Monday, May 02, 2005

04: "Taken Away in Handcuffs"

First the good news. Adelphia is (hopefully) on its way out of the area, soon to be replaced by Comcast. Comcast owns systems west of Adams County and north of Adams County. Directly east there is at least one major system, Suscom, in York County, but across the river to the east in Lancaster County, Comcast rules. So it makes sense that Comcast will replace Adelphia in Adams County. We are still awaiting a response to a query made to Comcast’s Communications Department to confirm this information. One early news article of the Time Warner/Comcast buyout of Adelphia did indicate that the Adams County’s Adelphia system would convert to Comcast, but later news articles seemed to retreat from that statement.

Lest you think this is an entirely good thing, I should warn you that Comcast has raised its rates four or five times in the past few years. They tend to be a bit more expensive than Adelphia, but, hey, you get what you pay for. (Except from Adelphia). They have recently had Internet problems throughout their system that cost customers days of online access (Comcast is apparently adjusting its bills accordingly), and which Comcast blamed on a “memory leak”.

This blogger recognized problems with Adelphia in 2001 when they first took over the old G&S Communications backbone out of Frederick, Maryland. G&S had small-system problems from time to time (like no one on duty on weekends, and evenings, which is when most disruptions seem to at least become apparent, if not actually occur). But all-in-all, G&S tried, which is totally more than you could say about Adelphia. Adelphia set up online newsgroups for customers of both their Internet Cable Access and their Cable TV system to post issues, complaints, questions and comments, etc. Newsgroups are almost like bulletin boards, in that everyone can see them, and can respond to what someone else says, but not in the near-realtime mode that bulletin boards do. Newsgroups can take anywhere from two minutes to several hours to actually place your “post” for all to see. The Adelphia newsgroups were monitored by several Adelphia employees, ostensibly from their customer service department. A few decently tried to help because when Adelphia took over, they attempted to change the way things were done technically, and they ran into no end of trouble trying to accomplish it. I’ll be the first to admit, many of the customers were not very nice. Some were downright vulgar. Most were irate over some problem or another, usually doing with connectivity, download speed, or email problems, and there were serious, ongoing problems for many months. But some of the Adelphia techs who posted responses to the customers were absolutely brutal. “If you don’t like it, go back to dialup!” was one tech’s response to slow speeds and no connectivity complaints. Others were not as nice. Some were even more vulgar than the customers, if you can believe that. I’ve been around a while, and I was astonished at the language used to abuse Adelphia’s own customers by their own employees. The treatment was rude, abrasive, abusive, vulgar and absolutely shocking. At once, if you think about it, the thought should occur to you that “this company is in trouble”. It did to me, and as the months wore on and the abuse of the customers continued, the thought became a dead certainty, and I posted such thoughts (earning abuse directed at myself, of course).

Well, as things turned out, time and the U. S. Securities and Exchange Commission proved me correct, and in July of 2002, the SEC indicted Adelphia founder John Rigas, and three of his sons, along with two senior executives (at least one of which was married to one of Rigas’ daughters) on fraud and corruption charges. Separately, Adelphia (the corporation itself) filed anti-trust lawsuits against Rigas, his sons, his wife, and in-laws, all of whom were allegedly involved in the total rape of the Adelphia Corporate accounts. The SEC got its convictions and sentencing is scheduled for later this summer. All in all a sad tale of greed and corruption from the family of a man who started Adelphia in the early 1950s with a single movie theater in Coudersport, PA, and built a Cable TV empire by the end of the 20th century.

It remains to be seen how Comcast will perform. No cable system is without its detractors, and no cable system is without its problems. Takeovers, such as what we in Adams County will be facing soon, are always difficult and full of problems. Thankfully, they are usually short-lived.

So, the bad news is that you should expect some problems, perhaps even some degradation of service on the part of Adelphia as employees with questionable futures continue to run the systems. Adelphia is already diminishing their quality on the television end of things, with locally inserted commercials so loud they are distorted, and on the Internet with an inability to handle email SPAM filters properly. Expect these problems to carry over in any takeover transition.

Still, we should all keep our collective fingers crossed that this does not become one of those “better the devil you know, than one you don’t” situations. For my part, I do not think that to be the case. But, as always, the jury is out for now.

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