By Bryan P. Sears
Call it the gathering storm after the storm - cable customers angry about charges for service interruptions caused by Isabel.
Baltimore County, which granted Comcast Cable the cable television franchise for the county, has received about a dozen complaints since Isabel about the company's lack of refunds for interrupted service due to the tropical storm.
And County Council staff members expect the number of complaints to rise as post-storm bills are sent out.
Among those with gripes is Allyn Singer of Randallstown, who said Comcast gave him the run-around after he asked for a credit when his service was out for six days after Isabel.
Singer was outraged when a Comcast representative initially denied his request.
"You get what you pay for and pay for what you get," Singer said.
Kirstie Durr, a spokeswoman for Comcast, said the company is trying to be understanding in the wake of a severe weather event, and said refunds will be made on a case-by-case basis.
She said contracts state the company is not obligated to refund customers for service lost because of power outages or "acts of God."
Durr said the company will offer refunds for lost service only if the customer had electricity - but no cable service.
"We can't do anything about the electricity being out," Durr said. "We actually heard from some customers who lost their power but had generators and were able to watch television."
But Stanley Teicher, a Pikesville resident and Comcast customer, said homeowners who had no service because of power outages should be entitled to a refund as well.
"Whether you had electric or not (Comcast) didn't deliver a commodity," Teicher said. "Let them take it up with BGE."
Teicher said his cable service was out for five days, even though he did not lose electricity.
Durr said customers with electricity but no cable service need to call Comcast at 800-266-2278 to report outages and request a credit.
Any credit would be based on the customer's bill divided by 30 days, Durr said.
The same policy applies for customers using the company's high-speed Internet service.
"We think this is fair," Durr said.
Councilman Sam Moxley, who represents Catonsville and Arbutus in the 1st District, said Comcast should offer refunds for customers who had electricity but no cable service.
"If the power is out, that's not (Comcast's) fault," Moxley said.
But Moxley said he thought it was more "appropriate" for Comcast to automatically adjust bills of customers who the company know were out of service and not wait for customers to complain.
Fifth District Councilman Vince Gardina, whose district includes Towson and White Marsh, said, "Legally I'm not sure they are required to do anything, but from a customer relations standpoint (offering refunds) would be a good thing to do.
"There's nothing the county can do to compel it, though," Gardina added.
Comcast is the only cable television provider in the county. It serves a combined 350,000 households and businesses in Baltimore, Harford and Howard counties.
In Baltimore County, the government grants franchises to companies to provide cable service to county residents, and the County Council serves as a clearing house for complaints about service - passing those complaints on to Comcast for resolution.
Singer and Teicher said Comcast representatives agreed to refunds after several discussions. However, both initially received less than the refund stated in the policy, based on bills that each top $50 per month.
After initially negotiating a refund, Singer said Comcast called him later and raised the refund from $7.99 to $9.59 - still about 60 cents shy of what it should have been according to Comcast's stated policy.
"It's not a matter of the $8, which is certainly nice," Singer said. "This is a process to fleece the public."
Teicher said that if the county can't attract companies to compete with Comcast then the council should step in and regulate the service much like public utilities.
"If you have a giant, you regulate that giant or the giant will eat you up," Teicher said.
Moxley said he is not sure if "the county could or should" regulate cable service.
"We're always told that we regulate too much and then when something affects someone personally it's regulate, regulate, regulate," Moxley said.
E-mail Bryan P. Sears at bsears@ patuxent.com.