Even as an operator commits to system rebuilds and
improvements, that effort can be diminished in the eyes of the consumer by sloppy
An example can be found in Lakewood, Calif., a middle-class
suburb of Los Angeles, where MediaOne recently stumbled in its upgrade efforts.
The system's problems began when, in anticipation of
its next wave of service offerings, it decided to scramble its signal. This meant that
2,000 to 3,000 basic-only customers, who had been receiving programming on their
cable-ready TV sets, would have to pick up new terminals and pay an additional $3.70 per
In a letter to its customers, MediaOne tried to soften the
blow of the news by offering 30 free days of its on-screen programming guide and three
pay-per-view movie coupons.
But the news did not go over well with consumers, and city
officials blamed the flurry of complaints on the way that the letter was worded.
The first line began, "To prevent unauthorized
reception of our cable signal ... we will begin scrambling our satellite networks."
"We would have suggested other words than that,"
said Don Waldie, public information officer for the city. Citizens believe that the letter
implied that they were guilty of signal theft, and "that hit customers wrong."
"The letter was not well-timed, it was begun badly and
it didn't rationalize the changes well," Waldie said, adding that it hit homes
just weeks before the system's anticipated January rate increases.
Waldie said MediaOne has a good reputation, and it provides
good customer service. The upgrade letter was a "lapse in communications that caused
the city to enter the communications arena."
Lakewood Mayor Larry Van Nostran was not as charitable. In
a monthly newspaper, he wrote a column labeling MediaOne as "Lakewood's very own
Scrooge." He attacked the extra expense for senior citizens to meet the box
requirement, the lack of equipment interoperability and the need for yet another remote
Further, he added that a consultant advised the city that
the company could remedy signal theft without boxes being forced into homes.
Van Nostran threatened a review of all MediaOne activities,
including a customer-service audit and a crackdown on noncompliance with the
interactive-service provisions of its local franchise.
Waldie indicated that he understands MediaOne's
business decision, adding that the city supports the operator's system improvements.
But the city has a history of safeguarding access to cable services, and the box
requirement impacts on accessibility, especially for low-income users.
Gisselle Acevedo-Franco, spokeswoman for MediaOne, said of
the letter, "If we had to do it all over again, of course, we'd do it
Cable theft is an issue, but it was a minor factor in the
business decision to move boxes into all homes, she added.
"The converter rollout for advanced-analog services is
an issue of better signals," she said, adding that it will eventually enable
high-speed data and telephony.
The improvements are something that the community asked
for, Acevedo-Franco said, noting that MediaOne's competitors in Lakewood --
direct-broadcast satellite services and Pacific Bell Video Services -- require decoders
for broadband services.
"We'll continue to work with Lakewood to bring in
the newest technology," she added.