L.A. Adopts Customer-Service Standards


Cable regulators for the city of Los Angeles have approved a long-pending set of customer-service standards, backed up with fines for abuses of the rules and including a controversial requirement that providers operate service centers in the city.

The latter was added in response to consumer complaints alleging that workers in out-of-state call centers are unfamiliar with local rules and operating conditions.

During past discussions of the proposal, members of the city Board of Information Technology Commissioners were critical of Adelphia Communications Corp.'s performance record, especially when executives tried to explain why some calls are handled as far away as Colorado Springs, Colo.

The requirement runs contrary to industry practices. Most operators have phased out community-based call centers in favor of regional service hubs.

The rules include maximum times on hold by consumers and mandatory refund credits for missed appointments. Operators will now have to submit quarterly reports detailing how they measure up to the new standards. The new policy also includes authority to penalize operators up to $3,000 per instance for service violations.

In the short term, the rules could have the most impact on Adelphia and Comcast Corp., as their operations generated the most complaints in the most recent city reports. Long-term, the impact will fall on Time Warner Cable, which should inherit most of the Adelphia and Comcast franchises as part of the Adelphia acquisition deal. But Time Warner already has the lowest complaint rate per capita in the city.

The call-center requirement could be an issue for Charter Communications Inc., which has fewer than 100 customers in Malibu, Calif. -- penetration that would not seem to justify the expense of a local facility.

Cox Communications Inc. also has a system in the port area of the city with calls now being routed to Orange County.