Thomas is questioning Comcast’s level of service and says the hundreds of responses he’s received shows it’s a community-wide problem.
“We keep reducing channels and the rates keeps going up,” he said. “They should be providing a lot better customer service than they are, and their rates need to be questioned.”
Within hours of Thursday’s televised City Council meeting, the city’s 311 customer response line was getting calls well past the 6 p.m. cut-off for a live operator. City officials announced at the meeting they wanted citizens to call them about problems.
“We received so many calls it filled up the inbox (of the voice mail),” said Bret Bell, the city’s director of public information.
The city has expanded the voice mail capacity to handle the higher call volume. Bell estimated by Friday the city had received more than 100 calls.
Comcast’s area vice president, Mike Daves, is trying to respond rapidly, too. He’s called the aldermen to assure them his company is dedicated to customer service, and Monday, he worked with City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney’s office to set up a meeting.
“We want to get this taken care of,” he said. “There are always challenges with customer service, but there’s no reason for a customer to be unhappy with what they’re paying for.”
Under a franchise agreement between the city and Comcast, the cable company has to meet certain conditions to access city rights-of-way to install and maintain its cable lines and other infrastructure. A change in state law in 2007 lessened the degree of oversight local governments have over a cable provider. Even with those changes, however, local municipalities, including Savannah, are allowed to monitor basic customer service response for cable television.
That gives the city enough authority to ask Comcast officials to meet with city administrators to discuss consumer complaints.
Thomas wants more than a promise of better service from Comcast.
He wants to encourage new providers.
“Comcast has had their shot,” he said. “There’s no reason they should be the only game in town.”
The 2007 legislative changes that limit a city’s oversight also made it easier for multiple providers to enter a market. AT&T and Hargray also have secured statewide franchises that would allow them to provide cable in Savannah.
Although competition is possible, city officials noted that even in the largest cities overlaps in service are rare.
Thomas wants additional cable competition because satellite services aren’t an option for many residents. Some homeowner’s associations ban free-standing dishes, some apartment complexes won’t install a dish at every apartment and at some homes, tree canopies block the signal.
Embree Marie McDaniel has been so upset about her service, she dialed 311 within seconds of hearing the city wanted feedback. Her premium movie channels often scramble in the middle of shows, she said. She’s also had problems with remotes and modems failing, only to be told she has to bring them to Comcast’s service station or pay a fee for a technician’s visit. That’s a problem because she’s disabled and doesn’t drive.
“If something goes wrong with a box, they should not be charging me to fix their box,” she said. “As many Comcast cars as they have running around here, they should be able to drop off a box that works.”
Marie Clementi is a Comcast customer in Richmond Hill. She’s been so upset by the lack of service she’s working on complaint letters to the Federal Communications Commission, the Better Business Bureau and a bad evaluation for Angie’s List, the website that rates contractors and businesses.
Clementi routinely finds charges on her bill for services she didn’t get, and when her cable and Internet went out around Thanksgiving, it took more than a week of constant phone calls to get a technician, she said.
“Every time it would get close to the appointment, they would cancel,” she said. “I would call and call, and the people at the 800 number would say they have no control over the technicians.
“It’s not a good company,” she said. “If I didn’t have teenagers, I would get rid of it.”
Daves says Comcast is offering $20 credits or three months of free premium channels for missed appointments or other problems, and has narrowed its promised response time to two hours.