A cable fable

Talk about your bad reception. When Marian Franks went to the ComCast offices on Silverbell Road last week to complain about an inaccurate cable TV bill, the company ended up calling the Sheriff’s Office to have her escorted from the premises.

Despite this unfortunate incident, however, Chico city officials say ComCast is a vast improvement over the previous cable provider, AT&T.

Franks said her bill for basic cable television service has reflected an overcharge consistently for the past few months, sometimes as high as $15. So, rather than call to straighten things out, she went to the local office. Unable to get a supervisor, she said, she “threw a hissy fit,” which led to the sheriff’s intervention.

So she went home and started dialing an 800 number to contact ComCast.

“I couldn’t get past the operators who would answer the phone,” Franks said. “They knew my name and wouldn’t let me past.”

As she was calling the 800 number, someone knocked on her front door.

“There were these two huge guys standing there when I opened the door,” she said. One was wearing a blue shirt with the ComCast logo on it.

“The first guy said, ‘We hear you’re having trouble with your cable,'” Franks recalled. “And I said, ‘No, I’m having trouble with my bill.'”

She said at that point one of the men leaned in and told her to stop calling the company. So she called the police instead.

The men, she said, retreated to across the street to their respective vehicles—one of which was a red van with the ATT logo on its side—and waited until the police arrived.

The police officers, Franks said, they told the men they could turn off her cable but that was all. “The police told me they understood my frustration,” she said.

Chet Woods, the city’s public-information technician, deals with the cable company, which operates under a franchise agreement with the city. Woods said ComCast should have had a supervisor available for Franks. He was told the one supervisor the company employs locally was in a training seminar when Franks came into the office.

Still, despite that failing, Woods said, ComCast is much more receptive and easier to work with than the city’s last cable provider, AT&T.

Woods said the two ComCast workers visited Franks’ home to turn off her service, which Franks had requested. They were not there to intimidate her.

“She was calling the [ComCast] call center, not the cable office,” he said. “They just happened to show up then.”

ComCast became the local cable provider last year, taking over for AT&T in a complicated stock exchange agreement. AT&T’s service, which lasted about two years, was a source of many customer complaints.

The way those complaints were handled—in most cases they weren’t—violated the rules in the company’s contract with the city. As a penalty, the city got the company to agree to send a $5 refund to each customer. But the company, one of the largest in the nation, watered the punishment down considerably by saying it would give the refund only to those customers who made the effort to send in a voucher.

Woods says ComCast is a major improvement over AT&T and that in this recent flap he was able to contact the company’s vice president. “They got her out of the middle of a meeting,” Wood said, suggesting that getting a response from an AT&T executive is next to impossible.

The News & Review doesn’t have the city’s pull, apparently. Like Marian Franks, we got no response to our requests for comment.