Mediacom hears from irate customers

By Gus Bode

Factoid:Mediacom’s local number is 529-2001. After 5 p.m., calls to this number are automatically transferred to the Benton, Ky., customer service office.

Representatives of Mediacom faced more than 15 customers Wednesday night at a meeting to discuss problems with cable service in Carbondale.

Customers complained about customer service, rate hikes and service outages during the Carbondale Information and Telecommunications Commission meeting.


Carbondale resident Sam Goldman said there was no mystery that there were problems with Mediacom.

“Walk into a restaurant at random and Mediacom will the topic of conversation,” Goldman said.

There were many complaints about the quality of the service in Mediacom’s Benton, Ky., customer service office. Many of the people in attendance said that when they had tried to contact Mediacom they were put on hold and, after waiting up to 30 minutes, were disconnected.

“When you call Mediacom, it’s like going into the ‘Twilight Zone,'” said John Huffman, a Carbondale attorney.

Greg Lemaster, senior manager for operations in Southern Illinois and Kentucky, admitted there were problems with the customer service and pledged to address the issue. He said that the system is designed to hang up after 25 to 30 minutes to ensure that the system does not get clogged with open lines.

The Benton customer service center employs 20 people to handle calls from customers in Southern Illinois, Kentucky and the boot heel of southeastern Missouri.

Service outages were also a major concern. After Mediacom purchased the system from AT&T, they initiated a $1 million program to upgrade the system to the latest technology. As they replaced components of the old system, as many as 500 people at a time experienced service outages during the course of the upgrade.


Citizens complained that they never knew when the outages would take place and that they were unaware that they were eligible for rebates for the time the cable service was out of service.

“If you’ve had some excessive outage, then credit is due,” said Randy Hollis, Mediacom government relations manager.

Citizens demanded to know the reason for the August rate hike.

Lemasters explained that rates were increased because of the system upgrade and because program providers had increased their prices.

There were also complaints that customers did not have a local number at which to contact Mediacom and that there was no listing for Mediacom in the phone book.

Max Grubb, chairman of the commission, said that according to the franchise agreement, Mediacom is not required to have a local customer service number but only a number that is publicly listed. The number is not listed in the local telephone directory because when Mediacom purchased the local cable system from AT&T, it was too late to get the listing in, but it will be in the next published phone book.

Goldman urged the city to be proactive in dealing with these issues. He recommended that the city look into getting satellite television services to provide local TV stations as a way to provide Carbondale residents with a viable alternative to Mediacom. Mediacom currently has a monopoly on cable service in Southern Illinois.

Grubb said that in communities where there is competition, customer service is excellent and prices are competitive. The commission, he said, would do what it could, but federal law severely restricts the power of local governments to regulate cable service providers.

Grubb said that as long as Mediacom fulfills the basic requirements of the contract, there is an expectation that the contract, which expires in November 2006, will be renewed. Within the constraints of federal law, he said, only some kind of gross negligence could justify non-renewal of the contract.

While he was aware there were problems with the contractors during the system upgrade, Grubb said he was unaware of the extent of the customer service problems until Wednesday night. He said that without feedback from the community, the commission does not know what is going on.

The city attorney’s office provides a complaint form that customers can fill out and the city will forward to Mediacom. The company is required to respond, and the complaint forms are kept on file with the city.

The Mediacom representatives will return to report on their efforts to improve service at the next commission meeting at 7 p.m. on Sept. 25 at City Hall, 200 S. Illinois Ave.

Reporter Phil Beckman can be reached at