Business & Economy

Southern Vermont Cable customers complain sale disrupted their service

A television camera films Comcast executive Daniel Glanville speaking at a recent Putney public hearing on the proposed sale of Southern Vermont Cable to Comcast. Photo by Kevin O’Connor/VTDigger
A television camera films Comcast executive Daniel Glanville speaking at a Putney public hearing on the sale of Southern Vermont Cable to Comcast. Photo by Kevin O’Connor/VTDigger

Disconnected phone lines and telephone numbers that were changed without notice are among the complaints filed by Southern Vermont Cable customers after Comcast bought the local company this summer.

The biggest concerns, according to complaints filed with the state Department of Public Service, came from customers with health problems. They said the bungled transition between the companies put at risk their ability to call for help in an emergency or to contact doctors. 

Comcast announced in July that it had bought Southern Vermont Cable Co. The company served the towns of Dummerston, Jamaica, Newfane, Putney and Townshend for more than 30 years, offering internet and cable service to about 2,500 people.

Dozens of customers protested the proposed sale toward the start of the year, arguing that Comcast would be less responsive than the local service they were used to.

Between July and late September, state officials received 17 complaints about Comcast from residents of the towns previously served by Southern Vermont Cable, records show. State officials redacted the residents’ identities in records given to VTDigger.

Most of the complaints were resolved or were seemingly unfounded. A Comcast representative said the company is looking into individual complaints and speaking directly with the customers involved. And state officials don’t believe the complaint volume is high enough to trigger widespread concern.

“I don’t think, so far, that the Comcast cutover is something to be alarmed about,” said Clay Purvis, head of the telecommunications division at the Department of Public Service. “Comcast has a lot of experience buying smaller cable companies and assimilating them into the Comcast network. But there are always going to be issues.”

In several of the customer reports, some of the early fears about the sale have borne out.

In a Sept. 14 complaint, a woman told officials that her father, an 89-year-old West Dummerston resident, had been a television customer of Southern Vermont Cable. 

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After the sale to Comcast, a technician from that company tried to sell her father on a bundle deal while visiting his house Aug. 27. Her father said no because he already had a landline phone and internet through Consolidated Communications.

But later, when the woman tried calling that landline, she could only reach the voicemail, according to her complaint. She called her father’s phone provider, and a representative told her that Comcast had taken over her father’s service.

Comcast told the woman that her father was signed up for the package deal that he had declined. “I asked why the landline hasn’t been working since Aug. 27,” the woman wrote. “They could not give me an answer.”

Company reps told the woman it’d be another three to five days until her father’s phone worked again, she wrote to officials.

“I … told them my father is 89 years old with heart issues. He should NEVER have been left without a working phone,” the woman wrote, calling the incident “extremely unsafe and unprofessional.”

“Had we not been disconnected from Consolidated, Dad could have called 911 when he needed it,” she wrote. “Instead I drove three hours to come and stay with Dad so he could be safe until he has a working phone, which by the way is still not working.”

As of late September, the case was still open. On Sept. 28, Comcast asked for an extension into October, records show, which was granted.

In a Sept. 16 complaint, also still open, a Newfane woman told state officials that Comcast had changed her phone number — though her neighbors did not have that problem. 

“Her doctors can’t reach her at the new #,” a state employee wrote in a summary of the complaint. “She has cancer. She also can’t get into her email because of the phone # change.”

That incident mirrored others. A Williamsville couple’s phone number of 35 years was also changed suddenly, according to a Sept. 18 complaint.

“We were given no warning, etc.,” one of the customers wrote. “My wife is livid as we now get no incoming calls and/or messages. She has been trying to contact both companies and is getting nowhere with their agents. We need your help!”

Another Williamsville customer told state officials Sept. 16 that Comcast said his number would have to be changed, too. 

In one of the cases — the one involving the woman with cancer — a Comcast representative told officials that the problem has to do with rate centers, the geographical boundaries that determine phone numbers.

“In order to comply with E-911 regulations, the rate center for the customer’s phone number needs to match the rate center for where the structure is physically located,” wrote Melissa Pierce, Comcast’s government and regulatory affairs manager for western New England, in an email to the state.

“If there is a rate center mismatch, this could result in 911 calls being routed to the incorrect Public Safety Answering Point and possibly delay dispatch of emergency services,” Pierce wrote in the Sept. 18 email. 

According to the customer’s complaint, Comcast told the woman that her Southern Vermont Cable number couldn’t be transferred with her new services because Newfane has a different rate center than Williamsville. 

Williamsville is an unincorporated community within Newfane. An online telecommunications database shows that Comcast controls rate centers in both Williamsville and Newfane.

The rate center mismatch might explain the three cases of changed numbers in Newfane and Williamsville. But it’s unclear why the customers only faced a problem now. A Comcast spokesperson offered no explanation.

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Justin Trombly

About Justin

Justin Trombly covers the Northeast Kingdom for VTDigger. Before coming to Vermont, he handled breaking news, wrote features and worked on investigations at the Tampa Bay Times, the largest newspaper in Florida. He grew up across Lake Champlain in upstate New York, where he worked for The Buffalo News, the Glens Falls Post-Star and the Plattsburgh Press Republican. He studied English and political science at the University of Rochester.

Email: [email protected]

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