The Fremont (Calif.) City Council will begin the process
next week of deciding whether to impose customer-service standards on AT&T Broadband
& Internet Services' TCI Cablevision for its @Home Network high-speed-data
Approval would mark the first such standards imposed on
high-speed Internet access in the United States.
The complaints have been simmering ever since a
well-publicized service slowdown in November. The connections suddenly went from superfast
to "as slow as a snail with a broken leg ... if you could get on," said
subscriber Dan Calic, who has been helping to lead the subscriber protest. The slowdown
lasted for two-and-a-half weeks.
Since then, Calic has maintained a Web site for users who
suffer continued frustration connecting with level 2 or higher techs on @Home's help
desk. The consumer has used those complaints to compile some suggestions for service
standards for data users, which will be presented to the City Council March 23.
"It's hard for us to get a real grasp of the
numbers [dissatisfied with service] ... We've heard reports of people put on hold for
two hours. But enough have come here to convince us of a problem," deputy city
manager Doug Eads said.
TCI has already been in discussions with the city on the
service problems -- talks that Eads termed as "productive." Problem resolution
will focus on the local operator, and not on @Home.
"We're dealing with TCI: We don't have a
franchise with @Home," Eads said.
The city's attorney offered an opinion that the modem
service is a cable product, under the definition of the 1996 Cable Act, noting that TCI
Cablevision pays franchise fees based on revenue from cable-modem users.
TCI did not disagree that @Home is a cable service, said
Andrew Johnson, a spokesman for AT&T Broadband's TCI of California.
"Calic has done a very good job of gathering
complainants through the very product that he complains about," Johnson said.
"We acknowledge that we need to do more in customer service ... This is not about
product customer service: This is about our customer service. The product is a secondary
TCI and @Home have already taken steps to improve contact,
he said. TCI has installed call-routing enhancements so that requests for service and
other low-intensity calls are channeled away from the help desk. The operator is also
training more high-tech personnel, who should complete their mentoring and on-the-job
training by the end of this month, Johnson said.
The goal is to provide special-problem resolution within 24
hours, he added.
Johnson said he hopes that it doesn't get as far as a
municipal resolution. But if it does, the long talk times necessary to service computer
customers demand that modem-specific service standards be developed.
Calic agreed: "There are some similarities and some
dissimilarities" between video and data, he said. "We recognize that the general
framework is different. But there should be some customer-service standards.
[Fremont's 6,000 @Home] customers are not afforded the same protections as the rest
of the community."
Among Calic's suggestions:
Use of currently available technology that passes
along information on trouble calls to the next-level tech. Callers currently have to
repeat everything, including their names, each time that their call is rerouted.
Assignment of case numbers to complaints, so if
users must call back, they can be routed to the same techs, or at least records of the
original problem and attempted solutions are stored;
Establishment of an 800 fax line, for use when voice
lines are busy; and
Establishment of voice-mail boxes for specific
Calic noted that Fremont is the largest single market for
AT&T Broadband's @Home deployment, and that it will reportedly be a test market
for AT&T cable telephony.