Comcast changes rile customers
HUNTINGTON -- Recent changes by Comcast to its cable television channel lineup for at least some of its subscribers have prompted numerous customers to complain they have lost channels they were paying for and are now being forced to pay more.
A company spokesman says the changes customers have experienced are due to a recent audit of customers' service levels that found they were receiving channels they shouldn't. But many customers dispute that, and some claim they were not given notice.
Sabrina Thomas, a librarian at Marshall University, said she turned on the TV on March 11, and noticed many of her channels were no longer there. She said the entire experience has just been bizzare.
"On my sixth transfer, I finally got to someone who was customer service for West Virginia," Thomas said. "I started explaining and they said I wasn't paying enough. I explained I have always paid this amount and gotten these channels and they said no, you have to pay more."
The concerns that Thomas and others have were brought up at a recent Huntington City Council meeting. Multiple council members mentioned they have been approached by constituents regarding their Comcast service. The main problem is Comcast is the only cable provider in town, said councilman Scott Caserta.
"I've had at least 100 complaints about the recent channel change," Caserta said. "I've called the corporate office, and their stand is they have sent out adequate notifications. Basically, to keep the channels you have, you have no choice but to upgrade to a higher package."
Caserta said he and other residents are in the same boat. He said he upgraded his cable package after waking up to find channels he previously had no longer there.
The complaints are not limited to City Council. They also have surfaced on social media and several people have written letters to The Herald-Dispatch voicing their frustrations with Comcast.
Huntington's franchise agreement with Comcast making it the only cable television service in Huntington expired in 2008. However, common law dictates that if both sides continue as if there is still an agreement, then courts view the agreement as still valid, said Bryan Chambers, Huntington communications director. According to city records, Huntington received more than $460,000 in franchise fee revenue from Comcast in fiscal year 2012-2013.
According to the Federal Communications Commission, local governments can only regulate a cable company's rate on its basic service tier. Rates for tiers with more channels are determined by the cable company.
Regarding the most recent complaints about the company, Adam Pratt, director of public relations for Comcast, said he cannot answer specific inquiries without speaking with individuals. But he said he is almost positive the issues of lost channels arose because Comcast reviewed accounts and made adjustments.
"We routinely review accounts to ensure customers are receiving the appropriate channels associated with their subscribed packages," Pratt said. "We work to notify customers in advance of making these corrections, and apologize for any inconvenience the recent adjustments may have caused."
However, it seems advanced notice was not given to some customers, such as Thomas. She said she had no heads up, no letter or anything about this change. She said Comcast representatives told her she would have seen this coming if she had just looked at Comcast's website.
Pratt said it is possible for customers to receive channels and services they are not paying for and be under the radar for years before their accounts are reviewed. He said Comcast has not recently restructured its cable packages.
However, Thomas said she knows what she was paying for. She described the way Comcast is handling matters as unbelievable.
"I'm not usually one to complain," Thomas said. "You have to be really, really bad for me to speak out -- and this is really bad. How can they tell me that I used to have channels and then one day I didn't? Then they say I have to pay more to keep the channels I was already getting. Bad."
Comcast owns the entire cable infrastructure in Huntington, and any company wanting to come in and compete would have to purchase lines from Comcast or create a brand new setup throughout the city. Caserta said that would be a very costly venture for any company looking to move into the area.
The company's monopoly in Huntington is the main problem here, Thomas said.
"People have said go to Direct TV, but at this point I'm really inspired to just never watch TV again -- it's been that bad of an experience," Thomas said. "Luckily there are other options these days. While streaming and other online services aren't perfect, I'd rather deal with those issues rather than talk with another Comcast individual."
Caserta said he hopes those options will grow in the future, as the city looks for ways to remove the cable cord and expand its wi-fi blanket across the city, Caserta said.
"The mayor, myself and other councilmembers would like to see the city go completely wireless," Caserta said. "We are behind the times in this, and that's the only reason we are in this Catch-22 situation."
Chambers said city officials are exploring all options, including negotiations with Comcast for better contract provisions and making the city completely wireless.
Comcast's customer service is under the microscope not only in Huntington, but on the national stage, as the company seeks regulatory approval for its $45 billion acquisition of Time Warner Cable. Comcast has the lowest customer service rating of any Internet service provider, while Time Warner Cable ranks last among cable operators, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index.
Thomas said she is not upset with the customer service representatives she has dealt with, but the administration that creates the scripts they are forced to follow. She said with increasing competition from Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime streaming, perhaps the company should revisit how it treats its customers. She canceled her service the day after her channels were removed, and said while it is weird not having cable, not having to deal with Comcast anymore will be good for her sanity.
Huntington's franchise agreement with Comcast is under review, and Chambers said an assistant city attorney is directly involved with the process. He said there are provisions in state law that dictate once a contract agreement is reached, there must be a public hearing where the community can voice opinions or concerns.
Anyone who has questions about their Comcast service can contact its customer agents by calling 1-800-934-6489.
Those wishing to speak with their council member can find council members' contact information on the City of Huntington's website, www.cityofhuntington.com.
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