La Cañada residents frustrated by what they call consistently inconsistent cable and internet service from Spectrum are taking their complaints to City Hall to see what can be done, but some city employees are wary — and for good reason.
A fury of comments on social media detailing sudden channel loss, slow internet speeds and an aging infrastructure has been brewing in recent weeks. One of those commenting, resident Elaine La Marr, said she’s had ongoing problems with the Charter Communications company, formerly Charter Spectrum.
“We lose (service) all the time, and I’m constantly disconnecting and reconnecting,” she said. “They’ve come to replace things. We have three boosters in our house. The service is poor — period.”
La Marr and husband Don estimate they’ve had service technicians to their home 30 or 40 times in the past decade. Just last week the couple went to turn on channel KTLA, only to find it had been replaced with KJLA, a Spanish-language affiliate of Azteca-America.
Another dissatisfied resident, Pam Woncik, penned a letter to City Manager Mark Alexander on Oct. 14 asking whether the city could step in and penalize the utility provider for failing to live up to its contractual agreement.
“If the city can impose financial pain, via fines, on them or there is fear of cable competition Spectrum/Charter might finally replace these old and failing service lines,” she wrote.
In an Oct. 16 City Council meeting, Councilman Greg Brown relayed his own frustrations with poor reception, having switched to Spectrum cable from DIRECT-TV months earlier for its sports offerings. He asked whether the council might discuss avenues of recourse at a future meeting.
“It’s just bad service. We need to see what we can do about it and band together,” Brown said in an interview Friday. “With advancing technologies, fiber optics, I want to know what the competitors look like out there and who’d be interested in coming in.”
City’s hands are tied
Although a discussion of possible options will take place at a future City Council meeting, officials say cities no longer have the ability to control cable and internet providers since passage of the Digital Infrastructure and Video Competition Act of 2006.
Signed by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the law attempted to prevent monopolistic agreements between municipalities and single providers and ostensibly drive down rates. It removed cities’ rights to act as franchise authorities capable of imposing terms relating to service, coverage and performance in a contract agreement.
Instead, DIVCA gave franchise authority to the California Public Utilities Commission, but limited that power to approving applications and making sure providers didn’t discriminate on the basis of income.
“When that happened, any agreements we had with Charter or AT&T were basically null and void,” said Carl Alameda, the city’s administrative director. “Now it’s an application to the state, and they can do whatever they want — we’ve lost the power to enforce anything.”
Today, city officials refer residents with complaints to the CPUC. But in an email interview, CPUC spokeswoman Constance Gordon explained her agency doesn’t really handle customer service issues.
“Cable programming issues are unregulated at all levels of government, with very narrow exceptions,” Gordon said in an email interview. “There are a number of customer service provisions DIVCA requires cities and counties themselves to adopt and enforce, but the statute prohibits the local entities from adopting rules that go beyond those specifically listed.”
The provisions include making sure a company has published office hours and complies with its own established restoration policies, the spokeswoman said.
Dennis Johnson, senior communications director for Spectrum’s West Region, would not speak in a telephone interview but said in an email correspondence La Cañada Flintridge customers have the most up-to-date infrastructure available.
“We have been upgrading our services in La Cañada Flintridge including recently launching Spectrum Internet Gig service in the area,” Johnson said. “We have also done a lot of work to improve our network and reliability by upgrading our systems.”
Johnson acknowledged the network may occasionally experience power outages separate from electricity outages, but had no knowledge of specific or repeated problems in La Cañada.
“Customers in La Cañada Flintridge enjoy the same products and services as all of our customers in the Los Angeles area,” the spokesman said.
Even as La Cañada city staffers prepare a report to be heard in a future City Council meeting, Alameda said he’s not certain much can be done. The city can hire a consultant to identify problems, but any needed infrastructure overhaul would likely be seen by Spectrum as cost-prohibitive.
In the meantime, city employees will continue to refer residents like La Marr and Woncik to the Public Utilities Commission, even though they know recourse won’t likely be found at the state level.
Alameda admitted the city’s position is not ideal.