Surf City Officials, Residents Air Complaints During Comcast License Renewal Discussion

By GINA G. SCALA | Jun 19, 2019

Surf City — Robert Clifton, senior director of government and regulatory affairs for Comcast Cable, has likely heard the complaints against Long Beach Island’s sole cable provider as he makes his way up and down the barrier island as part of the final leg of a three-year federal process for license renewal on LBI. That didn’t stop officials and residents in Surf City last week from laying it on the line for the cable executive.

“Discontinuing the Ship Bottom location was like a slap in the face,” Mayor Francis Hodgson told Clifton during the first order of business at the June 12 borough council meeting.

The only Comcast service center on Long Beach Island closed last fall, ahead of plans for an Xfinity Store that was initially slated to open late this summer on Martin Truex Jr. Boulevard in Manahawkin. The new 4,500-square-foot store is now scheduled to open sometime in September. In the meantime, Comcast customers on LBI are being directed to the Route 9 location in Manahawkin should they have need for face-to-face customer service.

Clifton said the decision to close the Ship Bottom location was due to the decline in the number of customers using it. Overall, the way customers interact with Comcast has changed, he said.

At the new store, customers “can sit on a couch to learn and use the equipment,” he said. “They can try it out ahead of time.”

Some of the most common complaints from customers at the Ship Bottom location was after picking up a new piece of equipment and going home, they had no idea how to install it or use it. It often required a call to the help center or a tech service call to get the equipment working and the customer familiar with it, according to Clifton.

“The customer experience is better (at an Xfinity Store),” Clifton said, noting a second time that there wasn’t enough foot traffic at the Ship Bottom location to warrant keeping it open.

Hodgson disagreed.

“Every time I was at Ship Bottom I had to wait,” he said.

Linda Grasso, a Sixth Street resident, said she hadn’t planned to say anything during the June 12 meeting, “but Comcast is here.”

Her complaint, like others in the audience and on the Island, was around seasonal homeowners or income property owners returning equipment at the end of each summer or whenever the home is closed for the season. She said she spent part of the offseason last year returning cable equipment for her brother, who then had to pick up the equipment and install it again when he returned this year. The pickup used to be easy, from Ship Bottom to Surf City. This year picking up equipment required a trip to the mainland and an attempt to turn left onto Route 9 when leaving the current Manahawkin facility, located across the street from Wawa.

“This is idiotic,” Grasso said. “You call it convenient ...”

The issue of returning the equipment is twofold, according to Clifton. The first is money: A cable box is worth about $800. The second reason the cable giant requires boxes to be returned when not in use is because technical upgrades and enhancements are likely to be made during that time period, he said.

“When they go back, they get a new one,” he said.

Hodgson, along with other borough officials and residents, had other complaints, too, including frozen screens, pixelated channels, and being unable to reboot the system without making a call to the service center.

“Cable wires are down for a good number of days,” Councilman Peter Hartney said.

Some of those issues, Clifton said, are not unusual in shore communities.

“The weather does wreak havoc,” he said, noting he is the person to call when things like that happen. He spent a majority of his time after Superstorm Sandy fielding calls from municipal officials about downed lines, among other things.

Surf City’s contract with Comcast expires in December. The cable giant submitted its application, which is reviewed by the state Board of Public Utilities, earlier this year.

Clifton said his presence at last week’s council meeting was to start negotiations.

— Gina G. Scala

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