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.
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!
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.