Comcast reps answer commission’s questions
Two Comcast executives came to the Morgan County Commission meeting on Thursday, July 17, to answer questions about the cable company’s service and policies.
In April, Comcast moved several TV channels from analog to digital, requiring customers to install a digital box on each television in order to continue receiving those channels.
One box was provided free of charge for one year while a monthly fee was charged for each additional box.
Comcast did not advertise the channel lineup change and digital box requirement in Morgan County.
Instead, the company sent fliers in March to all customers explaining the changes, but many people, assuming the fliers were promotional, tossed them in the trash.
When the channel changes took effect, numerous Comcast customers in Morgan County were confused and upset by the loss of channels.
Complaints about losing channels were received by The Morgan Messenger and passed on to Attorney William Carey.
Carey was appointed by the commission years ago to monitor local cable service and report problems. He collected the customer complaints and forwarded his concerns to Comcast.
Paul Comes, Comcast District Manager of Government & Community Affairs, and Comcast Vice President Bob Jacobs appeared before the commissioners last week to respond to the complaints.
Comes read a prepared statement, saying the move to digital was done to replace outdated technology, provide better sound and picture quality, and provide more of the channels that customers asked for and a new interactive program guide.
Commissioner Tommy Swaim said he doesn’t read “the propaganda that comes with his bill” and had switched to a satellite TV system after losing the History Channel.
Jacobs said he had alerted his marketing staff and in the future ads would be placed in The Morgan Messenger as well as just in The Hancock News.
Commissioner Stacy Dugan asked how many customers Comcast had lost since the channel change, but Comes and Jacob didn’t know.
“What is the market availability for these digital boxes from other sources besides Comcast?” Carey asked.
Jacobs said customers could buy a Tivo system or a newer TV equipped with a slot for a cable card. The cable card is needed by both Tivo and newer digital TVs to decrypt the channels. Jacobs thought the card was provided by Comcast at no charge.
Comes said Comcast has to encrypt the digital signals to prevent people from stealing programming.
“Can they just get a converter from a commercial place? No, it won’t work, because our program is encrypted,” Comes said.
Carey asked why Comcast doesn’t give the digital boxes to customers at no charge since they need the boxes to receive the programming and the price of service is already high.
“The boxes aren’t free. They cost us quite a bit of money,” Comes said.
Carey asked how much a digital box cost Comcast. Comes said he didn’t know.
Carey asked if Comcast pricing for digital boxes was the same in all areas.
Jacobs said offers vary from area to area and depend on whether an area is already converted to all digital.
Dugan asked what help is available to people who didn’t understand how to install the digital box.
Comes said the person should call 1-800-Comcast to arrange for a technician to provide help.
“You call somewhere and it takes you an hour before you can talk to a human being,” Swaim said.
He wondered why you just can’t call the Hancock office.
Comes said local offices were trained to handle business questions while the call centers were trained to handle more advanced technical questions.
“It would be a lot harder to train our local office the way we train
the people in our call centers,” he said.
County resident Phil Spriggs said he had four TVs and wanted to know why Comcast couldn’t put one box in his basement to service all four.
“A box like that is so expensive that nobody is going to want it,” Jacobs said.
Asked why Comcast had not looked into bringing cable service into subdivisions like Cacapon South that have a number of houses in a relatively small area, Comes said they would look into it.
Carey asked why this isn’t an ongoing procedure at Comcast.
“We do have an ongoing procedure. People contact us about getting service and we go out and see if we can give them service,” Comes said.
County resident Jerry Berman said he is working with Comcast on expanding broadband internet service in the county and that this effort is separate from issues with television programming.
Dugan asked Comes if Comcast was going to expanded internet service in the county.
Comes said Comcast would look at any suggested areas.
“When was the last time Comcast had expanded internet services in the county?” Dugan asked.
Comes said he thought Comcast had expanded service a mile or two over the last couple of years.
Jacobs asked if he could get a clarification about who the contact is with the county commission. He said it was a “sticking point” with
him that The Morgan Messenger twice in recent weeks had listed Carey as the contact for complaints with Comcast.
Jacobs said in the past, Comcast’s contact was former county administrator Bill Clark.
Jacobs asked if County Administrator Jody McClintock should be the contact instead of Carey.
McClintock said she doesn’t have Comcast service and needs to rely on Carey to let her know when there are problems.
McClintock should be the official contact with Comcast and Carey the observer, said Commission President Brenda Hutchinson.