Fayette County

At an angry Lexington forum, redefining what Spectrum cable should be

Back when she was working, Loney Burns signed up for a cable television package.

“I had a reasonable amount that I could pay,” she said.

But when Time Warner Cable was acquired last year and Spectrum came to town, Burns found that the same package “was going to be much, much more.”

“Spectrum has increased my bill twice while I’m still on the package,” she said.

And when she told the company she was getting channels she doesn’t even want, she said she was told “if you want to take them off, we will increase your bill.”

“A lot of seniors cannot do that,” she said. “There are a lot of people who are seniors at home who depend on that television for company.”

Burns was one of many Lexington residents who filled a large room at the new Senior Center near Idle Hour Park Thursday night to vent their frustration with the city’s cable and internet service provider.

They complained of rising prices, spotty service and customer service workers who were unable to help them.

“Welcome, Spectrum, to the lion’s den,” said Mayor Jim Gray, as he introduced company representatives Tuesday night.

After months of back-and-forth between the city and the cable and internet company over concerns about Spectrum and its parent company Charter Communications, the city asked for a first-ever performance evaluation, which is allowed under the city’s 2014 cable franchise agreement.

Spectrum is a subsidiary created last year when Charter Communications of Stamford, Ct., acquired Time Warner Cable, which was then Lexington’s cable provider.

“It’s not a very competitive business, and that’s one of the reasons that we have these challenges with customer service today,” Gray told the crowd. “We have had very, very poor technical service, very poor customer service and price increases with no notice. No one should have to scrub their monthly bills for hidden fees.”

Marva Johnson, vice president for state government affairs for Charter Communications South Region, told those in attendance that the company is doing its best to “earn our customers’ trust and loyalty.”

She said the company is working to improve customer service, including getting rid of offshore call centers.

Geoff Reed, the city’s commissioner of general services, said city officials are “very hopeful that things will improve,” but if they don’t, the urban county council could fine Spectrum or terminate its franchise agreement if the provisions of the agreement have been violated.

“We’re very concerned and we’re exploring these avenues,” he said. “They’re uncharted water, but we do intend to go there.”

The city would first be required to give the company an opportunity to correct the problem, and Spectrum would be entitled to a hearing before the council could take action against the company, said city spokeswoman Susan Straub. The company could appeal any penalties in court.

Johnson and Jason Keller, Spectrum’s senior director of government affairs, said the company is creating a new program, Spectrum Internet Assist, to help provide less expensive internet service to low-income families with children and senior citizens who receive Supplemental Security Income.

“We need to close the digital divide,” Keller said.

He also maintained that Spectrum’s most popular bundles are less expensive than Time Warner’s had been.

“Customers are rolling off of promotional packages that they received under Time Warner Cable,” Keller said.

But Roger Damon, the city employee who has responded to complaints about Spectrum, pointed out that Time Warner customers often were spared paying base prices, because Time Warner would give them a new promotional offer when one ran out.

“I remember when TV was free,” said Bill Waun. “I don’t expect that anymore. I do expect a good bang for our buck.”

Gray said the city is “working on bringing real competition to Lexington.”

He told the crowd that he had just been watching television before the forum when a Spectrum ad came on.

“I had a kitchen knife in my hand and I almost took it to the television,” he said.

People who would like to enter a complaint but could not attend Thursday’s meeting can do so online at https://www.lexingtonky.gov/cable-comments or by emailing commentsoncable@lexingtonky.gov.