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Cable Firm Gets Poor Reception

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Widespread technical glitches in one of Orange County’s largest cable-television systems have left thousands of subscribers seething and at least one city considering revoking its franchise agreement with Time Warner Communications, the company that operates the system.

Time Warner officials said they have been flooded with 2,500 to 5,000 calls a day since the company installed an expensive new piece of transmission equipment and shuffled the order of the channels it carries early last month.

The problems have ranged from a one-day picture black-out last month to various sound and picture troubles reported by subscribers ever since. Time Warner has about 130,000 subscribers in Orange County, mostly in northern cities, including Huntington Beach, Garden Grove, Los Alamitos and Fountain Valley.

Company officials say they are trying to fix the problems, but city officials in Los Alamitos say they have become so frustrated with Time Warner that the city is considering imposing fines on the company or revoking its franchise.

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“This thing has just been a real disaster,” said Gerard Goedhart, assistant city manager.

The city’s public access channel, which carries City Council meetings and other local programming, was shut down for a week last month and has been plagued with sound and picture problems ever since, Goedhart said.

He added that more than 100 residents have called to complain about a variety of problems, including difficulties getting through to Time Warner’s customer service phone lines.

Time Warner received 63,167 calls in May, up 61% from the previous month, forcing the company to add six new lines and four operators.

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“What has really ticked people off is they are unable to make contact with the company,” said Stanton Councilman Harry Dotson.

Dotson and officials from other cities aired their complaints to Time Warner representatives at a meeting of the Public Cable Television Authority in Fountain Valley on Wednesday.

Don Weddle, a spokesman for Time Warner, said that the company has been embarrassed by the ordeal, but stressed that many of the problems are temporary glitches that accompany the introduction of promising new technologies.

“When this whole thing dies down,” Weddle said, “they’re going to have the best picture they’ve ever seen.”

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The problems stem from a number of changes Time Warner made to its system May 2. The most dramatic was the installation of a digital signal converter in Garden Grove at the core of the company’s cable system.

The device--designed to enhance sound and picture quality--collapsed under the weight of the broad spectrum of channels being broadcast, Weddle said.

As a result, most of the company’s customers were left with blank or snowy television screens for one day.

That problem was fixed by the end of the day and the day was deducted from subscribers’ bills.

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However, many customers have continued to experience less severe problems ever since, largely because of another change Time Warner made May 2. The company rearranged the order of dozens of channels to comply with federal requirements that local broadcast and public access channels be placed among the first 27 on the dial.

That shift created a host of problems, ranging from subscriber confusion about how to find their favorite shows to the need to reprogram television sets and cable boxes so that they are tuned to the new channels.

For Time Warner, the timing of these troubles couldn’t have been much worse, because it also picked May 2 as the day to introduce itself to its subscribers. Time Warner has owned the system for nearly a year, but until last month, continued to use the name of its predecessor, Paragon Cable.

As a result, many subscribers have come to equate their troubles with the arrival of Time Warner, whose executives must now try to recover from a public relations gaffe.

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“I would describe us as bloodied but unbowed,” Weddle said.

Time Warner also serves customers in Westminster, Orange and Rossmoor.


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