Are your relatively comfortable that you’ll be able to go online or watch video as easily as flipping an “on” switch? Easy, quick and reliable access is so common that we may take it for granted. But, especially during COVID-19’s increased demand on networks, it’s important to recognize that reliable access is made possible because of cable’s dedicated on-the-ground technicians and other employees. They were officially deemed “essential workers” during the pandemic, but the cable industry has always considered them essential, indispensable and their greatest asset.
“From call center employees working out of their homes to field technicians out in communities doing repairs or network augmentations, the collective effort of cable’s workforce has never been more important,” says NCTA – The Internet & Television Association. “After all, cable’s network is a physical infrastructure that needs constant monitoring, maintenance, repairs, new hardware and other measures to ensure it delivers the optimal experience.”
These employees not only have a direct impact on every cable subscriber, but you may even know one. Cable employees live in almost every community in our nation, with at least 300 living in each of the country’s 435 congressional districts. Texas is home to 18,500 cable employees working for NCTA company members, including Comcast and Charter.
These employees work in small and large communities across the state. Always – but especially in these times of crisis – the health and safety of cable’s employees and customers are top priorities of Texas Cable Association members Altice USA, Charter Spectrum, Comcast and Sparklight.
Taking care of employees and their families not only ensures they can continue to serve cable subscribers, but also assist their communities, sometimes in novel ways. For example, Sparklight field technicians in Aransas Pass, Kingsville and Port Lavaca distributed $1,500 in HEB gift cards to families in need during installations and service calls.
“Our employees are our greatest resource and we’re doing everything we can to protect them,” Charter Spectrum said recently when it announced that it is permanently raising its minimum wage for all employees to $20 per hour. “The initial increase will be implemented immediately for frontline field technicians and customer service call center employees who are the face of our company to our nearly 30 million customers and who are providing critical services to our communities, emergency relief workers, and government entities.”
Charter Spectrum and other cable providers have worked to substantially reduce the need for in-home service visits in line with the CDC-recommended social-distancing guidelines. Still, Charter Spectrum reports, field technicians continue make more than 40,000 service calls and installations daily.
Some of the common employee and customer service safety protocols that cable providers have instituted due to COVID-19:
Limited or safe interaction
Cable employees outfitted with personal protection equipment practice social distancing during any customer interaction and limit the amount of time spent inside customer homes. Some cable providers require technicians who interact with customers to perform a daily temperature check, wear a face mask, wash hands or use sanitizer before and after every customer visit.
Companies ensure technicians have necessary cleaning and sanitizing supplies in their vehicles, along with face masks and other equipment. For example, Charter distributed personal protective equipment (PPE) kits to its customer-facing employees.
Companies also are curtailing in-home visits by distributing self-installation kits to new residential customers.
Cable One, which provides Sparklight services in Texas, has rolled out an app that allows field technicians to assist customers through the use of video chat.
The majority of cable office workers, including call center employees, are working remotely.
Cable One (Sparklight) in February put a cross-functional Incident Management Team in place to proactively plan for company operations and customers service. At-risk employees and those who needed to work remotely to care for their children were able to work from home almost immediately. Soon after, more than 90% of Cable One’s corporate and call center associates seamlessly transitioned to working from home.
At Comcast, within a few weeks, more than 95% of Comcast’s customer service employees were equipped and transitioned to be able to work from home.
For cable employees who must report to the workplace, cable operators have implemented on-site rigorous safety protocols and procedures based on national and local guidelines. Those include the wearing of face masks, social distancing and increased cleaning of buildings.
Other employee actions
Charter announced on April 20 that it would not lay off or furlough employees for at least the next 60 days. It also has enhanced employee benefits, including three weeks of flex time for COVID-19 related reasons and additional support for employees and their families who have high-risk health conditions or challenges with school and child care closures.
Cable One (Sparklight) is supporting its associates with “Purpose Pay,” a premium to hourly base pay for associates who are asked to leave their homes to support the company’s purpose. It also has enhanced its time-off program to reduce financial uncertainty and to allow employees flexibility in caring for their families during the pandemic.
Cable employees also are receiving federal and state support as a result of being recognized as essential employees.
The heads of the FCC and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) recently wrote a letter to the nation’s governors asking them to make sure that cable employees and other essential communications workers have the necessary resources, including prioritizing available personal protective equipment, to keep up connectivity during the pandemic.
“Reliable communications service is an essential lifeline during emergencies – from enabling Americans to call 911 for help to keeping communities connected by making possible services such as telehealth, telework, and distance learning,” the two wrote.
Also in the letter, they singled out frontline cable and other telecommunications workers such as those responsible for distribution, installation, repair, and maintenance services for commercial and residential systems and networks, as well as retail customer service personnel at service center locations.