News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion
MONDAY, MAY 16, 2005


Complaints about cable TV are similar, coast to coast

See if any of this seems familiar.

Sick of complaints from cable-television subscribers, the city of Los Angeles last week imposed new rules on cable companies, including:

  • Company phone operators can't put a customer on hold for longer than 30 seconds.
  • A subscriber gets a $25 credit if a technician does not arrive for a service call during a four-hour appointment window.
  • Companies must locate phone service centers in the city. (Customers had complained about operators who did not know the area.)
  • The city can fine cable companies up to $3,000 for each violation.

    The Los Angeles Times points to other major metropolitan areas — Seattle, Montgomery County, Md., and Washington, D.C. — where municipalities are considering writing cable consumer rights into law. Subscribers in North Alabama have some of the same complaints.

    "The (cable) industry has continued to rank pretty low in customer satisfaction for a number of years, and that low customer satisfaction translates into complaints made to local governments," said Libby Beaty, executive director of the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors. Her members are government cable regulators.

    Cable companies say, predictably, that Los Angeles' directives are burdensome and inefficient, as well as making it more difficult to compete with satellite TV companies, which are not city-regulated. Cable companies also say their customer-service record is improving and complaints are falling. "It's market-driven," says one spokesman.

    Indeed, the free market and new technologies are giving consumers more options, and competition will probably result in continuing cable service improvements. But in the meantime, cable companies that use public rights of way are the most feasible option for many consumers. Local governments need to make sure these companies give reasonable customer service.

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