AT&T Tries Amnesty in the Midwest

AT&T Broadband recently tested a partial amnesty program in Iowa and Western Illinois for consumers whose service was disconnected for nonpayment.

The one-time offer allowed cash-strapped subscribers to settle their account and reconnect cable service by paying half of any outstanding balance by Feb. 5.

Industry observers called the offer a good way to lure back subscribers in a region where residents' budgets have been crunched by soaring heating bills.

"It's been a tough winter," said Tom Graves, executive director of the Iowa Cable Telecommunications Association, who added that cable service is still cheaper than other entertainment options.

"But people have seen big increases in their heating bills," he noted. "And if it's a choice between cable and heating your home, cable is coming off. So anything is a good idea if it brings back a customer."

AT&T Broadband is the dominant MSO in the region, with more than 500,000 subscribers inherited from Tele-Communications Inc.

The MSO's regional marketing team dreamed up the test to gauge whether or not subscribers would respond to an offer to settle for 50 percent of a delinquent account "instead of immediately turning the account over to a collection agency," said AT&T Broadband regional communications director Deb Blume.

Blume declined to say how many delinquent accounts were settled by the offer. She said any past-due accounts not settled by Feb. 5 were to be turned over for collection.

Typically, cable service is terminated when an account is 45 days overdue. When it is 60 days in arrears, the account is handed off to a collection agency.

The one-time plan was not a response to the fact that higher heating costs have hit subscribers hard, said Blume.

"We're always willing to work with subscribers in all areas of customer service and that includes when we're owed money," she said.

Blume said it was too early to determine whether the amnesty program will be revived.