Local Franchise Authorities Keep Cable Operators In Line

Cable companies must constantly prove their worth to local franchise authorities. The authorities grant the cable providers permission to operate, and can whip them into action for failing to meet basic customer service standards, as reader Darren shows.

I don’t see this mentioned very often but if you need help with a local cable company or telecom company you should see if your county/city has a franchise authority. My county has a very active authority and in the two times I have used them I have gotten resolution quickly for issues I had previously spent months on. In talking to my local authority they try to avoid being involved in petty billing disputes or when people haven’t yet tried to resolve the issue directly but they want to be involved if you fail to get a response after a good faith effort to resolve the issue.

Situation 1:
A technician left a cable across the road and failed to tack it down. So the cable coiled up in the middle of the road and sidewalk, over the next 3 months numerous children riding bikes or just running down the sidewalk would trip and fall. Every week I would call and report this cable but nothing was ever done, well 4 days before Halloween I got desperate and tried the franchise authority (Imagine kids in costumes walking down the street close to dusk and a black cable along the ground). One hour after my email someone from the authority called me back to say that a Cable company rep would be calling me that day. They did and a tech was sent one hour later and the cable was removed!

Situation 2:
I started having problems with my cable service and repeated calls over a month would result in a tech visit who would say that the problem is upstream. During one of the tech visits I was told that some large repairs were needed at the head-end and until they were done the whole back half of my neighborhood would continue having this problem. So I sent another note to my franchise authority. Three hours later the local office manager called and said that someone would look into it first thing in the morning. The next day I was told they had confirmed the problem and it would be fixed in 3 days. Sure enough, 3 days later my cable TV was perfect!

In both cases the people who responded were helpful, followed up and kept me appraised of the status of my issue. I think it helped that in both cases I was offered service credits and discounts, which I declined to avoid any pretense that my issue was about money. I have found that this helps the escalation reps understand that the call is about the issue at hand and not someone looking for a hand-out. I was also very polite, told them how much I appreciated their help and never bashed them or their company, I would just explain my issue and my hope for a resolution. My cable provider is Charter but this should work with any provider assuming you have a strong franchise authority.

In New York City, franchises are overseen by the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications and the Franchise and Concession Review Committee. Both can be reached through 311, but DoITT also has an easy online form to handle consumer complaints.

In Los Angeles, franchises are overseen by the Chief Administrative Office, who setup a hotline for consumer gripes at: (213) 922-8350.

For all other localities, try calling your local executive—Mayor, Town Supervisor, Chief Cow Herder—and ask about the local franchise authority.

Cable & Open Video System Complaint Form [DoITT]

Comments

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  1. zarex42 says:

    This cuts both ways; in our town, they’ve been “negotiating” with Verizon for a couple of years now, for local fios service to compete with comcast. The terms our town is asking for are totally unreasonable; massive payments, subsidies, etc., and guess who gets that cost passed onto them in the form of higher rates?

    I’d much prefer easier access to our markets, rather than government intervention. Competition is a *good* thing, and should be encouraged, not stifled.

  2. dlayphoto says:

    This might be harder to do in the future. Here in Ohio AT&T recently won a state-wide franchise agreement, and Time Warner just announced theirs:

    [www.com.state.oh.us]

  3. Pylon83 says:

    Unfortunately, as State Franchise authorities start to become prevalent, I think the regulatory power over the cable companies will start to dwindle.

  4. dlayphoto says:

    @Pylon83: Agreed. On one side, it might introduce more competition and drive down rates, but on the other side, it the power over the operators will decrease, which isn’t good.

  5. Tim says:

    Kudos on the Dr. Stangelove image.

  6. I wish – my county (Wicomco in MD) last year just rolled over for Comcast and approved a FIFTEEN-YEAR exclusivity agreement. You read that right, 15 years.

    Never mind that Comcast refuses to wire 40% of the county, just straight-up refuses. The give us one public access channel and everyone does cartwheels and brags about how good they are for the community.

    Hey, how about letting the community actually GET cable service?

  7. goodkitty says:

    I move to create the Franchise Authority Authority, which will oversee and control the individual Franchise Authorities from getting too buddy-buddy with the cable operators.

    Or, you could just legislate that you have to have at least two (cable/telco/power) options in any given area. Actually, I’m surprised we haven’t seen a move yet to simply federalize all information conduits, so that they are company-neutral. It could be the job of local gov’t to lay down phone and cable and fiber lines, and lease them to companies to use. Just think of what that would do for consumer choice when the companies don’t own your copper, and much time and effort the NSA will save not having to get those pesky subpoenas.

  8. dlayphoto says:

    AT&T was the first in Ohio to negotiate a state-wide agreement, for their U-Verse service, which is a joke.

    I live in a suburb of Cleveland, which has a population of about 55,000. AT&T has put up over 50 of their VRAD boxes all over the town to convert the fiber signals to copper. There’s a huge uproar about it:

    [lakewoodobserver.com]

    AT&T has really overpromised and underdelivered, IMO. When U-Verse’s data package tops out at 6Mbps and your cable competitors are doubling, sometimes tripling that speed, you really need to rethink your strategy.

  9. Doctor Cathattan says:

    I live in Laurel, MD and my city has a franchise authority. It’s a complete joke. All they do is collect complaints and forward them to Comcast, which in turn forwards them to their round file.

    My area’s franchise authority has no control or powers to use against Comcast. There’s not even any set of grievance procedures for consumers to follow. Franchise authorities have alot of potential, but I would want to make sure they are not just a Potemkin government office designed to blow smoke up citizens’ asses.

  10. davere says:

    The local cable franchising authority in Orlando took care of my issue after I exhausted all regular customer service channels in no time.

  11. calvinneal says:

    What cable operator has 18 mb downloads.Name them in your reply. None I have heard about in this country. Uverse from ATT has not been fully deployed. This sounds like a cable guy talking. 50 boxes for a population of 55,000. Are you sure? Uverse is deployed by wire center, not city. You forgot to mention that Uverse is at least $35.00 less a month than cable. Oh, and the boxes are on easements, not on private property.

  12. dlayphoto says:

    @calvinneal: RCN is doing 20Mbps. Cox is doing 15Mbps (20 in some markets, 25+ by 2010). Several cable operators are going DOCSIS 3.0, which will make 20+ speeds a reality very quickly.

    Yes, I do know 50+ boxes are in Lakewood, I have gotten that information from City Council. Who cares that the boxes are on easements? They’re still an eyesore, and AT&T didn’t properly disclose that when they pitched it to the city. Cox actually has an open lawsuit against Lakewood for breach of the existing franchise agreement.

    I couldn’t care less if it’s $35/month cheaper. I care about QUALITY and VALUE for the price, even if it’s higher.

    I don’t work for a cable operator, either. I just happen to know how cable networks are set up.

  13. LTS! says:

    @calvinneal: Well, here in Rochester, you can get 15Mbps downloads from TWC, so that falls somewhere in between 2x-3x the 6Mbps crap. It’s the same here although we have a lesser DSL provider their speeds are 6Mbps max and I don’t know a single person who has the service who can claim they ever get 6Mbps because unless you live inside the CO you just can’t do it.

    At least $35 less/month than cable? I just checked the rates and it appears they are about where my current cable bill is. Even stepping the prices are easily within $35 of each other either way.

    And the boxes are a damn eyesore.

    You might be branded a Uverse shill. But I’ll say you aren’t since you are completely misinformed on what cable providers have what speeds available for transmissions.

  14. DallasDMD says:

    Uverse is a pretty pathetic answer to Verizon’s FIOS. My next move will be out of AT&T territory and into Verizon land.

  15. dlayphoto says:

    @DallasDMD: Agreed. AT&T will find out very quickly that their ‘solution’ is pretty half-assed.

  16. faust1200 says:

    Dr. Strangelove photo FTW.

  17. Bunklung says:

    @dlayphoto:

    Then you must understand how those SUPER DUPER ULTRA cable internet speeds are shared. The cable companies do a good job of pushing advertised rates down the publics throats, but they come up real short when people actually use those “advertised” speeds. How many? 250, 500 people in a node all sharing bandwidth. I wonder what happens when people start using that 20mbps speed? When grammy and and little billy are sending e-mail and looking at news on cnn, 20mbps is real fast, but when 40 people in the node are sharing files… bye bye bandwidth, hello Sandvine! Or hello FIOS…

  18. dlayphoto says:

    @Bunklung: Don’t get me wrong, I’d really like to have FiOS. I’m only trying to point out that AT&T is overpromising and underdelivering with U-Verse.

    I know how cable bandwidth is shared. Some cable operators are really lazy about upgrading their network and adding capacity. Cox (my ISP) is currently upgrading their entire cable network to 1GHz, which is far more robust than U-Verse’s network. When there’s problems with performance on a node, they split it. If you read their 2010 Plan, it’s easy to see they are proactively upgrading their network to meet with demand.

    [www.dslreports.com]

    My advertised speed is 15MBps, I consistently clock 12-13MBps. YMMV.

  19. RvLeshrac says:

    @goodkitty:

    The government already doesn’t get the subpoenas required of it…

    Converting it to government control would add a government office. Government offices in the US are very territorial, a ‘Communications Czar’ would be more likely to stand in the way of a wiretap.

  20. RvLeshrac says:

    Oh, and, err… Cable internet pricing is typically figured if you are paying for cable (DSL pricing is the same principle, unless you happen to be in an area with a third-party [non-telco] provider that owns its own equipment).

    $35/mo is an outstanding price for, say, 4mbit… until you realise that you have to keep paying for the $50 cable package. Some of us don’t want cable TV.

  21. othium says:

    This was a very interesting article! I did some poking around and found the complaint form for my area.

    [www.stpaul.gov]

    Comcast is the only company available, but it’s nice to know that I have an extra resource to use if any problems arise.

    Thanks again for this information!

  22. othium says:

    I also saw that there was a discount on cable services for those who are senior citizens, disabled, or economically disadvantaged.

    As I work with for a company that serves physically disabled adults, I am going to let them know about this discount. It’s not a ton of money, but every dollar counts.

    Just thought I’d mention this as there might be other cities with the same discounts in their franchise agreements. Might be worth looking into..

  23. beartack says:

    The US ranks around 20th for bandwidth speed. In other nations 100Mb is a standard, while in the US one is lucky to get 4Mb download service. It is not technology that is holding us back, but rather the corporate and legal milieu in which we live. What makes this possible is that the overwhelming majority of people think that we are “Number One.”

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