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Cable Service Complaints Jump 246% in 1st Quarter

Media: L.A. city regulators say Adelphia drew 63% of the gripes, tied to its digital roll-out.


Complaints about cable service in the city of Los Angeles rose an alarming 246% in the first quarter of 2001 over the same period a year earlier, according to figures released Thursday by the Information Technology Agency, which regulates telecommunications services.

Adelphia Communications Corp., the largest cable operator in Southern California with 1.2 million customers, accounted for 63% of the 1,817 complaints in the first quarter. In the corresponding period in 2000, Adelphia accounted for only 24% of all complaints.

City regulators attributed the increase to Adelphia's roll-out of digital services in three of its four city franchise areas. As a result of the roll-out, about 140,000 Adelphia customers in West Los Angeles, Sherman Oaks and the Hollywood hills east to Eagle Rock lost a handful of channels, including HBO, Showtime, the Movie Channel and ESPN Classic. To continue receiving those channels, subscribers must now buy a digital package of channels that costs many of them more money.

The bulk of the complaints against Adelphia involved customers' inability to get through on the company's customer service lines to order the digital service. Customers also complained about Adelphia's monopoly over cable service and the shuffling of their channel lineups.

"We are looking further into what happened at their call center," said Paul Janis, assistant general manager of the Information Technology Agency.

Adelphia says that in response to a call volume in the last month greater than any in the company's history, it is expanding the capacity of its call center. A new switch should be installed by the end of the month that will enable Adelphia to handle as many as 170 calls at a time, up from 115 today.

"The combination of our finishing the digital program in March and the bigger switch is going to have a dramatic impact on customer satisfaction levels," said Lee Perron, Adelphia's vice president of corporate affairs for Southern California.

Though Adelphia had notified customers in advance of the changes, city regulators said the letter sent to subscribers was vague and difficult to understand. The letter has been the subject of discussion at four previous commission meetings.

City regulators said Adelphia complaints have subsided over the last two weeks as the company has entered the last phase of its transition to digital. Phase one, which involved Showtime and other channels, occurred in October, and Phase two, which shifted HBO from analog to digital, was completed at the end of March. The company is shifting the Sundance Channel to digital-only service in June.

The first-quarter rise in Adelphia complaints reverses a year of improvement for the company. Adelphia's complaint rate dropped by an average 25% in 2000 from 1999, according to year-end figures also released Thursday by the agency. Last year was Adelphia's first full year of operating in the city after its acquisition of Century Communications Corp. in late 1999.

Adelphia's rate of complaints per thousand customers in 2000 was the lowest of any cable operator in the city.

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