From long wait times just to pay a bill to having the city’s public access channels moved to a spot in the guide where many viewers don't think to look, city lawmakers feel that cable subscribers in Buffalo are not getting a fair shake.
And while Spectrum cable's parent company – Charter Communications – wrangles with state regulators to be able to continue providing cable and other communications services in New York, Common Council members want to make sure Albany knows about their concerns with Spectrum.
“I think they (Spectrum) take us for granted,” said University Council Member Rasheed Wyatt. “They take our customers for granted. ... It seems as though they want to do what they want to do, and we just have to accept it.”
“It’s almost as if they get the money, but they don’t hear the people,” said Common Council President Darius G. Pridgen.
At Wyatt's request, Finance Committee Chairman Richard A. Fontana directed Council staff to set up a teleconference with officials from the state Public Service Commission – the overseeing body – so that Council members can directly bring up issues they have with Spectrum. Those issues include long delays for customers trying to be waited on in at least one Spectrum facility, as well as the relocation of public access channels to high numbers in the TV lineup, making the channels harder to find.
Wyatt said he experienced firsthand in July the delays at Spectrum's office on Chicago Street. When he arrived, about 12 people were waiting in line. Two customer service representatives were waiting on customers, and one greeter was directing people how to sign in. When Wyatt asked if there was a supervisor available to speak with, he said he was told no. By the time he left 45 minutes later, there were about 20 people waiting. The line was so backed up, he said, that people were in the hallway sitting on the floor waiting to be seen.
“It just seems like it takes forever to get out of there. ... You go there on your lunch hour, you go in there in the evening, it takes you 45 minutes to an hour just to make a bill payment,” Wyatt said during this week's committee meeting.
The cable company also drew the ire of Council members earlier this year when Spectrum moved the city's public, educational and government access programming from channels 19 through 22 to the low 1300s.
“When you move our channels … that’s a slap in the face of the city taxpayers and ratepayers,” said Fontana, who represents the Lovejoy District.
Spectrum officials addressed the customer service issue by bringing in additional staff when they saw an increase in wait times in Buffalo, Andrew Russell, a communications director for Charter Communications, said by email.
"We are always looking to improve the customer experience," Russell said. “The team at Spectrum’s Buffalo store is dedicated to keeping any wait times as short as possible and to providing exceptional customer service."
As for regrouping the public access channels in the 1300s, the same has been done in other Spectrum markets, Russell said.
“Customers tell us they like grouping channels by theme because it makes them easier to find, and it also reflects how people watch TV today,” he said.
But state regulators also were fed up with Spectrum.
In late July, they effectively ordered the owner of Spectrum Cable to find another operator for its New York cable TV, internet and telephone businesses. The state commission has repeatedly said the company has failed to meet its promises to greatly expand services across the state.
Charter Communications was supposed to have submitted a six-month exit plan to the state by Monday. But following “productive talks” to find a solution with Spectrum, the state has given Charter Communications an extension until Oct. 9.
The city has an expired franchise agreement with the cable company that renews perpetually under the same terms as the original contract, Fontana said.
Fontana said he hopes to have the teleconference next week. He said members of the public may sit in, but they will not be able to ask questions. The purpose of the teleconference is for Council members to tell PSC officials the "concerns of the people."