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Poor Customer Service And Understaffing Cited In Cable Provider Woes

Matthew Hersh

Members of Borough Council were in attendance at the Township Committee meeting where residents of both Princetons complained of the substandard customer service of Princeton's cable provider, Patriot Media.

The cable company, which replaced RCN ten months ago, admitted that while customer service fell to a level below standard, it was because of an unexpectedly large number of obstacles that presented themselves in the overhaul of the old infrastructure.

"Princeton was a challenge unlike any I've seen," said Jim Holanda, Patriot's general manager and president of central Jersey. "The amount of in-home wiring work required more work than we had anticipated."

The main problem was the need for complete conversion of Princeton's old cable infrastructure, Mr. Holanda said. The system, which operated on a two-channel A/B dual architecture, caused Patriot to visit roughly 200 homes per day in August and September. Mr. Holanda added that approximately 6,700 homes out of 6,800 homes were properly converted and that the remaining 100 homes would be served imminently.

The terms of the franchise with Patriot Media stipulated the completion of the rebuild. Under the franchise agreement reached in negotiations with RCN in October 2002, the new franchise holder must abide by the terms contained in the agreement. Among the stipulations that Patriot followed was a rebuild of Princeton's cable TV systems within 18 months from that time.

Committeeman Bernard Miller said in February that Patriot had planned to complete the rebuild by late August or early September. As it stands, that schedule would put Patriot Media well ahead of its rebuild deadline of April 2004. It was not good enough, however.

"They need to do something more than stand up here and tell us what a good job they're doing," said William Koehn, who owns residences on both Green and John streets. He added that while one residence was properly converted in a timely manner, there were several instances where Patriot servicemen did not show up for scheduled appointments.

Mr. Holanda said that there was an increase of 2,500 customer service calls during August and September. This amount, he admitted, was too much for Patriot's customer service staff to handle.

He also said that in addition to recent improvements in customer service, Patriot, along with all other cable service providers, is required by state and federal law to field customer calls in 30 seconds or less.

This information did not go over well with residents in attendance. The primary complaint about Patriot Media's service has been deficient customer service. Mr. Koehn said that while a computerized operator answers calls in the time required by law, it takes up to six to eight minutes "at best" to speak to an actual customer service representative. Other residents complained of being placed on hold for up to half an hour.

"I have not encountered a properly trained representative," said Larry Weiss, of State Road. Kester Pierson, of Wilson Road, said that while he was happy with the "expeditious" conversion that Patriot provided, he had to wait 35 minutes to speak to a Patriot representative on the phone.

Mr. Holanda said he regretted customer dissatisfaction and said this summer's problems posed "once in a lifetime" obstacles.

The session served as the public hearing of an ordinance that reflects the Board of Public Utility's newly-ordered construction deadline. Patriot took over the Central Jersey franchise from RCN in February, and in doing so, also took over the responsibility for overhauling an antiquated infrastructure.

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