When Zachary Cohn and his wife bought a house in the Northgate neighborhood of Seattle, Washington, they expected no problems getting internet at home. It was only after the house closed in July 2019 that they heard the bad news. “All six neighbors I share a property line with are wired for Comcast, but our house has never been,” Cohn told Ars.
Comcast’s predecessor company had wired the neighborhood decades earlier, and the ISP provides high-speed broadband to the adjacent properties. But the cable TV and Internet provider never drew a line to the house Cohn and his wife Lauryl Zenobi had bought.
Cohn spent months trying to get answers from Comcast about how he and Zenobi could get the Internet. Finally, he contacted his city councilman’s office, who was able to get a real answer from Comcast.
Comcast eventually said that 181 feet of underground cable would have to be installed to connect the house and that the couple would have to pay Comcast more than $27,000 to have that happen. Cohn and Zenobi didn’t pay the $27,000 and have been relying on a 4G hotspot ever since.
“I was just stunned”
“I was just stunned that a house like this, in an area like this, could possibly never have been wired for the internet,” Cohn said in a telephone interview. Since the house is “in the middle of Seattle, it didn’t even occur to me that that was possible,” he said, adding that the lack of Internet service “would be more understandable if I was two miles from my nearest neighbor.”
The Seattle Kraken Hockey Team $80 Million Practice Facility is in the same area of Northgate, about half a mile from the house. There’s a major bus station nearby, a light rail station that recently opened nearby, and an elementary school about a 90-second walk away, Cohn said, noting that the property is “well within the Seattle city limits.”
Built in 1964, the home is also about 10 miles from both T-Mobile Park, where the Seattle Mariners play, and Lumen Field, the Seattle Seahawks stadium, named after CenturyLink’s Lumen brand. T-Mobile does not offer its new one internet service at home at the house. CenturyLink offers Internet service at Cohn’s address, but only its legacy DSL with download speeds up to 3 Mbps and upload speeds up to 500 kbps. Cable and fiber are simply not available in the house.
Not our first Comcast horror story
We’ve written about other people buying houses without realizing there was no internet service for the home, but those stories were generally set in small villages or rural areas. In some cases, Comcast’s website and customer service representatives incorrectly told home buyers that the service was available due to errors in the company’s availability database.
Comcast availability data wasn’t an issue in this case, as Cohn said he didn’t think to check for a Comcast connection before closing the Seattle home. “Honestly, I didn’t even think to look. What house in the middle of Seattle wouldn’t have a decent internet connection?’ said Cohn.
Cohn contacted Ars after reading one of our previous Comcast horror storieshoping to let others know that an internet connection isn’t a guarantee, even in densely populated cities — and even if all your neighbors have service.
Government broadband programs generally focus on “connecting neighborhoods, especially underserved communities, which I think is great,” Cohn said. But he wants people to know that “there are large groups of people, both in large geographic areas and in small individual cases, who are never connected to high-speed internet, and how hard it is to go through life without that kind of connection.” †
While Cohn’s situation is unusual in that all the surrounding houses have broadband, he is far from the only city dweller without modern service. It is especially a problem in lower-income areas where ISPs have chose not to upgrade old telephone lines.
Comcast Junction Box Across the Street
With the properties adjacent to Cohn’s, there are overhead power lines that Comcast used to extend the cable to the homes. But “our power is underground and so … there are no poles to drive away,” Cohn said.
The block is shaped like a triangle, Cohn said, adding, “We’re the only house on our side of the triangle, and the other two sides have three houses each.” On the side of the house that does not face the neighbors, there is an arterial road. The closest Comcast junction box is across that road, “so they would have to dig under the artery to connect our house to that junction box.”
Cohn told us that the sellers listed in documents before the sale did not have internet at home, but he didn’t realize that it wouldn’t be possible to get service at all. After the failed attempts to get service, “we’ve had our agent contact the sellers to find out what’s really going on here,” Cohn said.
They found out that the previous homeowners had struck a deal with a neighbor that ran a cable “from his Comcast hookup, over his property, over our property, and then to this house,” Cohn said. The previous owners rented out the house and “they kind of made a last-minute deal with the neighbor to please the tenants,” Cohn said.
But “when we talked to” [the neighbor]”He made it very clear that he was quite unhappy with that arrangement in the past,” Cohn said. “I’ve basically convinced our neighbor to go ahead with that arrangement until we can come up with an alternative.”