Public hearing on Burnsville cable service is Aug. 20

It doesn’t take much to elicit opinions about cable service in Burnsville.

An online city survey in March drew responses from 592 people — a healthy number, according to Sue Buske, a consultant working on a cable needs assessment in Burnsville.

The survey showed mixed feelings about cable provider Comcast, with which the city is negotiating a new 15-year cable franchise agreement.

The assessment is part of a review of Comcast’s service the city will use in negotiations. Comcast and a predecessor company have held the franchise since January 2000. The company is seeking renewal, which by federal law obligates the city to enter a three-year negotiation.

The next step in the review is a public hearing on cable service to be held at the Aug. 20 City Council meeting. It begins at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall, 100 Civic Center Parkway.

Some folks don’t have much love for their capable provider, suggested the online survey and a series of focus groups that drew 67 people.

A third or more of subscribers rated Comcast as “poor” or “very poor” in three areas: cable rates (75.9 percent), ease of getting a customer-service rep on the phone (36.1 percent) and ease of getting problems repaired or resolved (33.3 percent).

Cities don’t have regulatory authority over rates, Buske told the City Council at an Aug. 13 work session. They do have authority over customer service and can pursue more than the minimum levels prescribed in federal law, she said.

More than half of the subscribers in the online survey and focus groups were “very” or “somewhat” satisfied with Comcast’s overall performance, Buske reported.

But 86 percent of open-ended comments about Comcast’s service were negative.

Dissatisfaction with the company is “a little higher … than I’ve seen in some places,” said Buske, who consults for multiple cities.

One of her key findings was that nearly half of subscribers get most of their programming information from Comcast’s on-screen guide.

But Burnsville’s public, educational and government access channels aren’t included in the on-screen guide, Buske said. They should be added, she said.

She also called for local access channels to have high-definition, closed-captioning and video-on-demand capability.

Comcast also needs to upgrade Burnsville Community Television equipment in the Burnsville City Hall council chambers and in the production truck Burnsville shares with Eagan, Buske said.

Most of BCTV’s equipment was purchased in 2009 and is in good to excellent shape, she reported.