Virginia City Spanks Operator

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If Falcon Communications Inc. in Suffolk, Va., doesn't clean up its act by June 5, city fathers might kick the operator out of town.

In response to long-term consumer complaints about service, the City Council has voted to revoke the franchise, which is now owned by Charter Communications Inc. The city gave system officials 60 days to turn service levels around.

The criticism is not new, nor is this the first reprieve by the city. Last November, the City Council threatened to hold up the Falcon system's acquisition by Charter, citing outages and poor picture quality. City officials conceded that they have been promised system improvements, but they said they wanted a written commitment from the system owner.

City fathers want the plant extended to 1,200 neighboring homes, along with an upgrade that will sustain high-speed-data deployment.

Falcon apparently inflamed elected officials by transferring the property to Charter before coming to terms with the city or turning around the complaint rate. The local system serves 8,000 customers, and the city has received 700 complaints from consumers in the past three years, according to local sources.

According to the ordinance, if the city revokes the franchise, the operator will be required to continue to provide service for six months while the city searches for an alternate provider.

Charter vice president of operations Melvin Bryant could not be reached for comment last week.