Debunking disenfranchisement – Service Electric & Caernarvon Twp.

The Tri County Record was recently contacted by a small number of Caernarvon Township (Berks County) residents who were not satisfied with the telecommunications service options available to them. One chief concern stated was that there was a “lack of competition” due to an agreement between the township and the service provider Service Electric. In an effort to provide clarity on this issue, the Tri County Record spoke with Randy Miller, Administrator for Caernarvon Township, as well as employees of Service Electric about the agreement in place between the two entities.

The Tri County Record also spoke with Service Electric about other concerns that were raised. The Tri County Record would like to make it very clear that there were individuals who we spoke with that stated that they are thoroughly satisfied with the service they receive from Service Electric.

It should be noted that Service Electric does advertise with this publication.

When asked to provide an overview of the Cable Franchise Agreement in place between Caernarvon Township and Service Electric, Caernarvon Township Administrator Randy Miller offered the following insight:

“(Service Electric is the) franchise provider with the township… …now, that is a non-exclusive franchising, and other companies are welcome to come in here, but these other companies would have to lay their own lines.”

Miller said that the township would consider other companies for service, should those other companies build the infrastructure that is needed.

“We are always interested (in talking with other service providers), but from my understanding the customer base (in the township) is not large enough to where either ( a company such as Verizon or Comcast) would be willing to provide that kind of service here… …at the costs that would be incurred.”

Miller estimates that the cost of building such communications infrastructure would cost a company “millions”.

“(Other businesses) cannot, at this point, recoup on such a large investment,” Miller added. “It is cost prohibitive if you cannot develop a customer base in that area. That’s why usually whoever comes in and gets the franchise agreement with the municipality maintains that hold on the community,” he explained. “(Service Electric) did expend (the cost and) they are ‘franchise’ even though it’s non-exclusionary.”

Miller drew a parallel to instances with other services, where companies would have to build their own infrastructure - water lines, sewer lines or gas mains – to offer service to new customers.

“Back when cable was put into place no one ever dreamed that you would be getting internet over cable… they would never have dreamed that you would be doing phone service over cable – and those types of services, the township receives no revenue off of it. The only revenue the township receives is (a 3 percent franchise fee from) the services provided that are specific to television – that’s the agreement we have with service electric – that agreement was signed in 2007 and expires in 2019. I’m sure that we will look at renegotiating and they will bring those aspects into it.”

The television services outlined in the agreement are named as being monthly basic, expanded, digital premium, and pay-per-view services.

Karl Kowatch, the General Manager for Service Electric in Birdsboro, stated that “(the franchise agreement) essentially provides the right to use public rights of way, and in compensation for that we collect a franchise fee with the municipality. The franchise itself pretty much mirrors the FCC guidelines in terms of customer service, hours of operation, technical standards, etc.,” Kowatch said.

Service Electric has been operating in Caernarvon Township since the cable lines were installed in 1983-84. Locally, Service Electric’s operates in Caernarvon Township (Berks), Caernarvon Township (Lancaster), Honey Brook Borough and Honey Brook Township, East Nantmeal Township, parts of West Nantmeal Township, and Warwick and Union Townships. The Birdsboro division of Service Electric, which services our area, has been operating since 1968, with 50 current employees who service 28 municipalities and approximately 35,000 customers.

On Customer Service

Scott Young, Senior Project Manager of Operations with Service Electric, encouraged those with service problem to notify Service Electric immediately. They can be contacted by phone, email, or via web chat at SECV.com to bring issues to the company’s attention.

“People may not realize it, but our service calls are free. We encourage people to call right away with a problem so that we can walk them through a problem or get a technician out to help them.”

“We offer 24 hour service,” said Kowatch, “(but we do not) have customer service representatives standing by 24 hours a day. After we close at 8 p.m. we have an (advanced) answering service which can help customers through some technical issues, but they are not our standard daytime customer service representatives.”

He added that in instances where there are severe problems after regular business hours (such as complete service outages) that they have employees who go out into the field.

“We do not hesitate, we have 24/7 on call support in case of severe issues – like a pole down – they are out,” said Kowatch.

On Pricing

When comparing prices, Kowatch said that other companies such as Verizon make a price differential seem drastic because they are advertising introductory rates for packages which contractually lock customers into a long term agreement.

“Our costs are competitive with Comcast’s pricing and Verizon’s pricing when you compare ‘apples to apples’ versus and introductory price,” he said.

Young said that if customers look into the details beyond the low introductory rates other providers advertise, they will find that Service Electric’s pricing is indeed competitive with the other companies.

“A lot of these special offers lock you in to contracts, and those contracts have penalties, we do not make our customers sign contracts,” he stated.

On Internet Connection Issues

Regarding common causes for internet service connection issues, Young stated that Service Electric often encounters issues with customers who use older, privately-owned routers which are not configured properly when they are set up.

“We honestly see a lot of issues with routers,” Young said, “The best way for a customer to truly test their connection is to plug directly into their modem - that is our first trouble shooting tip. So we ask our customers to connect directly to out modem and test the speed at www.SpeedTestSECV.com. (They should) run that test multiple times to be sure that (they) are getting that accurate speed directly from the modem. We certainly support our customers and try and troubleshoot those problems, but in the end that often is a manufacturer’s issue.”

Service Electric does offer its own routers for customers, and such are installed by technicians who know how to configure them properly.

For those who believe that they may be having issues with their modem, they are asked to contact Service Electric to get information on their modem:

“We can see customers’ modems 24 hours a day,” said Kowatch, “and the nice thing about service monitoring is that we see the performance of that modem – the uptime and the downtime – we can see everything so that when a customer calls with a problem we can check the modem status for the last 72 hours.”

Young added that another variable affecting perceived internet speed can be one’s choice of internet browser and computer speed.

“We encourage people to install antivirus programs and firewalls and to stay current with their updates. We try as best we can to educate our customers about having their computers up to date.”

On New Features and Coming Features

Young said that Service Electric is looking expand their online live linear streaming service “where TV meets internet” by adding HBO, NBC, and the Turner Network to their already existing live linear Fox News and Fox Business Channels library. Coverage of all March Madness basketball games is another live linear offering which they are finalizing.

“(Live linear) is really picking up steam and we have a lot coming up,” he added. “It is cutting edge technology and it takes time to build (and we have) invested with an authenticator that provides accessibility to live streaming and on demand programming for remote access.”

With such service, Service Electric customers can access the programming anywhere with an internet connection, such as at a coffee shop, library, or airport.

As the trend toward having multiple digital devices become standard in the home, Young said that Service Electric is reinvesting into its existing infrastructure.

“There is a lot of work going on behind the scenes that customers are not going to see (which will result in) increases in their internet speed. We want our customers to know that we are listening and we are making improvements,” he said. “We are local, our people are local, and we live in the community and work in the community. We take pride in being a family-owned company. We offer free service to schools in the area (and) hold small fundraisers for the community.”

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