Internet link is focus of debate

Adelphia provides unreliable service, customers say

60 complaints a week

February 10, 2002|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

Carroll County residents have become enraged at Adelphia cable's Internet service, which they say hardly works between 2 p.m. and midnight.

Adelphia is refusing to pay $30,000 in sanctions that the county is seeking for alleged violations of customer service standards from October to Jan. 15. The sanctions relate to Internet and cable television service.

The disagreement could end up in court, said Ken Decker, Hampstead town manager and chairman of Carroll's cable commission.

"The customers, even if we're just tilting at windmills, deserve better," Decker said. "They deserve us giving it a shot."

A Jan. 30 letter from Adelphia's attorney, Eric E. Matthews, said the company disputes the county's assertion that it has violated its franchise agreement. Adelphia will soon provide specific responses to the alleged violations, Matthews wrote.

Teresa Pickett, Adelphia's general manager, said a major technical upgrade expected to be finished by the end of the month should solve many of its Internet service problems.

Customers credit Adelphia with offering free days, weeks and months of service to those who have complained.

But based on the poor Internet service that customers are receiving, the county will probably seek more sanctions in April, said Carol Shawver, Carroll's cable coordinator.

Adelphia, based in Coudersport, Pa., and one of the largest cable companies in the nation, finds itself battling municipalities on many fronts, including Vermont, Ohio and California. Vermont fined the company $567,000 in 2000 for service violations. Carroll is the only county in the Baltimore metropolitan area not served by Comcast Cable.

Adelphia has about 5,000 Internet customers in Carroll. Shawver said she receives at least 60 complaints a week about Adelphia's service in the county. She said she is as frustrated as the customers are. "I think it's terrible that a company like Adelphia, which could be a huge hit in Carroll County, treats its customers so badly," she said.

The worst thing, she said, is that Adelphia representatives who work in Westminster refuse to give concrete progress reports on their efforts to upgrade service. Shawver said she grows exasperated because when customers call her for updates, she has no information to offer and no salve for their irritation at Adelphia's customer service.

With or without sanctions, many Carroll customers say, they have run out of patience.

"For $40 a month, the Internet service should be as reliable as a telephone," said Dave Chapman of Westminster. "Instead, it works maybe a third of the time."

Chapman works for a company that designs software to monitor the service performance of companies such as Adelphia. He has used the software on his home system, he said, and found that between 2 p.m. and midnight, the cable modem rarely works.

Chapman said most of the companies he works with expect their Internet services to work 95 percent to 98 percent of the time.

When he calls to complain, he said, the technician at Adelphia's service center in Buffalo, N.Y., usually tells him the company has invested $2.5 million in technological upgrades and that service should improve soon.

In a statement Adelphia said Friday, "Simply stated, the network supporting Adelphia's Power Link [Internet] service is experiencing congestion. In response to that, for the past several months Adelphia has been planning a major expansion and upgrade project that will take the network to the latest in technological specifications as designed by data-engineering experts. The company hopes to have this extensive project completed by the end of February, providing that the needed equipment and materials are received."

Pickett declined to answer more specific questions about the service problems.

It would be one thing, Carroll customers said, if they had a plethora of options for cable or cable Internet service and could take their business elsewhere. But because Adelphia essentially holds a monopoly on the services, customers said, the company should provide at least a reasonable level of service.

"You know it's not enough for them to say, `If you don't like us, take it somewhere else,' " said Marcel Van Rossum of Eldersburg. "I don't have another choice."

Ann Clark of Eldersburg said she's considering going back to a dial-up Internet connection because a "reliable turtle is better than a hare that won't run."

Clark said she has been put on hold for more than an hour, hung up on and called a liar by Adelphia representatives. She has never gotten a satisfactory answer to why her connection barely works in the afternoon and evening, she said.

"If they had been upfront and said they were doing an upgrade, then maybe I could have been patient knowing that I would get something better in the end," she said. "But all I ever get is a big runaround after sitting on the phone for hours. They have done nothing to build trust with me."

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