COSTA MESA -- Cable giant AT&T; Broadband on Monday escaped a $100 per
day fine for poor customer service when City Council members narrowly
decided to delay action until they receive more data.
The council voted 3 to 1 to postpone the issue until AT&T; Broadband
officials could provide more information but required cable officials to
hold monthly community meetings to address Costa Mesa residents' needs
until customer service levels are up to par. Councilwoman Karen Robinson
"Our residents have dealt with this long enough," she said. "I know
$100 a day won't make a dent in their pocketbooks, but it will send a
message to our residents."
Robinson suggested fining AT&T; Broadband -- a move that Councilman
Chris Steel supported -- but her motion failed. Councilman Gary Monahan
did not attend the meeting, and Mayor Linda Dixon and Councilwoman Libby
Cowan did not support the fine.
Del Heintz, AT&T; Broadband's director of local government affairs for
Southern California, started his presentation by "personally apologizing"
for the poor cable service city residents and city officials have
City officials "have had to deal with issues that we should have been
implementing ourselves," Heintz said.
Jerry Verwolf, telecommunications manager for the city, said customer
complaints have bombarded his office. The number of calls 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
Heintz said major changes in technology, billing and leadership caused
high levels of customer service calls, which could not all be handled in
a timely fashion. Since November, AT&T; Broadband has increased the call
center work force -- a team of customer service representatives who serve
all of Southern California -- by 18%.
He added that the cable company will reroute billing calls to a
specific billing center -- so as not to tie up the line for
service-related calls -- as well as direct sales people to call
delinquent account holders before they are disconnected.
Cowan said Heintz proved the company underwent a "corporate mind-set
change," she said. Tracking the customer service until the second quarter
would give the City Council a better understanding of what improvements
are being made. At that time, council members may decide what action to
Robinson, who is an AT&T; Broadband subscriber, said she was concerned
that "Costa Mesa was just a little blip on AT&T;'s screen" and worried the
specific needs of customers were being ignored. Robinson said she was
kept on hold for 20 minutes before she could talk to anyone and could not
get service for a week and a half. Five of her neighbors switched to a
satellite service in one day because they, too, encountered unacceptable
"I stayed because I need [Channel] 74," Robinson said about the
channel that broadcasts City Council meetings that satellite systems do
AT&T; Broadband has a 15-year, nonexclusive contract with the city that
authorizes the construction, operation and maintenance of a cable system
throughout the city.
Although other cable companies are free to compete for service in
Costa Mesa, they are discouraged by AT&T; Broadband's strong presence and
that there is no guaranteed customer base. It is also expensive to
install the hardware needed to provide cable service in a city, officials
* Lolita Harper covers Costa Mesa. She may be reached at (949)
574-4275 or by e-mail at o7 email@example.com .