Charter accused of endangering public safety

Sparks Tribune


Reno City Council candidate Vivian Freeman asked the City of Reno to crack down on Charter Communications' cable service. She said that the system has failed at least three times in the last 90 days.

"At least three times in the past three months," said Freeman. "Charter's system has gone down for long periods of time, most recently on Tuesday, June 20, when most of the city was out of service for several hours late at night."

Freeman said that the outage created a hazard. She said it took the area's emergency alert system (EAS) off line, leaving citizens without any way of knowing if there was a local, regional or national emergency occurring.

"The unannounced outage, alternately described as maintenance and for FCC compliance purposes by Charter call center personnel," Freeman said, "jeopardized the emergency broadcast system for the majority of homes in the service area."

However Andy Barbano, who chaired the City of the Reno's Citizens Cable Compliance Committee said that the problem is much worse than Freeman stated.

Missed the alert

    I live in Sun Valley and on a recent Sunday around 9 p.m. It was dark, and we were sitting outside when a search-and-rescue van came around. The people went to every door in a five-block radius asking if anyone had seen an 8-year-old girl who was said to have been abducted from a nearby park. When my daughter asked if they had already put the announcement out on Amber Alert, they said it had been. If that was the case, why did it not merit an interruption of local programming and an announcement to the public to be on the lookout? Why was nothing said on the news? Is the life of a missing 8-year-old child not of as much interest as the capture of some lowlife who has the funds to travel to Mexico to escape the law or the life of some judge or brushfires in the area?

    Is it because she was of Hispanic heritage and not the white child of some celebrity that the news media didn't mention it? If that is the case, I find our local police departments and news media to be totally without any redeeming value and basically disgusting.

Vickie Vera
Sun Valley

Reno News & Review 7-6-2006

He said that he spoke with Adrienne "Ace" Abbott whose job it was to monitor the emergency broadcast system.

Abbott is the Emergency Alert System Chair for the Nevada State Emergency Community Committee. She is also an FCC compliance specialist, with her own business called Weathertop Media Services.

She first notified Barbano via e-mail saying, "Charter did not carry the activation...when the activation was issued and picked up on my alert radio...I can only assume that any Mound House residents...were similarly disadvantaged."

Barbano said that Charter failed to run the EAS, abandoning 200 families. He said the company is willing to over look life for money.

"When the order came down to evacuate Mound House," Barbano said. "Charter didn't run the emergency alert to warn anyone down there. That's 200 families in serious danger."

Just over 6,000-acres burned near Mound House on Monday, June 26, forcing an evacuation of the area. At one point up to 300 homes were threatened, according the Sierra Interagency Dispatch Center.

Abbott said that cable companies are not required by federal regulations to issue EAS activations. She did say that they are supposed to follow the rules set forth by the board that they are contracted under, in this case the City of Reno.

"Cable companies, I'm finding don't have to do them (EAS) as a rule," Abbott said. "It's never been mandated to make emergency managers use the EAS either."

"It's the visual transmit rule that's the reason why most cable companies don't use EAS. Most companies don't have anyone in their studios to put the crawl or whatever on the television screen," Abbott added.

The idea of having a cable company that uses the EAS is important to Abbott. She said that she was biased, though.

"I think it's very important, but I'm coming from the point of view of one who trains people to work with the EAS," said Abbott. "Ask a fire boss or a parent who is looking for their missing child. Who can put a price on it?"

In Abbott's estimation the EAS worked as it was designed to. The only flaw was that not all broadcast systems are connected within the EAS. She said that the flaw is that the FCC has left it in a very gray area, which could have gotten someone killed.

"We came very close to losing people," Abbott said. "As these areas go, compared to Oakland and places like that, the Linehan area with its roads are wide and fire trucks and such could move in and out of there. And the advantage to cable at that time is that it can theoretically reach more homes quicker than emergency personnel."

Freeman said that Charter needs to warn the city when they plan to shut down the system. She also complained that the internet was crippled and it affected not only homes but workplaces and medical facilities.

"If the city is not routinely notified of such outages so that it may plan for emergencies, a system needs to be put in place," Freeman said. "High speed Internet access was also disabled, impacting businesses and critical services such as medical providers which depend upon having their lines functional around the clock."

Barbano agreed with Freeman, saying that she had a good suggestion. He said that a municipality could either be lax or strict on a cable franchise.

"But here they aren't strict at all," said Barbano. "And look how critical it has been around here lately. The EAS has kicked off all over the place this week because of range fires."

Freeman said that the company could have easily notified their customers, including the City of Reno, about the outage via the internet, but didn't.

"Digital customers could easily have been notified by e-mail, but Charter failed to do so," Freeman said. "Worse, Charter's call center was not informed of the planned outage. Customers were not offered credit unless they asked and Charter is now apparently using clumsy subcontractors to handle complaints."

A few months after Charter was granted a controversial 15-year franchise renewal in 2004, the company shut down its Reno call center and moved 40 jobs to Vancouver.

Freeman noted that many of Charter's customer complaints were handled by people outside the Truckee Meadows area. She said that these people were not the specialists that the company had at one time when in located in Reno.

"Some of the customer complaints from Tuesday's outage were handled by a subcontract service based in Rochester, Minnesota, which takes calls for a wide variety of companies," said Freeman. "These are not specialists trained to provide service to Reno cable consumers."

The city installed a citizen call referral center several years ago and just budgeted $68,000 for a software replacement on June 14.

"The city system appears to generally refer consumers directly to Charter," Freeman said,"which is discouraging. I favor a much more hands-on approach. The city administration seems in danger of reverting to the old way of doing business, ignoring consumer interests and letting the cable monopoly do what it wants with impunity. That's got to change."

However, Barbano disagrees, he believes the issue is more than just about poor service and complaints. Barbano said the real issue is about the City of Reno not making Charter Communications do what it is supposed to do. He said that both Reno and Charter are not obeying federal authorities.

"That's because the local franchising authorities are not riding hard on Charter to make certain that they are doing what they are supposed to do," Barbano said. "They are violating Federal Communication Commission regulations."

Abbott agreed.

"The idea of losing people in a disaster or a firefighter, a policeman, or any other emergency personnel, who is responsible for that," asked Abbott. "The board that over sees the cable company should probably take a long-hard look at their system."


Copyright © 2006 Daily Sparks Tribune
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