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Commission maintains TCI hasn’t delivered

by Sheila Gardner

Douglas County residents made it obvious Thursday they may not be part of the “I want my MTV” generation, but they want everything else TCI has promised and failed to deliver.

With a blistering cross-examination style that would befit Kenneth Starr, County Commissioner Don Miner demanded from TCI General Manager Carol Eure that she fulfill the promises the cable company made to the board four years ago.

“You don’t want to get me started,” Miner said. “Bring to us what we talked about four years ago. TCI talked a good story, but failed to deliver.”

Armed with a sheaf of written complaints and hours of testimony from unhappy customers, Commissioners voted unanimously to begin formal hearings into whether to renew TCI’s lucrative cable television franchise.

The process will take up to three years, and if Thursday’s testimony is any indication, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Commissioner Bernie Curtis said Friday he hoped to cut the cable company’s franchise with the county down to two years.

n Bring on the competition. “And I would love to solicit another cable company to come in for the franchise. Competition will only improve the service,” he said.

“They (TCI) think because they’re the only game in town, they don’t have to do anything,” he said. “Well, now they do.”

Curtis also said the board would lobby for a TCI office in Carson Valley where people could bring their concerns as well as pay their bills.

“There’s got to be a place local people can go so they just can’t ignore you,” Curtis said.

In earlier public hearings, the cable company warned that the formal hearing process could cost up to $2 million.

“That’s ridiculous,” Curtis said. “It costs nothing for the county to hold public hearings. If we need attorneys, we have them on staff. They are just trying to scare us.”

TCI customers on Thursday weren’t afraid to tell commissioners what they thought about the service.

“As a citizen of Douglas County, I find it disturbing that I have to come here to make a complaint,” said Fish Springs resident Ron King. “This has been an ongoing problem for two years.”

King said many times when he called TCI’s Carson office, he was put on indefinite hold and eventually disconnected.

“My bills come the last day of the month and don’t miss a beat,” he added.

Genoa resident Patricia Cole said she’s had continuing problems with the service.

Referring to the January 1997 flood, she said, “I understand there was no TV during the flood because of the damage, but we didn’t have service before the flood.”

Her neighbor, Sue Wilson, echoed the same concerns, and said she was insulted by company representatives who tried to blame the service problems on the location of her house in Genoa.

“I literally went to war with TCI,” Wilson said. “In the rural areas, we have old equipment and they don’t want to fix it. They won’t authorize the expenditures. I have never despised a business like I despise TCI Cable. They lied to us.”

Minden Town Board member Ross Chichester urged commissioners to adopt sanctions if TCI can’t improve service.

“Our town board believes you could set up a board to review committee complaints or set up a shorter franchise agreement.

“There ought to be some sanctions,” he said. “You could pull the franchise or charge TCI additional funds. There are a lot of unhappy people out there.”

n Taking complaints. TCI General Manager Carol Eure distributed complaint cards and handed out her telephone number to commissioners.

“We are working with customers from the other meeting in resolving issues. I know there will be a number of complaints,” she said.

Eure blamed part of the problem on the company’s equipment on Slide Mountain.

“The bottom line is that with 140 mph winds on Slide, it’s going to shake the dish and at that time, take the channel off the air. Our solution is fiber connection.”

Eure said she will work with the call center to improve the response time to complaints.

“I welcome them,” she said of the handful of letters presented to her by the board. “It’s the only way to know what the problems are up front.”

Eure said she also has proposed that the cable company reopen the Gardnerville site – abandoned because of flood damage – as a technology training center.

“We’ve been working on it for six to eight months,” she said.

The board also pushed for a television studio to go along with the Channel 26 public access station.

Eure said the studio was predicated on available funding.

“That doesn’t float,” Commissioner Miner said.

Gardnerville resident Tom Sagers urged the county to get more involved in the complaint process.

“If you let the customers’ complaints drop into a black hole, TCI will be in this Valley forever,” Sagers said.

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