JACKSON HOLE, WYO – The town council got its pound of flesh out of Spectrum Tuesday afternoon during a workshop that included as its first order a business: kvetching about cable and internet service in town.
Mary Roehr, director of government affairs was the company’s sacrificial lamb. She made the drive from Helena, Montana and, in fact, pointed this out to the council as proof her company was taking seriously the franchise agreement with the town of Jackson as something of value.
Called to the mat by councilman Jim Stanford, give Charter Spectrum credit, they did show up.
Roehr first explained to town leaders the rationale behind the name iterations. Charter is the parent company of Spectrum, which is the new name of the legal entity known as Bresnan. Simple, right?
Roehr thanked the council for the invitation to appear, and apologized to them and all Spectrum customers in Jackson for the “interruption of service caused by Northwest Broadcasting’s decision to pull their programming from the Spectrum lineup,” Roehr said.
“This has caused frustration and certainly disappointment. I acknowledge that and understand that,” she added.
Roehr could not resist the opportunity to sling a little mud at Northwest, blaming the authorized “owner” of the NBC channel for the reason KPVI has been blocked out from the cable company’s TV guide for going on three weeks now.
“I do not wish to put you on the spot as acting judge and jury …but I feel compelled to briefly describe the situation,” Roehr said. She then disclosed how Northwest has a history of “removing its authorization” from cable providers as a negotiating tactic. “They went dark with Dish and DirecTV in recent years over similar [rate hikes],” she said.
Olive branch shrivels
The invitation to Spectrum to join the town workshop was extended as a means to convey to the cable provider they were being put on notice for holding Jackson-based customers hostage in their contractual dispute with Northwest and for a continuing track record of “shoddy service,” as Stanford put it. An NBC blackout for the Super Bowl is one thing, but with three local Olympic athletes representing the USA at the Winter Games, it is a travesty to not be able to watch them, Stanford declared.
The only recourse town officials have with Spectrum is a threat to review a franchise agreement with the company that allows it use of public right-of-way to stage infrastructure in exchange for the town’s assurance of reasonable expectations of service. The agreement apparently covers certain things like percentage of time cable is “up” and working and a reliable number to call when it isn’t.
The council opted to take a closer look at this agreement with legal counsel in Washington, DC; not only for the services it uses as a municipality but on behalf of its citizens—many of whom have grown frustrated with their local cable options.
After consulting with Sen. Mike Enzi and speaking with representatives from the town of Yuma, Arizona (where Charter was sued by the town and subscribers withheld payment of their cable bills), town manager Bob McLaurin said his legal staff was still trying to determine if their has been a breach of service and what the town of Jackson could do about it.
Councilman Don Frank asked Roehr if her company intended to make its customers whole given the NBC outage and frequent Internet interruptions. “Can we agree that a service you were obliged to provide was not delivered?” he asked while adding that he, as a customer himself, would be inquiring as to a refund of some kind.
Roehr said she didn’t have that answer at her disposal and was likely not authorized to answer to such remedies, anyway.
At the workshop, Stanford was more interested in using leverage by dissecting the franchise agreement. In the agreement, Spectrum promises to provide advanced notice, if it can, should service be interrupted. Spectrum did not and said it could not warn the public they were about to lose their Super Bowl and Resi racing in Korea.
Stanford wasn’t buying that, pointing out a claim made by Northwest CEO/president Brian Brady that Spectrum knew things were coming to a head as early as January 18 when it purchased the domain name “northwestfairdeal,” presumably in advance of launching its own PR campaign when NBC went dark.
“You obviously had time to launch a website blaming the other guy,” Stanford contended.
Spectrum was also called out by Stanford for advising its customers tune in NBC by means of antennae or Internet—neither of which is possible for TV viewers in Jackson. Mountainous terrain makes the former impossible and to view NBC via the online app one must provide proof of carrier: Spectrum. When doing so, users were told they were not subscribed to NBC and denied.
“In retrospect we could have delivered better information on that score,” Roehr admitted. “As far as other means by NBC Sports.com, don’t know what the problem is there. As far as antenna’s—no, they don’t work. We should have been more careful with the messaging there.”
Frank Fanning led the citizen charge to the podium during public comment not missing the opportunity to get a live actual person to complain to. Spectrum closed its local office years ago and tech support phone numbers have apparently been less than useful.
“I call upon you folks to defend us against this intolerable arrogance,” Fanning said, addressing the town council.
Town manager McLaurin threw up his hands and admitted, “We are the victims in the middle of a dispute.”
In closing the discussion, Stanford praised boots on the ground employees as professional, helpful, and skilled but admitted he couldn’t say the same for the company’s executives.
“You have used citizens of this town as pawns in this struggle. To have three Olympians participating, and have most people not being able to watch them is a travesty.”