Cable provider aiming to please today

Lolita Harper

COSTA MESA -- Fuzzy reception? Questions on bills? Lost a favorite

channel? Can't get through to an AT&T; Broadband customer service

representative?

City Hall. This evening. Be there.

AT&T; Broadband representatives will address customers' concerns during

an unprecedented community forum Thursday in council chambers, hoping

their efforts will convey a continued commitment to improving customer

service in the city.

"We expect to provide better service for our customers," said Del

Heintz, director of local government affairs for AT&T; Broadband -- the

cable company that offers exclusive service to Costa Mesa residents.

More than 15 cable managers will attend the meeting to make

on-the-spot adjustments to billing statements and service plans while

also answering questions. Technicians will be fully equipped -- their

service vans in the parking lot -- to follow a customer home and repair

or install as needed that night.

"Our entire team will consist of managers, so they can take action

that night without having to clear anything with a supervisor," Heintz

said.

Thursday's meeting -- scheduled five days before the cable giant comes

before the City Council -- is the most recent attempt by both city and

cable officials to solve many of the ongoing problems experienced by

Costa Mesa customers.

Earlier this year, residents reported problems communicating with AT&T;

Broadband customer service agents, saying hold times were excessive --

more than an hour -- if they got through at all. Many residents said they

got a busy signal when they dialed the toll-free number.

Jerry Verwolf, telecommunications manager for the city, said customer

complaints have increased dramatically in the past six years. In 1996,

four people complained to the city about poor service from AT&T;

Broadband. By 2001, the number climbed to 103 and officials have taken 43

complaints this year, he said.

Verwolf said Thursday's meeting is a joint collaboration between the

city and AT&T; Broadband officials, both of which have a vested interest

in resolving the service issues.

AT&T; Broadband has a 15-year contract with the city, which authorizes

the construction, operation and maintenance of a cable system throughout

the city. Contrary to popular belief, the contract is not exclusive.

Although other cable companies are free to compete for service in

Costa Mesa, they are discouraged by the fact that AT&T; Broadband already

has a strong customer base, officials said. It is not cost-effective to

get the contract from the city and install the necessary equipment with

no guarantee of customers.

Verwolf said it pleased him that the cable company was taking an extra

effort to resolve customer problems but said this type of meeting should

supplement good service, not serve as the only way residents can get

action from their cable provider. The meeting is a good first step but

more must be done, he said.

"We will continue to monitor the customer service they are providing,"

Verwolf said.

* Lolita Harper covers Costa Mesa. She may be reached at (949)

574-4275 or by e-mail at o7 lolita.harper@latimes.comf7 .

FYI

WHAT: AT&T; Broadband customer service seminar

WHEN: 3 to 7 p.m. today

WHERE: City Hall, 77 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa

INFORMATION: (888) 255-5789

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