Comcast’s county customers generally happy with service

But surveys find gripes about rates, call center

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Comcast’s customers in Clark County seem generally content with the company’s service, but many are unhappy how the company communicates about rate changes, according to surveys released Monday as part of the city’s franchise renewal process. That’s if they can get through to Comcast in a timely fashion: the new surveys point to the possibility that the waiting time in getting a call answered could exceed federal standards.

Those results from two surveys commissioned by the City/County Cable Commission will help the citizen commission craft the new franchise agreement with Comcast. The current deal expires at the end of 2012, but the commission hopes to wrap up a new agreement, likely covering 10 years, by the end of this year. While the franchise agreement doesn’t give Comcast exclusive rights to provide cable service in Vancouver and unincorporated Clark County, the company faces no cable competitors.

“We are very pleased that it seems like 85 percent of customers are satisfied, or very satisfied, with the cable system,” said Jim Demmon, the commission’s cable television manager.

One huge caveat: Because local governments have no control over prices set by cable providers, the surveys did not address Comcast’s service fees. That didn’t prevent respondents from complaining about the cost of cable service and other issues about Comcast’s packaging of services that are outside the commission’s regulatory authority, Demmon said. Respondents to a telephone survey reported an average monthly cable television bill of $134.90, a total that may include telephone and Internet service for many customers.

Phone, website input

That survey was based on phone interviews with 400 randomly selected Comcast cable subscribers and 400 nonsubscribers in the franchise area, which covers Vancouver and unincorporated Clark County. A separate unscientific online survey on the commission’s website attracted some 750 responses from self-selected subscribers and nonsubscribers. The cable office also conducted a focus group discussion of Comcast service.

The survey work was conducted by CBG Communications Inc. and Constance Ledoux Book, of the Telecommunications Research Corp. Among the highlights:

• Although 85 percent of phone survey respondents said they were satisfied or very satisfied with Comcast service, only 51 of those who filed online expressed those levels of satisfaction.

• 41 percent of subscribers who called Comcast indicated that their call had not been answered by a live person within 30 seconds, exceeding the Federal Communications Commission standard that 90 percent of calls should be answered within 30 seconds. Demmon said Comcast’s own reports indicated that it met the 90 percent standards all four quarters of last year, and he speculated that people may not have a clear memory of how long they waited for a response.

• In addition, 6 percent of telephone survey subscriber respondents indicated that they received a busy signal when calling the company. The FCC says that number should not exceed 3 percent. Consultants noted that many of those problems were during power outages.

• 12 percent of telephone survey respondents and 21 percent of online survey respondents indicated being dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with how their requests or questions were handled by Comcast. Focus group members also expressed unhappiness with Comcast’s responsiveness, the consultants noted.

• 34 percent of subscriber telephone survey respondents indicated dissatisfaction with communications related to rate changes. Almost one-third of calls to Comcast from telephone survey respondents, and nearly one-half from online respondents, were related to a billing question.

• On technical issues, 39 percent of telephone survey respondents experienced on average three outages in the past two years and 15 percent reported other significant problems with picture clarity or reception. Almost one-quarter were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the time it took Comcast to restore service.

“This is an issue that should be explored during franchise renewal discussions,” consultants said in their report.

• On programming issues, 75 percent of subscribers and 60 percent of nonsubscribers were aware of public, educational and government channels.

Three percent of subscribers said they watch Clark/Vancouver Television channels more than five hours a week, a percentage that Demmon says matches the viewership of many popular cable broadcasts. Respondents expressed strong interest in more local sports, community, arts and cultural programming.

The report now heads to the City/County Cable Commission for a meeting and public hearing at 7 p.m. Wednesday in Vancouver City Hall, 210 E. 13th St.