- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

July 30

Herald Tribune, Sarasota, Florida, on cable customers lacking leverage:

When you have a problem with your cable service, there’s a handy “800” number to call. But getting actual help … ah, that can be another challenge entirely.

Last week, a man got so fed up with a Comcast service call that he recorded it and posted it online, where it went viral. In response, the chagrined cable giant said it would have the employee “personally apologize.”

“We are investigating this situation and will take quick action,” said the response from Comcast Cable Senior Vice President Tom Karinshak.

Note the absence of a promise to correct the problem. And sadly, note the absence of any outside regulatory pressure to do so.

The customer, Ryan Block, sent back a priceless reply to Comcast: “I hope the quick action you take is a thorough evaluation of your culture and policies, and not the termination of the rep.”

“We can, and will, do better,” Comcast Cable Chief Operating Officer Dave Watson pledged in a later message.

Unfortunately, customer service complaints aren’t limited to one big cable company. Frustration is widespread among the limited providers, nationally.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. As cable and telecom services evolved and were deregulated in recent years, the mantra was that competition would thwart monopolistic practices, yielding more choices and happier customers.

The reality, so far, is somewhat different. It has become easier to find alternative access to TV, but “high-speed” Internet service in many communities comes from a single cable company. (That is true, for example, in parts of Sarasota.) And though Internet access is critical to communication and the economy, Florida does not regulate it or provide oversight through the Public Service Commission.

In Florida, cable issues used to be handled by franchise agreements — permitted monopolies, in effect — hammered out with cities and counties. The arrangement was far from ideal, but it did give locals some leverage in setting terms of service.

With deregulation in 2009, the state Legislature ended that localized system.

Now, if you have a service complaint, you can file it with the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (800-435- 7352). It acts as a “clearinghouse” but is not the regulator. Getting a response may take 30 days. Certain cable complaints also can be taken to the Federal Communications Commission (888-225-5322).

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