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Cable executives get angry earful from customers

Mike Desmond
Cable executives listen to a customer (right) about high rates.

Spectrum says its cable service is good and getting better. However, it was a different story at a City Hall meeting Monday evening, as some customers told the Common Council Finance Committee they worried about an expensive cable service getting more expensive.

In contrast to many public sessions in the Common Council chamber, Monday's session drew a relatively small crowd -- but with a high level of anger.

The meeting was supposed to discuss the digital conversion across the city, which starts taking effect Tuesday. It turned into a gripe session over rates, service and the impenetrability of the company's rate structure, which makes it hard for people to realize they may be eligible for a rate reduction -- rate reductions like those for families whose income is low enough to qualify for free school meals.

Lynn Rosinski runs a shelter for for homeless women in South Buffalo, where every resident gets a TV. Rosinski told the hearing rates are too high.

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News
Lynn Rosinski told the hearing cable rates are too high.

"I am paying now $178.90, not 34.99," Rosinski said. "I have a lot of televisions, so I'm looking at how big is this bill going to be. It's just a horrific thing. I'm spending more on Spectrum than I am on food." 

Rosinski said the new system would mean every woman's TV would have to have a cable box and she just can't afford it. Spectrum said it can make adjustments for various situations. Councilmember Richard Fontana said cable customer service representatives need to ask about the callers' needs.

"I hope they'll take the time to ask the customers calling, especially the new customers or existing customers, 'Would you happen to qualify for this discount? Would you happen to qualify for this?" Fontana said, "especially if they're calling in to complain about the price. When I called in to complain about my price, I wasn't asked if I was potentially eligible for one of these discounts."

Spectrum executives promised to look into the issue. Company executives said they monitor the issue all the time, but they also promised to check complaints about long delays for service in the Chicago Street offices. Councilmember Rasheed Wyatt said he recently waited 45 minutes for service.

Spectrum Regional Government Affairs Director Mark Meyerhofer and Fontana also clashed over changing public access channels.

"From 19 through 22 to 1301 to 1304," said Meyerhofer. "In fact, today those channels appear on both of those stations. But, as I said, once we officially move the all-digital conversion in Buffalo, the public access channels will only be on channels 1301 through 1304."

"So we'll only be seen in Siberia at that point," Fontana said. "I mean, who goes to 1304?"

Fontana said most customers don't even know the cable system has channels with numbers that high. The channels are seen as ways for the Council to directly access the public, since meetings are carried live and repeated often.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.