hate Comcast nowadays.
The recent viral audio of their overzealous rep trying anything to keep a customer from disconnecting. The numerous surveys that consistently rate the company as one of the worst for customer service. The tens of thousands of frustrated tweets and forum posts you can easily find online just by Googling. Comcast is hated by supporters of net neutrality, ridiculed for its bad service and parodied on late night TV shows.
I get it. And it's deserved.
But like the wars in the Middle East and trade disputes in South Asia, there are two sides to every story. I'm not an employee of Comcast, and other than being a customer I have no other financial relationship with them. I'm not a corporate shill. I'm the owner of a small technology company. I recognize Comcast's shortcomings. But as a guy running a small tech company I also have to admit something: I admire Comcast. And you should too. For a few good reasons.
Comcast is a tech company that has improved the lives of its customers. When I was a kid we had maybe ten TV stations. And most of them stopped broadcasting at midnight. Our news and entertainment was fed to us from three networks. Our phone service was controlled by a conglomerate of "Ma Bell" companies. Our movies were watched inside of theatres. And then came the cable companies, like Comcast. From nothing (and Comcast literally started from nothing) billions were invested to lay cable and build networks. Smaller companies who were unable to sustain this kind of investment were swallowed up by larger companies, like Comcast, who could. And today we all reap the benefits of these entrepreneurial, risk-taking pioneers. We have more choices, more content (OK, a lot of it is bad, but no worse on average than the content 40 years ago -- you've never watched the Brady Bunch?)... and it's all delivered right to our TV sets, computers, laptops wherever we are and... immediately. We pay for this. And you can complain that the bill is too high. Or you can complain that you have no choice. But good technology companies like Comcast, Apple, Google, Microsoft -- they've also been accused of the same. Yet they all provide good products that makes our lives better. That's what my company tries to do.
Comcast technology is reliable. Sure, there are plenty of cases of customer complaints. And as I write this there are many people who are in pockets of the country that continually suffer with poor service from Comcast. But Comcast blankets most of the continental U.S. and covers hundreds of millions of homes, individuals, families and devices using their services to access the internet, watch movies or make phone calls (let alone attend their amusement parks or take a tour of 30 Rock). And it must be grudgingly admitted: their service works. I rarely have an outage. And the few times it has happened to me over the past decade it was due to weather. And it got fixed, eventually. Did I deal with a less-than-amazing customer rep? Sometimes. Was it fixed as fast as I wanted? No. Could Comcast do more to improve the experience of those customers who need support? Absolutely. But the main job of a technology company, like an airline or anyone else for that matter, is to make sure that that their service just...works! Airlines, with all the abuse they receive (and they're ranked as low as Comcast on those customer service surveys) ultimately are responsible for getting you to your destination safely and on time and can we all admit the airline industry does a pretty good job at achieving that primary objective? Similarly, and less life threatening, my TV, Internet and phone service works more than 99.9 percent of the time. I hate being beholden to Comcast. But I can't complain about their service delivery. I admire that.
Comcast stands behind its employees. There have been recent reports of some unhappiness among employees at the company and I don't know if that's true or not. But give credit where credit is due: a few days after that over-zealous, super-aggressive maniac of a customer-service-rep at Comcast became infamous the company defended him, saying that he was only doing "what he was trained to do." Sure, I think a review of their internal training methods is a good idea after this crazy incident. But the company could've thrown this employee under the bus. They didn't. According to the company in 2012 more than 1.2 million people applied to work there. Maybe that's just due to the slow economy. Or maybe that's due to the company having the brains and tenacity to succeed despite the slow economy. Currently the company employs more than 126,000 human beings who enjoy all the other perks you would expect when working at a big tech company. Let's not forget that when you hate on Comcast you're also hating on a lot of good people who are doing good work. At least their employer stands behind them. I admire that.
Comcast is a ruthless, competitive, take no prisoners tech company...and good for them. The company is still run by the father and son team of Ralph and Brian Roberts, two mild mannered family men that have grown it from a local cable company into a media behemoth. They are fighting the net neutralists, battling the press, and waging war on competitors like Time Warner (who they're now trying to merge with) and Verizon. They are employing teams of lobbyists, marketing experts and PR consultants whose job is to persuade us that the growth of their company is good for America and not anti-competitive. They are building office buildings, investing in other tech companies, and always trying out new and innovative ways to make their company (and their service) better. And they're doing this not from the suites of a New York or Los Angeles office building but from downtown Philadelphia where they refuse to leave and instead support their (and my) hometown with many charitable and civic investments. We hate them because of their success and power over us. And we're jealous of them - just like we're jealous of the reach, power and success of Microsoft, Apple, Google and the like. But I have to admit - I admire their success. How come I haven't been able to grow my company into 1/1000 of what they've done? Aren't they the example of what a successful tech company is all about?
Do I still need a fifth reason why you should admire Comcast? OK. It's Jimmy Fallon. You may hate his employer, but who doesn't love Jimmy Fallon?
A version of this column recently appeared on Forbes.