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Cable company pulls the plug

Monday, March 14, 2011

Cable issues have plagued the city of Ash Flat for the last few years, including issues with "The Big Switch" that left customers without vital channels for months. But, nothing prepared subscribers for the latest revelation that Crystal Broadband Networks (CBN, known formerly as Almega) was ceasing operations in the city, leaving all cable customers with no television reception.

In a letter dated Feb, 24, the company informed the city it would no longer be the television provider for the city after Feb. 19, 2011. The reason given by the company was: "An unexpected order by the Highway Department to take off the main cable line at Ash Flat due to expansion, is the underlying reason for ceasing of operation without prior notice."

The Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department is working on a widening project through the city and Entergy's power poles had to be moved to accommodate the construction. CBN's cable lines were affixed to the poles, so Entergy had to have the company remove their lines from the old poles when placing the new power poles.

Ash Flat Mayor Danny Traw has invited Falcon Cable and a cable company from Cherokee Village to come and visit with the city council regarding their available options to possibly bring cable service back to the city.

Traw said the main issue is there are not enough customers to attract a new system. With only 27 customers and a base monthly bill of about $59, many of CBN's previous customers have opted for the more economic and flexible programing offered by satellite television.

Traw said one of the main issues he has with CBN is the way they treat their customers. The company charges customers a monthly franchise fee and has only made a payment to the city one time. This was only after numerous calls from the media and city hall questioning the reasons for their non payment and lack of customer service.

Traw said the company still is under contract with the city. He has turned the matter over to the city's attorney, Larry Kissee.

One location in Ash Flat that was impacted greatly by the cable issue is the Ash Flat Heath and Rehabilitation Center.

A spokesperson for the center said they are utilizing their DVD library and employees are also bringing in portable players for residents.

She said television is not the primary activity of their residents, but for those who do not go out of their rooms, the staff has insured they have movies to watch. The center has also shown movies on a big screen, as well as offering karaoke and bands. The facility is currently in the process of finalizing plans for obtaining satellite programming.

According to Charles Wesley, an employee with technical support at CBN, the company purchased 25 percent of the former cable company, Texas based Almega Cable. CBN, which is now based in Chicago, still has one of the same employees with which the Villager Journal and the City of Ash Flat corresponded previously.

The company was contacted numerous times prior to the latest incident of ceasing services regarding the cable issues, including in September, 2009, when the company was still Almega Cable.

Research on the prior company shows there have been numerous allegations and thousands of complaints from all over the United States. They have also been investigated by the Better Business Bureau where the company received an F rating. The BBB  has logged 203 official complaints nationwide on the company.

According to a report on Fox 7 News in Texas, reports have also been publicized in numerous small newspapers across the nation including Missouri, Washington, Texas and Arkansas. The reports indicate complaints are from overbilling, losing channels, no signal and no customer service.

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