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Charter Sending Techs to Customer Homes (Late) With No ID and No Idea

We’ve heard from several Los Angeles-area readers that Charter/Spectrum has dispatched third-party contractors to customer homes on service calls in plain clothing with no identification of any kind verifying who they are, and in several cases the “technicians” could not explain why they were there.

“This truck pulled up to my door and a man rang my bell to say he was from Spectrum and was there to replace a cable box,” said Stop the Cap! reader Wanda. “We had no idea who he was, he wasn’t in a cable company uniform, and he could not show me any identification showing who he was. We later learned he was some sort of contractor hired by Spectrum to handle service calls, but we did not let him in. I used to have Comcast back in Chicago and one of their technicians raped and murdered someone so I don’t open the door until I’m comfortable, and I wasn’t.”

One thing that hasn’t changed after Charter took over from Time Warner Cable for customer Todd Collins: his Charter technician arrived two hours late, also without a uniform, a truck with a Spectrum logo, or an ID badge. At least Collins knew why Charter was there — to install cable service in the new addition on his home.

“It was amazing to watch because it was a comedy of errors from start to finish,” Collins explained. “He brought the wrong paperwork, didn’t know what he was there to do, and had to make four phone calls to find someone at Charter to help. Two additional cable trucks eventually stopped by, so at least we knew we were dealing with Charter, and between the three technicians the work was grudgingly completed. We still don’t know how much Charter intends to charge us for this service and they admit they don’t know either.”

Charter also continues to attract complaints from customers about inconsistent information about its pricing and packages. One exasperated customer took to YouTube to declare Charter/Spectrum “thieves” for charging their notorious $199 upgrade charge when customers want broadband faster than the base 60 or 100Mbps package. In the video, the customer was originally quoted $100 to install and upgrade to 300Mbps Ultra service (Los Angeles was a Time Warner Cable Maxx city) which increased to $200 just a few weeks later. For that, the customer was told a technician would take up to two hours and install new lines and equipment. When the technician finally arrived (late), he spent about 15 minutes unwrapping and plugging in a replacement cable modem/router combo, and then left.

“I feel like I was just robbed $200,” the video blogger said.

“Our Ultra Internet unfortunately is $199,” a Charter representative said. “That’s just the installation charge. [The] activation fee is part of overall Ultra pricing and it covers higher network costs.”

Requests to reverse the fee, considering the 15-minutes spent plugging in a cable modem the customer could have accomplished himself were rejected. But because the cable technician was late, the customer got a one-time $20 service credit.

Stop the Cap! readers have had more success getting back the unnecessary and unconscionable $199 upgrade fee (or whatever else Charter calls it this week) by filing a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission.

An exasperated Spectrum customer in Los Angeles documents his displeasure with Charter’s prices, packages, and uniform-less technician. (7:32)

Texas Homeowner Appalled Over “Sissy Ass Fight” Between Two AT&T Workers in Her Backyard

Phillip Dampier March 28, 2017 AT&T, HissyFitWatch, Video 1 Comment

A San Antonio homeowner was upset when she discovered two AT&T subcontractors installing a fiber line in her backyard were instead engaged in what seemed to be a fight/wrestling match/comedy routine.

“Caught this sissy ass fight on my security camera today in my backyard,” the unidentified homeowner wrote on her Facebook page. “These idiots are supposed to be installing AT&T fiber wire not getting into a lovers’ quarrel. It’s a full on chick fight, about the sissiest fight I’ve ever seen in my life. I could have done a better job at kickin’ those boys tails.”

Only in Texas.

“‘Honestly, I couldn’t tell if they were playing around and wrestling or what,” she complained. “Then I saw some sissy hair pulling and thought, ‘Oh no way! This is for real!’ Two grown men rolling around pulling hair like a bunch of sissy pants.”

An embarrassed AT&T sent the Houston Chronicle a statement about the unfortunate incident.

This involved employees of a company that was hired by one of our contractors, and obviously didn’t meet our requirements of how they conduct themselves… The contractor has assured us they will no longer use this company when working for us.

In response to the story, a local company offered the duo free fight lessons.

“If either of these guys want to learn to fight, shoot us a message,” wrote Genesis Jiu Jitsu SA. “We offer a free month of lessons on the house.”

AT&T Subcontractor Fight Club: A San Antonio homeowner’s video security system picked up this encounter between two workers that were there to install a fiber cable. She posted the fracas on her Facebook page. (1:30)

Altice End Runs Around Connecticut TV Station’s Blackout By Sending Customers to CBS All Access

“Of course you know this means war.”

Altice USA has found a way to use CBS’ All Access online streaming service against a Connecticut CBS affiliate that blacked out its signal for some Connecticut Cablevision customers.

Meredith-owned CBS affiliate WFSB-TV in Hartford has been off the Optimum television lineup in two dozen Connecticut towns as of 5pm Friday, Jan. 13 after negotiations between Iowa-based Meredith and Altice USA broke down over the price of renewing a retransmission consent contract that Altice claims is 800% more expensive than before.

That means Optimum customers in Litchfield County no longer have access to CBS programming. Or do they? Optimum’s website is redirecting affected customers to WFSB’s network — CBS — and offering a week’s free trial of CBS’ All Access, which allows viewers online access to all CBS programming on demand.

Optimum’s previously negotiated distribution deal with CBS for the All Access platform has been in place since the summer of 2015, which means CBS cannot pull the offer down from Altice’s website. That effectively means CBS is being used to undercut its own affiliate’s most important leverage — taking away popular programming until a provider finally capitulates and signs a renewal contract.

Matt Polka, president of the American Cable Association, which represents small and independent cable companies, loves it.

“Local broadcasters cannibalized by their own network!” Polka tweeted.

Altice USA has promised investors it will hold the line on programming costs even if it means finding alternatives for customers. This seems to be an example at work.

Will CBS All Access weaken Meredith’s position on WFSB to force price concessions? The New Haven Register isn’t sure, reporting there are years of “bad blood” between Cablevision and Meredith over carriage contracts:

During the last retransmission agreement negotiations in 2014, Cablevision Systems called on the Federal Communications Commission to investigate whether Meredith Corp. was meeting public interest obligations that are an important component of all television station licenses. Cablevision also sued Meredith in Connecticut’s court system under the Unfair Trade Practices Act.

The latest dispute has attracted the attention of both of Connecticut’s U.S. senators.

“I typically don’t get involved because it’s not for me to dictate the terms of a dispute between a cable company and a network,” Sen. Chris Murphy said in a statement issued Friday night. “But I haven’t been pleased with Altice’s commitment to Connecticut since it bought Cablevision.”

FierceCable reported the area’s congressional delegation isn’t happy with either company:

Connecticut’s two Democratic U.S. Senators, Richard Blumenthal and Christopher Murphy, sent a letter addressed to both Meredith Corp. CEO Stephen Lacy and Altice USA CEO Dexter Goei.

“While we respect the private negotiations being conducted by Optimum and WFSB and make no representations as to the merits of either side’s position, we believe that the current impasse does a disservice to Connecticut families and we urge you to negotiate in good faith to bring an end to this blackout,” the Senators wrote.

Altice, meanwhile, said in its own statement, “We have been negotiating in good faith for weeks and made multiple offers to Meredith even though their initial request was for more than 800% over what we currently pay.”

Hedge Fund to FairPoint: Sell the Company to Maximize Shareholder Value

fairpoint greedAfter years of financial problems, union problems, and service problems, customers of FairPoint Communications in northern New England report the company has stabilized operations and has been gradually improving service. A hedge fund holding 7.5% of FairPoint agrees, and is now pressuring FairPoint’s board of directors to sell the company, allowing shareholders that bought FairPoint stock when it was nearly worthless to cash out at up to $23 a share.

That almost guarantees shareholders a huge profit while likely saddling whoever buys FairPoint with the same kind of sale-related debt that bankrupted FairPoint in 2009.

Maglan Capital’s David Tawil and Steven Azarbad communicated their displeasure to FairPoint CEO Paul Sunu in a letter earlier this summer that complains “shareholders have been extremely patient with the company’s operational turnaround and have suffered because the board has not been vigilant in protecting shareholder value.”

maglan“Not as patient as FairPoint’s own customers that spent several years of hell dealing with Verizon’s sale of its landlines in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine,” said FairPoint customer Sally Jackman, who lives in Maine. “It looks like the hedge funds want their pound of profits from another sale, exactly what FairPoint customers don’t need right now.”

Jackman endured three weeks of outages after FairPoint took over Verizon’s deteriorating landline networks in northern New England. The nearest cable company – Time Warner Cable, is almost 50 miles away, leaving Jackman with FairPoint DSL or no broadband service at all.

“Wall Street doesn’t care, they just want the money,” Jackman added. “They probably assume Frontier will pay a premium for FairPoint and then we can go through the kind of problems customers in Texas and Florida dealt with for over a month.”

The hedge fund managers argue that FairPoint “has made enormous strides” and notes “revenue is stabilizing and growth is coming.”

Maglan is well positioned to cash out with an enormous gain, having been an investor in FairPoint since the phone company declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy almost six years ago. The fund held shares when their price dipped below $4. Now, assuming FairPoint will put shareholders first “in ways that other wireline telecom companies do,” investors like Maglan hope to see a sale at a share price of $23, a 75% premium.

“With the company’s labor challenges behind it and with it $700 million of long-term debt removed from FairPoint’s balance-sheet, the time has come for the company to be sold or to be merged into a peer,” the hedge fund managers write.

Tawil (L) and Azarbad (R)

Tawil (L) and Azarbad (R)

Maglan recommends the company be sold to Communications Sales & Leasing, a tax-sheltered Real Estate Investment Trust spun off from Windstream with no current experience running a residential service provider. CS&L primarily provides commercial fiber services for corporations, institutions, and cell phone towers. Shareholders would benefit and CS&L would benefit from diversification, argues Maglan. But the hedge fund has nothing to say about the sale’s impact on FairPoint customers.

Maglan also demanded that while FairPoint explored a sale of the company, it must turn its investments away from its network and operations and start “generating value for shareholders immediately.” Maglan wants FairPoint to turn spending towards a $40 million share repurchase program (to benefit shareholders with a boost in the stock price) and initiate a recurring shareholder dividend payout. To accomplish this, FairPoint will have to designate much of its $23 million of cash on hand and a hefty part of the $52 million of free cash flow anticipated in 2016 directly to shareholders. The company may even need to tap into its revolving credit line if financial results are worse than expected.

Tawil and Azarbad characterize their plan as “well within the range of comfort.”

“It is high-time that the company and the board turn its attention directly to shareholders and, specifically, unlocking shareholder value,” the hedge fund managers add. “We have been a very patient group.”

But perhaps not as patient as they thought. This week, Maglan demanded that FairPoint remove four of its board members — Dennis Austin, Michael Mahoney, David Treadwell and Wayne Wilson, demanding they “immediately tender their resignations” and warned Maglan would push for a special meeting if no action was taken. The reason? Tawil and Azarbad said they did not think the four were “critical to the board in any way.”

“Wall Street has been about as useful as cancer for those of us trying to communicate with the outside world up here,” Jackman said. “I hope all three states get copies of these temper tantrums, because if FairPoint does sell, maybe this time they won’t approve the deal. After all, even the Titanic only sank once.”

Wash. Attorney General: Comcast Broke the Law 1.8 Million Times

comcastWashington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a $100 million lawsuit today against Comcast Corporation in King County Superior Court, alleging the company’s own documents show a pattern of illegally deceiving customers to fatten their bottom line by tens of millions of dollars.

The lawsuit claims Comcast violated Washington’s Consumer Protection Act (CPA) at least 1.8 million times as the cable operator misrepresented what is covered under its “Service Protection Plan,” improperly charged customers service call fees when they should have been free, and violated customer privacy by engaging in improper credit screening.

At least 500,000 Washington residents are victims of Comcast’s deceptive acts, the lawsuit alleges.

“This case is a classic example of a big corporation deceiving its customers for financial gain,” Ferguson said. “I won’t allow Comcast to continue to put profits above customers — and the law.”

Ferguson

Ferguson

Comcast routinely claims its $4.99/mo “comprehensive” service plan covered the cost of all service calls, including those related to inside wiring, customer-owned equipment connected to Comcast services and on-site education about products. That is, unless a customer wanted the wiring hidden by installing it inside a wall, which the majority of customers want. A so-called “wall fish” is not covered by Comcast’s plan, even though 75% of the time, Comcast representatives told state investigators the plan did cover all inside wiring.

It turns out many other things are not covered by Comcast’s “comprehensive” plan, including consumer-owned equipment troubleshooting and repairs involving cable jumpers, splitters, and other types of connectors. Some customers were billed for an entire service call if an excluded item happened to be checked by a Comcast technician. Ferguson claims Comcast does all it can to keep the fine print revealing the exclusions away from customers. Comcast does not offer customers enrolling in the plan a printed terms and conditions brochure or point to one on its website. Customers must dig around Comcast’s website to find the terms on their own. Just enrolling in the plan automatically gives Comcast a customer’s consent to whatever terms and conditions are in effect at the time.

Comcast also has a habit of charging Washington customers for trouble-related service calls that should have been free, the lawsuit alleges.

Comcast’s so-called “Customer Guarantee” promises that the company “won’t charge you for a service visit that results from a Comcast equipment or network problem.” Comcast discloses no limitations on this guarantee. But state investigators discovered Comcast routinely charged thousands of customers for service calls involving Comcast’s own equipment or service problems. Customers were also billed for service calls involving defective Comcast-supplied HDMI and component cables, cable cards, and installations of drop amplifiers, commonly installed to resolve a signal problem when Comcast’s network is not functioning properly.

long distance billComcast allegedly facilitated the service call charges until approximately June 2015 by encouraging technicians to use a service call “fix code” that permitted Comcast to “add service charges to a normally not charged fix code.” That allowed technicians to properly track Comcast’s own network troubles yet still charge customers to roll a truck to their home, even when the service call should have been free.

Finally, as many as 6,000 Washington residents saw their credit scores drop after Comcast engaged in improper credit screening, causing a “hard pull” on credit reports which can negatively impact credit scores, at least temporarily.

Comcast requires an equipment deposit, but it is usually waived for customers with an adequate credit score. But the AG’s office uncovered at least 6,000 occasions where customers paid an equipment deposit, despite their high credit score. Ferguson’s office claims this indicates either:

  • customers “opted out” of a credit check and paid the deposit instead to avoid a credit score hit appearing on their credit report, only to have Comcast run one anyway; or
  • customers were forced to pay the deposit despite their high credit score, contrary to Comcast’s policy.

The case is the first in the nation of this size and scope, and comes after Ferguson spent more than a year trying to work with Comcast. Ferguson said he was not satisfied with Comcast’s response and filed the lawsuit.

For violating Washington’s Consumer Protection Act, the Attorney General’s Office is seeking:

  • More than $73 million in restitution to pay back Service Protection Plan subscriber payments;
  • Full restitution for all service calls that applied an improper resolution code, estimated to be at least $1 million;
  • Removing improper credit checks from the credit reports of more than 6,000 customers;
  • Up to $2,000 per violation of the Consumer Protection Act; and
  • Broad injunctive relief, including requiring Comcast to clearly disclose the limitations of its Service Protection Plan in advertising and through its representatives, correct improper service codes that should not be chargeable and implement a compliance procedure for improper customer credit checks.

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  • Josh: Good grief. If they still have money, they HAVE to spend...I mean it's probably too late, but...what on Earth is wrong with these executives? I mean...
  • Paul Houle: The scary thing is that Frontier has a huge cash flow. There are still enough customers that use Frontier because they don't have a choice. "Cable" ...
  • Robert: Cox sucks...
  • Dan: The high dividends aren't a problem anymore, but there's probably not enough money to do more than pay off the interest. If they were smart, they'd st...
  • BobInIllinois: Reminder---July 1 2010, Frontier took over Verizon properties in 13 states, including my DSL account in Illinois. Took them 3 months to send me a bi...
  • LG: Same as Christopher's post above. Great work. The longer this goes on, the more I believe regulation and laws alone will not be enough. I'm thinkin...
  • Paul Sheehan Jr.: Why doesn't WGBH move to ch. 44 and WGBX go off air and what is the future for wbts-lp in boston...
  • Josh: What the frak are they doing? For the past couple of years I've been assuming the top executives are just trying to get payouts, then jump from the c...
  • Dan: Don't you mean "a small independent phone company in Rochester?" Frontier didn't begin as SNET....
  • Joe V: I almost pity poor Randall and those that think that this "5G" will good enough once cord cutting internet streaming TV becomes the norm. AT&T's ...
  • MD: It only goes to 30, I know what it is technically capable of because they replaces all of the cables on the entire street, and the previous TWC cable ...
  • LG: Yet more pandering to the overpriced, lightly used cell data services. The ISPs love it because they can take out a TV ad and say... "Our service is ...

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