HERMITAGE — When resident George Riedmuller and his wife moved to Hermitage two years ago, he signed up for Internet services with Spectrum.

The rate was initially $45 per month, but that rate increased by $15 after a year. Then about a week ago, he received notice that the rate was increasing again from $60 to $75.

Both times, Riedmuller said Spectrum representatives said his rate went up because he had been paying a promotional rate, which had expired.

Though he's now retired, Riedmuller's wife transcribes medical reports for doctors in California, a job which requires an Internet connection. And while Riedmuller was told by Spectrum his rates wouldn't increase any more, he said he could not get that promise in writing.

However, Riedmuller isn't alone in his difficulties with Spectrum. Hermitage Commissioners board President Duane Piccirilli said he has received multiple residents' complaints, costs, customer service to the absence of an outdoor drop box for making payments.

Commissioners have become accustomed to fielding complaints about Spectrum. During a public meeting in January of 2019, they invited a representative from Spectrum to the meeting so that residents could share their concerns directly — and about 50 residents attended.

Residents again came to city officials later that year after Spectrum removed a drop-box for payments at its former location on Snyder Road. The drop-box was reinstalled by November of 2019, but Spectrum officials said they were unsure what caused the removal.

Hermitage Manager Gary Hinkson said residents have brought the most recent series of concerns over the last few months, and he had reached out to Chris Thomas, director of government affairs at Spectrum. Hinkson said he had not received any feedback from Spectrum as of Tuesday.

"I continue to believe that a company whose main mission is communication, does not communicate well with its customers," Piccirilli said.

Thomas directed questions to Bill Morand, senior director of communications, who said some issues may merely be a misunderstanding.

In the case of promotional offers, Morand said what usually occurs is that a customer selects a service package that comes with a promotional offer, such as discounted services for 12 months, then 24 months, then reaching the regular rate, with the promotional rates only temporary.

So even though a customer may think service rates are increasing arbitrarily, Morand said it reflects the expiration of sign-on discounts.

"It's not that the rates went up, it's that the discounts went down," Morand said. "We've had a lot of people say 'I'm paying more' when they're paying the rack rate for their services."

Spectrum's new office is located at 526 South Hermitage Road, about a quarter mile from the previous location. Their new location has expanded hours including Sundays, and allows customers to make payments with a store associate or an automated kiosk in the store, Morand said.

Other bill payment options include online payments, automated payments from a checking account or credit and debit cards, and by mail, he said.

Riedmuller said he prefers to use a bill-pay service through his bank, where Spectrum would send him an electronic bill and for him to pay manually. This way he can pay at anytime, but Spectrum does not take money out of his bank accounts automatically, he said.

However, Riedmuller said he understands why older residents may prefer a more traditional payment method, such as a drop-box or paying in-person. Piccirilli likewise said that many residents prefer paying in-person, with the drop-box especially useful during the ongoing pandemic, with measures to maintain social distance and minimize contact.

Commissioner Louis Squatrito said he's received complaints from residents for the past two years. He particularly focused on concerns by senior citizens who have complained to him about the absence of a drop box. They worry about using the kiosk, knowing multiple people would be using the same buttons.

Piccirilli said he didn't understand why there are no regulations to limit Internet rate increases, especially during a pandemic when so many people rely on the Internet for multiple services from doctor appointments to remote learning for schoolchildren.

Even though he doesn't have any children of his own in school, Riedmuller said one of his main concerns is for parents who may experience similar increases as he did and the potential difficulties if someone were unable to afford those rate increases.

"You may have parents who are or aren't working because of the pandemic, and then they have kids who are doing their schoolwork over the Internet," he said. "If they didn't have Internet, they'd still need to have it — they'd be in a real catch-22 situation."

Riedmuller said he thought competition would encourage Spectrum to improve its customer service.

However, city officials have said previously that Spectrum is allowed a monopoly in Hermitage because it owns and maintains the necessary infrastructure.

Like David L. Dye on Facebook or email him at ddye@sharonherald.com.

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