Sunday, November 05, 2006

A Crossbow Might Help

First of all - a correction. Previously, I mentioned that Verizon TV would require an annual contract. I was wrong. The Verizon packages and prices page says nothing about that - it does mention an annual contract option on the internet side which is where I became confused. My fault. Fortunately, I didn't mention that in my testimony on Tuesday.

In fact, I didn't testify on Tuesday nor did I attend the Monday MFP meeting. Instead, I attended the Serious Games Summit. In short, serious games are games used for non-entertainment purposes such as for learning about the environment or experimenting with gerrymandering. Doesn't sound fun? Imagine a World of Warcraft clan going after the golf course owner responsible for excessive runoff from fertilization. Or after a cable company that is ignoring your neighborhood. Who needs a customer support number? All of a sudden that crossbow feels a touch more useful.

Alas, the county is still stuck with traditional penalties in amounts that don't seem particularly effective. The most recent Comcast fine of $1228 works out to roughly half a penny per customer. Having been hit with these fines many times, Comcast's franchise just doesn't seem to have an impact. It doesn't have enough teeth. It lacks precision. It lacks clarity. And it looks like we're going to get another one just like it. Similar enough anyway. Inequities aside, what I see looming is a huge minefield which we'll spend the next 15 years exploring together.

Don't get me wrong. I desperately want competition. And Verizon seems competent enough. Admittedly, Comcast has set such a low bar that my expectations aren't high. But I like some of the things that Verizon is offering. Can't beat fiber to the house, that's for sure. And the prices look great. Will they deploy quickly enough? Will customer service be acceptable? Will channel selection, umm, suck? Or, paradoxically, will Verizon be so good that Comcast finds that it cannot compete and closes up shop leaving us in a de facto monopoly situation again? Should the franchise require that Verizon not be too good? Oops, sorry - I'm not seriously concerned about that last thought.

As Monday's MFP meeting showed, there's little for Verizon to worry about as long as Comcast continues its longstanding practices. I've already mentioned some of what was presented. This week's Gazette provided more updates including an announcement from Comcast that they would be hiring 400 more people in the DC metro area - a good example of a meaningless statement. Not only isn't it specific to MC, but it matters naught if the people aren't trained or just continue to follow the same scripts that they currently use.

To underscore how badly Comcast practices are currently, here's an excerpt from the same Gazette article. I particularly like the last paragraph.
Janice Cadel, 48, of Gaithersburg recently experienced Comcast’s customer service problems first hand, she told The Gazette.

When she called Comcast to change her billing because she added telephone service to her television and Internet service, ‘‘they literally closed out my Internet account,” Cadel said. ‘‘When I called the customer service line, I got hung up on several times.”

She managed to get through the next day and was told her Internet service would be restored in 24 to 48 hours. When it was not restored, Cadel called again and was told there was no record of her previous call. Her Internet connection was restored the next day, but Cadel said the e-mails the family received during the outage were lost.

‘‘We take customer service very seriously, and we’re always trying to make customer service exceptional for Comcast customers,” said spokeswoman Lisa Altman, who said she could not comment on specific complaints.
Two more tales of woe can be found in the October 30 MFP Packet - click on item 4 and then go to page 34.

Public Hearing

As I mentioned, I also missed Tuesday's meeting but Jaime Todero, a Rockville citizen, attended and provided the following summary (originally posted to dslreports):
Only 10 people testified:
1) Jane Lawton representing the County Executive
Gave similar testimony as when testifying before the Exec
2) City Councilmember Susan Hoffman representing the City of Rockville
Gave similar testimony as when testifying before the Exec
3) Suzanne Weiss representing the Cable and Communications Advisory Committee (yes, the old name was on the agenda)
Testimony was largely regarding PEG issues.
4) Briana Gowing representing Verizon
Got cheers when she said MASN would be delivered without the $2 surcharge.
5) Michael Egan, individual
Asked for more consumer protections, but as Praisner pointed out afterwards, his suggestions are not legal
6) Richard Turner representing Montgomery Community Television
Testified to issues regarding free service at public buildings, and some other PEG-related issues
7) David Friedman, individual
Pointed out that Comcast supplies free service to 700 places, but Verizon is only required to serve 100.
8) Angela Lee representing Comcast.
Noted the differences between Comcast's requirements and Verizon's requirements (neglected to note that Verizon will pay 3% PEG/INet fee but Comcast is quite a bit shy of that)
9) Robert Carlisle, individual
Former Corning employee, is delighted to see the new network - the sooner the better.
10) Jaime Todaro, individual
Basically just said: Hurry Up Already!

In follow-up questions, Praisner asked Lawton to point out the changes the exec made in response to public testimony by the 13th, and she jokingly suggested that Rockville should de-annex if they want all their footprint covered in 2 years. She also suggested that Egan pursue a Cable Compliance Commission claim.

In response to Andrews' question regarding what could be done to speed things up, Gowing noted that the service dates VZ was willing to commit to in the agreement were the "outside" dates and service would likely be ready sooner in most cases.

Leventhal pointed out that we're just as likely to have uniformly high prices and uniformly bad service, and asked Verizon if there was any chance he was wrong. Gowing's answer was pretty weak, and Lawton added that other jurisdictions with agreements in place have not noticed better customer service.

In closing, Praisner pointed out that many folks on the I-270 "technology corridor" (a reference to Carlisle's testimony) would not see service for 7 years if ever, and assured everyone that this matter, as well as the inequitable number of free service locations would be looked in to.

After the hearing, I spoke to Doug Breisch (sp?) of Rockville DTS, who seemed stunned that Verizon was preparing to light Montrose Road, and asked me for specific streets where deployment is happening. I assured him it was all outside the city limits.

The MFP committee will hold a worksession to discuss the Verizon franchise on November 13, 2006. This worksession is open to the public. If the worksession sends the franchise to the full council, the earliest it can be heard is November 28 since that is the next time the council meets. However, the agenda for that meeting will not be available until November 22.

Although these delays drive some people crazy, I've been figuring for awhile that January 2007 was a realistic target. November 1 would be even better. But either one qualifies as "imminent" in my book. So I called up Verizon, and asked if I could be put on a waiting list to get their TV service.

I was turned down.


Anonymous said...

Your last two sentences sum up this whole debacle perfectly.

I just want to know when I can switch to Verizon TV or at least use it as a legitimate threat against Comcast to get a lower price.

Anonymous said...

I was told that those of us served by the Bradley CO might have to wait until summer because the equipment they had positioned there was moved to other jurisdictions that have agreements.