Bangor councilors vent over Time Warner

Posted Jan. 29, 2009, at 9:24 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — City councilors this week invited a representative from Time Warner, Bangor’s lone cable TV service provider, to help explain and perhaps remedy the ongoing problem of poor reception quality on the government access channel.

The resulting discussion partially addressed the government access channel woes but turned into a broader conversation about Time Warner’s service in general, its ever-increasing rate structure and its apparent lack of customer-service acumen.

Melinda Poore, vice president of governmental operations and public relations for Time Warner, answered each concern cordially, even as councilors vented frustration.

“If and when concerns come in, they should be funneled directly to us,” Poore told councilors. “We don’t always know when problems exist.”

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Councilors thanked Poore just as a politely after the meeting, but they sent her away with a stern recommendation.

“I cannot agree and I cannot accept that Time Warner is incapable of solving these problems,” Government Operations Committee Chairman Hal Wheeler said. “I urge you to urge your company to remedy this. You have some problems, but you can fix them, and it sounds like you want to.”

Time Warner, which controls 85 percent of the cable TV market in Maine, has been dealing with frustrated customers statewide recently over a 5.5 percent rate increase on most of the packages it offers. Unfortunately for consumers, cable companies do not have oversight and do not have to go through any state or federal agency to approve a rate hike.

“We can sit here and beat up on Time Warner, but do we have options?” asked Councilor Richard Stone.

The answer, as far as cable is concerned, is no, but Poore downplayed any suggestion that Time Warner has a monopoly in Greater Bangor.

“People have a lot of other options with DirecTV and other satellite providers,” she said.

“And they are using them,” Councilor Pat Blanchette said, jumping in.

In theory, any cable company could come into Bangor and provide competitive service. In reality, though, it’s not likely to happen because of the infrastructure costs associated. Satellite TV providers have a much lower startup threshold and have seen a much bigger boost.

Poore pointed out, though, that satellite carriers do not offer local channels for free and cannot offer government access channels either. The local government access channel in Bangor broadcasts public meetings and often serves as a conduit between city residents and their elected leaders.

Another issue associated with costs are the types of packages Time Warner offers. On its Web site and in other promotional material, the cable company lists its base package at about $58.

However, it does not advertise a much more basic package that includes network stations and a few other channels that runs $10-$15. It doesn’t advertise that package because it’s not available in every community, only those that have negotiated for that option.

Bangor does have the basic option, but Blanchette and other councilors wondered why Time Warner doesn’t have something in between.

Poore answered that Time Warner has little control over which channels can be packaged together because the company gets its cue from the stations.

“They wouldn’t let us do an a la carte system,” she said, referring to allowing customers to pick and choose with channels they want. “But, even if they did, it would be much more expensive.”

Ultimately, Bangor councilors recognized that they have little muscle in their relationship with Time Warner, but at a minimum, they wanted to see the government access channel problems addressed.

“How you bundle your service and your prices is up to you,” Councilor David Nealley said. “But the reception quality on our local access channel is a problem.”

Poore said she would work quickly to figure out a solution. She also added that Time Warner is still in the process of bringing all its infrastructure up to the same standard since it acquired Adelphia a few years ago.

“We want to be a good partner,” she said.

erussell@bangordailynews.net

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