CWA: Comcast System Is Detroit Shock City

As many as 40% of the drops serving current and former Comcast Corp. customers in Detroit are ungrounded or could otherwise pose a safety hazard, according to a report commissioned by the Communications Workers of America.

The report indicates that sloppy installations, unsecured lock boxes and such oddities as cable wire strung through windows may create more than 40,000 violations of the National Electric Code and the National Electric Safety Code within the city.

The report by California-based telecommunications inspector Kramer.Firm Inc. estimated it will take 12 to 18 months to correct the electrical violations.

Comcast hasn’t yet reviewed the report and thus could not address specific claims, said Jerome Espy, director of communications for the MSO in Michigan.

Former owner Barden Communications built the system in the 1980s. Comcast is in the midst of an $18 million upgrade that will allow the company to deliver such advanced services as video-on-demand, Espy said.

This is the CWA’s latest attack on Comcast and the state of its physical plant. The union promotes technical audits in markets where the operator is in franchise renegotiations, such as Detroit, to emphasize differences in the quality of work done by subcontractors, compared with union-member field technicians.

Shannon Kirkland, a Comcast employee on leave to serve as organizing coordinator of CWA District 4 in Detroit, said jobs once held by union members there have either been moved to the suburbs or farmed out to contractors.

Kramer.Firm has experience in vetting Comcast plant. The firm inspected the operator’s Modesto, Calif. operation in 2003, and found that 29% of the community’s cable connections — representing more than 22,000 homes — were improperly grounded, posing an electrocution hazard. The city voted to fine Comcast $1 million, and the two sides wound up in court.

Modesto wanted a federal court to declare the system a public nuisance. Comcast’s suit alleged the fine was excessive, levied to extract concessions in a dispute over a municipal institutional network.

Kirkland said the CWA financed the Detroit report when city officials indicated they did not have the funds to include a technical audit as part of its refranchise process. Paula Gentius-Harris, executive director of the city’s cable communications commission, said the city is conducting its own investigation.

The city and Comcast continue to negotiate informally, she said. Detroit has extended Comcast’s current pact through December 2004 so it can conclude the process. Plant conditions have not been a part of the franchise negotiations, which have been proceeding slowly, Gentius-Harris.