Cable provider gets an earful |

Cable provider gets an earful

Susan Wood, Tahoe Daily Tribune

Blackouts, rising rates, forced package deals, discontinued service and poor customer service at the call center — South Lake Tahoe cable operator Charter Communications received an earful and eyeful of complaints passed through the city Tuesday.

The City Council — operating under limited regulatory authority over the franchisee but with a moral obligation to its citizens — held a public forum with the help of city staff to review concerns since the St. Louis-based corporation took over cable service a year ago.

The city receives about $300,000 a year from the franchisee for its local operation. Charter’s Reno call center fields 15,000 calls a day.

Charter took over AT&T Broadband affecting the South Shore in July 2001.

When Charter came into the picture, the city averaged about five to 10 calls a day from residents sharing dismay over the service.

Tahoe resident Cindy Beberg wrote to U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein to express her concern over the blackout of Sacramento news programs. She receives Reno channels instead.

Marsha Berkbigler, Charter’s government relations spokeswoman for the Reno region, said the blackouts fall under the discretion of the local channels.

Berkbigler, who was joined by three other Charter representatives, listened to myriads of complaints.

Jim Foff, who runs the Fantasy Inn, said he’s felt compelled to offer room discounts amounting to thousands of dollars because his DMX music service is now only available in digital. He’s had the analog system for a decade.

Councilwoman Judy Brown told Berkbigler that many people — some of them Tahoe Manor residents — have told her they feel forced into digital packages.

“It’s not affordable anymore for those on fixed incomes,” she said, adding the company’s problems seem to be the result of doing “too much, too fast.”

Berkbigler agreed, adding she hopes the community would be patient with their progress.

Another channel realignment that may include the addition of the Bravo, History and Golf channels is expected soon, along with a merging of the South Lake Tahoe, Carson City and Douglas County markets.

The company’s South Shore office moved from Emerald Bay Road to the Round Hill area.

The company has targeted “some time in 2003” for a Phase 2 upgrade to its service and the release of a customer service survey. The city will place up to five questions on the questionnaire to the subscribers.

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