Franchising authorities in several Kentucky counties are
contemplating a regional overbuild after FrontierVision Ltd. Operating Partners boosted
its rates by 7 percent amid complaints about poor service.
Consumers in these central Kentucky counties have been
grousing without impact about poor pictures and hours-long on-hold times from
FrontierVision, according to officials in the area.
"They've made all kinds of promises, and they
haven't lived up to a single one. They've done nothing but raise the
rates," said Kent Clark, Madison County judge-executive. "They're the most
unprofessional company I've ever dealt with."
Consumers in that county -- as well as in neighboring
Montgomery, Clark and Bourbon counties -- have been dissatisfied for a long time. Most of
the area was served by American Cable Entertainment, which entered bankruptcy
two-and-a-half years ago.
ACE's financial straits meant that the plant was not
improved beyond its initial 450-megahertz installation, and a few systems are at even
FrontierVision picked up the distressed properties, but
regulators said the new owners have done little since the acquisition.
Many local consumers have jumped ship to direct-broadcast
satellite service. The cable company cited that lost revenue and the increased costs of
programming as justification for its latest round of increases.
The systems -- which serve 125,000 homes in several
counties around FrontierVision's Richmond, Ky., regional headquarters -- are
susceptible to weather-related fade because they are still serviced by several microwave
relays. And subscribers complained to officials of hold times of up to five hours to get a
live person on the line.
Regulators tried to get satisfaction, but they said the
regional executive was arrogant and unresponsive. Further, franchising authorities were
notified of an accounting change that FrontierVision claimed indicated that it was
overpaying franchise fees by 30 percent.
Several cities and counties have demanded to see
FrontierVision's books, but they have been denied to date, officials said.
Some of the problems have been resolved: A new regional
manager, Jim Underwood, has taken the helm, and authorities said they already feel more
positive about negotiations.
Underwood acknowledged the phone and picture problems.
FrontierVision is in the process of phasing out microwave relays, and he attributed some
of the phone delays to a lightning strike on equipment and to some bad ports in the
"The calls weren't going to them -- they went
into outer space somewhere, and we didn't even know people were calling,"
Underwood said. Repairs have been made, and staffing has been increased.
"We have a commitment to Kentucky, especially here in
Richmond. Our regional office is here. There's no reason why we can't sit down
and come to a resolution to the benefit of both of us," he said.
Richmond's city manager, David Evans, is also hopeful.
FrontierVision's franchise expired this past August, and its six-month extension will
end soon, too. The city believes that the operator has violated five franchise provisions
related to late franchise-fee payment and lack of public accounting.
"We do want to work with them, and they have proven of
late that they are willing to talk," Evans said.
But, he added, he's willing to look at anything that
will convince FrontierVision to live up to its current agreements. That would include a
possible proposal by Clark to study a municipal overbuild.
The county executive is seeking information from a local
development coalition to get an idea of the potential market and the percentage already
lost to home satellite dishes before pitching feasibility to four counties. But since the
regulators have begun batting around the idea, several other counties said they might be
interested in participating, Clark said.