Commissioners discuss what they want to see from Suddenlink

The Suddenlink office is located in Westgate Plaza. (Billy Hefton / Enid News & Eagle)

ENID, Okla. — As Enid’s 10-year contract with Suddenlink Com­munications nears its end, public sentiment toward the cable provider continues to sour, with many voicing frustrations over the quality of service they’ve seen.

Still, city commissioners aren’t yet decided on what to do, what action to take, what to ask for at the negotiating table.

“We know what the issues are (with Suddenlink),” Ward 3 Commissioner Ben Ezzell said, some he’s experienced himself and much that has been shared with him by residents. “Whether we have any lever to pull is still kind of the question.”

The city unanimously approved the 10-year Suddenlink contract in June 2010.

“Abysmal” customer support, “maddening” technical support, too much time on hold calling for help, hours and hours spent waiting for whatever’s broken to get fixed. The fault isn’t at the local level, Ezzell said, adding the employees in town do the best with what they have, but what they have is too little and they are too few. He wants to see Suddenlink corporate invest more in its Enid operation. More employees would be a good start, he said.

Despite whatever best efforts are made in the coming months, he harbors some doubt it will make much difference.

“I don’t know why we should expect anything to change. It’s a massive company ... with cable providers in markets all over,” Ezzell said. “My expectation is pretty grim that demands from a town with something like 13,000 to 14,000 cable subscribers dramatically changes their entire customer service infrastructure. Probably it’s going to fall on deaf ears.”

Raymond McCranie, director of operations for Suddenlink, did not respond Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019, to an interview request.

However, Janet Meahan, senior director of communication for Altice, which offers Suddenlink services in Enid, provided this statement via email on Monday, Oct. 21.

"Suddenlink has a longstanding partnership with the city of Enid and we continue to invest in the community, upgrading our network and services to deliver 1 gigabit broadband speeds, our Altice One entertainment platform, as well as our recently launched Altice Mobile service, which is available to our customers at a loyalty price of $20 per month. Service reliability and customer care is incredibly important to us, and we are implementing several service enhancements to ensure a positive experience for our local customers. We look forward to working with the city on a new franchise agreement and the opportunity to serve Enid residents with advanced connectivity products for many years to come."

'Significant challenges'

Ward 4 Commissioner Jonathan Waddell has heard much of the same complaints as Ezzell.

“There’s been some significant challenges in the last few years and it’s gotten worse over the last couple months,” Waddell said. “We basically have one (Suddenlink) office with, at best, two customer service reps working at any given time. With a community of 50,000-plus people, that’s just not sufficient.”

Pricing is another point Waddell wants to tackle.

What Suddenlink has been able to provide to its customers, and what it charges them for it, doesn’t seem to equate.

“We need to look at what these perpetual price increases amount to, because we’ve seen increase after increase after increase after increase, and quite frankly, the product isn’t getting better,” he said. “It stays the same or gets worse, but the price continues to go up.”

The problems have been compounding over time, seeming to stack up quicker than ever during the past few months, he said.

A few he’s experienced first hand, he said. Some he’s still experiencing. He gets the frustrations residents have been coming to him with, as he’s felt them. But he wants to move with caution and weigh all the options available.

“What I don’t want to do is start making rash decisions out of emotion. I want us to come to a rational conclusion where we get what we need ... as well as potentially salvage relations that are already in place,” he said.

Options are unclear

Ezzell, a practicing attorney, said it isn’t entirely clear at this point what options are available to the city when it comes to negotiations.

“The FCC has in the last 10, 15 years, passed a series of rules that preempt state and local control over cable television franchises ... so, we have a lot fewer terms that we can negotiate and go back and forth on,” he said. “I don’t feel like I adequately know what the scope is of what is negotiable at all. It’s not like this is one of those instances where everything is on the table.”

The city ultimately could decide to end its relationship with Suddenlink, though Ezzell and Waddell agreed a new contract with improved terms would be preferable.

“We are not by any means simply rolling over and doing whatever Suddenlink would like, we are exploring all of our options, but I don’t want to present the idea that we have this massive stick we can wield to do whatever we would like and to enforce whatever change we can imagine,” Ezzell said.

City commissioners will continue to meet and discuss the contract, Enid’s future with Suddenlink, and how to best proceed. A consensus likely will take months to hone in on, Ezzell said.

“None of this is going to happen, you know, next week,” he said. “This is a process that no matter what happens, everybody better get ready to be patient because it will just take time.”

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Willetts is education and city reporter for the Enid News & Eagle.
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