Subscribers angry with French cabler

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PARIS -- French cable operator Noos-Numericable is at the center of a major spat as numerous subscribers have joined forces against the group's failure to deal with its poor network connection and customer services.

After a flood of complaints in 2005 and 2006, French general trading standards body the General Direction of Competition, Consumption and Fraud Repression (DGCCRF) took action Friday, placing Noos-Numericable "under surveillance" and giving the group until the end of March to improve its services and straighten out outstanding client complaints.

An association calling itself Disappointed by Cable has accused the company of poor technical and customer services, overcharging consumers, bad management of subscriber deposits and subscription termination, and is unhappy about the way complaints have been dealt with.

The association's president, Marcel Lacour, has called for an organized protest on Saturday in front of Numericable's headquarters outside Paris. Noos-Numericable president Philippe Besnier defended the company's record, telling newspaper Le Monde: "We are doing everything we can to restore good relations with our clientele."

The telecommunications giant blames the connection problems on a modernization of its network and recent merger of Noos with rival operator Numericable.

The merged group, which has 99.6% of the cable market in France and is present in 40% of households, represents the recent consolidation of French cable operators, finalized earlier this year when UPC-Noos and Numericable merged in a €1.3 billion ($1.7 billion) deal.

Noos-Numericable has acknowledged that its lack of customer service is "unacceptable" and plans to deal with all outstanding client complaints by the end of March.

Noos plans to hold a press conference on March 7 detailing its plans to improve its services. "The group today is a fusion of different companies, all with different pasts and different networks. It's true that the problems we're running into today -- which the company has addressed -- are not new for a company that has recently been purchased," a spokesman for Noos-Numericable said in an interview.

The actions against Noos are part of a nationwide protest against poor telecommunications service. Telecom Italia's Alice is also under media scrutiny and DGCCRF surveillance.
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