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New Hampshire’s Attorney General Resolves Comcast and Consolidated Communications Complaints Quickly

Frustrated New Englanders that can’t get anywhere dealing with Comcast or Consolidated Communications’ customer service are getting fast fixes in New Hampshire by taking their complaints to the Consumer Protection and Antitrust Division of the attorney general’s office.

Jim Boffetti, in charge of that division, says his office receives 4,000 written complaints and 7,000 calls a year about consumer issues, a not insubstantial number from residents upset with their local cable and phone company.

New Hampshire is dominated by Comcast for cable service and Consolidated Communications for telephone service. Boffetti told The Laconia Daily Sun the two companies are familiar to staffers, responsible for more than 250 complaints for the phone company since Consolidated took over for FairPoint last year and 561 “racked up by Comcast” since 2009. Boffetti’s theory of how these companies handle consumer complaints is partly based on wearing customers down.

“The hassle factor is enormous,” he said. “It’s just the way these people do business.”

Boffetti doesn’t believe the number of complaints is unusual either, “considering the business that they’re in.”

Boffetti

Although the New Hampshire regulator cannot usually intervene to set prices, change conduct, or force resolutions, most telecommunications companies fear riling up state or federal regulators. Those government officials can potentially return “the favor” of years of arrogance and condescension when a company needs state or federal approval of a merger or permitting issue.

Only a small percentage of consumers realize they can file complaints with private groups like the Better Business Bureau, state officials like an attorney general or telecommunications/utility regulator, and federal agencies like the FCC. In every case, companies assign their best representatives to handle those complaints in an effort to protect their reputation.

When consumers file complaints with the New Hampshire attorney general’s office, the office forwards them to a designated person or department at the provider. Comcast and Consolidated assign senior level customer service departments to specifically handle these types of complaints. The representatives are given wide latitude to settle problems quickly and quietly — often refunding large sums of money, extending generous service credits, resolving ongoing service problems, or waiving service fees that ordinary customer service representatives insist cannot be done. Most of the time, complaints are settled in the customer’s favor.

“Usually it all gets worked out,” Boffetti said. “They’re pretty responsive to the complaints. They make an attempt to resolve it.”

When Karen Jacobs was offered a better deal by Consolidated Communications, she jumped at the opportunity to get cheaper and faster internet access for her home in Moultonborough. What originally cost her $104 a month was supposed to be $74 after she was sold an improved bundled service package. On the installation date, nobody from Consolidated showed up. Instead, she was told her order ‘was stuck’ in the system. To get it ‘unstuck,’ Jacobs would ‘have to pay a $300 one-time fee,’ something never mentioned by the original representative.

Complaints against Comcast are usually resolved in the customer’s favor, as this report from the New Hampshire attorney general’s office shows.

Jacobs asked the representative to waive the fee because it was never mentioned. The representative refused, and even lectured Jacobs about how little Consolidated was regulated by the state government and could do as it pleased.

“He didn’t care,” she said of one particular representative. “It was like, ‘Too bad.’”

Despite claims the $300 fee was “company policy,” it was news to Jacobs.

“That was never, ever, ever, ever discussed anywhere in the conversation,” she said. “It’s lousy.”

Jacobs had not yet filed a formal complaint, taking her story to the media instead. But similar complaints of hidden/surprise installation and activation fees are very common, and once forwarded by a regulator, are usually resolved by either waiving or refunding the charges.

Customers are gratified they get to keep their money, but remain annoyed at companies who “forget” to disclose important terms and conditions like fees as they try to seal the deal.

Customers can Google their own state’s attorney general and by searching for consumer complaints, can usually file their own complaint online in just a few minutes. In New Hampshire, residents can file a complaint on the website or mail it.

New England residents can also reach out directly to Comcast or Consolidated’s special consumer complaints departments directly by mail:

COMCAST – NEW ENGLAND
Executive Customer Care and Communications
Post Office Box 6505
Chelmsford, MA 01824-0905

CONSOLIDATED COMMUNICATIONS OF NEW HAMPSHIRE, VERMONT, AND MAINE
State Regulatory Matters
800 Hinesburg Road
South Burlington, VT 05403

Comcast provides cable service throughout northern New England and Massachusetts. Consolidated Communications provides landline service predominately in New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine.

The New Hampshire attorney general’s consumer protection hotline is 1-888-468-4454 or (603) 271-3641, weekdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. You can also contact them by email at: [email protected]

Comcast’s Cool New Outage Maps

Phillip Dampier August 14, 2018 Comcast/Xfinity, Consumer News 2 Comments

Comcast has introduced an upgraded Outage Center showing nearby service outages on a map and offering customers near-real time updates on repairs.

The new outage maps depict the specific areas impacted, usually by zip code or service node, along with what services are involved, whether the outage is part of scheduled maintenance or unplanned, how many customers are affected, and an estimated time when repairs will be completed.

 

Comcast’s new service outage map, in this case showing outages in northeastern New Jersey. (Image courtesy of: telcodad)

The cable company is using technology similar to what many electric utilities use to pinpoint and report on outages automatically. Detailed outage information both appeases customers and cuts down on the number of duplicate calls reporting outages Comcast already knows about. Comcast’s engineers can also self-report planned maintenance to give customers an immediate notification that work is underway. Just minutes after completing the work, a technician can report service as restored. The more customers that report an outage, the more red alert symbols appear on the map.

Comcast customers note the outage map is not exact in accuracy, but is a major improvement over Comcast’s original outage website, which offered only vague information.

Unlike most electric utilities, Comcast is still keeping access to the complete roster of service outages under wraps. The outage map only offers limited zoom-out, limiting one’s ability to check for outages in other areas.

beGONE Sports: Comcast Boots beIN Sports from Lineup in Contract Renewal Dispute

Comcast has dropped sports network beIN Sports off the lineup after its contract with the cable company expired July 31.

Customers who tune to the channel will find a series of rotating on-screen messages explaining the network was switched off because the renewal price was too high:

Have you heard about a disagreement between beIn Sports and Comcast?

Every month Comcast has to pay networks to bring their programming to you. That’s right, we pay the network. Not the other way around.

Now beIN sports is asking for a major increase in fees for the channel you already have, which could have a big impact on your bill.

beIN Sports won’t allow Comcast to carry its channels until this is resolved.

beIN Media Group, a spinoff of Al Jazeera Media Network, owns the network and has already filed a complaint against Comcast for violation of the deal conditions imposed by the FCC after approving the merger of Comcast and NBCUniversal. The complaint alleges Comcast is giving preferential treatment to its own sports networks, a violation of program carriage rules. That complaint remains pending.

“We are deeply disappointed that despite our best efforts over the last year to resolve the situation, millions of Comcast XFINITY subscribers have lost access to the content they love. We are happy to extend existing terms while we continue to negotiate, but unfortunately Comcast would rather continue to charge the same while taking away valuable and loved content from customers,” said Antonio Briceño, beIN Sports’ deputy managing director for the U.S. and Canada. “The truth is, we face a disheartening trend of media consolidation, where the big get bigger and innovative brands like ours that serve diverse audiences get pushed-out. This is almost always to the detriment of consumers who end up paying the price. We hope it stops now.”

Tennessee’s “Smoke and Mirrors” Rural Broadband Initiatives Fail to Deliver

Rural Roane County, Tenn.

Earlier this month, a standing room only crowd packed the offices of Rockwood Electric Utility (REU) in Rockwood, Tenn., despite the fact the meeting was held at 10 a.m. on a Friday morning.

Local residents were there on a work day to listen to area providers and local officials discuss rural broadband access. Most wanted to know exactly when the local phone or cable company planned to expand to bring internet access to the far corners of the region between Knoxville and Chattanooga in east Tennessee.

Comcast, Charter, and AT&T told Roane County Commissioners Ron Berry and Darryl Meadows, State Sen. Ken Yager (R-Kingston), and the crowd they all had a long wait because the companies couldn’t profit offering rural broadband service to the county.

“That is what our shareholders expect and the way we operate in a capitalistic society,” declared Andy Macke, vice president of external affairs at Comcast.

“The biggest challenge for all of you in this room is what they call the last mile,” said Alan L. Hill, the regional director of external and legislative affairs at AT&T Tennessee. “It is a challenge. We all face these challenges.”

In short, nothing much had changed in Roane County, or other rural counties in southeastern Tennessee, to convince service providers to spend money to bring internet service to the region. Until that changed, AT&T, Comcast and others should not be expected to be on the front lines addressing rural internet access. Successive governors of Tennessee have long complained about the rural broadband problem, but the state legislature remains cool to the idea of the state government intervening to help resolve it.

Gov. Haslam

In 2017, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam noted Tennessee currently ranked 29th in the U.S. for broadband access, with 34 percent of rural Tennessee residents lacking access at recognized minimum standards. In splashy news releases and media events, Haslam sold his solution to the problem — the Broadband Accessibility Act, offering up to $45 million over three years to assist making broadband available to unserved homes and businesses.

In reality, the law authorized spending no more than $9.5 million annually on rural broadband grants over the next three years. It also slashed the FCC’s broadband standard from 25/3 Mbps to 10/1 Mbps, presumably a gift to the phone companies who prefer to offer less-capable DSL service in rural areas. In the first year of awards, 13 Tennessee counties, none in the southeastern region where Roane County lies, divided the money, diluting the impact to almost homeopathic strength.

Critics called Haslam’s broadband improvement program “The Smoke and Mirrors Act” for promising a lot and delivering little. At current funding levels, broadband service can only be expanded to 5,000 of the estimated 422,000 households that lack access to internet service, and then only with the award winner’s matching financial contribution.

The demand for rural broadband financial assistance is obvious from the $66 million in requests received from 71 different utilities, co-ops, and communications companies in the first year of the program, all seeking state funding to expand rural broadband. Only a small fraction of those requests were approved. AT&T applied for money targeting Roane County and was turned down. AT&T’s Hill expressed sympathy for the county’s school children who need to complete homework assignments by borrowing Wi-Fi access from fast food establishments, area businesses, and larger libraries. But AT&T’s sympathy will not solve Roane County’s broadband problems.

What might is Rockwood Electric Utility, the municipal power company that sponsored the broadband event.

REU is a not-for-profit, municipally owned utility that has successfully served portions of Roane, Cumberland, and Morgan counties since 1939. By itself, the community-owned utility is no threat to companies like Comcast, because it offers service in places the cable company won’t. But if REU partnered with other municipal providers and offered internet service in larger nearby towns and communities to achieve economy of scale and a more secure financial position, that is a competitive threat apparently so perilous that the telecom industry spent millions of lobbying dollars on state legislatures like the one in Tennessee to ghost-write legislation to discourage utilities like REU from getting into the broadband business, much less dare to compete directly with them. AT&T, Charter, and Comcast also fear how they will compete against municipal utilities that have successfully delivered electric service and maintained an excellent reputation in the community for decades.

Tennessee law is decidedly stacked in favor of AT&T, Charter, and Comcast and against municipal utilities. Although the state allows municipal providers to supply broadband, it can come only after satisfying a series of regulatory rules designed to protect commercial cable and phone companies. It also prohibits municipal providers from offering service outside of existing service areas. That leaves communities served by a for-profit, investor-owned utility out of luck, as well as residents in areas where a rural utility lacked adequate resources to supply broadband service on its own.

Haslam’s Broadband Accessibility Act cynically retained these restrictions and blockades, hampering the rural broadband expansion the law was supposed to address.

For several years, Sen. Janice Bowling (R-Coffee, Franklin, Grundy, Marion, Sequatchie, Van Buren and Warren Counties), has tried to cut one section of Tennessee’s broadband-related laws that prohibits municipal providers from offering service outside of their existing utility service area. Her proposed legislation would authorize municipalities to provide telecommunication service, including broadband service, either on its own or by joint venture or other business relationship with one or more third parties and in geographical areas that are inside and outside the electric plant’s service area.

In her sprawling State Senate District 16, a municipal provider already offers fiber broadband service, but Tennessee’s current protectionist laws prohibit LightTUBe from offering service to nearby towns where service is absent or severely lacking. That has left homes and businesses in her district at a major disadvantage economically.

Sen. Janice Bowling (R-Tenn.) discusses rural broadband challenges in her 16th district south of Nashville and her bill to help municipal utilities provide broadband service. (4:20)

“In rural Tennessee, if we have what is called an industrial park, and we have electricity, you have running water, you have some paved roads, but if you do not have access to fiber at this point, what you have is an electrified cow pasture with running water and walking trails. It is not an industrial park,” she complained, noting that the only reason her bill is prevented from becoming law is lobbying by the state’s cable and phone companies. “We can no longer leave the people of Tennessee hostage to profit margins of large corporations. We appreciate what they’re doing. We appreciate where they do it, but in rural Tennessee we will never meet their profit margins and so we can no longer be held hostage when we have the ability to help ourselves.”

Sen. Yager

Her sentiment in shared by many other Tennessee legislators who serve rural districts, and her Senate bill (and House companion bill) routinely receive little, if any, public opposition. But private lobbying by telecom industry lobbyists makes sure the bill never reaches the governor’s desk, usually dying in an obscure committee unlikely to attract media attention.

That reality is why residents of Roane County were meeting in a crowded room to get answers about why broadband still remained elusive after several years, despite the high-profile attention it seems to get in the legislature and governor’s office.

“‘It is a critical issue as I said. It is not a luxury. It is a necessity. I certainly understand your frustration,” responded Sen. Ken Yager. “This problem is so big I don’t think one person can do it alone, one entity. It’s going to have to have partnerships. One thing this bill encourages is for your co-ops to partner with one another to bring broadband in.”

The bill Sen. Yager refers to and endorsed at the meeting was written by Sen. Bowling. Sen. Yager must be very familiar with Bowling’s proposals, because she has appeared before the Senate Commerce & Labor Committee he belongs to year after year to promote it. On March 3, 2018, the bill failed again in a 4-3 vote. But unbeknownst to those in attendance at the public meeting, Sen. Yager himself delivered the fourth “no” vote that killed the bill.

Undeterred, Bowling promises to be back next year with the same bill language as before. Perhaps next time, voters will know who their friends are in the legislature, and who actually represents the interests of big corporate cable and phone companies.

Comcast Giveth and Taketh Away: Raising Download Speed, Cutting Upload Speed in Midwest

Phillip Dampier June 26, 2018 Broadband Speed, Comcast/Xfinity, Consumer News 5 Comments

Customers in several midwestern states around Chicago have today reported to Stop the Cap! Comcast has provisioned a speed change on their internet accounts with no advance warning or notice, raising download speeds from 100 Mbps to 150 Mbps but cutting upload speeds in half — from 10 Mbps before to 5 Mbps.

The changes seem to impact customers on the midwestern region Blast plan, which was sold in many areas around Chicago with speeds of 100/10 Mbps. Some customers logging into their accounts today see a unilateral plan change there as well — one they never asked for, reflecting the changed speeds:

Comcast has yet to respond to our inquiry about the confusion. Some customers are being told the plan change is in error, at least with respect to upload speeds. It would be unprecedented for Comcast to reduce customer speeds when making speed adjustments. If you are in the midwest and subscribe to this tier, what speeds are you getting today and what does your account profile show with respect to your current internet plan?

Updated 9:01pm EDT — Comcast has responded: “We plan to increase speeds in our central division next month and will share more details soon. It’s important to note that upload speeds will not change as part of that announcement.”

We remain uncertain why current speeds seem to have declined in some areas, which was not addressed.

Updated 9:15pm EDT — Some of the speed changes appear to be related to soft-launched speed upgrades in the Central U.S. division (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Tennessee). The Performance tier that used to be 100/10 Mbps is increasing to 150/10 Mbps and the Extreme tier which was 150/20 Mbps previously is upgraded to 250/20 Mbps. You may need to briefly unplug your modem/gateway to receive the new speeds.

Updated June 27 11:10am EDT — Comcast has officially confirmed the upload speed reductions were in error. Customers that still find their upload speeds reduced should reset their modem, and upload speeds of at least 10 Mbps should be restored. The company’s forthcoming speed increases will maintain current upload speeds.

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