Verizon Causes Service Headaches for Comcast in Baltimore

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Outages are always a customer service hassle. But when outages occur and the cable operator isn’t at fault and has no control over when or where they occur, it’s a nightmare. Comcast has experienced just that in Baltimore.

The operator has experienced over 4,500 cuts to its mainline and drop cables since Verizon began laying 2,500 miles of fiber optic cable throughout the Baltimore area last month. The interruptions have affected between 45,000 and 50,000 customers, according to Comcast spokesman Jim Gordon.

The operator generally can’t determine what has caused the service interruption until the technicians are on site, Gordon said. The company’s technicians fix the problem regardless of who is at fault.

So far, the damage from the physical plant has cost Comcast $1.5 million. But that doesn’t take into account the number of disgruntled customers who experience service outages. Verizon has paid back Comcast for some of its costs associated with the service interruptions, but negotiations continue. Verizon has also agreed to pay Baltimore County $2.7 million for the right to lay the network in the public rights of way.

“We keep telling the city regulators that this isn’t about competition,” Gordon said. “This is about continuity of our service. It shouldn’t be impacted when a new provider comes to town.”

Gordon noted that when Verizon enters the market with its video product, there will be five multichannel video providers in the area including Millenium Communications. He also said Comcast has never experienced so many outages before.

Verizon said the interruptions were not on purpose.

“I’m not here to tell you we’ve never damaged facilities,” Verizon representative Robert Olsen told the Baltimore Sun. “But we take every step we can to mitigate that damage.”

Verizon is building the network but is holding out on applying for a cable franchise, councilman Kevin Kamenetz told the Sun. “We’ve done everything we can to encourage their submission,” he said. “If they had submitted a franchise application in October when I asked them to, they probably would have had an approved franchise agreement by now.”

James Irvin, Howard County’s public works director, said Verizon’s construction initially caused problems, but that the company has been able to reduce them significantly, mostly by increasing the number of employees in the field who provide more oversight of contractors.

But Comcast is still bearing the brunt of customers calling to complain about outages and rolling trucks to fix the problems all while handing the day-to-day things that happen, including outages due to inclement weather. “We’re entering our busy season for bad weather and this, combined with that, is making it difficult to stay ahead of the curve,” Gordon said.

One solution: Comcast has assigned staffers to follow Verizon’s construction project so the company can anticipate or at least know immediately when a line has been cut.

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