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NEWPORT BEACH : Cable Operators Say Complaints Subsided

The city’s two cable television operators told the City Council last week that a flurry of residents’ complaints--caused late last year by a change in billing procedures and a shuffling of channels--has subsided.

Officials at Comcast Cablevision said September’s new FCC regulations required cable bills to be itemized was enough to touch off thousands of complaint calls over a three-month period in the city. Comcast had to hire 20 additional people to handle the swarm of incoming calls from subscribers.

“Over the last 15 years, we have been using the same (format for) billing,” said Comcast official Greg Mackney. The total payment “was all lumped in one sum and people were used to that.”

Comcast’s new monthly bills are lengthier documents full of charges and discounts that were previously rolled into the lump sum.

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“I think the overall overload (of complaint calls) was pretty devastating,” Mackney said. “We just needed time to work things out.”

At Dimension Cable, Newport Beach’s other cable operator, confusion was not triggered by itemized billing but by last summer’s channel shuffling and downward rate changes.

Mark Stucky, general manager of Dimension Cable, a Times Mirror-owned company, said: “Our customers didn’t know what to expect. But for our customers in Newport Beach, our rates went down.”

Stucky said he knows people get confused when channels begin showing up on new locations on the dial, but the changes were unavoidable because of FCC rules mandating channel space for local broadcast signals.

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Assistant City Manager Ken Delino said the city had received calls last year from residents upset by the changes. All parties say that the kinks are worked out and that the level of complaints is back to a normal level.

Both Comcast and Dimension provide cable service in Newport Beach but in a non-competitive fashion. The city’s neighborhoods are divided and only one cable service is available to each household.

Both operators say that television watchers also will notice this year a few new channels being added to their system.

For example, Dimension subscribers this summer will begin receiving a home shopping channel, the Los Angeles Unified School District channel and foreign language channels. They are also carrying more C-SPAN, CNBC and VH-1 broadcasts, Stucky said.


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