Thursday, February 16, 2006

Negotiations Going From None To Worse

Are my blogs too long? (Some people have said so.) Ok, here's a short one - a few notes from the county advisory (TAC) meeting this past Wednesday.

Negotiations Going From None To Worse

In my MFP meeting summary last week ("How To Communicate Nothing"), I remarked that Verizon VP Briana Gowing was (to put it politely) rambling. At Wednesday evening's TAC meeting, I found out that I wasn't the only one confused by her testimony. Both Cable Office representative Margie Williams and Council Analyst Sonya Healy claimed that Briana had attested to a schedule of meetings planned between the county and Verizon to negotiate the franchise.

You can read the statement in question here. My interpretation was different - that Briana was hoping to set up a series of meetings. But I can see how the phrase "scheduled meetings" might have been misinterpreted to mean meetings having been scheduled. I think it was just an unfortunate choice of words. That combined with her overly optimistic prediction of an agreement by the next MFP meeting surely didn't help.

Anyway, the county representatives were surprised to find the county lawyers denying that any such meeting schedule existed. So, as if communication was bad enough last week, it's even worse this week.

When the TAC pressed over who (the Executive?) or what (Verizon?) was holding things up, Sonya said that things were so far apart that Verizon hadn't even applied for a franchise yet. I found that confusing as they obviously have had some negotations. What is clear is that the Executive has not taken the next step ("filing") which starts a clock requiring certain actions to be taken in specified time periods. This is significant because it means that the Executive presently has no pressure at the current time to take action. He can ignore Verizon from now until the election (which might possibly be his plan).

Meanwhile, Margie observed that the Cable Office was getting lots of letters from citizens frustrated that the franchise wasn't happening. She said that the letters were being forwarded to the Council and the Executive.

Refund

Earlier, I mentioned that Comcast was found to have overcharged Montgomery County customers by $2.50. The Cable Office said the exact amount is actually $2.57. Oddly, you are only eligible if you are a customer as of March 6 of this year. So if you overpaid last year and then left Comcast, you'll miss your refund. Seems kind of strange, no? Ok, I agree that $2.57 is a small amount. But doesn't Comcast keep records of their ex-customers? No wonder they can't figure out why customers have left - out of sight, out of mind.

Internet Customer Service Regulations

At the MFP meeting, Sonya had described how Comcast finally supplied - just that previous evening - their customer service compliance stats for internet service! During the TAC meeting, Margie finally cleared up the mystery of exactly what convinced Comcast to change their mind after a year of procrastination. The county finally threatened to start fining Comcast at $200/day for each day the report was late. With 13 reports late, Comcast would've had to pay $2600 every day!

Rockville Not In Motion

Following up on the letter from a Rockville citizen that I posted previously, I asked Kernan Chaisson what's going on with Rockville. Kernan is the City of Rockville's TAC representative. This isn't the first time I've asked him about the Rockville Right-Of-Way issue and his answer was the same as before - that Rockville is determined to avoid the problems that the rest of the county has experienced with Verizon - and that Rockville lawyers continue to negotiate with Verizon.

JT (author of the letter) received a more detailed answer from Doug Breisch for the City of Rockville. As best I understand it, Verizon declined to sign any of the standard applications that Rockville provides for access to the right-of-way. Instead, Verizon is providing their own proposal - which Rockville is currently analyzing. Rockville did go so far as to say just sign the same franchise that Comcast already holds for a cable franchise and that will suffice. But Verizon was not interested in that offer - presumably for the same reasons that I've outlined earlier regarding the county's offer for a Comcast-like video franchise.

So Verizon doesn't appear to be making things easy for us but at least the Rockville officials are meeting with Verizon. (Remember, the county officials aren't.) Is there anything the County Council can do to break this logjam? Is it time to ask the FCC to threaten us with loss of local control?

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

:P Short one. Haha

Seriously though, I don't mind the length of your entries.

Anonymous said...

Wow, wish you were in my area! Getting instant info on Township meetings is hard to come by here in NJ.
But I still can't figure out why you think Verizon is going to be any better than Comcast either with service or with billing practices.

Don Libes said...

Did I say that Verizon has better billing or customer service? No, the reason I am enthusiastic about Verizon is because studies show that competition generally leads to lower rates and better service.

acaben said...

Please don't make them shorter. Since I moved to Montgomery County four months ago, this has been the best source of information about local government I've found. And on a subject that's near and dear to my heart.

Also, you might be interested to know that DSL in my apartment complex (The Fitz on Hungerford Drive) was down for 5 1/2 days last week. From the first hour of the outage Verizon lied and said it would be up "soon" and a tech was on the way. Then they said it would be up the next day. Then the next, and the next, and the next. I later found out that a tech didn't even visit until 3 days later, then it took 2 days for them to get a "part to fix the equipment." No idea what equipment they needed to fix, because not one of the employees or supervisors actually knew anything about networking hardware and couldn't provide any information about the outage.

I talked to 11 different people on the phone over those 5 days, and not a single one could tell me what was wrong, and every single one lied to me about when it would be fixed.

The complex has about 200 units, so I'd guess about 500 people were without internet connections for basically 6 days, and Verizon refused to provide any details. It's absurd and unacceptable, and I plan to write a letter to whoever will listen on the county level about it. Any suggestions of where to send it would be great.

Don Libes said...

Wow. That's a terrible response for such a serious outage. Technically, the county has no jurisdiction over DSL so unless you can reframe your complaint in different terms. However, that may not be hard. For example, if you lost phone service (perhaps because you have VoIP), you've got a serious safety complaint. Even without, I consider loss of internet service for that long a big problem and I'd say you should definitely send a letter to the council and executive.

Have you also considered switching to another DSL provider (or cable)?

Rob F said...

Anyone who complains that your posts are too long suffers from an attention deficit disorder. Seriously. Complete reports are conspicuously missing from most publications on and offline these days. I consider your missives a breath of fresh air. Thanks again for all the effort.

Cliff said...

I too enjoy your blog and prefer the long version. I wish the local press would explore these issues more.

What are your thoughts on a statewide franchise? Do you know if anything is in the works?