TWC Hits Snags in L.A.

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Given the challenges of integrating the Los Angeles cable operations, perhaps Time Warner Cable shouldn't have set the bar so high: It introduced itself to locals with a branding campaign promising market consolidation would be “just that simple.”

The region is in the midst of a channel realignment that even includes some of its own legacy customers, and it's beginning to migrate Adelphia.net and Comcast.net high-speed Internet accounts to its own RoadRunner service.

For some consumers, it's not going so smoothly.

COMPLAINTS SPIKE

The changes have resulted in a spike in complaints within the city of Los Angeles, where Time Warner historically had posted the fewest complaints per capita to the city's Office of Information Technology.

Time Warner's business adjustments resulted in front page story in The Los Angeles Times, detailing subscriber assertions that the channel realignment is nothing but a ploy to force consumers into buying digital services and bemoaning their lack of Internet access as former Comcast customers are moved over to Time Warner's Internet service arm, Road Runner.

Internet consumers were angry they couldn't get through on the phone to gain assistance, and furious when on-hold recordings suggested they utilize self-help — on the Web.

One consumer quoted argued that he shouldn't have to spend five or six hours on the phone waiting for assistance just because a new company bought his account.

Meanwhile, competitors are eager to pick off disaffected subscribers.

Around town, satellite-TV provider DirecTV has placed red, white and black billboards reading “MoNOpoly,” urging consumers to reject Time Warner's dominance.

In recent Verizon Communications commercials, while not specifically mentioning a cable operator, actors say they're picking Verizon's Freedom plan “just so they can kiss cable goodbye.”

“We know it hasn't been an easy transition,” said Patti Rockenwagner, Time Warner Cable's vice president of communications for the region.

She added the major changes are necessary in the market in order to turn the super-cluster into a manageable operation. Even the systems Time Warner brought into the consolidation are a polyglot of channel lineups and packaging inherited from past owners such as MediaOne Group, Continental Cablevision and Century Communications.

As a result, the cluster has more than 100 channel lineups, which complicates customer service and prevents the operator from using channel numbers in its advertising. Rockenwagner noted that Los Angeles is a highly mobile market. With a unified lineup, consumers can settle back into using cable no matter where they move.

Due to the number of broadcasters in the five-county area Time Warner is taking over, various “must-carry” agreements and municipal public, educational and government channel requirements made it difficult to unify the lowest 100 channel placements region-wide, Rockenwagner explained.

Instead, the company created a universal channel lineup for the higher channels. But consumers complained that some networks that had been in expanded basic cable, depending on the system, are now on a digital tier, requiring a digital subscription and a converter upgrade.

Rockenwagner said the company tried to brace consumers for the change, mailing out new lineup cards, including an alphabetical listing on one side so consumers could find favorites by name.

The operator also tried to anticipate the higher call volume stemming from the new lineup, coupled with traffic from consumers responding to the operator's acquisition offers (new Internet subscribers can get RoadRunner for $19.95 with a one-year commitment; or digital video for $39.95 a month for one year).

Rockenwagner said the company didn't anticipate how long each call would take, however.

Customer calls are routed to five local call centers, plus one in Colorado Springs, Colo., acquired from Adelphia.

Time Warner hired and trained 200 new customer-service representatives in advance of the launch of the channel realignment. In the face of great call volume, the company is hiring 200 more, she said.

NET CHANGE IS HARD

The company took on the difficult Internet transition first.

Rockenwagner said the Internet glitches are largely because 220,000 Comcast Internet accounts had to be physically moved from Comcast's servers over to Time Warner's. Individuals also to be assigned new Internet addresses.

The changeover from Adelphia.net e-mail addresses, planned for later this month but now delayed until mid-December, should be easier, because Time Warner now operates Adelphia's servers. That change will involve new e-mail addresses.

All network problems from the Comcast.net change have been resolved, Rockenwagner said.

Residual service outages involve the company working disparate home-equipment configurations through with individual consumers, she said.

“We want go get out of this remodeling state as soon as possible,” Rockenwagner said.

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