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Static over Comcast office closure
Council delays blessing closure for 6 months, mayor says theyre in default
The Manteca Comcast office has been closed since Nov. 29. - photo by HIME ROMERO

Comcast’s Manteca office has been closed for 21 days.

But Manteca’s City Council won’t decide whether they will sanction the closure of the office in the 200 block of North Grant Avenue for at least another six months.

That’s because elected leaders Tuesday want Comcast to come up with ways to continue provide in-Manteca customer service among other cable and Internet related issues.

City Attorney Don Lupal — in response to a question from Mayor Willie Weatherford — noted the contract clearly states that Comcast must maintain a Manteca office.

Weatherford then noted that Comcast’s decision to close the Manteca office without the city first agreeing to it constituted a “technical default” of their franchise agreement.

Council instructed City Manager Karen McLaughlin to work with Comcast to come up with a solution despite the fact Comcast has already provided a solution that was detailed in a side letter to the franchise agreement they have with the city that expires June 19, 2015. That side letter notes Comcast has already arranged for Ramirez Satellite, 333 N. Main St., to process payments and equipment returns. The vendor is located just two blocks away from the shuttered Comcast office in a much higher-profile location.

A Comcast representative Tuesday told the council that customers have the option of having a Comcast service technician visit their home when they have cable or Internet problems. They can also make Comcast payments in person at the Manteca locations of Wal-Mart, Kmart and Check-n-Cash. If they want services that go beyond what was ever offered at the former Comcast office they can go to new Comcast stores in Modesto, Stockton, and Tracy.

Under a 20-year cable TV franchise agreement inked in 1994 with the City of Manteca, Comcast is obligated to provide a staffed customer servicer office for cable customers within the city limits. Due to the acceleration of online payments plus payments made through the mail and via telephone electronic transfers Comcast said foot traffic has significantly decreased at the Manteca office.

In exchange for an early exit from the office requirement, Comcast offered to provide free high speed modem service for the Union Road fire station and city hall for the next 18 months. The city would also receive a $10,000 technology grant from Comcast to use as they see fit.

Weatherford led the charge to delay blessing the Comcast closure in a bid to try and secure better customer service options for Manteca customers of the cable TV and Internet provider.

The mayor was specifically interested in making the Manteca Senior Center a drop-off location to return but not to exchange or pickup cable TV equipment. He also wanted Comcast to see if it was possible to extend Internet and cable service into all of downtown. The mayor believed Comcast could collect returned cable boxes once a month by having a technician drop by the senior center.

Vince Hernandez was the only council member voting against delaying action on the side letter and postponing any action for at least six months.

Hernandez noted on Sunday he was having problems with his family’s cable TV service. After calling Comcast, a technician concluded it was a problem with the equipment. They then scheduled a two-hour service window for that day.

Hernandez said he was surprised a technician came out on a Sunday. It took close to 90 minutes to fix the problem.

The Comcast representative at Tuesday’s meeting conformed similar service even on Sunday was available to all Manteca customers.

He also said Ramirez Satellite would be able to handle most exchange issues on the spot unless it didn’t have the particular equipment available. And if equipment had to be sent either back to Comcast or to a customer through the mail that Comcast would pick up the postage.

Weatherford spoke glowingly of the new Comcast Xfinity store on Pelandale Avenue in north Modesto that he has visited. He noted it offered much more than the Manteca office ever did and included the ability to experience various product offerings.

Comcast customer Virginia Payne told the council the office closure was forcing her to drive 34 miles round trip to Stockton to exchange a defective cable that was no longer working. She said it was a hardship on senior citizens like her.

The city clerk also received a phone call from Esther Jundt wanting to go on record opposing the Comcast office closure. She noted there were a lot of senior citizens in Manteca with disabilities and limited transportation that would make traveling to Stockton a hardship.

Kathy Paulson, in an ne-mail to the Bulletin on Tuesday, questioned the deal the city was negotiating in exchange for the office closure as well as Comcast’s claim that the Manteca office did not have much foot traffic.

“Since when is it ok for the City to get something for free at the expense and inconvenience of its citizens?” Paulson wrote. “I do not have to go into the Manteca Comcast office very often but there are at least three others in line there each time I have, most recently about four months ago.  Comcast makes more than enough money from our residents to keep a small office open.”