Oceanic Time Warner under fire at franchise renewal meeting

Majority of comments praise Akaku: Maui Community Television

Members of the Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs heard strong support for Akaku: Maui Community Television and strong criticism for Oceanic Time Warner Cable as the cable TV giant begins the renewal process of its franchise agreement with the state.

Three members of the DCCA’s Cable Television Division — Glenn Chock, Steve Jolin and Don Yabusaki — came to Molokai yesterday for a community meeting at Kulana ‘Oiwi as part of the franchise renewal process. Typically, franchise renewals only take place every 20 years, making this meeting particularly urgent for those not satisfied with the current service.

Three members of the DCCA Cable Television Division came to Molokai for a community meeting yesterday. From top: Glenn Chock, Steve Jolin and Don Yabusaki.

After all the meetings across Maui County have been completed, a “Community Ascertainment Report” will be written, explained Yabusaki. The DCCA will then return for formal public hearings based on the community concerns.

Copies of two questionnaires distributed at the meeting — a customer satisfaction survey for Oceanic Time Warner and another one on community needs and Akaku’s services — soon ran out as close to 40 people crowded into the conference room.

Also under consideration is the consolidation of the Maui County and the Lahaina/West Maui franchises. With both franchises expiring on Dec. 31, 2013, the DCCA is looking at the feasibility of turning these into a single franchise.

As the local franchising authority, the state DCCA regulates the quality of service, including customer service. What these regulators heard was a litany of poor quality and unresponsive customer service offered by Oceanic Time Warner.

The biggest and most repeated complaint involved the poor quality of service combined with unfair rates. Why should customers on Molokai pay the same as those on other islands that have superior service? This same question was asked over and over again in various ways.

Arleone Dibben-Young of Kawela testified that when the television reception went out she had to wait on hold for 30 minutes after calling Oceanic Time Warner. “They said they couldn’t get here for a week and then they ended up being no-shows,” she said. Dibben-Young said her service is out “all the time,” reception is often fuzzy and the sound quality is poor. “We are being held hostage by Oceanic,” she said.

Although the DCCA does not have immediate jurisdiction over Oceanic Time Warner’s broadband Internet service, they still accepted testimony on this issue. While Internet is not regulated by the state, the service still travels through the same cable lines that have been granted right-of-way easements by the state.

Allan Uemura, a technician at Dreamworks electronic store on Molokai, testified that most people on Molokai receive Internet signals from a microwave transmission from Ocean Time Warner. Apparently, this is slower and inferior to the fiberoptic service on other islands and on the mainland.

“We are not getting the 10-megabytes per second (download speed) yet we are being charged the same as everyone,” said Uemura. “We rarely get 5-megabytes per second … Oceanic is abusing its monopoly.”

Uemura suggested that the franchise fees be waived for those customers using the microwave service on Molokai. “They need to improve the underlying infrastructure,” he added.

Daniel Emhoff, director of the Akaku Media Center since 2004, read his testimony to the DCCA.

“It has been one of the greatest honors to serve this community,” Emhoff began. He then discussed the PEG (Public, Education, Government) mandate required of all cable television franchises. At this time, Oceanic Time Warner pays 3 percent of its revenue to support public access PEG programming. In response to this mandate, Oceanic Time Warner simply raised its rates to customers by 3 percent, said Emhoff.

“The company shows the lowest consideration” to Akaku and public access community television, said Emhoff. “Things could be a lot better … we receive half the service, we should pay half the rate … they care more about profits than people.”

Emhoff asked the DCCA to increase the franchise fee to 5 percent as allowed by law. With Maui County budget cuts, Akaku has struggled in recent years to stay above water.

Other testifiers, including Artice Swingle, praised Akaku and the valuable service it provides Molokai. She mentioned the difficulty of running Akaku with one employee after it had two for many years. “We cannot be an informed community without access to public television,” she said.

Another Akaku supporter was local activist and OHA candidate Walter Ritte. “Akaku is putting the three islands of Maui together, it is critical,” he said. Ritte mentioned how Akaku helped educate the public on the proposed development of La’au Point before it was defeated. Ritte also discussed the educational benefits that come from Akaku. “It needs greater support than it is being given.”

Ritte said the contribution from Ocean Time Warner should be “15 to 20 percent,” not just 5 percent.

Written comments on the franchise renewal and the service of Akaku will be accepted until Sept. 14. Email comments to cabletv@dcca.hawaii.gov or send by regular mail to DCCA-CATV, P.O. Box 541, Honololu, HI 96809.

For more information, contact DCCA-CATV by calling 808-586-2620.


One Response

  1. I think the name should be changed to Titanic Cable because the ship and the cable system are disasters.  The RMS Oceanic and Britannic had long useful careers ….

    Measuring Broadband America site says Time Warner provides about 90% of their “up to” speeds during peak times. On Molokai, Oceanic Time Warner is lucky to provide even 10% of the already half-RoadRunner WAVE service we receive. For everyone more than 2 miles from town, “broadband” internet service is a monopoly for Oceanic.  Molokai does not get RoadRunner (“up to” 10Mbps Down, 1Mbps Up) offered on the other islands.  We have WAVE Plus (“up to” 5Mbps Down, .38Mbps Up).

    For the past year, evening download speeds deteriorate to kilobit/second rates. We pay the same monthly rate as RoadRunner customers but get far less.  When I complain, Oceanic says the problem is limited bandwidth and not their fault. If not their fault for designing and operating an inadequate system to serve the customers, who is at fault?  Guess it must be our fault for greedily expecting RoadRunner speeds just because we pay RoadRunner rates.

    Last August, Oceanic President Bob Barlow told THE DISPATCH cable service on Molokai would be changing soon. “We are updating microwave to both Molokai and Lanai and that will remedy some of the issues that we’ve been having, I’m confident they’ll be done by the end of the year.” He went on to say service on Molokai would still not match service on the other islands until a fiber optic cable replaced the current microwave. He predicted that would happen within six months (mid-February?)

    Four months later, service has not improved. Sunday, 2 December 2012 at 2107, I had 553Kbps download on the Hawaii Broadband Initiative test site. 6 December the cable was out from 0800-1200. I thought something might finally be happening – the promised microwave upgrade maybe? When it came back up I had less than 1Mbps speeds during the lighter demand daytime. That evening at 2048 I got 418Kbps on the HBI test site.

    Why spend money to improve service when you have a monopoly and can charge whatever you want?  Oceanic HAS spent money on the Molokai system, not to fix the known bandwidth problem but to make it even worse.  They added service to some large areas on the west end and all three Kawela Plantation subdivisions. Recently, they added Kalaupapa service. More customers (revenue) using an already inadequate system.  No upgrade of the microwave feeding the Molokai system has been made, better service doesn’t generate more revenue.

    If “Impersonating an ISP” were a crime, Oceanic would be guilty as charged. As for the requirement that a franchise holder be “fit, willing and able to provide service” – Oceanic fails the test. If the DCCA renews their Lahaina franchise, our Hawaii regulators will also fail the test. Commerce trumps Consumer Affairs, again.

    I’ll end with a quote I think apropos for Mr. Barlow:

    “As you are aware, the factual position is somewhat at variance with what has been stated by you.”
    Zail Singh to Rajiv Gandhi

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