Why Charter sucks and the last week in August was one of the best of my life

The Real Charter BundleFriday, August 28 was truly a momentous day which I will forever remember for accomplishing one of my life’s greatest feats.  I’m actually not talking about finishing UW Marching Band Reg Week – which is the most physically demanding tryout week I have ever had to endure (much harder in fact than varsity football two-a-days).  I was happy that the days of six hour rehearsals and conditioning in the middle of August were over and regular rehearsal schedules would begin.  My much greater accomplishment, however, was managing to free myself of Madison’s own axis of evil, the Fourth Reich – Charter Communications.  Here are my own opinions why Charter is a terrible company and as I found, I’m evidently not alone.

  1. Calling their customer service requires reading minds better than even Miss Cleo is capable.  Figuring out what I needed to say to their automated voice recognition software to actually talk to a human being took me 15 minutes.
  2. I received junk mail about the charter bundle seven days a week – sometimes more than one letter a day – because Charter never removed past customers from my college address.  On more than one occasion I even threw away a bill because I thought it was more junk mail.  A company that knows anything about marketing should realize that convincing college students that they need a Landline would be an incredible accomplishment.
  3. Figuring out what all of the charges, sub-charges, and sub-sub-charges on a bill actually mean is more confusing than computer science.  I had no idea what I was actually paying for and costs continually increased from month to month without Charter informing me.  Disputing these charges requires an hour long phone call (see #1) or threatening to switch to Direct TV.
  4. Question: How hard is it to remove someone from an account?  Answer: Three phone calls and an eventual “required” trip to an actual Charter office.  This is something that should be easily done over the phone or the interweb.  Instead, we were told by two Charter employees that all I had to do was call and provide my SSN.  When I did that, the customer service “expert” told me that “no one would have told me that it was possible over the phone” and “sir, I’ve been working for Charter for 14 years, I think I know how to remove someone from an account.”  I think the only thing worse than being a Charter customer would probably be working 14 miserable years for the company…

What if I lived my life like Charter runs their business?

  • When people owe me money, provide them with a list of chargeable sub-items which they do not understand.  For example, if I bought someone a beer at a bar, I would probably charge them for an intoxication fee, a money handling fee, a non-local beer fee (if it was an Anheuser Busch product), a pint glass renters fee, hangover insurance, and even a falangy fee (made up).
  • Schedule appointments with people stating that I will arrive between 10:00 AM and 4:00 PM.
  • Constantly tell people how much money they could be saving if they bought two things that they don’t need and one that they actually do.
  • Perform with mediocrity at both work and school, treat others as if they are indebted to me for the mediocre work, and then when I’m asked about it, provide people with a recording stating that my work isn’t actually mediocre.

Truthfully, I don’t believe Charter will be around long and hopefully filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on March 28, 2009 will speed up the process.  Much like AOL in the 90s, who once owned a large share of the internet market (cancelling an account with AOL literally took four hours – I remember doing it because my Dad didn’t have time), new players will come along, providing better customer service and a better product.  For example, AT&T has started providing cable and internet in Madison at a cheaper rate and seems like a much better option.

Update 1-8-10:  If you recall, at the end of August I thought that I had achieved freedom from the Charter slave driver when my roommate and I completed paperwork to completely remove me from our account and transfer it to his name at his new address.  However, Charter’s head hunter traveled north and found me, enjoying my new stress free lifestyle.  When I returned from Christmas break in New Berlin on the 26th, I was greeted by a notice from a collection agency (I didn’t realize that Scrooge was still stubbornly working on Christmas day).  I was flabbergasted by this collection notice for a number of reasons:

  1. We filled out paperwork to completely remove me from the account back in August.
  2. I haven’t ever lived at the address where the service is actually used, but Charter still sent it to my current address.
  3. Charter only seems to send me notices when shit has really hit the fan (i.e. the account is delinquent on a payment) but never sends monthly statements or anything else (giving me a false sense of Charter freedom).

So we had little choice but to visit Charter (becoming one of my favorite ways to spend an afternoon) because the only phone number listed for the local Charter Communications location was “1-888-get-charter” and I didn’t have 45 minutes to kill until I could actually speak with a human being.  We turned in my roommate’s digital box and paid the remaining balance.  So in theory, this time, my life really should be Charter-free.  Some Q&A from my enjoyable visit to Charter’s office:

Q:  Why is my name still on the account?  We filled out paperwork to remove me at the end of August.
A:  Your paperwork must have never been processed.

Q:  Can you provide me with documentation that my name (or at least my SSN) has been removed from the account today?
A:  We can’t do that.

Q:  What should I do when I receive a second notice from the collection agency?  (I assumed that Charter would not resolve this issue any time soon and that my credit score would continue to suffer for no reason).
A:  You could come back in to our office if you really want, but customers typically receive a notice or two after the balance has been paid.

“What’s up with the band?…” – something I’ve been asked hundreds of times this week

A day after I was added to the UW Marching Band website (profile) and in many ways I “publicly” became a member of the UW Drumline, we had the strangest marching band rehearsal in my short time as a member.  During warmups on Friday, Mike left for an hour, returned with Lori Berquam, called the band together and told us all to go home.  By now I’m sure that any badger fan has read numerous articles about the “allegations,” compliments of Google news, and whether they like it or not, made their own judgments of the character of the individuals in the band and the group as a whole.  Unfortunately, almost every detail of the investigation I have had to learn from the media and as a result, suffered through reading many journalistic articles, blogging of intelligent people, and blogging of morons.  Plus, I had no idea that there are people who refer to Wisconsin as Wisky.  I’ve been a badger fan for my whole life and have never heard this “nickname.”  Here are a few of the most bizarre comments that I found on the internet.

“I will no longer financially support any errogant, spoiled drunks who have wrongly assumed a place of importance and status…  I wish the band was half as smart as they think they are. Yes, the entire band. Anyone who sits back and does not report these a-holes is as guilty as the a-holes themselves.”  – (source)

Fortunately I’m at least 2/3 as smart as I think I am.

“Having shared music school halls with the UWMarching band for many years and directly seeing how noisy and disruptive to real academics, as well as being extremely rude and inconsiderate of other students, faculty, and the school this group of students was at all times, and yet getting more backing and budget than the rest of the entire music department combined because of their association with the corporate owned football (as well as other UW athletics) team…Perhaps this is the time to teach consideration of the noise made in the halls outside of practice rooms when they go to their equipment lockers and behave like brazen drunk hockey players and poor representatives of the great University of Wisconsin in front of many international students who come to the University to study music. Even the state high schoolers are better behaved when they are on campus. Get a clue marching band members and grow up!” – (source)

I haven’t been stereotyped like this since third grade when I couldn’t pass my multiplication table mighty minute quizzes.  I would like to publicly apologize to all of the “international students” and bitter school of music graduates for my “brazen drunk hockey player” actions.  Although I’m already the oldest “freshman” in the band, I’ll do my best to “get a clue” and “grow up.”

“It is time that we make things better so we do not have to put up with with spoiled brats thinking that sex is everything. Mike you have done the right thing and when the athletic department does more about the the drinking at the games Too bad people need to wear raincoats because of spilled beer . I would like very much to go to games but is it worth it No I will spend my money elsewhere.” – (source)

Thanks for the suggestions!  After all these years I had no idea that you could drink in Camp Randall, but I’ll be sure to bring my raincoat next week.


Was UC Davis in on a national college marching band conspiracy? – I wish…
Interestingly enough, the UC Davis Band has been under fire at the exact time as the UW Band.  Only in this case, instead of receiving allegations of inappropriate behavior, the director actually filed them himself (what?).

  • Simple moral of the story– Professor Leckrone is an incredible leader and I’m relieved that he relates to his students and respects us enough to approach the situation in a proactive manner.  I’ve always loved the UW Band and considered Leckrone to be one of the biggest celebrities in the state, but had no idea what kind of a person he would be to work with on a daily basis if I actually made the drumline.  Although he expects more of us than any other leader I’ve worked under (including ANY high school varsity sport), I have developed a deep rooted respect for his leadership, passion for everything he pursues, and overall approach to life.  All he wants to do is go back to directing an incredible band and teaching young people.  Contrary to some close minded beliefs on campus, it wasn’t a huge personal conspiracy to sabotage the UW football game.  In fact, Leckrone is probably the biggest badger football and basketball fan I have ever met.
  • Complicated moral of the story– college students all over the country, including myself, engage in activities that I would be uncomfortable discussing with my grandmother.  Although I currently have no idea what actions have actually surfaced as a result of the university’s investigation (I probably know even less that the media), I’m pretty sure that during the past four years, while I was a lowly college student, I would not have found any of the allegations out of the ordinary should they happen on a normal college drinking weekend.  As a disclaimer, I’m only aware of the activities which went on in my section of the band and will admit that there is an extremely small chance that more significant problems might have occurred in other sections (however, I believe this to be unlikely).  One of the largest surprises to me is the attention that these bands are receiving form national media.  Are they merely a small microcosm of college culture all over the nation, albeit under a much more public microscope?


If I met anyone who didn’t consider college to be some of the craziest times of their life I would wonder where in the hell they went to college and in what century.  Throughout my college experience, I have tried to cram in as many crazy experiences as possible (going to MN for a year, living with Andrew in the dorms, doing an internship in Colorado for a summer, building a pool table in my hundred year old attic, doing a Co-op for a semester IN MADISON with no homework, buying a short bus and traveling to every away football game, being the president of IIE, “volunteering” to host the 2010 IIE Regional Conference, etc.).  My most recent crazy decision was to “try something new” in my 5th year of college and join the band.  It seemed like an enormous amount of fun… and I was absolutely right.  As the oldest “freshman” in the band, I fit right in with the other freshman, but also with the rest of the drumline, who I now consider close friends.  As a “freshman” I feel in no way that any experiences that we went through were worthy of this type of investigation for a number of reasons.

  • Big Picture – The reputation of any group after a high profile investigation begins takes an incredible hit, regardless of the actual verdict.  Ever hear of the Duke LaCrosse team?  Unfortunately, the answer to this question is an overwhelming YES.  Can (I’ll say it) THE best band in the nation regain the positive reputation that Leckrone spent 40 years shaping?  I hope so.
  • Small Picture– When I joined the band, I was joining one of the most elite and respected organizations in the entire state.  However, now I’m wondering if I should even put “UW Marching Band” on my resume.  While people in Wisconsin would be impressed, I’m not sure that I want to have to defend the organization in an interview with someone who has never seen the band or how hard it works and only read the national media attention.


Part of the reason I joined the band this year is because growing up, I thought the band and badger football were two of the most exciting things around.  Last year, to fuel my love of badger football I bought a short bus with five friends and drove it to every away game in 2007.  In fact, last season I attended more games than badger running back Lance Smith (I attended 11 games last season, while he only attended 7).  (On a side note, the team got to negotiate the details of his suspension, probably not something the band has the privilege of).  This year, although I had no idea I was getting into something like this when I decided to “try something new” during my 5th year of college, I am indeed fueling the other half of my childhood excitement, the UW Marching Band.  I don’t regret joining the band in any way.