Bonnie Largely Spares S.E. Systems


Hurricane Bonnie largely spared cable operators on the
Eastern seaboard, and her leisurely pace gave some systems time to aid communities as they
braced for this season's first big storm.

The most dramatic damage occurred in Falcon Cable TV
Corp.'s Carolina Beach, S.C., system. Its 600-foot tower toppled as Bonnie peeled the
roof off the headend. Mike Singpiel, division vice president, Eastern division at Falcon,
estimated the damage at $1 million.

Falcon finished installing a temporary, 200-foot tower last
Wednesday, he said. Otherwise, the Falcon systems in the area remained virtually intact,
he added, attributing the lack of greater damage to two storms earlier this decade --
hurricanes Fran and Bertha -- which already knocked down weak trees that might have
dragged down plant this time.

Falcon also used Bonnie's slow pace to good advantage,
stocking up on drop cable and briefing employees -- all of whom opted to stay in the
communities, rather than to evacuate, he noted.

Time Warner Cable in Wilmington, S.C. -- the first landfall
for the storm -- used the long approach time to produce a 30-minute video to instruct
citizens on evacuation.

Even though Bonnie's eye "parked" for a
time, swirling over Wilmington, the 139,000-subscriber cluster lost only about 5,000
customers, most of whom were restored within two days.

Front-line employees learned from customers how much they
value cable services -- especially The Weather Channel -- in times of severe weather.
Customer-service representative Cathy Lahman described talking to a woman who kept her on
the line for 25 minutes as the community recovered from the storm.

The customer, an 86-year-old woman, explained that she had
ridden out multiple hurricanes boarded up alone in her house in Beaufort, S.C., and she
wanted her cable restored, as it provided the information that she needed to keep herself

At the end of the conversation, Lahman said, the woman
apologized for talking so long, but she explained that she'd been attempting to reach
people for 36 hours, and Lahman was the first person who she was able to reach.

Not all customers were so amenable. As techs from
Tri-County Cable Television scrambled to restore service that had been flooded in
Belhaven, S.C., a few of its 1,800 customers called in, demanding credit for the three-day

"Now, we only charge $21.95 [per month] for 38
channels of service. A credit will only get them about $1.75," chief technician Jason
Burleson said. "We're a fairly new system, so with any outages, some people get

At the end of last week, operators in Louisiana and the
Florida panhandle had begun mopping up from Hurricane Earl, and they could not be reached.