#BBCtrending: Internet cancellation horror story goes viral

The outside of a Comcast customer service centre in California.

Ryan Block simply wanted to cancel his Comcast internet service

Instead of a short phone call with the company, however, his experience turned into a 20-minute ordeal, as Block and his wife were berated by a Comcast "retention specialist" who doggedly refused to accept the request.

"Help me understand why you don't want faster internet?" he repeatedly asked. "I'm trying to help you. You're not letting me help you."

Mr Block, a technology journalist who works for AOL, recorded the final eight minutes of the call and shared the audio with his 82,000 Twitter followers. The speed at which the clip went viral - the Soundcloud audio file had almost 4 million plays within two days - reflects that Mr Block is not alone in his frustration with major telecommunications providers.

The nameless Comcast employee took a fair amount of bashing on social media - he was called "psychotic" and "crazy and a little bit scary" and compared to a "condescending, needy ex-boyfriend from hell".

A tweet from Ryan Block.

When Comcast engaged in textbook public-relations damage control, however, apologising to the Blocks, laying the blame at the feet of the customer service representative and promising "quick action", the company became the focus of the internet's rage.

Maybe, commenters speculated, the pressure Comcast puts on its employees to do anything they can to prevent cancellation has created a culture that led to this particular worker's over-the-top hysteria.

A tweet from Comcast.

"I hope the quick action you take is a thorough evaluation of your culture and policies, and not the termination of the rep," Mr Block tweeted.

"Nice job throwing your rep under the bus," tweeted Peter Welch. "Doubt he wanted to be on that call any more than @Ryan did."

"As someone who works in a similar company, while that rep was excessively aggressive, we're trained and held accountable to do that," tweeted Fabian Cruz.

On Reddit, someone claiming to be a Comcast employee explained that retention representatives are compensated based on how many cancellations they prevent. If they fail to reverse at least 75%, they get nothing.

"These guys fight tooth and nail to keep every customer because if they don't meet their numbers they don't get paid," txmadison writes.

It's a sympathetic perspective that the Awl's John Herrman finds compelling.

"The customer service rep is trapped in an impossible position, in which any cancellation, even one he can't control, will reflect poorly on his performance," he writes. "By the time news of this lost customer reaches his supervisor, it will be data - it will be the wrong data, and it will likely be factored into a score, or a record, that is either directly or indirectly tied to his compensation or continued employment."

Comcast is currently attempting to obtain approval from the US government to merge with fellow telecommunications giant Time Warner Cable. But a monopoly-aspiring Comcast, staffed by belligerent customer service representatives, is just the sort of nightmare scenario some commentators are imagining.

"What happens when the same corporate financial goals and institutional pressures that encourage an individual service rep to go berserk on the phone are applied to a huge sector of the entire US economy?" asks Salon's Andrew Leonard.

"That's what so scary about this Comcast call - what we are hearing isn't just one guy losing it; it's the howl of unrestrained market forces, red in tooth and claw. Give a company monopoly power, and it's the only sound we'll hear."

Reporting by Anthony Zurcher

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