Why You Should Stop Ripping on the Cable Guy

Published On 09/21/2015 Published On 09/21/2015

It's hard not to have a love-hate relationship with the cable guy. One one hand, he shows up at your door in a magical van full of wires and boxes to save you from the horrors of network television. On the other, he's there two weeks after you called and somewhere inside a FOUR-hour window -- ensuring you have to take the day off work.

But as frustrated as you get when he shows up late, takes three hours to install a single cable box, or leaves without fixing the problem, it's not always his fault -- there's a lot more to the job than meets your rolling, skeptical eyes. And it's stuff you're not gonna learn about watching a Jim Carrey movie or Blue Collar comedy specials. 

You know who you can learn from? Actual cable guys. So we talked to a few and -- after hearing about how the business really works -- came up with 14 reasons why you should totally cut them some slack.


They can’t make your signal stronger

If your cable looks like a cross between scrambled Spice Network and the reception you’d get on Mars, it’s because the signal coming into your house is weak. And that's the result of either the power line or the pedestal (that little green box) outside. While a tech can manipulate it, he or she can't make it stronger.

That annoying “four-hour window” is actually impressively accurate

Every day the cable guy goes to work with absolutely no idea what he's working on. The assignments are often spread around town, require drives of up to 30 minutes in between, and can vary in length depending on how much work has to be done. If he can manage all of his customers within four hours, he's actually doing pretty well. 

Other customers make them late

Contrary to popular belief, cable technicians don’t sit around drinking Big Gulps and staring at their watches just to make sure they get to your place at the end of the four-hour window. No, they're late because the previous job took longer than expected, and they can’t leave before it’s done.


Customer service never talks to them

Asking a customer service operator how long a cable repair will take is like asking the receptionist a doctor’s office how long your Gastric bypass surgery is gonna run. When the person on the phone says, “It’s about a 30-minute job,” they haven’t consulted with the technician at all. So, never believe the time they quote you.

They can’t fix your bill

Along the same lines, if your bill magically goes up $5 every month, you know who has a good idea why? Billing. Sure, calling them involves 90 minutes on the phone and a whole lot of Muzak, but the guy in your living room with 16 miles of coaxial cable doesn't have a clue.


They're trying to educate, not cheat you

Unlike an auto mechanic who tells you to replace your entire engine when your battery dies, cable guys don’t get paid by the size of the job. So there's no point insisting that only one wire needs replacing when the tech informs you they all need to go. He's really not trying to upsell you here.

They take the brunt of your anger 

They get it. You spent your entire lunch break on the phone with somebody who doesn't understand the problem, and then who ended the call by assuring you that a technician would be coming to your house sometime in the next two weeks. Here's the deal, though: He’s neither the person on the phone NOR the evil suit charging you $120 for crappy service. So no matter how much you rehearse your angry let-him-have-it soliloquy, there’s nothing he can do about.


The job is way more dangerous than you think

Cable often comes from power lines. Yes, those insanely high voltage things that will kill you instantly if you touch them. It also comes from the aforementioned pedestals, which often double as homes for swarms of angry wasps. Throw in backyard pests like snakes and iguanas, and the average cable guy is basically Steve Irwin with a pair of wire cutters. Okay, that's probably a bit too much, but it's still dangerous.

They don’t know the rules of your house

So don’t lose your shit if a workman leaves his work boots on when he comes in, just politely ask that he remove them.


Their job depends on you listening

Once a technician visits your house, any service problems you report -- whether justified or not -- are considered “trouble calls” under his name. Too many trouble calls, and the cable guy becomes the unemployed guy. So, when he tells you to make sure your TV is on Channel 3 and to only use the silver remote, pay attention.

They can’t just “give you a few more channels”

Back when Jim Carrey was playing these guys in movies, it may have been possible to get you free HBO by slipping him a few extra dollars. Not anymore. Cable boxes now are extremely sophisticated, and each is signed out individually by a technician. The only way to get more cable is to... gasp!... pay for it, and have it sent in through your signal.

IR Stone /

They've got a tight schedule, and everybody wants their time

It’s kind of like being the ice cream man, except instead of excited small children running out of their houses to enjoy a delicious frozen novelty, it’s angry middle-aged people pouring out into the street asking you to, “Take a look at something real quick." Which, in turn, makes the tech late for his next appointment.

They don't make nearly enough to put up with all the rage

Because for all the unreasonable scheduling, dangerous conditions, and rude customers they deal with on a daily basis, cable techs make -- on average -- about $17 an hour. Yeah, their guess is as good as yours as to why your bill is so high.

Crazy, but they actually want to make you happy

If you’ve ever done volunteer work, you know the inherent joy in giving somebody something they desperately need. So while the money's not great, seeing how happy people get when Game of Thrones pops on the screen is one of the biggest rewards of the job. If you’re happy, they’re happy.

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Matt Meltzer is a staff writer at Thrillist. Follow him: @mmeltrez.



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