The timing of the proposed Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger and negotiations about cable-franchise renewal could play to the advantage of Lexington's Urban County Government.
Any complaints about service or problems with compliance can be addressed as Comcast prepares to take over Time Warner, which took over Lexington's cable TV franchise when it bought Insight in 2012.
"It's almost a golden opportunity for us, particularly since there is a new kid in town, to see where we want to go and what we can do to be sure that our citizens are getting the best bang for their bucks," Vice Mayor Linda Gorton said during a cable franchise workshop Thursday.
Comcast and Time Warner formally announced Thursday that they will seek approval from federal regulators for a $45 billion merger.
At some point, the city will get notice from Time Warner about "transfer of control" to Comcast. The Urban County Government then has 120 days to approve or deny the transfer. If no action is taken within 120 days, the transfer is deemed approved, said Linda Ain, a lawyer who will assist in negotiations for a new cable franchise.
"I think the transfer will be a very good time for the Urban County Council to resolve many of the compliance issues with regard to customer service," Ain said.
Between June and December 2013, the Urban County Government received more than 300 complaints by phone, email and in town hall meetings about Time Warner's service, according to a summary distributed at the workshop.
The biggest single category of complaints was about price and the volatility of monthly rates. Other complaints were that the cable TV service "repeatedly fails, resets or freezes"; that there was an extended wait time and/or "unhelpful responses" in customer service; and that email and Internet "had declined in service" and showed "significantly slower service."
In regard to price increases from month to month, Time Warner spokesman Mike Pedelty of Cincinnati said "we work really hard with customers" to put them into programming packages with which they are comfortable, and to make sure they know when certain promotions expire.
"On all of our bills, we put what that date is," Pedelty said Thursday.
As for complaints about cable TV service, Pedelty said Time Warner has "made a significant investment in the network" since taking ownership from Insight.
"What we're hearing from customers is that the reliability is better and continues to get better ... ," he said.
In response to extended wait times, Pedelty said, "We staff so that we can handle our calls as quickly as possible and as complete as possible."
As for Internet service, Pedelty said, "If anybody is having an issue with our products or services, we really want to hear from those customers. We have taken steps to make sure that the congestion in the network is improved greatly."
Nevertheless, council member Kevin Stinnett said there needs to be a local ombudsman to field customer complaints, and there should be more than one cable office in Lexington.
Lexington's franchise contract actually expired in September, but under state law Time Warner must continue to live up to the terms and conditions of the franchise, Ain said.
However, under federal law, the Urban County Government cannot consider cable rates, Internet service or phone service when making its decision on renewal of the franchise, Ain said.