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CABLE TV PLAN AIMS TO HELP CONSUMERS

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A proposed new cable television ordinance is geared toward ensuring residents receive better customer service and improved technical quality from the cable company serving Provo, according to the city attorney.

"After the public hearings it was obvious what the problems were," Gary Gregerson said in a Deseret News interview. The revised ordinance avoids issues cities are prohibited from regulating - namely, price and content - but ensures residents will "get what they pay for and that service problems are addressed in a reasonable amount of time," he said.Gregerson presented the revised ordinance to the City Council during its study meeting Tuesday.

"One of the big problems this ordinance will deal with is loss of service and technical difficulties in service, and how people will be dealing with the cable company," he said.

The revised ordinance requires customer service offices to be open at least 40 hours per week, including at least two evenings per week or Saturdays. It also requires that the customer service staff be able to address a wide range of questions and requests. And it establishes staffing requirements based on the number of calls received by the office per hour or the size of its customer base.

"One thing this will allow is for both the service operators and customers alike to know what they are entitled to, to give them a broader line or definition of their rights as far as the service is concerned," Gregerson said.

"Also, this ordinance complies with state and federal regulations, which point out that the city can choose not to renew a franchise contract on the basis of quality of service."

The ordinance establishes time restraints for responding to requests for service or repairs, and outlines refund policies the companies must adhere to for interrupted, substandard or unsolicited service.

"Some people complained to us during public hearings and asked about how they would be reimbursed for part of their monthly service if that service was significantly interrupted," said Council member Stan Brown. "I think that's a legitimate concern."

But Brown said he thought the ordinance allowed the companies too much leeway for interrupted service - 180 consecutive minutes on three or more occasions in any 90-day service period - before requiring them to give refunds.

The revised ordinance does not address franchise fees charged cable companies.

"Since cable television franchises are basically monopolies, I would think their financial records should be subject to disclosure," said Council member Stephen Clark. "Maybe they wouldn't agree with me, but I'm wondering if it would be possible for us to put something about that in here.

"I think if the cable company chooses to raise its rates, then we should be able to see what that money will be going for."

Gregerson said "any language involving financial disclosure starts getting very close to rate regulation, which is illegal."

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(Additional information)

Key points of proposal

The revised cable television ordinance:

-Establishes an annual registration and compliance statement that cable companies must abide by.

-Requires cable companies to inform customers of their rights as well as the operator's rights and duties regarding service-related practices and policies.

-Establishes a "thorough and equitable" voluntary disconnect policy for subscribers.

-Creates special customer service rules for blind, hearing-impaired and wheelchair customers.

-Requires cable companies to establish performance and service log systems that are available to potential customers to review when considering subscribing to a system.