Couple told after buying house that internet would cost $27k, forced to rely on 4G hotspot

·3 min read

A couple was told that installing internet in their recently purchased Seattle, Washington, home would cost $27,000 after buying the property.

Zachary Cohn told Ars Technica that he and his wife bought the home in July 2019.

“All six neighbours I share a property line with are wired for Comcast, but our house never was,” he said.

After trying to figure out how to get Comcast internet for months, Mr Cohn contacted the office of his city counsellor, which was able to get answers from the company.

Comcast said 181 feet of underground cables would have to be installed at a cost of more than $27,000. The couple instead decided to use a mobile 4G hotspot.

“I was just flabbergasted that a house like this, in an area like this, could possibly have never been wired for Internet,” Mr Cohn told the outlet.

As the home is “in the middle of Seattle, it didn’t even dawn on me that that was possible,” he said.

Zachary Cohn and Lauryl Zenobi bought a home in Seattle not knowing it didn’t have an internet connection (Zachary Cohn / Ars Technica)
Zachary Cohn and Lauryl Zenobi bought a home in Seattle not knowing it didn’t have an internet connection (Zachary Cohn / Ars Technica)

It would have been “more understandable if I was two miles from my nearest neighbour,” he added, noting that the home, which was built in 1964, is “well within the Seattle city limits”.

Comcast customer service was unable to help even after eight months of calls, leading to Mr Cohn contacting his City Council.

“The City Council person and their staff have been great this whole process,” he said. “They weren’t able to fix it with me but they were very much able to get Comcast to respond in ways that I wasn’t able to.”

“I’ve received verification that hard cost for contribution is $27,119.00,” a Comcast staffer said in a November 2020 email.

Mr Cohn said an employee “told me the job actually was going to cost something like $80,000, and they were only requiring me to pay a portion of that”.

The city’s IT governance adviser wrote to the City Council that “this residence is an unfortunate case of an odd-shaped, hard-to-access lot that was never connected with cable service in years past, and the City has no authority to require Comcast—or [any] other Internet service provider—to make the connection”.

“Unless a service provider can find another way to help support recovery on the large capital investment (i.e., connecting more households in an area) then it’s typical for the provider to expect the resident to support the cost of construction. In this case ... there are no other potential customers gained by the buildout” because “the neighboring households are already on Comcast’s network,” the email said. “The most cost-effective option will still be a wireless hotspot through a mobile carrier.”

Comcast told Ars Technica that they didn’t receive a request to connect the property to their service before the homeowners moved in. A spokesperson said it was a significant project because they had to dig underground, adding that the company has only used aerial wiring in that specific neighbourhood.

They’re now using a mobile hotspot but at times the “connection would grind to a halt, typically in the morning and in the evening, to the point of being unusable even for like basic web browsing, let alone video calls or Netflix or something like that,” Mr Cohn said, adding that “usually the quality is fine until it’s not. It’s fine until there’s lag or the connection drops or something like that happens”.

“I’m just very nervous about dropping $27,000 to lock myself into a company who can then jack the rates up, and we don’t even have the classic ‘send me to your retention department because I’m going to threaten to quit and switch to another company’ argument. You just have to pay whatever they want to charge,” he said.

“Not having a reliable, consistent Internet connection in the year 2022 is very problematic,” he added.

The Independent has reached out to Comcast for comment.