Pursuant to the 1992 Cable Act, the Commission adopted federal standards aimed at improving the quality of customer service rendered by cable operators. Although the standards were issued by the FCC, local franchising authorities are charged with enforcing them. Franchise authorities must provide cable operators 90 days notice of their intent to enforce the standards. Franchise authorities may also adopt stricter or additional standards with the consent of the cable operator or through enactment of a state or municipal law. The federal standards in each of four major areas are described below.
Office Hours and Telephone Availability
The federal guidelines recommend that each cable system maintain a local, toll-free or collect call telephone line for taking customer calls. This line must be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. During normal business hours, company representatives must be available to respond to customer inquiries. After normal business hours, the cable system may use an answering service or machine. A trained company representative must respond to inquiries received after normal business hours on the next business day. Normal business hours are the hours during which most similar businesses in the community are open to serve customers. These hours must include some evening hours, at least one night per week, and/or some weekend hours.
According to the federal guidelines, a call to a cable system must be answered -- including wait time -- within 30 seconds after the connection is made. If the call is transferred, the transfer time may not exceed 30 seconds. These standards must be met at least 90 percent of the time, measured quarterly, under "normal operating conditions." Also under normal operating conditions, cable system customers may receive a busy signal no more than three percent of the time. Normal operating conditions are those which are within the control of the cable operator. These conditions include special promotions and normal system maintenance and upgrades, but do not include natural disasters, civil disturbances, power outages, telephone network outages, and severe or unusual weather conditions.
The operator is not required to use special equipment to measure telephone answering standards. However, if complaints indicate that a cable system is failing to comply with these standards, the local franchising authority may require it to acquire equipment or to conduct surveys to measure compliance. Otherwise, cable systems must use their best efforts to document compliance.
The standards recommend that each cable system's customer service center and bill payment locations be conveniently located and open at least during normal business hours.
Installations, Outages, and Service Calls
Standard installations -- which are those located up to 125 feet from the existing distribution system -- must be performed within seven days after an order has been placed.
Except during conditions beyond its control, the cable operator must begin working on a service interruption no later than 24 hours after being notified of the problem. A service interruption has occurred if picture or sound on one or more channels has been lost.
The cable operator must begin to correct other service problems the next business day after learning of them.
Under the federal guidelines, cable operators may schedule appointments for installations and other service calls either at a specific time or, at a maximum, during a four-hour time block during normal business hours. Cable operators may also schedule service calls outside of normal business hours for the convenience of the customer.
A cable operator may not cancel an appointment with a customer after the close of business on the business day prior to the scheduled appointment. If the cable installer or technician is running late and will not meet the specified appointment time, he or she must contact the customer and reschedule the appointment at the convenience of the subscriber.
The federal standards concerning installations, outages and service calls must be met under normal operating conditions at least 95 percent of the time, measured quarterly.
Thirty days advance notice (in writing and through announcements on the cable system) must be given to subscribers of any changes in rates, programming services or channel positions, if the change is within the control of the cable operator.
Cable operators must provide to subscribers on their monthly bills, the name, address, and phone number of the franchising authority unless the franchising authority requests that such information not be provided. Cable operators may itemize on the subscriber bill the amount of any franchise fee assessed by the franchise authority, the amount of any PEG fee, and any other governmental tax or fee imposed on the transaction between the cable operator and the subscriber.
Refunds must be issued no later than either the customer's next billing cycle or 30 days following resolution of the request, whichever is earlier, or upon the return of equipment when service is terminated. Credits must be issued no later than the billing cycle following the determination that a credit is warranted.
Questions concerning late fees should be directed to the local franchising authority.
Communications Between Cable Operators and Subscribers
According to the federal guidelines, the following information must be provided to customers at the time of installation, at least annually to all subscribers, and at any time, upon request:
(1) products and services offered;
(2) prices and options of programming services and conditions of subscription to programming and other services;
(3) installation and service maintenance policies;
(4) instructions on how to use cable service;
(5) channel positions of programming carried on the system; and
(6) billing and complaint procedures, including the address and telephone number of the local franchise authority's office.
The cable operator must give 30 days notice in advance of any significant changes in this information.
- FCC -