It's the cable company that can do no right.


When thousands of English-speaking customers of Adelphia Communications Corp. were treated to a Spanish audio feed of the top-rated "Desperate Housewives," the problem wasn't out-of-date equipment.


In fact, Adelphia, in the midst of a multi-million dollar upgrade of its regional transmission network, had flipped the switch on a new signal transport system.


Trouble was, the system had been untested and was put in use by necessity when wildfires cut service to 60,000 customers in Los Angeles, Ventura, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.


"(The system) wasn't quite ready for prime time, but we went with it anyway because otherwise thousands of customers would have been without service for hours and even days," said Bob Gold, a regional spokesman for Adelphia, which is still in bankruptcy reorganization proceedings.


Well, they got their service all right in Spanish.


The repeated losses of service and language mix-ups has made Adelphia the butt of jokes from local talk radio and Internet blogs to the editorial pages of the city's daily newspapers. The Los Angeles Times dryly speculated that Adelphia was helping Angelenos practice their Spanish.


Much of the sniping might become moot when Time Warner Cable takes over the Adelphia and Comcast franchises in Los Angeles as part of a $17.7 billion deal. But the unit of Time Warner Inc., which is promising improved service and new features, comes into a market where perceptions about cable operators often run next to dog catcher.


Local officials, too, have been taken to task for not exercising firm enough control over the cable operators that handle the city's 14 cable franchise zones.


Lots of complaints
Those criticisms were echoed by members of the L.A. City Council, who demanded an investigation into Adelphia's loss of service and rebuked the city's cable regulators for the slow pace of negotiating new franchise contracts. Those deals were last negotiated in 1987 and have been repeatedly extended since expiring in 2002.


"People pay a lot of money for cable, they arrange their schedules around certain shows and they deserve good service," said Councilwoman Janice Hahn, who in August became chair of the council committee that oversees the city agency regulating cable franchises. "If you ask anyone on the street what they think about their cable service, people have a lot of complaints and that's citywide, though maybe more with Adelphia."

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