News Column

Irate telecom customers zap Comcast at DeSoto franchise hearing

June 11, 2014

By Henry Bailey, The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tenn.

June 11--DeSoto County Supervisor Harvey Lee of Hernando could only describe them as Comcast "horror stories."

From John Blackwell of the county seat came this tale of telecom woe: "From April to July last year, I had 64 phone service interruptions. Since June 15 last year, I've had interruptions every day right up to this morning."

Blackwell added, "Folks, for the health and welfare of our citizens, our telephone service needs to be regulated."

Even a fellow supervisor, Mark Gardner of Southaven, had his own sad Comcast saga: Calling the provider of cable TV, Internet and phone links ''as a John Q. Public citizen to see what kind of response I'd get," he was told it would be nine days for a service call to address sketchy service. Ordering a pay-per-view Ole Miss game for $30, not only did the telecast fail to come in, the charge showed up on his bill and it took "five hours of calls" to delete it.

At a special hearing of the board this week at the County Courthouse in Hernando, Comcast customers sent clear signals of ire with claims of spotty and shoddy service, rude technicians and miscommunication with overseas call centers. Comcast representatives said they get the message and will react.

"Believe me, we're listening," Otha Brandon, Memphis-based area director of governmental relations for Comcast, said after hearing the vocal majority of more than a dozen residents in the Circuit courtroom. "It's not falling on deaf ears."

At stake is renewal of a franchise agreement with DeSoto County government that allows easements and right of way access to the telecommunications provider. The deal, made in 1993, expired in 2013 but operations continue under an indefinite extension.

"This seemed an opportune time to hear from the public" as the county considers formal renewal, said Gardner.

Supervisor Lee Caldwell of Nesbit, president of the five-member county governing board, said she expected a recap of the hearing's findings at Monday's meeting.

The findings send a lot of static Comcast's way. No customer spoke in favor of the company, which didn't surprise Gardner.

"I just want to say, 'Guys, wake up -- realize that we have issues,'" he told Brandon and three other Comcast officials. "There's 650 miles of county roads that this board is responsible for, and I get more calls about Comcast than I get about potholes."

With Brandon were John Gauder, Comcast vice president for the west area of the Mid-South; Mike Hooker, area director of technical operations; and construction supervisor Bruce Harris.

They also heard from Brian Howorth of Nesbit, who said a problem with receiving Channel 5 "took months to solve" and he hit brick wall at a foreign call center.

"Either they can't understand my Southern redneck talk, or I can't understand them," said Howorth.

"Ridiculous service," summed up Donna Slack of Olive Branch. Said her next-door neighbor, Lula Gaddy, "If there was anyone else, any other option, that's what I'd be with."

Lee read a letter from a constituent who said that during April-May, his Comcast bundle was down 16 days and he got a credit of only $15 on a $155 monthly statement. Lee added that in the Buena Vista area, a constituent had to deal with a down cable wire across his yard for two weeks. Supervisor Jessie Medlin of Olive Branch told of customers waiting and waiting in line for a simple cable box.

Supervisor Bill Russell of Walls noted he's never gotten a call about Comcast costs.

"Money is not the issue, service is the issue," said Russell. "You've got to push it up the line," he advised the Comcast foursome.

"We think we're delivering good service, but we know we can do better," said Brandon.


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Source: Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN)

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