The next morning, I call the telephone number that's printed on the letter, and a recording says something like "press 1 for Civil Division, 2 for Traffic Division, 3 for Criminal Division, 4 for information about specific cases," etc. I choose the option for information about specific cases, and the person who answers the phone asks me to read her the case number. After I read it, I hear her say, "Just a minute. Let me transfer you to the Criminal Division."
"Whaaaaaaaaat?" I ask, but it's too late. I'm on hold.
Someone else picks up the phone, and again I read the case number and ask what the case is about.
"Cable fraud, " she replies.
Then, in early June, my @home service stopped working. I made several calls to Comcast Cablevision and Comcast@home customer service. Each claimed that it was the responsibility of the other to determine what the problem was, and fix it. During my conversations with Comcast Cablevision and Comcast@home, I told them both that nobody had come back to install the video trap. Finally, Comcast@home agreed to come out and see what the problem was. I told them that they should bring a video trap with them when they came to repair the service. Because of their schedule and my vacation schedule, they didn't come out to repair the service until late June. The repair technician, when he arrived, said that the reason that my @home service stopped working was that someone had disconnected the cable in the cable "pedestal" on my street. He said that it was likely that Comcast Cablevision personnel had done this, not realizing that I had Comcast@home service. When he'd reconnected my service, I asked him about the installation of the video trap. He said he hadn't brought one with him, but would take care of it later. Again, nobody came back to install the device.
So, after I receive this letter from the District Court, I figure that Comcast Cablevision has been out to my neighborhood and has seen that I was connected up again (and again not realized that I had Comcast@home cable modem service.) I call the administrative offices of Comcast Cablevision here in Baltimore, and explain the situation. They say that they will have Comcast's attorneys call me to discuss it. I also make the suggestion that they come out and install a video trap on my line so that this won't happen again. They assure me they will send someone out that day to do it. I get home fairly late that evening and find that the video trap hasn't been installed. Since the Comcast administrative offices are closed by this time, I call @home customer service. I call at 10:30 PM and remain on hold until 11:15 PM, at which time a customer service representative takes the call. When I ask about getting a video trap placed on the line, his first response is that Comcast, not @home, should take care of that, and I should call Comcast customer service. I explain to him that, based on my prior experience with Comcast customer service, if I call them, the following situation will likely occur:
Sunday, November 22, 1998: As of Sunday morning, neither Comcast nor @home has arrived to place a video trap on the line. I call Comcast customer service to ask about the status of this, and am initially told that since I am not a Comcast cable TV customer, I have to call @home to resolve any problems. I explain that the situation is related to criminal charges that Comcast has filed against me, and ask the account executive to try to find a way to assist me from her location. She asks for my name and address. I give it to her, and she comes back on the line after a few moments and says that the only name she has listed at that address is that of former occupants of my home (from1989-1992). I explain again that I am not a Comcast cable TV customer, but only a Comcast@home customer, so there would likely not be a record of my name, unless she has records of Comcast@home customers as well as Comcast cable TV customers. She again asks me to hold the line. When she returns, she says that she has checked into the situation with @home, and has found out that the video trap was not placed on the line because the part is out of stock. She says that when parts are shipped, they will send an installer out to put it in. She says that in the meantime, I cannot be held responsible for the signal coming into my home.
Tuesday, November 24, 1998: Comcast's attorney leaves a message
on my answering machine saying: "I withdrew...did a request to withdraw those
charging documents" . I will soon find out the hard way that
the "withdrew...did a request to withdraw" wording actually means
something--Comcast doesn't have the ability to get criminal charges dropped on
their own, even though they're the ones who got the court to file them in the
first place. Once the charges are "in the system", Comcast can only
request that this be done.
Also, around this time, I have a bizarre discussion with the
Comcast attorney to try to find out why the State's Attorney disapproved
the request to withdraw the charges. She explains that procedurally, they
cannot withdraw the charges once the trial date has been set, and the summons
has been served. She tells me that I should have "avoided being
served". I never thought I'd ever get myself into a situation where I had
to make a point of avoiding process servers. Anyway, it's true that the trial
date had already been set (it was set on the same day Comcast applied for the
Statement of Charges, November 17, 1998). But, the summons was not served
to me until Wednesday, November 25. The State's Attorney disapproved the
request for withdrawal of the charges on Tuesday, November 24, the day before I
was served. So, either the State's Attorney's office doesn't know its own
procedures, doesn't bother to follow them, or perhaps there's something more
nefarious going on; I'm still not sure.
Although "malice" in this situation might be hard to prove, one article
published on the subject asserts that malice can be implied from a lack of
probable cause, and from inadequate investigation and research. "Lack of
probable cause" might also be difficult to prove here, but I believe that a good
lawyer could argue that the fact that "cables have been connected and Comcast
Cablevision was not the one who connected them" is no longer acceptable as
probable cause, now that Comcast Cablevision has given @home (or its local
affiliate, Comcast Online Communications) the authority to connect them.
December 12, 1998: I receive a courtesy copy of a letter from the State's Attorney to the Judge, requesting that the trial date be moved up, and saying that they intend to nol pros.
December 22, 1998: I call the District Court, and find
out that the Judge has moved the trial date up to January 12, 1999, instead of
the original date, which was in March 1999.
January 12, 1999: Just when I'm starting to think that
Comcast's motto has been morphed into "Comcast--Everything You Convict
With", the court appearance is pretty uneventful. I show up at 8:30 along
with about a dozen other people who are involved in other cases in the same
courtroom that morning. According to the list outside the courtroom, it looks
like there are a couple of theft cases and a couple of drug cases on the
schedule. I'm actually starting to look forward to an interesting morning
in court, hearing about all of this stuff, but the State's Attorney calls my
case first. I start walking up to the Defendant's table, and hear the
State's Attorney say that he's entering a nol pros. I've just
reached the table when the judge says, "your case is dismissed, you're
free to go," and so I turn back around and leave the courtroom.
I gave the "malicious prosecution" scenario a thought, but I'm not really a
lawsuit kind of person. Unless I find out that Comcast has been involved
in a pattern of cases like these without regard to the consequences, I don't
intend to follow up on filing a malicious prosecution lawsuit. Besides, if
I want to get my criminal record expunged, it looks like I will need to sign a
waiver absolving them of liability for this incident. I am hoping,
however, that Comcast will reimburse me for the $30 fee involved in getting my
January 13, 1999
Brian L. Roberts
President, Comcast Corporation
1500 Market Street
Philadelphia PA 19102
Thomas A. Jermoluk
President, @Home Network
425 Broadway Street
Redwood City, CA 94063
Dear Messrs. Roberts and Jermoluk:
I am a Comcast@home cable modem subscriber (firstname.lastname@example.org) who is not concurrently a subscriber of Comcast cable television. Because of what I believe to be insufficient action by each of your companies, and insufficient coordination between them, I was recently criminally charged with cable fraud in the District Court of Maryland for Baltimore County ("State of Maryland vs. Sammel, Judith Lynne", case number 5C00097816). I was charged because:
I would like to note that every Comcast Cablevision and Comcast@home customer service representative I have spoken with has been extremely courteous, has seemed knowledgeable, and has conscientiously attempted to assist me within the bounds of what their positions allowed them to do. This leads me to believe that the problem is more of a "systemic" one, that can only be addressed from a management level; this is why I am asking both of you to ensure that this never happens to anyone again. In addition, I am requesting an apology for the unfortunate situation which has occurred.
What are the procedures used to mark the cable connections of non-cable-TV-subscriber customers of Comcast@home to ensure that Comcast technicians are aware that the connection is a valid Comcast@home connection? How do you assure that these procedures are being followed? Who is responsible for installing protective measures to block out the cable television signal on the lines of non-cable-TV-subscriber customers of Comcast@home, and how do you assure that these protective measures are being properly installed? I would like request that procedures be put in place, so that prior to submitting a request to any court of law to file criminal charges for cable fraud, Comcast Cablevision will check the records of the @Home Network to see if the individual to be charged is a valid customer of Comcast@home. I am also asking the Administrative Commissioner of the District Court of Maryland for Baltimore County (who will be receiving a courtesy copy of this letter) to ensure that these procedures are followed prior to the issuing of any summons for cable fraud in our county. Perhaps the Court could require some type of affirmation that this check of @Home's customer records has been performed prior to determining that there is "probable cause" for a summons to be issued in any cable fraud case. I firmly believe that if Comcast Cablevision has given @Home technicians the authority to connect/modify cable connections, they also need to accept some responsibility for having done so, and not automatically assume that any lines that Comcast Cablevision has not connected themselves have been fraudulently connected by the homeowner. I would like to request that procedures be put in place by Comcast Cablevision customer support so that the records of non-cable-TV-subscriber customers of Comcast@home are available to them, and that they may be able to respond to customer service calls related to the physical cable connections of Comcast@home customers (instead of insisting that only @Home customer support can handle these requests.) I would like to request that procedures be put in place by both Comcast Cablevision and Comcast@home customer support, so that they are each fully aware of what their respective company's responsibilities are with regard to non-cable-TV-subscriber customers of Comcast@home.
Please contact me at your earliest convenience to inform me about how each of the issues listed above is being addressed. My mailing address and e-mail address are listed above, and my telephone numbers are [deleted].
Judith L. Sammel
25 January 1999: I received a nice letter from Comcast's
Baltimore Metro area Vice President, and the local General Manager of Comcast
apologizing for these events, and outlining the steps they've taken to make sure this doesn't happen again. They now have a procedure to note @Home subscribers without cable TV service in their cable service billing system, and have added some checks and balances to ensure that their cable fraud investigators will be able to identify this type of situation in the future. This is a welcome change from the initial conversations I had with Comcast's attorney about this issue, where she insisted that no change in procedures was necessary, other than to ensure that the Comcast Online installers installed video traps in all installations where it's warranted. They graciously offered to pay the Court processing fees to get my record expunged, but I haven't gotten around to filling out the paperwork yet. Since the court told me that it can take up to 120 days for the paperwork to go through one it's filed, I'm not in such a great hurry anyway.
31 January 1999: The Multichannel News felt that this story was worth publishing in the February 1, 1999 edition of their magazine (on the front page, even!) They snarfed my title, too. They gave me permission to repost the articles on my web site: 'Get a Cable Modem...Go to Jail' and Sammel's Tale of @Jail .
2 February 1999: I got home from work and found two notes attached to my door. One was another letter of apology from the Baltimore Metro Area VP and the local Comcast Online General Manager, saying that they plan to extend my @home service for a year at no charge, along with a $50.00 gift certificate from Bibelot (my favorite bookstore!) The second was a handwritten note--they had apparently come by to deliver this in person, but I wasn't home. This is a very nice gesture; I appreciate it very much.
Does it make me feel bad for having contacted Multichannel News? No; not at all--for two reasons:
7 February 1999: Since Multichannel News updated their on-line edition, I changed the references for the articles they published about this case (see 31 January 1999 entry) to point to my reposts of their articles, instead. Also, since the print version of Mike Farrell's article in last week's edition had some text missing, they've reprinted the article in the February 8, 1999 print edition. All of the articles are searchable in Multichannel's archives available from their home page.
16 February 1999: It appears that "Broadband Bob" picked up my story and published a brief version to their mailing list, and on their web page. Also, a Brazilian has written an article in Portugese based on Mike Farrell's article in Multichannel News.
I had a problem last Friday (February 12) with my cable modem service. Everything was proceeding at a snail's pace--mail, news, web-browsing. It continued for several hours, so I called to see if there was a problem in our area, or if they knew what might be wrong. They tried some troubleshooting (Tier 1 and Tier 2), and they said there was an RF problem with my connection, and they'd need to send someone out to look at it. The first time they had available was Monday (yesterday). They said "9:00 AM with a 4 hour window" for their arrival time. At 1:40 PM, a technician showed up. He did some testing at the cable modem (found a very weak signal), then at the connection where the cable enters my house (again, a weak signal), and then at the "pedestal" out on the street (again a weak signal--he said it was likely weak because there were two video traps on my line. I don't know this for sure, but I strongly suspect that the Comcast@home folks still had the "order on the books" for the video trap to be placed (see Chapter 3 above), and did not get the word that one had already been installed by Comcast Cablevision; so they came by to install another one. (So, not only don't the two organizations talk to each other, but they don't even recognize each other's handiwork?) So, he removed one of the video traps, and the signal started coming through strongly, and my service resumed immediately. I told him I wanted to make sure he didn't remove both video traps. He seemed curious why I was concerned about that, so I showed him the court documents, and told him I wanted to prevent a recurrence of the bizarre situation I found myself in last November. He said he couldn't believe that something like that had actually happened. (Join the crowd!)
Keep the cards and letters (well...the e-mails) coming. One person has suggested that I post the titles of the books I purchased with the gift certificate Comcast gave me, in the hopes that I bought some books that were apropos to the issue at hand. Honestly, I hadn't thought of that when I was book shopping, so I didn't specifically look for books that might be pertinent (Is there a "Malicious Prosecution for Dummies" book out?) The books I got were: The Pillars of Hercules, by Paul Theroux (a travelogue of his trip through the Mediterranean); Getting A Life, by Blix/Heitmiller (financial and personal strategies for voluntary simplicity); The Pocket Idiot's Guide to Home Repair, by David Tenenbaum; and, The Argument Culture: Stopping America's War of Words, by Deborah Tannen (of You Just Don't Understand fame). Fairly boring--sorry to disappoint you.
I mailed all the paperwork to the District Court to get my criminal record expunged. It included the "General Waiver and Release" which says that I release and discharge Comcast and the Baltimore County Police "and any and all other persons" for any claims I may have for wrongful conduct related to this incident. So, Comcast can rest easy about the legal aspect of all of this.
9 April 1999: I got an e-mail from Brian McWilliams at InternetNews, asking me to give an interview for InternetNews Radio. I called and spoke to him, and voila--a couple of hours later, there's a segment on my story in Real Audio format on InternetNews Radio. (© 1999 Internet.com Linked to with permission of Internet.com)
10 April 1999: There's a blurb about my saga in the current issue of Netsurfer Digest (Volume 05, Issue 11).
13 April 1999: My story is a "Tasty Bit of the Day" from Tasty Bits from the Technology Front. Lisa Ronthal at WorldNetDaily has a paragraph and a link to my site in her Interscope column.
16 April 1999: The Macintosh world has discovered the story, and links to it appear on Macaddict, Macresource, and MacInTouch.
25 April 1999: I received a copy of the expungement order, dated 14 April 1999. This means that the court has 30 days to serve the order on the Baltimore County Detention Center, The Baltimore County Police, the Msp-Cjis Repository (?) and the State's Attorney. They each then have 30 days to expunge their records, and provide a Certificate of Compliance back to the court, and to me. Now, if we can only expunge all records of my "criminal activities" from the Internet. :-) Someone has submitted my URL for the current issue (Vol. 20, Issue 33) of the Risks Digest which is available on the web, or on USENET as comp.risks . Yahoo has also listed my site in their section on Bandwidth News.
26 April 1999: I've been "slashdotted".
©1999 Judy Sammel
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