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Front Page » Top Stories » Atampt May Face More Fines If Miami Customers Complain About Service

Atampt May Face More Fines If Miami Customers Complain About Service

Written by on March 14, 2002

By Paola Iuspa
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While the City of Miami fines AT&T Broadband for missing its deadline for installing fiber optic, commissioners are also looking into charging the cable and telecommunication giant a fee if service is poor.

Commissioners last week authorized City Manager Carlos Gimenez to send surveys to the 68,000 cable subscribers in Miami to help determine AT&T’s programming quality and repair-service response.

Since September, the city has fined AT&T about $2,000 a day for missing its deadline to lay fiber-optic cable. Although the company was to have finished replacing old cables six months ago, AT&T has yet to finish 40% of the city’s upgrade, city Commissioner Tomás Regalado said.

Mathew Leibowitz, with Leibowitz and Associates, the city’s legal adviser and expert on Federal Communications Commission issues, said AT&T would owe the city about $750,000 by year’s end. The company has paid nothing so far.

Mayor Manny Diaz last month interceded and asked commissioners for more time to negotiate an amicable settlement. He wants to propose allowing AT&T to make a corporate donation instead of paying a fine.

"It will be a great opportunity for AT&T to make a corporate contribution," Mayor Diaz said at a city commission meeting. He said AT&T could donate at least part of the fine money to a city fund aimed at cleaning up neglected neighborhoods.

"I am sure AT&T doesn’t want to have in its records that it was fined in Miami," Commissioner Arthur Teele Jr. said.

And Commissioner Regalado also wants to charge a penalty for poor service, but prior to that the city would need evidence, which is what led to the idea for a survey. If a survey shows customers in Miami aren’t happy with the service, the city would start the process required to fine AT&T for breach of contract, Mr. Leibowitz said.

"The survey would determine if there is sufficient cause," he said.

The city doesn’t regulate channels or programming but does oversee cable services, said Mr. Regalado, who chairs the city’s initiative. He said on Nov. 29 that he received complaints related to image, sound and repair services. And complaints have not decreased since, he said.

Commissioners hope to find room for leveraging the fine settlements later this year when AT&T realizes its plans to merge with Comcast Corp., he said. Under the current contract, he said, the city has the right to approve or reject the fusion.

Mr. Gimenez said the $50,000 survey would be paid by AT&T’s pending fines due to upgrade delays, now totaling $400,000.