It might be a bit less stressful dealing with local cable providers if state regulators adopt new rules governing customer interactions with the cable companies.
The proposal, unveiled by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities last week, would establish a series of performance standards to be met by cable providers when customers contact the company for everything from routine installation requests to talking with live operators to resolve service problems.
The 46-page rule proposal is aimed at addressing long-standing complaints from consumers — and the five BPU commissioners — regarding difficulties in contacting and resolving issues with their cable services.
“We take customer assistance very seriously,’’ said BPU President Joseph Fiordaliso, noting it is the only remaining oversight the agency has over cable television providers since Congress put other issues in the hands of the federal government.
In a couple of stakeholder discussions about the draft proposal, BPU Commissioner Bob Gordon said the board heard complaints from hundreds of citizens and many local officials about their dealings with cable providers. “Hopefully, we’ll see some improved service levels,’’ Gordon said.
Speedier resolution of problems
The rule proposal says the new standards are designed to ensure provision of service by the providers in a timely and efficient manner to all customers — including calls to the business office, installations, appointments, resolution of service calls and attendant reporting requirements.
The revisions are aimed at anti-consumer practices exhibited by the companies, such as preventing customers from reaching a live operator to resolve problems if they have a past-due balance. In those cases, they can be forced to make a payment before they can speak to a representative.
The proposal also sets new performance standards in interactions with customers. For example, under normal operating conditions, not less than 90% of calls to the cable operators’ customer service center would have to be answered within 30 seconds by a representative during normal business hours. Also, callbacks would have to be returned within 30 minutes of initiation of the call.
In addition, at least 85% of customer service calls requiring a technician would be resolved within 14 days, according to the proposal. If service is interrupted, for at least 95% of the outages the cable operator must begin working to restore service within 24 hours.
The rule proposal acknowledges the new performance standards will impose some additional technical and operational costs on the companies, but they will be allowed to pass the costs on to customers.
Verizon, one of the biggest providers of cable television, declined comment on the new regulations. Comcast did not answer a call for comment.
But Fiordaliso defended the proposal. “We expect people to get what they pay for. When necessary, we will make sure customers do,’’ he said.