Texas City Weighs Penalties

Officials in Arlington, Texas, are weighing whether to pursue as-yet-undetermined additional penalties against AT & T Broadband for service-related complaints.

Cable-related complaints came up during a recent City Council meeting, where it was noted that AT & T Broadband has been slapped with $35,000 in service-related fines in the past year.

It was also noted that the MSO continues to violate the customer-service provisions in its franchise, despite the fact that it completed an upgrade of its 58,000-subscriber system in September.

It was not immediately clear what other penalties the city might pursue.

Under the terms of AT & T Broadband's franchise agreement, the maximum penalty the city can impose is a $200-per-day fine for each business day that it receives more than one cable-related complaint.

The MSO logged 115 service complaints during the first quarter of 2000-51 in January, 35 in February and 29 in March. That was down from 315 for the comparable period a year ago, but still worth some $6,600 in fines.

Councilman Pat Remington called on the city to rethink its existing cable ordinance. "When we see these large fines, I'm concerned that the problem still exists, and that the fines have absolutely no impact," Remington said in an interview with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

AT & T Broadband regional communications director Angel Biassati attributed the majority of last year's service complaints to a $24 million upgrade of the Arlington system.

But she said consumer calls had fallen from 117 in September-the final month of the upgrade-to 29 in March.

"Our service is improving," Biassati said. "You're talking about a minute percentage when compared with the number of subscribers we have in Arlington. But we know service is a priority, and we realize we still have work to do."

City manager Chuck Keifer said the city was doing "what we can" under its franchise agreement with AT & T Broadband, and any new penalties would have to be agreed upon by both sides.

"Frankly, I think this is getting more press than it deserves," Keifer said. "We routinely fine AT & T and its predecessor, TCI [Tele-Communications Inc.]." He added that any further action against the company would probably have to wait until after next month's city elections.

"There are a lot of things going on right now and, frankly, cable-service complaints are not a priority right now," Keifer said. "But I'm sure the issue will come up."

AT & T Broadband's service is only the latest problem to surface in Arlington. Last year, the company shelled out $928,000 to settle four years' worth of rate disputes involving basic-cable costs and equipment and installation charges.