Comcast CEO: “I was embarrassed” by customer service debacle

November 13, 2014, 2:10 AM UTC
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SUN VALLEY, ID - JULY 09: Brian Roberts, chairman and chief executive officer of Comcast Corp., attends the Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference on July 9, 2014 in Sun Valley, Idaho. Many of the worlds wealthiest and most powerful business people from media, finance, and technology attend the annual week-long conference which is in its 32nd year. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
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Comcast CEO Brian Roberts didn’t mince words on Wednesday about two hot button topics: shoddy customer service and net neutrality.

Customer complaints have plagued Comcast for years, but the issue came to a head in July when a customer recorded a call with a service representative who refused to let him disconnect his Comcast service. The recording not only went viral but also motivated other frustrated Comcast customers to do the same.

At an event in San Francisco, Roberts said that he was “embarrassed” and “disappointed” when he heard the recording. “It was a teachable moment for employees and it was a teachable moment for all of us,” he said.

After the incident became public, Roberts appointed Charlie Herrin senior vice president of customer experience. Herrin, who previously oversaw the design of Comcast’s Xfinity products, faces the daunting task of improving Comcast’s overall customer experience.

Still, the Comcast CEO maintained that such customer service nightmares are not the norm. “We get 250 million phone calls a year,” he said. “The nature of our business is that we’re going to have these things.”

Roberts also tackled net neutrality, the concept that Internet service providers treat all web content equally in terms of speed. It’s a heated issue pitting consumer activists, who argue against companies paying for preferential treatment online, against telecom companies.

On Monday, President Barack Obama made waves when he introduced a 1,000-word plan to ensure a free and open Internet. Specifically, President Obama called for the Federal Communications Commission, or FCC, to act on a set of rules from the 1996 Telecommunications Act that would prevent Internet providers from blocking or slowing lawful web content. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court struck down the FCC’s rules, which upheld net neutrality.

Just a day after President Obama’s introduced his net neutrality plan, Comcast leapt into the fray by releasing a statement claiming it “agrees with the President’s principles on net neutrality” and that Internet content should not be blocked or slowed. However, Comcast disagreed with President Obama’s calls for Internet providers to be regulated like utilities.

“There’s a better way to do that,” said Roberts said, who argued that Internet providers should keep their current largely unregulated status.

The battle over net neutrality is far from over. The FCC has yet to respond to President Obama’s proposal, although FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has said he is open to the plan. And net neutrality supporters have public rallies planned.

Meanwhile, Robert emphasized that Comcast will cooperate with the government to find a common ground. “No blocking, and no discrimination — consumers need the certainty that this platform [the Internet] stands for those kinds of principles,” he said.