WORCESTER – City Councilor General Gary Rosen’s statement to open this week’s Public Utilities and Transportation Commission hearing on the state of Charter / Spectrum’s cable and internet offerings in the city turned out to be a safe bet.
“I don’t think too many of these people here will say anything positive,” Rosen said.
And that’s how it went over the next hour and a half. Rosen said the committee looks forward to the public’s input as the three-year “determination” period begins when the city revisits the previous contract with the city’s only cable and internet provider, and looks forward to them. negotiations for a new contract.
Rosen said he predicts the city will sign a new contract with Charter / Spectrum when the contract is renewed in two years, but residents who filled City Hall’s Esther Howland room on Monday night and blocked lines calls practically prompted the city to rethink the status quo approach.
Residents complained about inconsistent pricing, difficulty navigating customer service, lack of seniority discounts, and spotty internet and cable reliability. They have complained about the rising costs for most unwanted cable channels, and conversely some residents have said they are paying for higher level internet connections that don’t work as advertised. There was universal condemnation of the customer service experience at the company’s Grafton Street storefront.
Residents said they wanted more options; one of these options could take the form of municipal broadband. A task force explored the idea of taking the city’s cable and Internet service in-house, and city manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. has pledged to set aside $ 12 million in funds from the American Rescue Plan Act to study the implementation of broadband improvements. Several residents said on Monday that this may be the best way forward.
Resident: municipal broadband will give the city price control
Jason Flanagan said he moved to Worcester in 2002 and described himself as an original “cord cutter” who ditched cable but relied on Charter / Spectrum for the internet.
He said that when he first registered, the internet was costing him $ 30 per month. It is now up to $ 80. Other bills haven’t gone up by such a drastic percentage, Flanagan said. He said municipal broadband would bring price controls that would allow poorer residents to have internet at home.
“You would develop the city even more by taking over,” said Flanagan, adding that cheaper and more reliable service would also prevent more young people from leaving the city.
Several residents said they relied on the internet to work from home, but lost productivity due to outages. Other residents said they were frustrated paying for cable set-top boxes they don’t use, and said it was unfair that long-time customers couldn’t get discounts while newer ones customers were getting great offers to sign up.
A few residents said increased competition would make Charter / Spectrum more responsible, but others were skeptical, saying most cable companies are within reach of each other in terms of price and customer service.
Phil Jackson said he believes there are enough customers in the city to compete. He said Charter / Spectrum was previously more willing to offer discounts, but has since ceased. He said that even if he didn’t have internet he would like to have it, but he pays $ 107 a month for basic cable when he only watches three or four channels.
“Words like extortion come to mind,” he said.
Resident: Two terrible options no better than one
But Ashley Rogers said having two terrible options wouldn’t be better than having one. She said the city needs to find a solution, and she said the idea of municipal broadband has clear advantages.
Mauro DiPasquale, chief operating officer and executive director of WCCA-TV, said the city’s public, educational and government cable TV channels depend on funding a percentage of Charter / Spectrum’s gross annual revenues to operate. He said community voices must be at the table if the municipal conversation on broadband continues to advance. Just to say that municipal broadband will be great is one thing, but the city needs to show people that it will actually be better.
Charter / Spectrum: “Ideally, we want every customer to be happy”
John Maher, director of government affairs at Charter / Spectrum, attended the meeting on Monday and said he took notes diligently.
“We also love Worcester,” Maher said. “We love to do business here.”
He said the company’s two facilities on Barber Avenue and Higgins Street employ around 200 people at each site. He said he had heard complaints about the Grafton Street customer service location and that there was a plan underway “to relieve the stress in this store.”
He said Charter / Spectrum is a for-profit company and wants their customers to be happy. He said the best thing customers can do is call and express their frustration. He said that overall, the network infrastructure is functioning well in the city. He said there were individual problems in the houses, caused by everything from deterioration of “drops” – the cable that goes from the pole to a house – to problems caused by rodents.
Maher recognized that cost is an issue, but it’s also a business issue – the cost of programming is increasing. The royalties of broadcast networks and sports channels have increased exponentially; Charter / Spectrum is obliged to pass these increases on to the customer.
Rosen, who said the committee would continue the hearing with another session in December, asked Maher if he received the message Monday that people are not happy with their service, and Maher agreed that people who testified clearly indicated this.
“We want to improve service to all customers,” Maher said. “Ideally, we want every customer to be happy.”