Fremont Adapts Service Codes to @Home

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Responding to consumer complaints, the Fremont, Calif.,City Council voted to extend its video customer-service standards to apply to theExcite@Home Corp. cable-modem service.

The standards, approved by a 4-0 vote, set minimumacceptable levels for customer contact and repair. For instance, 95 percent of calls toExcite@Home must be answered in 30 seconds or less, and service appointments must beoffered 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 inRedwood City, Calif., to computer experts in Denver. But the rules won't addressacceptable 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 inCalifornia.

Fremont suffered widely publicized system crashes andslowdowns earlier this year. Users who pay premium rates (about $50 per month) for speedwere angered at frequent episodes of sluggish performance. Worse, many could not getthrough on the phones for help.

"In the past, you could spend two hours on hold. Iknow some users who bought speakerphones just to deal with the call center," said DanCalic, chairman of the Fremont @Home users' group. He and other customers met withAT&T Broadband and Fremont city representatives throughout the summer to come up withservice standards.

Although the standards mirror federal guidelines, thecommunity added a few localized requirements.

Fremont's standards allow new users to set up serviceaccounts with checks or cash, instead of only by credit card. Also, e-mail is not definedas a method of communication in the federal act. The city added that and set a deadlinefor Excite@Home to respond to online complaints.

The local rules are a bit more lenient than standardsproposed by Calic. He wanted a regulation to allow users to return to the same technicalassistant, by separate phone number or e-mail, should a problem persist. Users alsosuggested a third-party review of plant performance.

But city staff members did not recommend mandating accessspeeds, 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 thewhole Internet cloud."

AT&T Broadband tests performance every 10 minutes onits plant, he said, adding, "We'll keep [the users' group] up to date, butwe can't agree to any speed standards."

Even as the standards were under development, serviceimproved, Calic said. "They have taken great strides. There's been tremendousimprovement on incoming calls … Hold time at times is down to nothing."