Anger over cable Net

Despite upgrade, Adelphia connection draws consumer ire

`An enormous problem'

Company officials met with irritated customers, panel

March 06, 2002|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

Despite gradual improvements in Adelphia cable's Internet service, hundreds of Carroll County residents, Westminster's mayor and many other public officials remain angry about the company's unreliable technology and inconsistent customer service standards.

The good news, Carroll officials said, is that a long-promised technical upgrade seems to have reduced the number of complaints about Internet service during the past two weeks.

Where the county's cable coordinator, Carol Shawver, received about 50 complaints a week before the Feb. 21 upgrade, she said she now receives about 20 a week.

Shawver said the company also has a better job lately of fielding individual customer complaints.

"When angry customers call me now, I do communicate that Adelphia has been pretty good about addressing individual complaints that have come through me," Shawver said. "That alone is a huge improvement."

The bad news, Shawver and others said, is that many customers remain dissatisfied with Adelphia's Internet service and that the company has never taken full responsibility for the problems it has caused Carroll residents.

Adelphia, based in Coudersport, Pa., and one of the largest cable companies in the nation, is 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, Carroll's dominant cable provider since 2000, has about 5,000 Internet customers in the county and charges about $40 a month for basic Internet service.

County residents pelted Adelphia General Manager Teresa Pickett with complaints at a meeting of Carroll's cable commission Thursday, and though Pickett listened graciously, she didn't offer many concrete answers, Shawver and others said. Pickett and other Adelphia representatives have acknowledged that the company has struggled to meet greater-than-expected demand for its Power Link Internet service.

Shawver said Pickett has told her about 3 percent to 4 percent of Internet customers have major service problems and that the company is trying to help those customers on a case-by-case basis.

In a written response to questions from The Sun, Pickett said the $500,000 upgrade restored service to about 95 percent of Power Link customers. She confirmed that Adelphia will focus on correcting remaining problems.

Westminster Mayor Kevin E. Dayhoff said Adelphia can count him among the enraged.

The city, an Adelphia customer, has had no reliable Internet or e-mail service since the beginning of the year, he said.

"This is an enormous problem. We cannot even update our Web site, which is basic to our information dissemination. This is much-needed technology and it is not a matter of leisure or entertainment."

Dayhoff said that every time he has tried to register a complaint, "I feel like I am being blown off."

City Hall has run on floppy discs, he said. He has difficulty transferring files from his home office to the mayor's office.

The Internet "is our most promising economic development of the future," Dayhoff said. "Any number of businesses would be interested in relocating to Carroll County, but we have to get our high-density and cable lines up to speed."

Adelphia includes a disclaimer with its Internet service that states the service is for entertainment purposes and should not necessarily be relied upon for business use.

Hampstead and Mount Airy leaders are also among the most vocal critics of Adelphia's service.

Most complainants have said that Adelphia's Internet and e-mail services rarely work between early afternoon and midnight. Many have also said they wait up to an hour when they call Adelphia for technical help. Others said they have had difficulty wrangling compensatory credit from Adelphia for failed service.

The worst thing, many have said, is that Adelphia monopolizes cable Internet service in Carroll. Slower dial-up modems present the only real alternative.

Complaints began to intensify in early January and have tapered off in the past two weeks, Shawver said.

Although Adelphia sent a letter to customers last month explaining that the company has struggled to keep up with demand, critics said that letter should have arrived at least a month earlier. Pickett defended Adelphia's efforts to inform customers, saying the company distributed information through media sources and at direct meetings with complainants.

County officials have tried to pressure Adelphia on behalf of residents by seeking $30,000 in sanctions from a performance bond that is part of Adelphia's contract with the county. Adelphia has opposed the county's effort to seize the money.

The sanctions relate to alleged violations of customer service standards for Internet and cable television service between October and Jan. 15.

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