Cable companies in New Jersey may soon be forced to provide you with better customer service.

But it's possible you'd end up paying for the improved communication.

The state agency that oversees utilities is in the process of adopting new rules related to the way cable companies handle incoming phone calls from users and provide the work needed in order to resolve customers' problems.

"All I want is for people to get what they pay for," Joseph Fiordaliso, president of the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, told New Jersey 101.5. "Right now, the general customer service experience, in our estimation, is not acceptable."

A 46-page proposal, dotted with proposed changes aimed at improving the customer experience, was unveiled and approved by the BPU at a meeting in August. A virtual public hearing concerning the proposal is scheduled for Nov. 2 at 10 a.m., and comments may be submitted to the agency through Dec. 2.

Included in the proposal is a section devoted to updating cable service quality standards. With the new rules, at least 90% of calls to the cable companies' customer service centers would have to be answered by a live representative within 30 seconds during normal business hours. If a call is transferred, the wait time may not exceed another 30 seconds.

"Sometimes you have a specific question that a recording can't answer," Fiordaliso said. "These people are paying their hard-earned money to get a service. They should at least be able to speak to somebody that's alive."

Customers may not be restricted from reaching a live representative based on their billing status, the draft proposal adds.

The proposal also states that a customer shall receive a busy signal less than 3% of the time. And at least 90% of calls placed on hold shall be provided an opportunity to leave a call-back number — that call back would have to come within 30 minutes.

Under the proposed rules, at least 85% of service calls requiring a technician would have to be resolved within 14 days. Unless there are conditions beyond control of the operator, companies would have to start addressing service interruptions within 24 hours of the problem becoming known.

The proposal notes that these standards may be suspended due to natural disasters and other emergencies beyond a cable company's control.

In response to the proposal, Comcast told New Jersey 101.5 that it will "continue to engage in BPU’s rules process and emphasize the measurable improvement to the customer experience that has resulted from Comcast’s investments and commitments in New Jersey."

Stephanie Kosta, vice president of government & regulatory affairs for the Comcast Freedom Region, said those investments include $1 billion since 2018 and throughout the coronavirus pandemic to improve reliability, and investments to offer 24/7 support, two-hour appointment windows, and other features.

"This has resulted in a marked decline by nearly 70% in customer escalations to the BPU, as evidenced by the Board’s own data," Kosta said.

As of 7 p.m. Wednesday, Verizon had not replied to a request for comment.

Fiordaliso said the federal government has taken most of the control over cable companies out of the hands of state commissions. But the BPU is still in charge of customer service.

The proposal indicates that these changes would increase costs for cable companies, and that those costs are permitted to be passed on to the consumer.

Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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