Spectrum technicians setting up and fixing people’s internet, cable and phone connections are still going into people’s homes for routine matters, even as the COVID-19 pandemic intensifies, said one Spectrum worker in Maine who is concerned about spreading the illness to customers or contracting it himself.
Telecommunications workers, who serve institutions such as hospitals and government facilities, are deemed essential by the government. But they aren’t always providing essential services during the COVID-19 outbreak, said the Maine technician, who asked to remain anonymous to protect his job.
As more people work from home and demand for connectivity spikes, Spectrum has sent workers into homes to switch customers from a competitor to its services, he said. It has also sent workers into homes to install additional cable boxes for customers who already have several.
“We service a lot of elderly customers. If you’re one of those people who are asymptomatic and going in 10 homes a day, that could just be really, really bad,” the worker said on Wednesday.
The company has “stopped professional installations” and is asking customers to install equipment themselves “to reduce the need and time for technicians in the customer home,” said Lara Pritchard, a spokesperson for Charter Communications, which has 29 million customers and offers services under the branding of Spectrum.
However, “[w]e will continue to support customers with a technician if they cannot successfully self-install their services using the information provided, online tools or phone support,” she said.
“We provide a critical source of communication, especially during unprecedented times, when there is such a timely need for important information and updates.”
In the technician’s experience, many people are not able to complete installations or fixes on their own. Most of the time, “we have to go inside because the customer has it on the wrong TV input, or they unprogrammed the remote. We have to go in there to reprogram it,” he said.
He recently tried to walk a customer through hooking up a service, but she couldn’t figure it out, he said, so he went inside.
“She was very nervous, and of course I was, too,” he said.
He agreed that technicians should be going into homes for emergencies, such as if someone’s only phone isn’t working.
“But if a customer has three TVs hooked up, and one of them’s not working, or they want to move a modem from one room to another,” he said, “that’s not really essential.”
The company has drawn national attention, such as from BuzzFeed News, for giving workers a $25 gift card to a restaurant of their choice for working during the COVID-19 pandemic but not providing them with gloves or hand sanitizer when they make house calls.
Now, the company has distributed hand sanitizer and Clorox wipes to technicians, Pritchard said.
Until receiving those supplies, the Maine worker said he used his own disposable gloves, but some technicians didn’t have them. Workers in other states told Buzzfeed they had only received a small number of gloves and were relying on handmade masks and sanitizer purchased by family members.
At least one worker has become sick. In Charlotte, North Carolina, a family with twin baby boys learned they had been exposed to a Spectrum worker who tested positive for COVID-19, according to a March 31 TV report.
As more people work and attend school from home, the company’s customer service and sales center call volume has “increased significantly,” according to a company email sent to workers.
When customers request a service call, the company will ask whether they are sick or under quarantine due to potential exposure, Pritchard said. “If they are, we will do everything we can to resolve their issue outside their home,” she said.
Similarly, if a technician goes to a home and sees that a customer is exhibiting cold or flu-like symptoms, or learns that a customer is under quarantine, “we will do everything possible outside the location to resolve the service issue, without entering the home,” she said.
In addition, technicians are being encouraged to take their temperatures before going to work.
Watch: Symptoms of the coronavirus disease