Council questions Adelphia#039;s customer service

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 23, 2004

Despite all the recent changes Adelphia has made, several Ironton City Council members and cable subscribers in the city hope to see some changes in its customer service department.

Tracee Tackett, operations manager for the Ashland-Ironton systems, attended Thursday's regular meeting to talk with the council and subscribers about their questions and concerns.

Mayor John Elam reported that his office has received 13 calls about problems with Adelphia. Most of the complaints stem from volume issues, the new fee structure and problems with the Internet service.

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Allen Caldwell has called Ironton home for the past two decades. Caldwell said he has sent numerous e-mail messages and has made phone calls to the cable provider over the years, all with little result.

"Over the past 20 years, without a doubt, and I cannot recall all the different companies that have provided cable, Adelphia has to be the worst," he said.

Questioning whether Adelphia even has quality assurance mechanisms in place, Caldwell cited problems with picture and sound quality.

Some channels come in with picture quality that looks like you have a bad set of rabbit ears," he said. "ŠJust like the bluegrass (music on Adelphia's community channel) isn't tuned in, I don't believe Adelphia is tuned in to its customer base."

For the most part, the audio problems on the analog service have been corrected, Tackett said.

Several councilmen also questioned the customer support services provided by Adelphia. Brent Pyles said he has made numerous calls, the most recent of which took him 11 minutes on hold before he heard a human voice.

"I think Adelphia does need to look at and improve its customer service," he said. "The delay cause added aggression over the problem."

The majority of the recent changes involve restructuring the plans and adding a total of 117 new channels, including pay-per-view to the digital packages.

Adelphia's lowest non-digital service that includes channels 2-25, now called "broadcast basic," still costs $15.10 per month. The "Adelphia Classic" package includes channels 2-75 for the same price of $42.25.

While the a la carte service to add premium channels did increase by $1, each package now has several more channels. For example, HBO subscribers will get 10 channels of HBO instead of four.

The five digital packages that range from "bronze" to "ultimate" allow for more premium movie channel packages to be added to two different digital plans. All five include the 36 "digital basic" channels. The gold, platinum and ultimate packages include these channels as well as 15 "digital plus" channels with the chosen movie packages.

Also, the company lowered the price for the digital access box that is required to receive pay-per-view and digital music from $7 per month to $3.50 per month.

"We do try to put options out there for our customers so they will have choices," Tackett said.

Councilman Richard Price remains skeptical that all these new channels are really for the customers.

"Most of the complaints I get are that most of the channels Adelphia adds are to justify the rate increases," he said. "They are things the customers don't want."

Tackett said she will take the concerns of the community back to her supervisors.

Caldwell said he would like to see the city or the newspaper create a customer satisfaction survey, as well as looking into other options for cable when the franchise agreement expires in 2006.

Because Adelphia owns the lines, it will probably be difficult to find a company willing to pay the lease fee or run new lines in the Ironton area, Councilman Jesse Roberts said.

Roberts reiterated that the agreement does not give council or the city the ability to tell Adelphia how to run its business regarding prices or channel lineup. Council can only make its opinions, and those of the community, known to the cable company.

He encouraged people to contact agencies such as the Public Utilities Commission and the FCC that can control these factors.

Adelphia has received a lot of attention from Ironton area subscribers for more than a year, for both positive and negative reasons.

Last February, residents protested against Adelphia's plans to add adult channels to the city's cable lineup. The pay-per-view channels were added to digital service despite the protests.

In May, Adelphia began substituting WBNS Channel 10 out of Columbus, with C-SPAN, to avoid duplicating programming with WOWK Channel 13 out of Huntington, W.Va.

In June, Adelphia executives announced the company would raise its subscription rates for the second time within a year.

The cable company returned WPBO to the lineup in September after numerous complaints.

In October, Adelphia added the popular and often-requested Ohio News Network to the classic lineup.

In other business, council called a special meeting for 10 a.m. Saturday morning to consider legislation to enter into a contract of $23,461.66 with Pro Diving Inc. of Akron, Ala., to repair leakage in the city's water storage tank.

Clear Well No. 1, the 4.5-million gallon concrete water tank that was built in 1917 atop Nixon Hill off of State Route 93, leaks nearly 400,000 gallons of water every day, costing the city more than $5,000 a month, according to estimates by Mark White, part-time superintendent of the city's water treatment plant.

"The level of water loss, while we have experienced this for some time, really comes home when you go up there and see how much water is coming out," City Engineer Phil Biggs said. "Again, I do not think it is a catastrophic event but it definitely damages the property owned by the city."

This has been an off-and-on problem for a number of years and past repairs were only partly successful. The city hopes to build one or two new 1-million gallon tanks sometime this year.

Pro Diving submitted an original bid that was approximately $15,000 but city engineer Phil Biggs reconfigured the bid proposal to encompass more repairs and to video tape the process.

Biggs said he would recommend this company over the other two based on their experience with the resin product that will be used.

Also, council heard the first reading of an ordinance that would require deliberation regarding filling the unexpired term of a council position to be discussed in an open meeting.