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Comcast draws fire for changes

October 31, 2003 © Kane County Chronicle

By BRENDA SCHORY
and DAN CHANZIT

Comcast rates are going up and service levels are going down, according to a notice sent this month to customers in Geneva and St. Charles.

Letters from Comcast sent Oct. 10 announced that basic would remain at $15.97 a month, and while it would gain 12 channels, it would lose 24, many of them news channels such as MSNBC and Fox News.
Expanded basic increased from $22.15 to $28.20 a month and standard cable, which includes basic and expanded, increased from $37.94 to $43.90.

Senior citizens also thought that they had lost their 15 percent discount, but Comcast said they did not — the discount simply did not show as a line item on their bills.

The changes could spark another referendum effort by the grass-roots group that sought to create a Tri-Cities broadband utility.

Jeannine Cowart, 65, of Geneva, was one of several residents to complain Thursday to Peter Collins, Geneva's information systems supervisor.

"The city has no control on a monopoly," Collins said. He referred Cowart and other residents to Comcast.
"My bill went up from $34.17 to $45.07, and that is roughly a 33 percent increase," Cowart said. "My channels were all wrong. The History Channel wasn't on 37. Turner Classic Movies on 59 — I got something else. And I lost the Home and Garden Channel on 54."

Customer service was not helpful, she said.

"I do not see why the burden is on me. Why not print out what the new channels are? I have no idea what I'm getting, no idea what am I paying for," Cowart said.

Comcast spokeswoman Patricia Keenan said the company published newspaper advertisements 60 days ago and notified the city, which posted its Oct. 10 letter on its Web site, www.geneva.il.us.

Residents in Geneva and St. Charles also were notified of the cable upgrades in the area with doorhangers "when we dug the first hole in St. Charles and Geneva," Keenan said.

The problem, she suggested, was that the people who received the mailing threw it away without reading it.
Tri-City Broadband members said recent complaints could prompt Batavia, Geneva and St. Charles voters to reconsider a broadband referendum.

On April 1, roughly 60 percent of Tri-Cities voters rejected a $62 million municipal broadband network for cable television, telephone and high-speed Internet access.

"If it were to go to a vote right now, I think the vote would go the other way," said Ed Hodges, a spokesman for the grass-roots organization.

The group will meet next month to talk about options for a return to the polls. A municipal broadband utility would have given residents a choice, and it would have inspired better business through competition, he said.

"It would force SBC and Comcast to do a much better job than they have in the last year," he said. "We would have the pressure of competition to use as a lever."

Property taxes would have backed the system's financing, but the loans would have been repaid through subscriber fees.

"If the 40 percent who voted in favor of it became subscribers, that would be enough to make it successful," Hodges said on election night.

St. Charles City Administrator Larry Maholland said residents have been complaining about the rate increases and problems with service.

"The city doesn't have any control over what they charge," he said.

The city's contract with Comcast ends in July 2004, but Maholland said it did not matter.

"There is only one company that is offering cable service," he said. "We don't have a lot of alternatives."
Maholland said the city would reconsider a municipal broadband utility if the initiative came from the voters.
"It's not out of the question, but it would have to be a grass-roots effort," he said. "We'd probably get a lot more votes now based on the calls I've been receiving."

Cowart is not an American citizen and cannot vote, but her husband, Linton, 83, voted in favor of municipal broadband.

Nancy Myer, 55, of Geneva, who also called Collins to complain about the price increase, voted against municipal broadband. "I don't believe government belongs in private industry," she said.

Myer said Comcast should have competition, but not from government. Her concern was that once the cities put in the broadband infrastructure, it would be obsolete too soon.

Collins disputed that.

"The system the cities would have put was exactly what they (cable companies) would like to put in, if they had the capital," he said.

reprinted by permission from the Kane County Chronicle


PLEASE NOTE: Comcast did the same thing in Batavia last month. It is our understanding that Batavia City Hall was flooded with complaints. That should have made the news also! Either someone at City Hall didn't let the press know, or someone in the press didn't think it was a story. Now, however, that Geneva and St. Charles have been hit with the same scheme, it's finally making the news! Thank you Dan Chanzit and Brenda Schory for letting our residents know about this!

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