Thursday, March 24, 2005

MC CCAC March '05 Meeting Highlights, Part 1

I attended my first CCAC meeting as a member of the public. One of the members asked me afterward if it was better that way. I think she meant it as a joke because I couldn't express my opinions freely the way I used to - although at one point I was recognized and allowed to speak. But the good news was that I could take notes more carefully. In the past, I could never take thorough notes on issues I cared about because I was too busy speaking or trying to interrupt so I could speak!

Oh, and the cookies. Audience members get to sit in the back next to the cookies. Some punishment, eh?

If you are wondering what "MC CCAC" is, it's the citizen committee appointed by the county (Montgomery County, Maryland) to provide advice to the County Executive and the County Council. CCAC stands for Cable something or other and the name is badly out of date. It's going to be renamed Communications something or other to reflect the committees true focus - it includes cable, towers, etc, basically anything communications related. Last year, for instance, we got a tour of the county's 911 facility as it relates to emergency communications. (Maybe I'll cover that in the future.) For all the times you've heard "This is a test of the Emergency Broadcasting ..." - well, it wasn't even used on 9/11. So much for emergency preparedness.

Ok, enough on background.

Comcast Resignations

Several resignations from our local Comcast staff:

Sue Reinhold, Executive VP and GM, Comcast of MC
Ellen Bogage, VP of Public Affairs, Comcast of MC
Lori Sherwood, VP of Government Affairs, Comcast of MC
Brian Edwards, Spokesperson, Comcast of MC

If this sounds like a major bloodletting, it should be no surprise. Although I felt the county was too easy on Comcast, MC did fine them numerous times and Comcast of MC had a very difficult time during the AT&TBI merger - after a lengthy process which cost them a lot of money, they were ultimately forced to agree to a less pleasant arrangement than they were used to. And the passage of 28-02 and 26-03 had to be a terrible blow to Comcast since it opened a Pandora's box for them across the entire US. Towards the end, Comcast stopped sending representatives to the CCAC meeting. Frankly, I can understand why. We used to ask for information on a regular basis and their usual response was "It's proprietary" or "We'll get back to you." In fact, that was a frequent response to the Cable Office's questions as well. (Comcast has recently begun sending Melody Khalatbari to our meetings. Melody is their manager of Community Affairs.)

After awhile, some of the Comcast reps didn't even speak to me. Ellen once explained that it felt personal. She repeatedly reminded me that I had caused her and her family anguish when I once posted a picture on a website of her passing an oversized check to Executive Duncan. The original caption in the newspaper was something about "Comcast raises money for bicycle helmets for kids." My recaptioning was something like "Comcast gives bribe to MC." As I repeatedly explained to Ellen each time she brought it up, Comcast is in essence taking money from subscribers and buying goodwill and photo-ops both for the local politicians and Comcast itself. And since Comcast is regulated by these same politicians, its seems terribly inappropriate for Comcast to participate in such photo-ops and fundraisers. She didn't see it that way.

I'm not sure what new careers most of them have. I do know that Brian Edwards took another spokesperson job - this time as spokesperson for MC Public Schools. I can't help thinking that's got to be an even tougher job. (I have a child in MCPS!) Good luck Sue, Ellen, Lori, and Brian.

It's Proprietary

Speaking of proprietary, Comcast is now obligated to provide us with customer service data on their internet service - a first in the US. Bill 26-03 requires Comcast to meet certain customer service standards such as how quickly customer support calls must be answered and routed to a live human, how quickly repairs are performed, and so on.) If performance is low enough, Comcast can be fined.

Comcast began turning over this information a few months ago but in January was upset to find out that the information was included in the public information packets at the county MFP meetings where Comcast's record is publicly reviewed. Comcast asserts that this information is proprietary and has started withholding the information from the county until they get a promise that it will not be released to the public.

Frankly, I think Comcast is being childish on this issue. I've seen the data and it's not even broken down by subscribers or geographic area. It's just overall aggregate information about the percentage that they are meeting the standards. For instance, in November '04 (the last month data was publicly available), Comcast completed 99% of repairs within 24 hours for video service and 95% of repairs for internet service.

As a comparison, over the same period Starpower completed 97% of repairs within 24 hours for both video and internet service. The disparity seems odd. One interpretation of those figures is that Starpower trains their staff on both internet and video service while Comcast trains them separately. Anyone else have an explanation?

It should be noted that Comcast and Starpower don't release the raw figures, so a good deal of massaging can take place to hide things before they are turned over to the county. As an example, Comcast removes all data during periods of abnormal conditions before computing those percentages. Starpower does not remove such figures. Unfortunately, the franchise allows such sloppiness.

Oh, you want to know what abnormal conditions are? Beats me. Probably anything Comcast doesn't control, like weather or maybe a Verizon telephone pole maliciously falling on a Comcast cable. As far as I'm concerned, these figures are a total joke.

Verizon FIOS, Under Scrutiny

The next meeting of the MFP committee (the subcommittee of the county council which oversees the cable companies) will be April 11 '05 at which time they will cover the Verizon FIOS construction. The Cable Office has already begun taking complaints even though they have no jurisdiction at this time. 22 complaints have been received so far.

One more statistic from the last MFP review: The #1 complaint type from both Comcast and Starpower for 2004 was ... (did you guess?) .... Billing. The County received 342 complaints about Comcast and 13 complaints about Starpower. (But don't interpret 342 to mean that's all the complaints that Comcast got. They probably got thousands; maybe even tens of thousands. These figures are just the people that complained the county.) How does this break down in percentage terms? Comcast's 342 complaints was .02% while Starpower's 13 complaints was .03%. I'm sure they will both brag that they're under 1% but it still sucks to be one of the 342 (and 13 in Starpower's case). Even worse, most people don't complain to the county either because they don't see the point, don't know the cable office cares, or don't want to spend any more time on the issue. So you can interpret 1% as a technically accurate but wildly imaginative indicator.

If you would to read the full package prepared for last quarter's MFP hearing, you can find it here. Warning: It's a 30 page PDF. But it's a gold mine of fascinating stuff.

More Highlights To Come

I probably made a few too many detours in preparing this blog entry and don't have the time to finish it tonight, so in the interest of quick publication, I'm publishing this one now as "Part 1". I will finish up my report in Part 2 (to come).


Anonymous said...


thanks for linking to your blog in the dslreports forum. I can't remember, are these meetings open to the public?

If so, I would be interested in coming to the April 11 meeting.

Anonymous said...

Yes, CCAC meetings are open to the public.

- Don

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