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Time Warner cable unit could face fine

Times Staff Writer

Moorpark became the second city this week to demand that Time Warner Cable Inc. comply with customer service standards -- and the first to threaten a fine of as much as $25,000 or more.

Exercising its waning local control on the cable TV industry, the City Council late Wednesday initiated a procedure that could result in fines next month for the company’s prolonged difficulty in merging pay TV and Internet systems.

Time Warner has struggled to combine operations it acquired last summer from Comcast Corp. and Adelphia Communications Corp.

“Time Warner either had actual knowledge of its inability to provide adequate customer service or it completely mismanaged this merger. Either situation is unjustifiable,” Councilman Keith F. Millhouse said.

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Moorpark has 7,400 Time Warner customers.

A state law that took effect this year is removing much of the control that municipalities have in overseeing cable TV. Starting next year, cable firms can shed local contracts after new competitors, mainly AT&T; Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc., enter their markets.

Once it receives a formal notice from Moorpark, Time Warner will “respond accordingly” and will “work with the city to resolve the issues satisfactorily,” spokeswoman Patricia Rockenwagner said. “Moorpark started a formal process, but there are no fines and no findings yet,” she said.

On Monday, the city of Los Angeles asked Time Warner to explain what went wrong and how and when it would solve the problems.

Cities in the company’s five-county service region, and Time Warner itself, have been inundated with complaints since October when work on integrating the systems began.

The merger propelled the company from one of the smallest operations in Southern California to the region’s dominant cable firm, with 1.9 million customers. But complaints nearly tripled in Los Angeles alone as customers cited service outages, long wait times, shabby customer service, channel lineup changes and pressure to buy higher-priced digital service. The company lost more than 10,000 subscribers.

At Wednesday night’s Moorpark council meeting, Benjamin Hall of neighboring Simi Valley told the council members that to get the same channels he had with Adelphia, he said, he paid Time Warner about $20 more a month because he had to move from analog to digital service and get a new device that lets him record the way his old videocassette recorder did.

Millhouse, the councilman, said he waited on hold an hour for a Time Warner agent last month. He said a fine could total $200 a day for every incident.

He said he hoped Moorpark would spur other Southern California cities to take action against the company.

As part of its contract with Moorpark, Adelphia set up a $25,000 line of credit that the city could tap to collect fines for such breaches as poor customer service. Once that money is gone, the cable company, now Time Warner, is required to replenish the credit line.

Rockenwagner said few cities had similar terms.

james.granelli@latimes.com


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