Cable company sparks commissioner’s wrath |

Cable company sparks commissioner’s wrath

by Christy Chalmers

AT&T Cable Services representatives joked they were coming “in peace” to tell the Douglas County Commission about the company’s $50 million upgrade plan for Northern Nevada.

But they almost started a war by deflecting a request from Commissioner Bernie Curtis to credit Douglas County subscribers for the day of service many missed when dove hunters allegedly destroyed 2,000 feet of a fiberoptic line Wednesday.

The Thursday afternoon meeting was another of several confrontations between cable executives, who say improving the local system will take time, and commissioners, who are tired of fielding phone calls from constituents irate over constant interruptions, poor reception and spotty customer service.

Cheryl Chernisky, project manager for AT&T Services, and Marsha Berkbigler, director of governor affairs, had come to tell the commissioners how the company will communicate with local residents while it upgrades the system with faster, “two-way” lines that will allow high-speed Internet connections, in addition to improving cable service.

But Curtis wanted to know how the company will assauge customers who lost service for several hours Wednesday due to the alleged dove-hunting incident. The situation was compounded by an unrelated problem that caused AT&T’s service center phones to malfunction, meaning subscribers couldn’t get through to customer service officials.

“It was one of those freaks that happens occasionally, and there was not much we could do about it,” said Berkbigler, adding the company will offer refunds to those who ask.

Curtis said AT&T should give a day’s credit to everyone, and was frustrated when Berkbigler wouldn’t promise it.

“That’s what earns you the poor reputation you’ve got in this county,” said Curtis, who said he got 60 calls from angry cable subscribers. “I know you said you’re looking into it, and that’s politically the right thing to say, but that’s not exactly the answer that I had in mind.”

“You have no idea how far it would go, if you just followed up on what Commissioner Curtis is requesting, for your public relations,” added Commissioner Steve Weissinger.

The commissioners also did not appear thrilled to hear cable customers will have to tolerate periodic outages while the system improvements are made. Chernisky said the company will post fliers and call residents to advise them of construction projects, but “some customer impacts” are likely to occur.

“It’s not a project where we can just push a button and say, ‘OK, you have your high-speed Internet access,'” said Chernisky. “It’s going to take several months to complete.”

Commissioner Kelly Kite said he’s encouraged by the efforts, but he and the other board members reminded the AT&T representatives that the company’s franchise agreement will soon be considered, and additional miscues could affect a renewal decision.

AT&T took over TCI Cable when the companies merged in March. TCI held the franchise agreement, which allowed the company to use county easements and other public conduits for its wires in exchange for a fee.

Earnest work on renewing the agreement has not started, but commissioners have alluded they will consider allowing competition for the agreement if cable service does not improve.

Subscribers who want credit for the service lost Wednesday can call AT&T Cable Services at 882-2136. Use the Carson City option if a Minden-Gardnerville choice is not offered.