Bell Satellite TV: Stellar service for once

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Bell Satellite
January 11th, 2011 • 4:30 pm

I have been rather frustrated with with Bell Satellite TV in recent times. While there have been some programming improvements (notably the addition of a high definition version of the Setanta sports channel and of the CBC News Network channel), there have also been frustrating delays with the introduction of other specialty channels (including Sportsnet One) and Bell Satellite TV has also decided to drop both HDNet and Fox Sports World Canada from its line-up, even though these channels are still available through other providers, and of course there has been no corresponding reduction in price for those who had subscribed to these channels.

(I am an avid football/soccer fan, and so these changes affected me directly, and I also used to watch the “Nothing But Trailers” show on HDNet on a regular basis. Now I am forced to download the HD trailers on-line, which is not great with my limited bandwidth and which prevents me from playing them on my TV.)

That said, the only competition (Shaw Direct, formerly known as StarChoice) does not look particularly impressive either. They might have some of the channels that Bell Satellite no longer carries, but as far as I can tell from their web site, they don’t carry Setanta HD yet. In addition, their PVR receiver offerings are decidedly underwhelming, just like Bell Satellite’s offerings. After many years, we are still stuck with the same hard drive capacity (maximum of approx. 30 hours of HD recordings), no Sling support, etc.

The problem appears to be that there simply isn’t enough competition in Canada, either between the two satellite providers or with cable TV.

Still, today I thought I would also share some positive news, regarding Bell Satellite TV’s customer service.

A couple of weeks ago, we had a major wind storm here in southwest Nova Scotia and we experienced some significant degradation of our satellite TV reception, to the point that some shows we had wanted to watch were unwatachable. I though it was just a one-off thing, but then over the past couple of weeks I started noticing occasional signal hiccups, especially with HD channels, even when there were no significant weather conditions outside.

Then last week-end we missed a couple of important soccer games because the recording failed repeatedly. We had about half an hour of each, and then the rest simply was not there, even though the PVR said that the recording had the expected length. At some point, playback would just stop and then we would get the screen indicating the recording was over. The weather was somewhat windy again, but really not to the point that it should have any impact on the satellite signal.

Yesterday, I turned the TV during to day to program something and got the dialog box saying that the PVR was desperately trying to acquire the satellite signal, and obviously not succeeding. This time, there was no wind, rain or snow to explain the situation. I tried the usual troubleshooting steps (hold Power button to force a hard reset, run “Check Switch” routine to force a thorough check of the signal reception, power-cycle the dish power supply) and got the usual error messages, with no indication of what the problem was. Then after one more hard reset all of a sudden things started working again. So I thought it was just a temporary satellite glitch.

Things worked fine for the rest of the evening and I had some recordings scheduled to take place during the night.

This morning when I went to check one of the recordings (the Black Keys performance on the David Letterman show, which I was looking forward to), I saw the dialog box saying that the PVR was desperately trying to acquire the satellite signal again, and I also saw that the Black Keys recording was completely missing, and that a movie recorded earlier in the night was missing its second hour entirely, just like the failed soccer recordings of the week-end.

At that point I thought that something was definitely wrong. I did the hard reset and Check Switch again, but to no avail.

But that’s where the good news starts. I called Bell Satellite TV’s support line and got an annoying automated system asking me to go through multiple irrelevant steps, but quickly found that I could skip them by pressing 0. I was then put on hold for barely a minute and got a live representative from Québec. He mumbled his introductory phrase to the point that it was unintelligible, but after that he was very courteous and didn’t force me to go through the usual useless troubleshooting steps. He immediately agreed that there was something wrong with my satellite signal and that it required a visit by a technician.

Much to my surprise, he told me that he could send a representative to my house this very morning. I was expecting a wait of at least a day or two, simply because we are far from any major urban centre here and technicians don’t travel down our way every day.

Less than an hour later, I got a call from the local office (still a 2-hour drive away) confirming the appointment and saying that someone would be there between 8 am and 12 pm. (On days like this, it’s quite useful to be someone who works from a home office!)

I then got an automated call half an hour later asking me to rate the performance of the tech support representative. Since I was in a good mood, I actually went through it and it was relatively painless, without too much voice recognition involved — although I did notice a couple of glaring anglicisms in the text recorded by the Québécoise girl (partager and finalement, the usual suspects).

Around 11 am, I got another call from the local office to apologize and say that the technician would be a bit late. I told them it was OK. The technician eventually showed up at 1 pm. He was very friendly and courteous and our combined forces were quick to identify the problem: the inside of the end of the cable that plugs into the small adapter box in our living room was completely rotten/rusty. The question was: How could this have happened? It’s not like we had a flood or any kind of leak inside the house. We then went outside and quickly discovered a crack in the cable’s plastic sheath near the location where the cable enters the house (through the wall), which obviously allowed some rain to seep through and, somehow, travel all the way to the end of the cable inside. (I suspect that there is some weird phenomenon involved here linked to the low electric voltage in that cable.)

He snipped the outside cable and replaced the defective portion with a new junction, and he replaced the end of the cable and the small adapter box inside, and sure enough that fixed the problem entirely.

It took less than 20 minutes and I just had to sign a form confirming the repair job. (Of course, my years-old system is no longer under warranty, so there’ll be a $75 CDN charge.)

Still, I thought that it was quite impressive that less than 5 hours elapsed between the time I first picked up the phone to communicate with Bell Satellite TV and the completion of the repair process at my house. It might be a level of service that people are accustomed to in big cities, but it’s a pretty amazing performance in our neck of the woods.

Maybe I was just particularly lucky, but the technician did tell me that they seemed to be working on improving the customer experience. My experience certainly appears to confirm the improvement.

I also managed to sneak in a couple of questions to the technician about future developments. Of course, as a lowly technician, he only knows what he knows, but he did tell me that they were planning on launching yet another satellite this year that would further improve the overall strength of the existing signal. He wasn’t able to tell me anything about new PVR receivers with bigger hard drives or the long-promised switch from MPEG-2 to MPEG-4, however.

I guess we’ll just have to wait and… watch.

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