THE CITY CABLE CHAOS

One woman vs. Warner Amex

MANY OF US have been anxiously awaiting hookup with that bewildering and captivating creature: cable. In addition to providing us with what we apparently can’t get enough of-Television Entertainment-cable promises to protect our homes and educate our children, help us analyze the stock market and even tell us how to hold onto our health. It promises to provide us with not necessarily better programming, but with more, more, more. More movies, more sports, more reruns. All the news and information available to mankind at just a push of a button, all coming straight to your home-eventually.

It was a spring morning when I awoke to the sounds of a hydraulic lift and men shouting orders. I ran to the window and was delighted when I saw those new, freshly painted Qube trucks and several handsome, suntanned workers climbing the telephone poles in the alley. There it was-technology-right at my back door! My opportunity for a subscription to the future.

I awaited a telephone call from the Qube sales office for a couple of weeks; but considering my unusual lifestyle, I decided there was a good possibility that I had been overlooked. I am the wife of a starving artist in the loft district near Fair Park. My husband’s studio is a warehouse. Considering our unusual residence and my fear of being accidentally overlooked by Warner Amex-not to mention my bold personality-I called them.

From the moment the receptionist answered my first call on her switchboard, nothing went well. “The sales department? I’m sorry. They’re all out. May I take a message?” I left a message, certain that in the spirit of sales, I would be contacted the next day.

I tried again the next week. “Sorry, you’ll have to leave a message.”

“Fine, fine.” I left a message.

Finally, after three weeks, a gentleman named David Shepherd returned my call. After confirming that I was indeed in a “wired” area, he said he’d like to set up a sales call to discuss the contract.

May 3 was a perfect spring day. I left the front door unlocked so Mr. Shepherd could come right in, just in case I didn’t hear the bell. Mr. Shepherd, however, found his way to my office door with ease. He ducked slightly to enter. The nearly 8-foot-tall salesman obviously ducked frequently when he entered a doorway. We had a very pleasant meeting. I signed the contract for service, and I also signed the check for $90 to accompany the contract.

Before he left, Mr. Shepherd assured me that I would be contacted by the installation department and that the cable would be hooked up in 10 days to two weeks.

Five weeks later, the installation department still had not called. I tried to reach it by phone, but again the receptionist was the only person available. “I’m sorry, you’ll have to leave a message.”

“Well, connect me with Mr. Shepherd, then.”

“I’m sorry, he’s out. You’ll have to leave a message.”

“Fine.” I left a message.

Mr. Shepherd called later that day. He told me he was busy transferring from Qube Sales to Qube Security Sales, but he promised to see what he could do.

The next day, Mr. Shepherd called and asked to come over. He had a new contract for me to sign. Apparently, he had brought the wrong contract the first time and needed me to sign the Commercial Subscriber Service Agreement. He was in my office within an hour.

By this time, the weather was hot and so was I. Still, we had another pleasant meeting. I controlled my temper and offered Mr. Shepherd some tea. I signed the new contract and was again assured that I’d be hooked up within two weeks.

Months passed. Warner Amex didn’t exactly give me the runaround; it gave me the phone-around. I must have spoken on the phone to the head of every department. If it wasn’t one department’s fault, it was another’s. Finally, I decided that someone had to be in charge of the overall operation, but I was unable to find out who that person was. After signing a contract, I waited four months before finally being visited by the first installer.

Installer number one arrived, walked around upstairs, stayed about five minutes and quickly determined that the job would require “the big truck” and that he wasn’t properly equipped to complete the job.

A week passed. Installment crew number two showed up to wire us, but unfortunately, after they had about half completed the job, their time was up. “No ma’am, we’re sorry, but we’ll have to return on Tuesday to finish.”

Crew number three finished on Tuesday as planned, with just one problem: There was no signal, no picture, no Qube cable TV.

Another week passed. An inspector and crew number four showed up. The inspector determined that crews one, two and three were unable to wire the area properly, so he’d have to send crew five to rewire.

Another week passed. Crew number five from R.T. Cable, an independent contracting firm, arrived and rewired the entire area. Great! We had a signal, we had a picture, we had sound. But the channels were all mixed up: Channel 8 was 21, 66 was 16 and who knows where on earth Chip and Clarice were. It was now television roulette-not exactly what I had been waiting five months for.

A little more than a week passed before crew number six, the B team-the weekend guys-arrived. The diagnosis this time was faulty equipment. They had to replace the actual hardware that receives and delegates the proper channels to the channel-changing knob. It worked! I had a signal, I had a picture, I had the proper channels, I had sound, I had Qube cable. I did not, however, have the movie channels-the pay channels that were costing me about $40 a month.

Once again, I was back to making phone calls to Warner Amex and-of course-leaving messages.

The next day the bill arrived. “JUST A FRIENDLY REMINDER” had been stamped onto my bill by the computer. “Our records show that your account is now 30 days past due. If your payment has been sent, please disregard this notice.”

Now, I’m sorry, but my service had only been completed for two days. I could not possibly have owed these people $61.54. I’d already paid $90 and five months of aggravation to get this installed. I didn’t even have the channels that made up the majority of the bill.

“QUESTIONS ABOUT YOUR BILL? CALL 328-5000.”

Buzz, buzz, buzz, buzz. Busy.

Buzz, buzz, buzz, busy.

Ring, ring, ring, recording, wait, wait, wait, recording, wait, wait, wait. Would you believe five minutes? Ten minutes? After 10 minutes, I got someone on the line and explained my problem. Doris said she’d send a detailed explanation to the finance department.

About this same time, I began speaking regularly with Carolyn DeBeer, a department head. Apparently, I didn’t have full service because I was in what is classified as a “commercial area.” After some explanation, DeBeer was able to relate to my situation when I compared it to a New York artist’s loft. She then agreed that I was actually entitled to regular service and that the channels for which I had paid would be delegated to travel the cable to my warehouse.

A month passed. A new bill arrived. No credit. I called 328-5000.

Ring, ring, ring, recording, wait, wait, wait (this time with a radio channel), wait, wait, wait. An answer! “May I please speak with Doris?”

“Who is Doris? This is Nellie. May I help you?”

I explained the problem, and Nellie said she would send a detailed explanation to the finance department.

A month passed. A new bill arrived. No credit. Ms. DeBeer became involved again. “No, don’t worry. We’ll make those changes and give you proper credit,” she said-but in the meantime, she also informed me, I should make a minimum payment to assure that my service wouldn’t be disconnected. I paid.

Now, let’s examine what I paid for. For a while, everyone was so excited about the prospect of all sorts of new programming-public-access channels; individual sports channels; information, news and weather channels; movie channels. The prospect of being able to choose among some 80-odd channels that include your major network channels such as ABC, NBC and CBS is fascinating. How can anyone possibly view it all?

Some of the exciting ones include the access channels. These channels now consist mainly of blue, red or purple backgrounds with bits of information printed on the screen and a little music, or absolutely intolerable programming that resembles home movies or Beginning Television 101.

Several channels are delegated for future use. Some are directories for programming on other channels, offering brief excerpts of programs. Then there are the programming channels: ESPN, SPN, USA, MTV and TNN. These channels are a step above the red, purple and blue screens with words written on them. From what I can determine, these networks are spending between $4,000 and $20,000 for programming that they can replay many times. That may seem like a lot of money, but compared to a program that you might see on commercial broadcast television that costs between $300,000 and $1 million per episode, the difference in price is reflected in the quality of what we view. After being spoiled by high-priced, slick commercial television, this stuff is base.

MTV is an exception, but you have to be able to really think young to enjoy that channel. Or, if you think country/Western, you might try treating your TV as a radio; you can listen and watch TNN while cleaning house or cooking supper.

About the only channels left are the movie channels, which offer blockbusters such as Halloween; The Fog; Escape From New York; Waitress; American Werewolf; Car Hops; Moonshine County Express; Fun House; Street Music; Blood Beach; Come Back to the 5 & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean; and Alien. Not a bad selection, especially when you consider that a Star Wars or a Poltergeist frequently is slipped in to keep you subscribing.

But let’s get back to my bill and my service.

A month passed. A new bill arrived: no credit. I called Ms. DeBeer. I left a message.

Two weeks passed. I called Ms. DeBeer. I left a message.

Two more weeks passed. I called Ms. DeBeer. I left a message.

But how could I be sure she was even receiving my messages?

Ms. DeBeer called. “It hasn’t been corrected? Well, we’ll correct it right away.”

A month passed. No bill arrived.

Two months. No bill.

Then I entered the hospital to give birth to my’beautiful 8-pound baby boy, Christopher. The bill arrived. The disconnect notice arrived. I returned home from the hospital. I received a call from Warner Amex informing me that unless I delivered a check for $150.04 to its offices within 24 hours, my service would be disconnected. Well, I was sorry, but I’d waited 10 months for Qube cable to become organized, so now they could wait for an envelope with my check in it to make its way via the post office from Fair Park to East Dallas.

No, they couldn’t wait. My service was disconnected because of non-payment-disconnected five days after my check actually did arrive in its offices.

Again I attempted to call Warner Amex. I called the service department: ring, ring, ring, ring. Recording, wait, wait, wait. “I’m sorry, this is the wrong department. Call accounting.” Click.

Ring, ring, ring, ring. “Warner Amex Qube Cable, may I help you?”

“Accounting, please.”

Ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring. Finally I was connected with accounting. “I’m sorry, this is the wrong department. You need to speak with customer relations.”

Ring, ring, ring. “May I speak with Carolyn DeBeer, please?” I left a message.

A week passed. Finally, at 9 o’clock at night (that may be an indication of how overworked this poor woman really is), Ms. DeBeer called. I certainly appreciated her call (no matter what time-day or night). It was indeed their mistake; they would reconnect at no extra charge and they’d call me as soon as the connection was completed.

A month passed. It has now been one year since my first contract with this cable company. My service was finally partially reconnected; but I was receiving only half the channels. There was no phone call from Warner Amex to inform me of the reconnection, no letter in the mail from the computer.

The next day the bill arrived. “JUST A FRIENDLY REMINDER.” I was supposedly $90 past due, and I hadn’t even had service for the past six weeks!

The story continues. Maybe it will get better, maybe programming will improve, maybe advertising will begin to support cable, maybe the computer will even cough out a corrected bill. Maybe.

Maybe for now, I’ll just see you at themovies.

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