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L.A. takes Time Warner to task

Times Staff Writer

A top Los Angeles cable TV watchdog on Monday called the merger of pay TV and Internet systems in the city a “near failure” for subscribers and asked Time Warner Cable Inc. to explain what went wrong, how it would fix the problems and how soon.

Citing city statistics and a Times story from last week, Dean Hansell said in a letter to the cable firm that it had gone from being a “model franchise operator” to “providing a level of service that is unacceptable.” Hansell is president of the mayor’s Board of Information Technology Commissioners.

The city and Time Warner have been inundated with complaints since mid-October, when the company began combining systems it acquired from Comcast Corp. and bankrupt Adelphia Communications Corp.

The merger propelled Time Warner from one of the smallest operations in Southern California to the dominant cable company, with 1.9 million customers in the five-county region.

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But its reputation took a major blow as it tried to integrate the TV and Internet systems from three companies that use separate technology platforms. Complaints from October through February nearly tripled from the year-earlier period, and Time Warner lost more than 10,000 subscribers.

Hansell said subscribers were reporting “substandard and erratic service,” long waits on hold, “rude and inadequately trained” customer service agents and repair technicians who were late or failed to show up.

“The deplorable results reflect a failure on the part of Time Warner Cable to take these issues seriously,” he wrote.

Company spokeswoman Patricia Rockenwagner said Time Warner Cable was “committed to making improvements in our acquired properties and returning to having the best customer service record in the city.”

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She said the company had moved Stephen Pagano, who ran its Albany, N.Y., operations, to Los Angeles “to work with local management to expedite those improvements.” Barry Rosenblum, an executive vice president, will oversee Pagano from New York. Hansell’s letter questioned how Rosenblum planned to do so while running the company’s Northeast division.

Time Warner Cable had expected to complete the integration in six weeks, but three months after that deadline, it decided not to set a new deadline.

In the face of an avalanche of complaints, the company slowed its changes and roll-out of new products to focus on managing its customer service quagmire.

Hansell said in an interview that his board and staff at the city’s Information Technology Agency predicted the Time Warner Cable problems and sought assurances from the company that it would have the staff and expertise to manage the integration.

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“This was a massive transition, and we knew there would be issues about different technologies, channel lineups, pricing and so forth,” he said. “They were clear that these were not issues that they hadn’t thought about.”

Hansell said the board wasn’t likely, therefore, to accept any excuse indicating that the company got more complaints or had more problems than it anticipated.

The company has until April 13 to reply in writing. The board can recommend a series of administrative sanctions or even fines, but Hansell said he expected the company to comply with his request.

james.granelli@latimes.com

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