By: Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times
What was meant to be a public hearing on Suddenlink’s cable television franchise in the city of Grayson turned into an airing of grievances that encompassed not only the company’s cable service, but their internet and customer service as well.
Grayson City Council held the public hearing last Tuesday, before their regular monthly council meeting. The purpose of the meeting was to solicit feedback from the public before deciding on whether or not to renew the company’s franchise agreement with the city. Those who showed up for the hearing were not shy about sharing their feedback.
Several individuals complained specifically about the loss of KET/PBS access through the paid service. One individual said that after repeated attempts to get someone from Suddenlink to answer her questions about the loss of PBS access, with no success, she reached out to KET directly. When she reached someone at KET she was told there was no outage on their end. The KET representative she reached also offered to reach out to Suddenlink on her behalf, but after repeated attempts and “hours” spent attempting to reach someone with no response the KET representative was also forced to abandon the attempts.
It wasn’t just getting someone on the phone that was a problem for Suddenlink customers. They said they also had problems with physical locations being open as advertised and with returning equipment that no longer worked or after canceling their service. A representative for Suddenlink attending the meeting said that “everything” was currently closed to the public, due to concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic. But those who were at the meeting said the Suddenlink websites still showed the Cattletsburg location was open. Some individuals who were able to get a representative on the phone, however, said they were told the closest physical office still serving customers was in West Virginia.
Those who wanted to cancel their service with the company complained that the closure of the Cattletsburg office made it difficult to return cable boxes, resulting in the customers being charged for the hardware. When they complained they couldn’t return the hardware because of the closure of local offices they were told to print a label to return the items in the mail, but many explained they did not have access to computers or printers to do so. The Suddenlink representative said if the customers did not have a computer with internet access or a printer they could request a printed label be sent to them. Larry Doucet, however, said that was not the case. He said he attempted to get a return label sent to him in the mail and was told his only option was to print a label himself.
Another individual complained that she had been experiencing an outage for three months, and despite continuing to pay her bill was not able to get Suddenlink to come address the situation. Another said when Suddenlink did send service personnel, they showed up at the wrong address. She said she saw a Suddenlink employee on the pole outside her home and went to investigate. She asked what he was doing and he said he had received an order to shut off her cable. When she told him she was paid up and had not requested a disconnection, he argued that he had the work order and was shutting her service off. It turned out the work order was for a different address and the obstinate employee hadn’t bothered to confirm the address or to knock on the door before beginning work.
Another customer said when she called she had trouble canceling her service as well as with returning her equipment, as Doucet and others had complained. When she was able to get someone to cancel her service they offered her another month for free if she would reconsider. After accepting the offer for the free month, however, she said the company sent her a bill for another month of service.
“I don’t trust them,” she finished.
Still another customer said she couldn’t get the same channels on the television in her bedroom that she got on the television in her living room. When she finally got a technician to come out and look at how her cable had been set up he told her he didn’t know what was causing the issue and he wasn’t able to fix it.
Others complained about the outdated technology the company used and the problems it caused.
Council member Pam Nash, for instance, said her television and internet service both had issues with slow speeds and buffering, especially in the evening. While trying to watch television, she said, the service would freeze for up to a minute or more before the program would proceed.
“They’re making money hand over fist and won’t even put in new lines,” one customer complained.
Doucet said when he inquired about new lines he was told there were currently only 400 customers in the Grayson market. Because of that, he was told, there was no incentive to update their infrastructure. But, he said, that number was for cable customers only, and didn’t include internet customers. Neither Doucet nor the representative could provide the numbers for internet customers. The representative, however, said the company was currently utilizing a hybrid fiber optic and copper coaxial system to deliver cable and internet access.
While the hearing was about Suddenlink’s cable franchise, that didn’t stop customers from also complaining about their internet service through Suddenlink. In addition to Nash, EMS co-director Joanne Dunfee also complained about her internet access. She said they could not get anyone to respond to requests for service one mile outside of the city. Dunfee said when she called to complain she was told there was no outage, however everyone living in her subdivision would also be experiencing an internet outage. Dunfee said it was more than an inconvenience. She said it could be a life or death situation if she was unable to be made aware of an emergency or to send emergency alerts due to an internet outage.
“You’re putting 20,000 people at risk if I can’t send out an alert,” Dunfee told the Suddenlink representative, explaining that the city and county depended on those text and email alerts to be informed about tornadoes, floods, or other natural disasters.
“Emergency management is too important to go without access,” she added.
Like others, Dunfee also complained about issues related to billing. For instance, she noted, she once received a fee on her bill for late payment even though she paid her bill in a timely manner. The reason for the late fee, she said, was because the company had changed their billing address, but they hadn’t sent the new address along with their bills.
Not everyone had complaints though. Deirdre Shufflebarger, with WUGO/WGOH radio and channel 14 television, said she has never had any problems with the service, either personally or professionally. She said she has also always been able to contact someone when she needed to speak to a customer service representative.
“We’ve been lucky (with Suddenlink),” she said.
After the hearing council held their regular meeting (see Ethics and Annexation in this issue) but chose to take no action on the Suddenlink franchise at this time. Council told Mayor George Steele that before coming to a decision they would like to review the information from competing cable service provider Foothills Communications.
The Suddenlink representative reminded council that it didn’t have to be an either/or decision, and that council could choose to allow both companies to offer services in the city.
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