If you're frustrated with your cable or satellite-TV service, there are places where you can turn to complain.
Whether it helps or not is another matter, and may depend on the vigilance of local government officials.
A lot of you are frustrated, according to a survey released last week by the University of Michigan, which reported that pay-TV services scored a 62 out of 100 on this year's University of Michigan American Customer Satisfaction Index, the lowest of any industry in the survey.
Comcast Corp., the industry's largest cable company, saw its score fall 6.7 percent to 56 this year. EchoStar Communications Corp.'s Dish Network and DirecTV Group Inc., both satellite competitors, did better with scores of 67, but both lost ground compared with a year ago.
Verizon Communications Inc. was not ranked for TV service, which it only recently introduced, because its market share was too small.
If you have a problem with your cable or satellite provider, discuss it with the company first. If you get nowhere, satellite customers can complain to the Federal Communications Commission at http://www.fcc. gov/cgb/complaints.html or by calling 1-888-225-5322 (CALL-FCC).
Cable customers can complain to the FCC, too, but should start with what is known as the local franchising authority, usually your local government. Be forewarned that the government employees who answer the phones may not know that consumers can complain.
When an Inquirer reporter called the FCC number listed above, the person said to call the Federal Trade Commission, instead. An FCC spokeswoman said her agency was the correct one to contact.
In Philadelphia, the city's Cable Franchise Authority has a phone line for complaints, 215-686-2934. But a message left there by The Inquirer last week still had not been returned after two days.
Filling out an online complaint form at www.phila.gov/property/text/cable.html also did not yield a response after two days.
When the newspaper called the city switchboard, an operator insisted that complaints about cable service ought to go to the FCC.
Joseph James, deputy commissioner at the city's department of public property, said his office oversaw the cable franchise and "will document complaints, try to intervene, and at least try to get some clarification." He could not be reached later to discuss how long the city usually takes to respond to complaints.
Government agencies also have no authority to regulate most cable rates, a frequent source of customer dissatisfaction.
But some municipal governments are organized and willing to intervene for residents. They have the right to do so in return for granting often exclusive franchises to sell cable in their area.
Seattle, for example, has a "Cable Customer Bill of Rights," which spells out service expectations, including a $10 penalty if a technician does not arrive on time.
Locally, Lower Merion Township uses a similar model. Brenda Viola, the township's public information officer, handles cable complaints. Her phone number appears on all cable bills sent to customers in the township.
Lower Merion lists cable companies' responsibilities to customers and will send a copy to those who ask. The expectations include cable companies' answering the phone within 30 seconds, notifying customers when they are going to be late for appointments, and providing the township with copies of written responses to complaints that consumers submit to Lower Merion.
Viola said that Comcast responded quickly when consumers contacted her office. But she also said that her office has received more complaints about Comcast recently, perhaps caused by its rollout of new services, including phone.
"Comcast has even said at our meetings, 'We are experiencing growing pains,' " Viola said.
A Comcast spokesman said the company "strives to address all customer issues - regardless of their origin or the parties involved - with the utmost care, every time."
Lower Merion recently signed an agreement allowing Verizon to offer video service there and will impose similar requirements on that company, Viola said.