‘Buffering’: Worcester residents slam Spectrum for internet outages, price increases and poor customer service

The residents of Worcester were loud and clear Monday night: they are tired of Charter Communication’s Spectrum being the only internet and cable option in the city and they want something cheaper and more reliable.

More than 50 people spoke during Monday night’s public hearing on the renewal of Charter’s contract with the city. The meeting was held by the City Council’s Public Service and Transportation Committee, which includes Chairperson Gary Rosen, Vice Chairperson Donna M. Colorio and Councilor Sarai Rivera.

The meeting was held to survey customer satisfaction with Spectrum and review the fairness of their rates for TV, internet and telephone service, review the city’s cable franchise agreement and determine what future changes can be made to lower costs and improve service.

Every person who spoke Monday night expressed severe dissatisfaction with Spectrum and complained of exorbitant rates, consistent outages and poor customer service, with many advocating the city switch to a municipal broadband offering. Several residents cited the Worcester Regional Research Bureau’s report, “Broadening Broadband,” which outlined steps the city could take to invest in a municipally-owned broadband offering.

The city’s contract with Spectrum is set to expire in 2023. Prior to that expiration, the contract is in an ascertainment period for 36 months where the cable television advisory committee reviews the performance of the cable provider and provides a report to the city manager ahead of negotiations with the provider.

“Having no competition in the city just allows them to do whatever the heck they want,” said Worcester resident Evan Fulton.

Fulton said he’s had to use personal time off from work on days his internet has been out.

Ashley Rodgers, who identified themselves as a representative from the Independent Socialist Group, advocated for municipal broadband.

“I’m disappointed, though not surprised, that councilors only proposed that another company be brought in instead,” said Rodgers. “…We don’t need more competition. We need a solution…Two years ago the [Worcester Regional] Research Bureau put out a report on municipal ownership for broadband that concludes that affordable municipal broadband would be an undeniable benefit to all in Worcester, but nothing has happened.”

Rodgers was one of several people to suggest using funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to fund municipal broadband in the city.

District 5 Councilor Matthew Wally, who is chair of the Urban Technologies, Innovation & Environment subcommittee, has also been an advocate for municipal broadband and has held several meetings looking into it as an option for the city.

Speaking Monday, Wally said, “There has been money identified by the administration from the ARPA funds for municipal broadband as well as, hopefully, the infrastructure money will be used for that as well.”

Wally, along with several residents, brought up issues of service at Spectrum’s Grafton Street customer service building. Residents complained of hours-long waits for visits to drop off old equipment.

Resident John Casey said he and his wife watch a movie every night called “buffering,” referring to a consistent lag in load times he and his wife experience when attempting to stream a movie. He stated he pays for 400mbs internet speeds but receives anywhere from 29 to 280mbps.

Luis Garcia, who said he worked as a line tech for Charter for years, said the company does not treat its employees any better than its customers. He asked why another company can’t share the same network Charter uses.

“I know the system that Charter built, I was there when we rebuilt it and went digital,” he said. “We’re not using all of the capacity that the system can actually handle. I think having somebody in there could stir up the pot a little bit…I think we need to do a better job as far as demanding what we want. they have the manpower, they have the infrastructure. They certainly can do it. It’s just making them do it.”

John Maher, director of government affairs for Charter Communications, attended Monday’s meeting and stated the company liked doing business in Worcester.

“We want all of our customers to be happy every day,” he said. “We are a for-profit business.”

Maher said the network is working “very well” in the city and that the infrastructure is also working “very well.”

When asked about rising cable prices, Maher pointed to rising costs of programming.

“Significant costs go to us that they’ve increased exponentially over the past few years and keep rising,” Maher said.

Other issues voiced throughout the night were Spectrum’s lack of a senior discount and the lack of an option to purchase cable and internet equipment outright, as opposed to leasing, which is the company’s current standard.

Rosen said another meeting including public testimony will be held in December.

Disclosure: Advance Publications, the parent company of MassLive, is a 13% part-owner of Charter Communications.

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