Texas-Sized Headache for Charter


Fort Worth and nine other Texas cities are seeking local approval for a formal hearing to end a dispute with Charter Communications Inc. over customer-service lapses.

The cities want legal help to force Charter to pay a total of $4.7 million in liquidated damages they’ve sought since the beginning of 2003.

Also in the consortium: Fort Worth suburbs Benbrook, Burleson, Denton, Hurst, Keller, North Richland Hills, Saginaw and Southlake. Each city has a similar cable franchise with identical customer-service requirements, although the length of the arrangements varies.

The cities commissioned an audit of Charter’s call centers in Fort Worth, Duncanville and Denton in 2003 and found that the MSO wasn’t answering 90% of calls in 30 seconds or less, as required.

Fort Worth cable-services manager Randy Westerman said the assessment was based, in part, on Charter’s treatment of statistics during "abnormal operating" periods, when service disruptions occur that are beyond the control of an operator.

Operators still have to report their response times during those periods, but in most communities, there’s an agreed-upon formula for putting the data in context.

But the Fort Worth consortium based its service assessment on raw data because cities couldn’t figure out how Charter standardizes numbers generated during outages. The cities figured that Charter was answering 70% of calls on time during certain periods, Westerman said.

Charter disagreed with the methodology the cities used to measure service response during "acts of God," Midwest director of government affairs Margaret Lejuste said. Charter has provided the cities with a lot of information on call response that justifies its accounting, she added.

"We’re keeping up a good dialogue, and I’m really confident that it will come out just fine," she said of the dispute.