Responding to consumer complaints, the Fremont, Calif.,
City Council voted to extend its video customer-service standards to apply to the
Excite@Home Corp. cable-modem service.
The standards, approved by a 4-0 vote, set minimum
acceptable levels for customer contact and repair. For instance, 95 percent of calls to
Excite@Home must be answered in 30 seconds or less, and service appointments must be
offered in four-hour windows.
Compliance must be tracked and reported to the city,
including the number of calls that must be referred from the local service center in
Redwood City, Calif., to computer experts in Denver. But the rules won't address
acceptable speed for the high-speed service.
"We thought [the standards] are perfectly reasonable.
They've been our internal model since early this year," said Andrew Johnson,
executive director of communications for AT&T Broadband & Internet Services in
Fremont suffered widely publicized system crashes and
slowdowns earlier this year. Users who pay premium rates (about $50 per month) for speed
were angered at frequent episodes of sluggish performance. Worse, many could not get
through on the phones for help.
"In the past, you could spend two hours on hold. I
know some users who bought speakerphones just to deal with the call center," said Dan
Calic, chairman of the Fremont @Home users' group. He and other customers met with
AT&T Broadband and Fremont city representatives throughout the summer to come up with
Although the standards mirror federal guidelines, the
community added a few localized requirements.
Fremont's standards allow new users to set up service
accounts with checks or cash, instead of only by credit card. Also, e-mail is not defined
as a method of communication in the federal act. The city added that and set a deadline
for Excite@Home to respond to online complaints.
The local rules are a bit more lenient than standards
proposed by Calic. He wanted a regulation to allow users to return to the same technical
assistant, by separate phone number or e-mail, should a problem persist. Users also
suggested a third-party review of plant performance.
But city staff members did not recommend mandating access
speeds, Fremont administrative analyst Dan Schoenholz said.
"You can't legislate speed," Johnson said.
"We'll be responsible for our network, but we can't be responsible for the
whole Internet cloud."
AT&T Broadband tests performance every 10 minutes on
its plant, he said, adding, "We'll keep [the users' group] up to date, but
we can't agree to any speed standards."
Even as the standards were under development, service
improved, Calic said. "They have taken great strides. There's been tremendous
improvement on incoming calls Hold time at times is down to nothing."