As the feds continue to evaluate the wisdom of the Comcast/Time Warner Cable merger, local communities in several states are attempting to throw a wrench in the federal approval machine.
In Worcester, Massachusetts, the City Council recently refused to approve the transfer of the city’s cable television license to Comcast. In order to sweet-talk the federal agencies concerned the merger may create too much market concentration, Comcast has worked out a deal with Charter Communications to transfer customers in certain geographic areas. Charter is the current incumbent in Worcester.
According to a Telegam & Gazette article, the City Council does not need to approve the transfer for it to take affect. Nevertheless, the City Council voted 8-3 on October 14 to urge City Manager, Edward M. Augustus Jr., not to approve the transfer of the license. If Augustus makes no determination, the transfer will automatically be approved.
The city can only examine the transfer based on four criteria including company management, technical experience, legal experience, and financial capabilities. Management and poor customer service are the sticking points for Worcester:
District 5 Councilor Gary Rosen said the City Council should not welcome Comcast to Worcester because of its “deplorable and substandard” customer service across the country.
“It’s a terrible company,” he said. “In my opinion, they should not be welcome in this city. Comcast is a wolf in wolf’s clothing; it’s that bad. They are awful, no doubt about it. Maybe we can’t stop it, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t speak out.”
A similar scenario is playing out in Lexington, Kentucky. The community is the second largest city served by Time Warner Cable in the state. They are concerned existing customer service problems will worsen if Comcast becomes their provider.
The Urban City Council drafted two resolutions denying the transfer. The resolutions had first reading on October 9. Customer service is, again, a point of contention.
According to an October 9 Kentucky.com article, the city proposed including a fine for poor customer service as part of the agreement. The fine is in the current franchise agreement, but TWC will not agree to carry it forward into the next agreement. The two parties have been working on a new contract since the previous one expired in 2012.
From an October 7 article in Kentucky.com:
Vice Mayor Linda Gorton said the city held two public meetings and also asked for public input regarding issues with the city’s cable provider.
The city received “reams” of negative feedback from citizens, she said “It’s everything from equipment, to service, to cost or the inability to understand how costs are set.”
Council members also want to ensure that the local cable office be open some evening and weekend hours so customers can seek help. They also want to include an existing provision wherein the provider maintains a studio for public access television.
“We want to keep these terms in our current agreement,” Gorton said. “For our citizens, we are working hard to get a good franchise agreement.”
Back in Worcester, community leaders recognize their limitations:
Councilor-at-Large Frederick C. Rushton said there is no question there is a need for better cable television service in Worcester, but added that federal laws are unfortunately geared more in favor of cable companies than consumers.
“We can make it sound like we are taking on the big boys, but in reality this will go nowhere,” he said. “People want better service but I’m not sure the council floor is the way to get better service. We are just bit players in a big play. It may feel good to vote this, but it may very well end up having no effect.”