ON THE ROAD TO RECOVERY

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Cable operators in the most ravaged areas in Hurricane Katrina’s path are slowly gaining access to their properties and making progress in accounting for local employees.

Cox Communications Inc., Cable One Inc. and Charter Communications Inc. all made strides against the nation’s worst national disaster last week.

And as the Gulf Coast embarks on the painstaking, multibillion-dollar task of rebuilding lives, homes and businesses, reverberations were being felt in Washington, not only within the Bush Administration, but in the halls of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, where a decision about holding the National Show in New Orleans next year has been put on hold.

Meanwhile, cable news networks continue to keep the nation abreast of many of the aspects of this still-unfolding story, and the finger-pointing between government agencies as to where the blame lies for slow relief efforts, with widespread coverage.

ACCOUNTING FOR EMPLOYEES

Cox, the operator serving the greater New Orleans area, has now tracked down all but about 250 of its 1,000 area employees. So far, the company has not confirmed that any of those workers are among the dead, although some who’ve checked in reported the loss of members of their extended family, said spokesman David Grabert.

As pumps lowered the floodwaters in the city, some Cox-provided phone services have been restored, including long distance. MSO employees at work in the communities have indicated that St. Charles Parish “looks restorable” and that areas of Jefferson Parish are dry and have not experienced much wind damage. Meanwhile, small areas in New Orleans have become accessible and power is being restored.

The MSO’s immediate challenge: Finding accommodations for Cox crews. Many New Orleans workers had evacuated, with their trucks, to Baton Rouge. The MSO’s corporate travel department is trying to find them long-term accommodations, but “tenting is possible,” Grabert said.

Cable One, which serves Biloxi, Gulfport and Pascagoula, Miss., has accounted for all 177 of its associates, 44 of whom lost everything they own, according to spokeswoman Melany Stroupe. An executive team, including CEO Tom Might, was in the region most of last week, along with counselors and insurance advisors.

Might met individually with each associate, determining their specific needs down to the correct sizes of pants and shoes, Stroupe said. He’s established an “Angel Project” to meet those individual needs.

“He’s really taking this personally,” she said.

Workers will get storm bonuses every two weeks to compensate for the hard work of restoring the system. Cable One has also suspended billing in affected areas and won’t charge consumers for lost equipment.

CHARTER RESTORES SERVICE

By early last week, Charter Communications Inc. had restored 99% of service in its Thiboudaux, La., systems, while Bourg was 95% operational.

Southeast Division chief Chuck McElroy said in a company e-mail Thiboudaux reopened its office on Sept. 6 and it was a “madhouse,” with people clamoring for service.

The company will shift its attention over the next two weeks to its north shore cluster, including Slidell, Picayune, Columbia and Washington Parish.

McElroy estimated it would be two weeks or longer before much service could be restored in those areas, but Charter asked able-bodied employees to plan to show up for work Sept. 12.

Not all the storm-related work was cleanup. Systems in areas hosting the waves of storm evacuees were busy helping as well.

For instance, Time Warner Houston is coordinating with churches and community centers housing the overflow from Astrodome. The operator is providing free high-speed Internet access, digital phone service and video services to those locations.

The system is also collecting food at its retail centers for distribution by the Houston Food Bank.

And, for a touch of home, the system has added New Orleans CBS affiliate WWL-TV to its channel lineup.

LENDING A HAND

Verizon Communications Inc. is deploying mobile pay-phone stations throughout the hurricane belt, and is providing cell phones and prepaid calling cards. Its employee-matching program has already raised $5 million, according to the company.

Charitable endeavors to aid displaced families continue to multiply. Among recently announced efforts:

  • Starz Entertainment Group employees donated supplies that were trucked to Baton Rouge, La., to help Cox’s displaced workers. A similar donation was sent to benefit Cable One employees.
  • TV Land and Nick at Nite produced public-service announcements in which stars of classic shows, including Carol Burnett, Bill Cosby and Dick Van Dyke, solicited donations.
  • Among the other networks running crawls, PSAs or providing Web-site links to the Red Cross are A&E Television Networks, ESPN, Lifetime Television; The Outdoor Channel, and Scripps Networks.
  • Black Entertainment Television and MTV Networks staged fund-raising telethons this past weekend.
  • Oxygen launched a “viral marketing tool” at its Web site, designed to raise $10,000 through donations of $1 per registrant. The funds are for patients evacuated from the New Orleans Children’s Hospital.
  • Cable News Network set up a “victims and relief desk” to coordinate information between family members and those searching for them.
  • MTV: Music Television is coordinating with retailer Urban Outfitters to create clothing drives.
  • Many companies, including Turner Broadcasting System Inc., NBC Universal Cable and Hallmark Channel, are matching funds donated by employees for relief efforts.
  • The American Red Cross will train The Weather Channel employees Sept. 16, in order to teach them the skills necessary to personally participate in disaster recovery as part of an employee disaster-relief team.

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