With its franchise transfer to Charter Communications Inc.
still pending, Marcus Cable has taken the path of least resistance in dealing with city
regulators in Fort Worth, Texas.
Without waiting for word from the city, the MSO informed
local officials that it will voluntarily pay a $10,000 fine for failing to meet
telephone-response-time customer-service standards during the third quarter of the year.
"Apparently, they saw a story in the newspapers about
us planning to fine them, and they called up and said, 'We heard you're going to
notify us. We'll get you a check,'" said Pat Svacina, assistant to Fort
Worth city manager Bob Terrell.
Svacina said not contesting the fine might be an attempt to
avoid antagonizing city officials, who must approve the proposed transfer of Marcus'
franchise to Charter.
St. Louis-based Charter is absorbing Dallas-based Marcus,
which was acquired by Microsoft Corp. cofounder Paul Allen earlier this year for $2.8
Meanwhile, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported
that a pair of Marcus officials -- vice president of operations Alan Collins and marketing
director Victoria Milner -- had left the company as part of the consolidation under
A Fort Worth city official confirmed that the two
executives were no longer with Marcus.
Charter, which has already taken over day-to-day operations
at the 70,000-subscriber Fort Worth system, plans to meet with area regulators this week.
"There are significant operational issues at the
system," conceded Charter spokeswoman Anita Lamont, "and we're going to go
down there, meet with local government officials and be as specific as possible about our
strategy for improving local service."
The latest fine was the third financial penalty levied
against Marcus this year. It has already paid sanctions of $5,000 and $10,000 for service
problems during the first six months of 1998.
In those instances, MSO officials blamed the problems on an
ongoing $116 million rebuild of the local network, as well as on an inability to handle a
flood of calls brought on by the company's introduction of a new billing system.
This time, however, Marcus informed the city of its
problems in a third-quarter report indicating that it only answered 83 percent of calls to
its local service center in the required 30 seconds. Under its franchise, the operator is
required to respond to 90 percent of all calls within 30 seconds.
Adding to its problems was the fact that only four out of
50 to 60 calls made by city employees to the Marcus service center during the third
quarter were answered within the prescribed time.
Meanwhile, Svacina said, Fort Worth has joined a coalition
of 20 area cities of Marcus franchises. As part of the transfer process to Charter, the
group plans to seek franchise amendments containing tougher customer-service standards.
"We feel like we need stronger customer-service terms,
because we're not going to go through this again," he said "Whoever
operates this system is going to have heavier consequences."
Fort Worth officials have until Jan. 31 to sign off on the
transfer of Marcus' franchise to Charter.