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Honest Ads: The Cell Phone Provider You Wish You Had

On the occasion of Verizon Wireless’ new and “exciting” cell phone plans that will cost many customers more money, here is what an honest ad from a cell phone company would look like. (From the folks at Cracked.) (3:45)

Some of America’s Largest Telecom Companies Are Overbilling You

bill errorAs part of its investigation of cable and satellite television companies, the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations found large discrepancies in how five of America’s largest cable and satellite companies—Charter Communications, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, DirecTV, and Dish—identify and correct overcharges caused by company billing errors.

The subcommittee released its report to coincide with today’s hearings on customer service and billing practices in the cable and satellite television industry. The Senate subcommittee focused its attention primarily on billing errors associated with rented set-top boxes and receivers, not programming packages or add-on services. The bipartisan report found satellite TV company Dish was probably the least prone to billing errors associated with satellite equipment and Time Warner Cable was the worst at identifying equipment billing discrepancies. Even when it did find instances of overbilling, the company refused to give customers automatic full refunds as a matter of “efficiency.”

That “efficiency” is expected to be very profitable for Time Warner Cable, which is likely to collect $1,919,844 from overbilling this year alone. Time Warner Cable estimates that, in 2015, it overbilled 40,193 Ohio customers a total of $430,393 and 4,232 Missouri customers a total of $44,152. Time Warner Cable also told the subcommittee that, during the first five months of 2016, it overbilled customers in Ohio for 11,049 pieces of equipment, totaling $108,221.

Charter Communications only did marginally better, mostly because it is a much smaller cable company. Charter estimates that it has overcharged approximately 5,897 Missouri customers a total of $494,000. Charter, along with Time Warner Cable, made no effort to trace equipment overcharges to their origin unless customers specifically asked them to and did not provide notice or refunds to customers.

Let’s review how the five companies compare:

Time Warner Cable

time-warner-cable-sucksTime Warner Cable is notorious for its “no refunds unless asked” policy, which often leaves customers uncompensated for service outages and other problems. That policy also extends to equipment-related billing errors. During the 6.5 year time period covered by the subcommittee investigation, Time Warner Cable never automatically refunded or credited customer for equipment overcharges discovered by the company. Instead, Time Warner’s “Revenue Assurance” team quietly identified and corrected billing errors without any notification or explanation to customers, which may explain why your Time Warner Cable bill can change even when you are locked in with a promotion.

The subcommittee discovered Time Warner Cable still relies on two entirely different billing systems. One, “Integrated Communications Operations Management System”, otherwise known as ICOMS, is especially troublesome to navigate at Time Warner because the company does not use standardized coding across the entire company. Placing an order for Internet service in the Northeast Division of Time Warner Cable is completely different from ordering the same product in a city like Kansas City or the west coast. Employees have complained about ICOMS for years, noting it can take up to 30 separate codes entered correctly in the system to add just one product, like High-Speed Internet. A simple data entry error can mess up an order and generate a billing error (or a lost order or service request that is never processed). But Time Warner Cable also relies on a different platform developed by CSG to manage some of its billing. Some of Time Warner Cable’s acquisitions, like Insight Communications, have operated under the Time Warner Cable brand for several years, but still use some of the billing platforms that were in place before Time Warner took over.

The subcommittee found strong evidence ICOMS is a big problem for Time Warner Cable. Attempts to audit the platform often crash, as it did in May of this year, preventing Time Warner Cable from identifying billing issues. At best, the company only aims for an 80% correction rate using its auditing tools.

One audit uncovered 18,000 customers in the Carolinas, Midwest, and Northeast that were being overbilled for modem and CableCARD equipment. Although Time Warner Cable was going to remove the erroneous charges going forward, it had no plans to automatically refund customers it identified as overcharged unless customers somehow realized that themselves and called in to request retroactive credit.

icoms error

Time Warner Cable erroneously billed one of its own employees for three Internet accounts.

Time Warner Cable once erroneously billed one of its own employees for three Internet accounts.

The subcommittee found if an audit showed that a customer had not been billed for equipment or services that the customer had received, the company treats those inconsistencies as undercharges and adds the charge to the customer’s bill going forward. Time Warner Cable does not attempt to retroactively charge the customer for previous months where that customer was undercharged.

If the audit shows that a customer has been billed for equipment or services that he or she does not have, the story is more complicated. In some cases, customers agree to pay for equipment they do not actually have so that they can receive a cheaper package price—for example, a consumer who wants only Internet service might decide the cheapest option is a promotional package including both Internet and cable television. By participating in the promotion, the customer agrees to pay a monthly rental fee for a set-top box but may instruct the company not to provide a set-top box. In such a case, the customer’s billing records will show a charge for a set-top box, but the customer’s equipment records will show that he or she does not physically have a set-top box. In April 2016, for example, Time Warner Cable identified 49,132 pieces of equipment associated with overcharges; of those 37,653 (approximately 77 percent) were not “correctable” overcharges because they were associated with accounts participating in promotional offers.

Time Warner Cable does not attempt to trace billing errors to their origin. Instead, it only provides a partial credit for the month during which the error was discovered. The company will not notify you of the error or for how long it has been on your bill. Unless you call and demand full credit for the overbilling, you will not receive it.

The cable company defends its policy on the ground that it is “efficient.” Going through months of customer bills to identify overcharges would be costly and time consuming, the company argues. The company also claims that the customer is best positioned to notice an overcharge and bring it to Time Warner Cable’s attention.

After reviewing policies at several different companies, the subcommittee cast doubt on Time Warner’s assertions, noting other companies had no problems returning overbilled amounts to customers without a request to do so.

Charter Communications

Unfortunately for customers, not included on the list of companies willing and able to automatically refund overbilling is Charter Communications, which recently acquired Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks.

therealcharterbundleThe subcommittee called Charter’s process of identifying and correct overbilling “substandard.”

According to Charter, prior to August 2015, the company did not run any systematic audits to reconcile its billing records with equipment records. Charter’s failure to perform regular audits means that overcharged customers could not receive a prospective correction of their bill unless they noticed the problem themselves and contacted Charter. Beginning in August 2015, however, Charter began taking steps to identify equipment overcharges now on its system. Charter will complete that process in June 2016.

Charter recently upgraded some of its systems to make sure that when an employee adds or deletes services and/or equipment, an update to the customer’s billing record occurs automatically. Charter has 21 employees working for its Billing Quality Assurance department. The employees randomly sample bills to check their accuracy and when Charter changes its bill format or presentation, the team is supposed to review the bills to make certain any billing changes do not introduce mass errors. The subcommittee found these auditing methods were unlikely to discover common “one-off” errors, such as when customers are overbilled for equipment or programming on their specific account.

Charter’s alternate methods of identifying discrepancies quickly become more convoluted and less useful after that.

For example, beginning in August 2015, Charter undertook what it called a “controller reconciliation,” in which the company began to reconcile its billing records with equipment data from its 35 “controllers” throughout the country. These “controllers” are designed to manage box authorizations and “from the office” service connection and disconnection so that a truck roll is unnecessary. These systems can also be useful in identifying unauthorized equipment installed at locations where they were never registered or if the box was authorized for channels a customer was not paying to receive. A controller reconciliation allowed Charter to identify anomalies like in Missouri, where almost 6,000 customers were being billed for set-top boxes they were not using.

The subcommittee was unhappy neither Time Warner Cable or Charter seem willing to use “brute manpower to identify how long a customer has been overcharged and automatically grant a refund or credit,” as well as do more to minimize equipment and programming mismatches with billing records.

Comcast has bigger problems than overbilling.

Comcast has bigger problems than overbilling.

Comcast

Comcast relies on a very similar auditing process in use at Time Warner Cable to identify billing discrepancies, except once Comcast finds one it identifies how long a customer was overcharged, notifies the customer and automatically credits the customer’s account. Starting late last year, Comcast began running audits weekly to improve billing accuracy. Comcast claims just a 0.3% error rate.

Comcast has more than 60 employees nationwide on the east and west coasts examining billing issues and, when needed, individually investigates each case to identify applicable refunds.

DirecTV

DirecTV doesn’t do regular audits, instead relying on a program called SAS Enterprise Miner to search for billing errors before bills are generated. It can also use the same tools to identify and correct past billing errors. The satellite provider goes as far back as necessary to correct past mistakes, and pointed to instances where credits of thousands of dollars were issued to affected customers. DirecTV’s Revenue Assurance department can also reach out and communicate with employees at all levels of the company to investigate billing issues and prevent future ones. What will change as a result of AT&T’s ownership of the company isn’t known.

Dish Network

dishDish was cited by the subcommittee report as having the billing system least likely to generate billing errors. Dish links its equipment and billing systems together, which means any change on one system automatically updates the other.

According to Dish, it is impossible to add or remove equipment without altering the customer’s billing records. Dish provides each customer with one free “receiver”—Dish’s term for the equivalent of a set-top box—and charges $7.00 to $15.00 per month for each additional receiver a customer has. That is the only equipment charge. Dish’s system will only send a television signal to receivers that have been “activated,” which happens as part of the installation process. Once a receiver has been activated, the customer’s billing information is automatically updated to reflect that addition. That system ensures that no receiver is added to a customer’s account unless it has been activated.

Dish customers return their receivers by mail. Dish provides a packaging label so that it can track the receiver once it has been mailed. When the receiver returns to the Dish warehouse, an employee scans the barcode on the receiver, which removes the receiver from the customer’s provisioning records and, in turn, from the customer’s bill.

Hearing: Customer Service and Billing Practices in the Cable and Satellite Television Industry

Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, June 23, 2016 10:00AM ET

(Video starts at 19:55) (2:18:54)

Another Fine Mess: Ex-Verizon Customers Still Complaining About Frontier

frontierThe 24-hour emergency hotline at Alcoholics Anonymous in Ventura County, Calif., rang only sporadically back in April and it wasn’t because Simi Valley, Ojai, and Thousand Oaks were overrun with teetotalers.  The director of the center blamed Frontier Communications for phone outages, which began right after it took over phone service for Verizon.

In Garland, Tex., Carolyn Crawford has had nothing but excuses about her service outage, which began April 11.

“When you call you receive scripted responses and when you send a message on Facebook you receive robotic responses,” Crawford told the Dallas Morning News.

In Florida, the Sarasota Tribune put an online form up to collect complaints about Frontier and had 662 registered over just one weekend. One complaint:

“It’s our seventh day with no phone, no Internet and no answers,” said Howard Duff of Bradenton.

He said he had spent 45 minutes to an hour on a cell phone before getting through to someone, then spent hours for several days with Frontier tech support, disconnecting and reconnecting equipment and relaying information about lights. On Thursday, when he reached a Frontier technician who wanted him to begin the same checks, Duff refused to go through it all again. Instead, he was given a repair ticket number and was told someone would contact him. He was still waiting Monday afternoon.

“They really don’t care about the people in Florida,” Duff said. “Who can we call? What can we do?”

txcaflmap

Frontier’s latest acquisition involves Verizon’s wireline networks in Texas, Florida, and California.

Back in late April, more than 11,000 comments from Frontier customers around the country have been posted to its Facebook page, mostly to complain about service problems. They affect both residential and business customers.

Michael Camp of Parker, Tex. says Frontier’s reliability has killed his business’ ability to make international business calls.

“It’s like trying to work in a Third World country,” he said.

The first challenge Frontier customers with service problems face is a dreaded interaction with Frontier’s customer service. The challenges can start right away, such as trying to prove to the phone company you actually are one of their customers.

At S.O.S Resale Boutique and Veteran’s Communication Center in Palm Desert, Calif., the non-profit group spent days trying to get Frontier to restore their phone and Internet service.

“The most frustrating part of the ordeal was that every time you would call, they would say you are not a customer and that you don’t have an account. I would keep arguing that we do,” Erica Stone, founding director of S.O.S., told KESQ-TV. Either way, Frontier didn’t bother to show up for a scheduled appointment anyway.

Mary Harmon, in Long Beach,  was told (after four calls) that a repair technician would come to her house on April 15. That date was changed to Monday, April 18 with a 10-hour window. She told the Long Beach Press Telegram she wasn’t holding her breath.

“I don’t have any faith in them,” Harmon said. I’m so fed up with everything that’s been going on.”

Harmon spent all day Monday at home waiting, only to get a call at 5:25pm that her appointment was rescheduled one week later to April 25.

Considering the onslaught of stories from readers like Harmon, that newspaper has taken to calling Frontier customers “victims.”

But it wasn’t all bad news.

“No Internet or cable,” wrote one customer on Twitter. “But the bill arrived on time.”

What Problems? Frontier Living in Denial

laurel and hardyThousands of complaints later, it is evident Frontier has gotten itself into another fine mess, one predicted in advance by Stop the Cap! each time Frontier decides it wants to buy up some more landlines. No matter how bad things actually got, the company regularly tells its shareholders tall tales that all went well, the problems were small, and the resolutions easy.

Just look at what Daniel McCarthy, Frontier’s CEO, told a Wall Street audience at the recent JPMorgan Global Technology, Media, and Telecom Conference.

“Two months into the integration, and I would describe this integration as, by and large, it has gone better than any one that we’ve done before,” McCarthy said. “If you look at the billing systems, the ERP, payroll, HR, every part of the integration has gone exceptionally well. We’ve actually got through all of our billing, and out the door, we’re back on normal cycles with customers. And we’ve moved to the point now where we’re moving forward with a normal business rhythm around trouble tickets and service orders in the market.”

Frontier customers are unconvinced Frontier’s Rhythm Method is working for them. Elizabeth Galvan of North Hills has another name for it: “a nightmare.” She has had continuous problems with her landline, including Internet outages, since Frontier took over.

Many Stop the Cap! readers also continue to share their grief over outages, billing problems, and the less than sympathetic customer service representatives they encounter.

“We were on hold with Frontier for two hours on Friday and they swore to us they’d be out Wednesday and fix things,” wrote Wanda from Sarasota, Fla. “If the good Lord Jesus himself told them they’d be sent to hell for lying, Frontier already has 1st Class tickets. My ex-husband lied less than this phone company. They told me ‘Miss Wanda, we are sorry we could not get out there but we called you to let you know.’ Oh really? On what phone, the one that hasn’t worked for two weeks? Then he thinks he puts me on hold to reschedule while he tells his friend now I have more time to get my hair done.”

Back in Dallas, Jeffrey Weiss from the Morning News pressed Frontier for a reality check on how bad the problems were.

Bright House is targeting disgruntled Frontier customers in Florida with special promotions.

Bright House is targeting disgruntled Frontier customers in Florida with special promotions.

“There are currently no widespread outages,” came the response from Frontier. “The isolated issues currently being addressed include either individual customer issues from the conversion or the day to day service issues that arise when operating a complex network. In addition, the recent extreme weather in the north Texas area may have impacted some customers’ service, while Frontier allocated resources to repair any damaged equipment in the path of the storm. The customer experience is always at the forefront of our company, and we are committed to each customer’s satisfaction. We are addressing service orders as quickly as possible, prioritizing repairs over new installations and coordinating both customer availability and the management of our ongoing queue of orders. In all cases, that means the next best available time.”

At that time, the Texas Public Utility Commission had collected at least 100 complaints about Frontier, reports spokesman Terry Hadley. Melinda White, Frontier’s regional president for the western region characterized the 2,500 service disruptions suffered by Californians as evidence things were going “relatively well.”

In Florida, the problems were substantial and widespread enough for competing cable operator Bright House to offer customers up to $240 to switch away from Frontier with a special promotion. But before customers sign up, they should be aware despite the ongoing issues, Frontier has no intention of letting anyone out of their contracts.

Frontier spokesman Bob Elek told the Tampa Bay Times, “While all customers will be eligible for service credits on a case-by-case basis, contracts will remain in force.”

That’s ironic, considering Frontier’s marketing pitch for the last several years assured customers there were no contracts or early termination fees. But Verizon had both, and Elek apparently feels if it is fair to give customers promotional pricing, it is fair to penalize them if they disconnect early, even if the service doesn’t work as advertised.

Fast forward more than a month and the problems… and Frontier’s excuses keep on coming.

Frontier’s Melinda White, regional president for the company’s western region, finally showed up on KNBC Los Angeles to apologize for weeks of frustration and service problems. (2:56)

Blame Verizon

Nearly two weeks ago, Frontier executives were grilled at an Assembly Informational Hearing called by Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles), when he had a spare moment in-between shilling for AT&T’s universal service/landline abdication bill making its way through the California legislature.

Finger-pointing-225x3002Ironically, Gatto was upset with Frontier — a company that wants to stay in the landline/DSL business — because it couldn’t do the job, while earlier applauding AT&T for being willing to cut the phone lines of rural Californians and have them risk AT&T’s “one-bar” rural wireless service instead.

Members at the Assembly Informational Hearing implored Frontier to fix at least a month of problems the company has consistently denied was that big of a deal. A meeting of the minds between the politicians and Frontier seemed unlikely until Melinda White, Frontier West’s regional president found what she hoped would be a “Get Out of the Hot Seat Free” excuse card.

White told the Los Angeles Times that one reason for all the trouble is Verizon sent them “corrupted” or “incomplete” data on an unspecified number of remotely addressable items like network terminal boxes, modems, and those “interface” devices they slap on the sides of most homes and businesses. Frontier claims it sent initialization messages to those devices that were rejected, and unilaterally shut down in response, causing the large service outages Frontier claimed a few weeks earlier didn’t happen.

“We are sincerely sorry,” White said during the hearing. “Even one customer out of service is one too many.”

Even worse, Frontier claims it found those scamps at Verizon messed up another database containing serial numbers identifying older network terminal boxes, including hundreds located in Long Beach. You know what came next — more outages.

But wait, there’s more. The same phone company that proudly boasts it uses American workers to handle customer service matters had to admit it hired a call center in the Philippines to handle customer transition issues. It was instantly overwhelmed and the call takers were as bewildered as customers trying to deal with Frontier about service outages.

call center“Unfortunately, that did not work out — to our dismay,” White said.

Like a lot of things coming from Frontier, that is an understatement. Just ask countless customers who reserved repair appointments through this same call center that often forgot or couldn’t pass them on to the U.S. based technicians that were supposed to show up and fix the problems. Result: missed service calls and even angrier customers.

Knowing this, one would assume Frontier would quickly pull the plug on overseas call centers and hire — at attractive wages if needed — more U.S. based employees to get things moving sooner rather than later. White told the Los Angeles Times it would phase those foreign call centers out… later… by the end of July.

The Lawmaker and Regulator CYA Cakewalk

The Frontier buyout and takeover of Verizon landlines didn’t just happen at the behest of the two phone companies. In a state regularly accused of over-regulating business, California regulators and lawmakers both had direct influence on the Frontier-Verizon transaction. It got approved without much effort and only came back to haunt officials when it all went wrong.

Assembly member Jay Obernolte (R-Hesperia) claimed, “These issues have set a record for constituent calls.”

Exactly who is responsible requires the time-honored practice of finger-pointing that always extends outwards, never inwards.

approved-rubber-stampThe committee chairman, Mr. Gatto, and vice chairman, Assemblyman Jim Patterson, (R-Fresno), blamed the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) as much as Frontier because they approved the takeover deal.

But as California consumers just saw in an embarrassing capitulation to approve the Charter-Time Warner Cable-Bright House merger with deal conditions even worse than what the FCC got, there are questions whether the CPUC could properly vet a Dollar Menu at a McDonalds drive-thru, much less a multi-billion dollar Big Telecom merger:

“Hi, welcome to McDonalds, what can I get the CPUC today?”

“We’ll let you decide, whatever you think is best. We trust you!”

“Okay, drive through to the second window.”

CPUC executive director Tim Sullivan casually mentioned the possibility of an official investigation and the highly-improbable-to-believe possible reconsideration of the buyout. That comes a little late.

While they hold hearings in California, the complaints keep rolling in even into the Memorial Day holiday weekend.

If This is the New Frontier, We Prefer the Old One

30+ years of a dedicated customer relationship destroyed in less than three weeks with Frontier.

30+ years of a dedicated customer relationship that started around the time Back to the Future hit theaters was destroyed after about a month with Frontier.

Lynn Peterson in Sacramento has kept her phone service with Verizon (and its predecessors) since around the year Back to the Future arrived in movie theaters (July 3, 1985 for trivia fans). After a month or so with Frontier at the helm, she abandoned ship last week.

“My service just kept going out over and over again ever since Frontier became my provider,” Peterson told the Santa Monica Mirror. “Whenever I called customer service they seemed completely indifferent. I have now switched to Time Warner Cable.”

Abby Arnold also severed a bad relationship with Frontier last week, and like a clingy ex in breakup denial, they won’t let it go.

“After a month of trying to resolve issues, I left Verizon/Frontier and signed up with Time Warner,” Arnold wrote. “At least I can watch the Dodgers. One of the many issues in my saga is that I cannot get Frontier to acknowledge that I am no longer their customer. ‘Our system won’t let me cancel your account.’ Argh.”

Customers will have another opportunity to bring their complaints about Frontier to the CPUC’s attention this Wednesday from 4-6pm at a public hearing at Long Beach City Hall.

Texas Mops Up

Some of the worst damage done to Frontier’s reputation was in Texas. Some experts predict Frontier’s name will be mud in that state for months to years.

“My opinion is that Frontier’s brand, reputation, and trust will suffer in the short to medium term (months to years),” David Lei, associate professor of strategy at SMU’s Cox School of Business told the Dallas Business Journal. “The longer the problems persist in any situation for any business or service provider, the greater the customer anger. However, even a good communications/PR strategy remains insufficient in the wake of the scale of disruptions and the seemingly ‘easy’ task of scheduling technicians to houses within the promised time frame. Strategy execution always occurs at the customer level – dealing with each customer truthfully and forthrightly. Yet, it is probably difficult for Frontier’s management to openly acknowledge just how complex the integration task will remain for quite some time.”

Our Recommendations

Frontier has a long history of transition problems whenever it acquires landline networks from other providers, whether Verizon or AT&T. In some cases, these may prove to be nothing more than self-correcting minor inconveniences. But in states like West Virginia, Connecticut, and now Texas, Florida, and California, long outages got painful and expensive for customers, and in some cases could have been life-threatening. With each transition, Frontier claimed it learned how to improve on the process to better reassure customers problems would be few and isolated. But the evidence is overwhelming these problems are bigger than Frontier seems ready to admit. Frontier refuses to release outage statistics broken down by state. Are these transition outages comparable to the day-to-day experiences of a big independent phone company? Allowing the public to see outage numbers for Florida and compare them with West Virginia or New York, for example, would be illuminating.

Regulators can also give Frontier some added incentives to guarantee the transition experience goes “exceptionally well” in the real world, not just in company press releases. Those incentives come in the form of stiff fines and guaranteed, automatic rebates for any customer affected by a service disruption. Right now, Frontier still requires most customers to personally apply for service credits for outages and other disruptions. That is a real hassle if you’ve ever called Frontier by phone and waited on hold, sometimes for an hour or more. Being promised a credit does not guarantee it will actually appear on your bill either.

Consider the experience of Lake Elsinore resident Kristi Coy. Her husband can’t sell video conferencing equipment online because Frontier’s Internet is too slow.

Coy was offered a service credit, but only after the problem was fixed. After the visit, she called Frontier and waited on hold 90 minutes before finally hanging up.

“How much are they going to give me, $20?” she said. “How long will I have to stay on hold? An hour and a half to get a $20 refund? It’s not even worth the time.”

Frontier should have a regulator-reviewed transition plan with contingencies in place for unexpected problems. That plan should prioritize returning customers to service, even if it means backing out of a system transition. Maintaining reliable service should be the first priority, not cost-savings or convenience for the companies involved. A full audit of exactly what Frontier bought from Verizon could have uncovered the discrepancies and corrupted data White blamed for the outages before the transition began. But that costs time and money. The prospect of a regulator-imposed fine costing even more delivers the cost/benefit formula customers (and Frontier, apparently) needs to assure customer protection.

Regulators need to start scrutinizing these consolidation transactions much more carefully, and reject those from companies that have a significant record of failing their customers. Frontier’s disastrous transition in West Virginia in 2010 led to months of news coverage and a number of very serious outages. More than five years later, service complaints are still coming in, mostly focused on poor broadband service. In Connecticut, Frontier had to cough up costly service credits and promotions to stop a flood of customers headed for the exits over Frontier’s messy transition from AT&T. Suspiciously familiar problems including service outages, billing issues, and missed service calls plagued Connecticut in 2015 just as they do in 2016 in Texas, Florida, and California.

We warned regulators in each instance that Frontier’s repeated poor performance should give them pause. We recommended regulators either impose extra requirements as part of any approval agreement or reject these types of deals outright. They chose to believe Frontier instead. So while Frontier executives and shareholders enjoy the proceeds of enhanced revenue and their regular dividend payouts, customers that depend on Frontier, especially small businesses, are in trouble. Dagwoods Pizza Parlor in Santa Monica is just one example.

Dagwoods manager Mark Peters said Frontier’s lousy performance in Southern California “has the potential to destroy small businesses” like his. This past Memorial Day weekend was a partial bust for Dagwoods because their Frontier-supplied phone and Internet service was down again until Frontier finally showed up to fix it.

“It’s a bad situation,” Peters told the Santa Monica Observer. “We can’t take orders, and this is our big night of the week. We’re really bummed out about the whole situation.”

The time for excuses and explanations has come and gone. The time for action, fines, and automatic service credits is overdue, but better late than never.

WTVT in Tampa reports Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi is now taking a hard look at Frontier’s performance in the state. (2:41)

Time Warner Cable Installer Laziness: Lays Cable On Top Neighbor’s Lawn

Phillip Dampier May 31, 2016 Consumer News, Time Warner Cable, Video 8 Comments

When your company has been bought out and you are not exactly sure how that will affect your future employment as a cable installer, perhaps it is understanding why you might simply stop trying. Jacob Fisher’s neighbor decided he had enough of Frontier’s screw-ups in its recent takeover of Verizon FiOS in Dallas, so he took his business to Time Warner Cable. Time Warner Cable’s installer took a new bright orange drop line and meandered it across Jacob’s lawn, through his garden, and finally under his fence on its way to his neighbor’s house. (1:07)

 

Charter Running Ads Welcoming Time Warner, Bright House Customers to “Spectrum”

spectrumIf your reputation precedes you, a virtual makeover with a quick name change may be all a company can do to help smooth customers’ ennui about the news one cable company they heard wasn’t very good was taking over for the one they hate with a passion. After all, joining a new family isn’t necessarily good news if their last name happens to be Frankenstein, bin Laden, or Manson.

Charter Communications began running commercials this week on Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks cable systems “welcoming” customers to the Charter family. Except the Charter logo was nowhere to be found. Like Comcast’s virtual image makeover effort/attempt with its XFINITY brand, Charter is hoping for a “reset” with customers who have heard bad things about Charter from their relatives by using its “Spectrum” brand instead. That logo is expected to appear on cable trucks, billboards, billing statements, and television spots.

Charter Communications has completed the transactions with Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks, and soon you’ll get to know us by the name, Spectrum. We are proud to be the fastest growing TV, Internet, and Voice provider in the United States and are committed to bringing you the most advanced products and services for your home and business.

Exciting changes are in the works, but for now, Time Warner Cable, Bright House Networks and Charter Spectrum will continue offering their current suite of services to customers in their markets. In the coming months you’ll hear more from us as it relates to network, product and service improvements. Whether it is new ways to enjoy more shows with unrivaled picture quality, better service, or faster internet speeds, we cannot wait to show you what’s next. (1:04)

opinionWe offer three facts to ponder:

Charter’s Internet speeds are not any faster than what a Time Warner Cable Maxx customer can buy today — up to 300Mbps. Charter “Spectrum” tops out at 100Mbps in most of its markets.

Charter may consider its service “unrivaled,” but customers don’t, rating it only a mouse whisker better than Time Warner Cable.

Many customers of both Time Warner and Bright House are indeed concerned with what Charter has in store for them, particularly after conditions preserving cap-free Internet expire.

Time Warner Cable Quotes One of Our Readers $31,885 to Install Service

twcGreenStop the Cap! reader Geoff W. lives in Liberty Township, Ohio — 35 miles east of Columbus, the state capital. But he might as well live in Cuba, because High Speed Internet is a digital pipe dream for him and his immediate neighbors. Despite living just a few houses away from other Time Warner Cable customers, the cable giant has quoted him $31,885 to install broadband service at his home.

A Time Warner Cable representative told Geoff the thirty grand plus would cover installing 531 feet of overhead cable, 1,800 feet of underground coaxial cable, and three pole permits.

“It’s time to consider High Speed Internet access a utility,” Geoff said.

Who Actually Does Qualify for Time Warner’s $300 Rebate Card?

Phillip Dampier April 12, 2016 Consumer News, Time Warner Cable, Video No Comments
Three years after we first covered this story, getting Time Warner to honor your rebate request is still like pulling teeth.

Three years after we first covered this story, getting Time Warner to honor your rebate request is still like pulling teeth.

One of the most frequent complaints we hear about Time Warner Cable is the company’s unwillingness to honor its rebate offers.

In the last five years, Stop the Cap! has received at least 50 complaints from consumers who were told they qualified for $200-300 in rebates, only to never receive them. A story from Raleigh’s WTVD-TV this week illustrates the problem has not gone away.

Alex Dydula was convinced to give up 15 years of satellite television to sign up with Time Warner Cable. The company’s ongoing $300 Visa card rebate offer sweetened the deal.

Except he never got the gift card, just a Time Warner Cable runaround:

“You qualify for a $300 Visa card, all you have to do is wait for the redemption code to come in the mail,” Alex said he was told by a rep.

Alex says he followed the instructions that the rep gave him in order to get the $300.00 Visa card.

“We waited for the redemption code, it never came,” Alex said.

With no redemption code, Alex went online and did an online chat with a TWC rep and through the chat was informed how to register for the reward. Alex also called Visa.

“‘Yeah you qualify, you should get this. I’ll take care of it for you,'” he said.

Alex kept waiting.

“Only to get a call back from the Visa rewards folks to say ‘you don’t qualify. You don’t have the right package, the wrong codes are in the system. I don’t care, I can’t do anything,'” he said he was told by a rep who handles the reward program.

Stop the Cap! has reported on Time Warner’s rebate offers since 2013, and the company has done little to address the concerns of customers who felt cheated out of the rebate for reasons that seem to shift with the desert sands:

  • You are ineligible
  • The promotion is over
  • The agent wasn’t authorized to offer us the promotion
  • There is no record of the offer
Just a sample of Time Warner's terms and conditions.

Just a sample of Time Warner’s terms and conditions.

The rules for Time Warner’s rebate programs are byzantine and missing even one of them, or negotiating certain discounts or service credits that cut the cost of your package can invalidate the offer. But the only way you find out is after your submission is rejected and the rebate program has ended.

  1. Time Warner Cable customers qualified for a rebate must first wait for a “rebate redemption code” to arrive, typically two weeks after installing or upgrading service. But most customers complaining about rebate problems report they never received the code. You may be able to find it from Time Warner’s rebate website.
  2. With code in hand, customers are qualified to register for the reward on the company’s rebate website. But since Time Warner requires the rebate to be submitted within 30 days of installation, that two-week wait for a “redemption code” may leave customers with as little as 14 days to register.
  3. Customers are then required to maintain and pay on time for cable service for at least three months. Even one late payment can invalidate the rebate.
  4. After 90 days of service and on time payments, the company will start processing the rebate application, which takes an extra 1-2 months.
  5. The rebate card should arrive in your mailbox within 14 days after mailing.

300 rewardThis year, promotions vary depending on your location and the conditions under which you were offered a rebate. We have learned there are rebate programs for “win-back” promotions that convince customers not to switch to another provider, but only under certain conditions. It is easy for customers to apply for the wrong rebate. For example, a current customer will not qualify if they fill out a rebate form intended for customers just signing up for the first time. Other rebate offers apply only in selected geographic areas.

For instance, a $300 rebate offer targeting broadband-only customers who agree to buy a Triple Play bundle of services at $89 or higher is only valid if they are in California, New York City, the Hudson Valley or New Jersey.

If you are not disqualified already, there are many other ways to run afoul of the offer:

  • Existing customers with any level of video service are not eligible;
  • You must prove you had/have video service with another provider or you are not eligible;
  • Online only video services are not eligible;
  • Customers who don’t maintain fully paid-up service for at least 90 days are not eligible;
  • Customers who don’t register for the rebate within 30 days of installation are not eligible;
  • Customer names and addresses must exactly match with both the old provider and Time Warner or you are not eligible;
  • Customers complain more than 60 days after of the end of the promotion about missing rebate cards or eligibility problems will not be considered.

If you do not use the card quickly, service fees kick in after five months, except the terms and conditions note that some cards may be pre-activated as much as two months before they were mailed, giving you only 90 days to spend the money before a $2.50 monthly service fee begins. Replacement fees also apply if the card fails to work, is lost or stolen. We recommend immediately using the card at a grocery store for a few weeks or buy something like Amazon gift cards, which do not expire and carry no service fees. The longer you leave the card lying around, the higher the chance you will forget about it or find it depleted by arbitrary service fees.

A very active thread on Time Warner Cable’s discussion forum features more than five pages of complaints about missing rebates.

If you are affected by a missing or rejected rebate, the easiest way to resolve it is to ask Time Warner Cable to convert it into a $300 service credit instead. The alternative is waiting as Time Warner officials tell the third-party rebate processor to override a rebate rejection, which can cause delays lasting weeks. Getting $300 off your cable bill is much easier and faster. You can appeal directly to the Office of the President of Time Warner Cable by filling out this contact form or filing a complaint against your nearest Time Warner Cable office with the Better Business Bureau. Your goal is to speak to a senior customer specialist authorized to grant your $300 credit request. Either method should work.

An “I-Team” reporter for WTVD-TV helps a Raleigh man get the $300 rebate he was originally promised by Time Warner Cable. (2:08)

Verizon Workers Set to Strike Company Starting Wednesday

Phillip Dampier April 11, 2016 Consumer News, Verizon, Video 1 Comment

verizon strikeAfter ten months of informational picketing and on-the-job protests for a new contract agreement, nearly 40,000 Verizon workers from Massachusetts to Virginia will go on strike starting at 6:00am Wednesday, April 13 if a settlement cannot be reached.

The Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) argue Verizon has dropped the ball on customers and employees, refusing to negotiate in good faith and not investing in better broadband and phone service for millions of its customers.

The two unions are among the strongest proponents of forcing Verizon to further expand its FiOS fiber-to-the-home service, which has been effectively on hold for several years as the company pours resources into its vastly more profitable wireless division – Verizon Wireless.

In addition to refusing further upgrades, unions accuse Verizon of gutting job protection, outsourcing an increasing amount of work, freezing pensions, closing call centers, and offshoring jobs to Mexico and the Philippines. While customers endure months-long phone outages and poor DSL broadband service Verizon has only grudgingly improved, the company made $39 billion in profits over the last three years, and $1.8 billion in profits over the first three months of this year. But it won’t spend the money on expanding FiOS or its workers.

Trainor

Trainor

“The company’s greed is disgusting. [CEO] Lowell McAdam made $18 million last year—more than 200 times the compensation of the average Verizon employee,” the CWA said in a statement. “Verizon’s top five executives made $233 million over the last five years. Last year alone, Verizon paid out $13.5 billion in dividends and stock buybacks to shareholders. But they claim they can’t afford a fair contract.”

The union says Verizon’s priorities are all wrong.

“It’s not just workers who are getting screwed,” the CWA wrote. “Verizon has $35 billion to invest in the failing internet company, Yahoo, but refuses to maintain its copper network, let alone build FiOS in underserved communities across the region. And even where it’s legally committed to building FiOS out for every customer, Verizon refuses to hire enough workers to get the job done right or on time.”

“We’re standing up for working families and standing up to Verizon’s corporate greed,” said CWA District 1 vice president Dennis Trainor. “If a hugely profitable corporation like Verizon can destroy the good family supporting jobs of highly skilled workers, then no worker in America will be safe from this corporate race to the bottom.”

Members of CWA District 1/Local 13500.

Members of CWA District 1/Local 13500.

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has been a close ally of the CWA and has supported the union’s fight with Verizon. The CWA has returned the favor, encouraging the Vermont senator to stay in the race against Hillary Clinton.

Verizon workers complain they are being treated like servants by the company.

“Verizon is already turning people’s lives upside down by sending us hundreds of miles from home for weeks at a time, and now they want to make it even worse,” said Dan Hylton, a technician and CWA member in Roanoke, Va., who’s been with Verizon for 20 years. “Technicians on our team have always been happy to volunteer after natural disasters when our customers needed help, but if I was forced away from home for two months, I have no idea what my wife would do. She had back surgery last year, and she needs my help. I just want to do a good job, be there for my family, and have a decent life.”

A strike could have a significant effect on service calls and maintenance of Verizon’s infrastructure, particularly its deteriorating copper wire network still in service across much of its territory outside of the largest cities in the northeast and mid-Atlantic region. Particularly vulnerable areas include upstate New York, Maryland, suburban and rural Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey and western Virginia.

Verizon recently completed a sale of its landline service areas in Florida, California, and Texas to Frontier Communications, and these three states will not be affected by a walkout.

The CWA released this ad depicting the income disparity between average Verizon workers and its CEO. (30 seconds)

2016 Edition: Fighting for a Better Deal from Time Warner Cable; Save $600+ Annually

badbillFor the fourth year, Stop the Cap! is pleased to bring you our advice on how to win yourself a better deal from Time Warner Cable. If you are paying regular price for Time Warner Cable service, you are throwing money away. There is no award for being a loyal cable customer these days. Only new customers and those willing to demand a better price get the best deals, while everyone else pays astoundingly high rates.

We are rarely surprised by anything, but even we confess astonishment as customers continue to show us their $180-250 cable bills. Most have been customers for decades and have never bothered to ask Time Warner if they could be getting a better deal. They should have asked us because the answer is absolutely yes. If you can devote about one hour a year and are willing to do some homework, even those coming off a promotion can save hundreds of dollars a year and get better service.

For those accustomed to badgering the cable company for a better deal year after year, we have some troubling news. Time Warner Cable is making things harder for you. In years past, customers only needed to use social media like Twitter or Facebook and ask for a better price and the cable company usually called back with a great promotional offer for the next year. Those days ended last fall, when the company began channeling current customer promotions almost exclusively through its national customer retention call centers. Even the oldest method of all — showing up at a local cable store with boxes in tow ready to turn in as you threaten to cancel service over its cost today often results in a shrug of the shoulders and an admission cable store employees are increasingly unable to offer customers promotions to entice them to stay. We saw this ourselves this week. As a result, Time Warner Cable lost that customer on the spot.

So why do cable companies play this game with their customers year after year? In a word, it’s all about the money. At least 80% of Time Warner Cable customers are still paying the company $10 a month to rent a cable modem customers can buy for themselves for as little as $50. Why do they keep paying? Because it’s a hassle or the customer believes they are incapable of installing their own. Even those who fought and won up to $1,100 in savings last year procrastinate after that promotion expires and put off trying to renew it. Why? Because few people relish debating for discounts. It’s a chore. But you say the same thing about doing your taxes, so it’s time to get some discipline and get this done. We’re even going to walk you through the process and share the tricks and traps you are likely to encounter along the way and how to get past them. How do we know? We have Time Warner Cable service too.

Heads Up: Time Warner Cable & Charter Communications — You may have read that Charter Communications is in the process of acquiring Time Warner Cable. Most state regulators with the exception of California (where approval isn’t a done deal at the time of writing) have approved the sale and federal regulators seem likely to follow, with a number of conditions Charter will have to meet going forward. For the rest of 2016, even if the deal is approved, we don’t expect many immediate changes. You are likely to see the Time Warner Cable name, packages, and pricing remain the same for most of this year. Next year, we expect Charter will want to retire Time Warner’s name and packages and move customers to their Spectrum product suite, at new customer pricing for all for the first year. We will update readers as needed to explain the transition, but it should not affect any promotions you win for at least the next year.

Getting Ready to Deal

courtesy: abcnews

Time to cut the cable TV bill down to size.

Based on reader input and our own experiences, you are going to find Time Warner Cable less willing to volunteer their lowest price promotions as they have in the past. Customer retention call center workers are trained to try to keep your business without giving away too much to customers threatening to leave. That is why doing your homework is essential before you call.

The most common reasons people call threatening to cancel service are:

  • a poor service experience
  • a rate increase or the end of a promotion that results in a higher rate
  • a better deal from the competition

When you call to cancel service, a representative will seek to understand your reasons and attempt to save you as a customer. If you respond you don’t like the picture quality or your Internet is constantly going out, you are unlikely to get a promotion. You’ll be offered a one-time service credit and a repair visit. If you are calling to cancel over a rate hike notice, they will probably offer a tepid promotion that effectively wipes out the rate increase, but still leaves you paying a lot more than you should. The best offers are designed in response to marketing from competitors trying to steal you away as a customer.

Doing Your Homework

This year your key word is: UPGRADED. Your local phone company just notified your neighborhood better service and a better deal is now available.

This year’s key word is: UPGRADED. Your local phone company just notified your neighborhood better service and a better deal is now available.

We believe the best deals will go to customers prepared to bring a competitor’s offer for them to match. If Time Warner’s local competitors are Google Fiber or Verizon FiOS, you are probably going to get a great deal without a lot of effort. In the northeast, Verizon FiOS and Time Warner Cable have had to face the fact if a customer of either doesn’t get an excellent deal to stay, they are going to switch to the other for one or two years and then switch back after the promotion expires. We’ve seen retention offers in these areas that even include high value gift card rebate offers normally reserved exclusively for customers able to prove (with their final bill) they are leaving one provider for the other. In areas where Time Warner Cable competes with AT&T U-verse, negotiations can get tougher. Time Warner Cable retention operators will listen to your claim you can get a better deal from AT&T or DirecTV and then try to trip you up by asking a lot of questions about 1-2 year contracts, HD fees, set-top equipment fees, broadband speeds, and other sneaky fees AT&T loves to slap on their bills but not always disclose in their advertising.

Things can get even tougher if their only significant competitor is Frontier Communications, HawTel, Windstream, CenturyLink, or other independent telephone companies. Most customers still can’t get TV service except through a companion offer with a satellite company and broadband typically comes in the form of underwhelming DSL. Time Warner Cable has a database of their competitors’ promotions and packages, and they respond to your price match request by trying to find the offer you want them to match in their system. When they find it (or something close to it), the call center operator will respond with a series of challenging statements to cut the apparent value of that promotion. For example, they will claim the competing offer does not include certain features Time Warner includes at no extra charge or doesn’t include various equipment, programming and other hidden fees that raise the price.

If you concede this, the price they will ultimately match is likely to be higher than what you originally thought. It may even sound reasonable to you, because you are used to “gotcha” and hidden fees that are already on your current Time Warner bill (fees the retention operator usually “forgets” to mention Time Warner also charges when they claim to be making an “apple to apple” comparison of the two offers.) That’s their game and it is designed to confuse and overwhelm you. We are going to teach you how to avoid getting on board their carnival carousel.

The key word for 2016 is: UPGRADED, as in their competitor ‘just notified you they have upgraded your neighborhood to a better level of service with a great limited time, local promotion just for customers like you.’

As AT&T and other phone companies continue to upgrade their networks to deliver video, phone and better broadband service, you can shut down the debate about DSL broadband speed and the many deficiencies of telephone company partnerships with satellite TV providers. Instead, you will explain the phone company can now match the speed Time Warner is selling (or at least the speed you need), and with services like Frontier FiOS TV/Vantage TV, CenturyLink’s Prism, Hawtel’s TV, and Windstream’s Kinetic TV, you don’t need a satellite dish to watch anymore.

A Time Warner Cable call center.

A Time Warner Cable call center.

But before we begin negotiations, a review of what you are already paying for is in order. Go and grab your latest Time Warner Cable bill.

If you are a broadband-only customer, you’ve probably received many offers to add television service. Those with cable television and broadband may be getting cards in the mail offering to add phone service for an additional $10 a month. Those customers identified as likely premium movie channel subscribers are getting offers to add multiple premiums at a special price. This practice is known as upselling, and it is how your $150 cable bill quickly rose to well over $200 once those limited-time promotions end and regular prices begin.

Here are some common cable TV add-ons that may be still lurking on your bill, are optional and may be removed on request:

  • Variety Pass (a/k/a Preferred TV): Just over 60 channels of lesser-known and slightly more expensive cable networks and their cousins. Includes MTV, Aspire, Cooking Channel, FOX Sports, Crime and Investigation Channel, GSN, LOGO, and National Geographic, among dozens of others. This package is very common and can often be downgraded to a 70+ Standard TV package.
  • HD Pass: Usually 4-6 channels of uniquely expensive basic cable networks. Most customers probably added this during the days of HDNet — a network Time Warner Cable dropped several years ago. Today, you are probably paying $3-5 a month extra for networks like beIN SPORTS, MGM HD, RFD HD, and Smithsonian. If these don’t interest you, drop this add-on.
  • TWC Sports Pass: More than two dozen additional sports channels that come at a hefty price. If you need to get your cable TV bill down, this is a good place to start.
  • TWC Movie Pass: Once affordable, this package of Disney Family Movies On Demand, TWC Movie Pass On Demand, and at least eight Encore movie channels has seen steady rate increases, especially over the last three years. It may no longer be worth it.
  • Various Premium Channels: HBO alone now costs $16.99 a month. Other premiums have also seen prices rise these last few years. But for $20-30 more, depending on the promotion, you can have every premium channel for a year, usually including HBO, Cinemax, Showtime, The Movie Channel, Epix, and Starz. Don’t leave your money on their table.
The TWC Digital Adapter was supposed to cost $0.99 a month. It's now $3.25.

The TWC Digital Adapter was supposed to cost $0.99 a month. It’s now $3.25.

With the latest round of rate hikes, renting equipment from Time Warner has gotten more expensive than ever. Do you still need a traditional set-top box in the guest bedroom or kids’ rooms if they are not even interested in cable TV? Each box and remote can add up to $7-9 a month depending on your package. DVR service is also increasingly costly because Time Warner charges customers for both the equipment and the service. An enhanced DVR capable of recording up to six shows at once is a nice addition, but it can easily add over $20 a month to your bill in equipment and service fees. If you find you aren’t using the DVR as often as you used to, it may be time to switch back to a traditional set-top box, which costs much less.

If you have TVs in spare bedrooms or the kitchen hooked up with Time Warner’s Digital Adapters, you will find the price for those has also increased dramatically. Initially promised for $0.99 a month, they now cost $3.25 each. This year, we recommend returning them and buying one or more Roku 2 2015 Edition ($70) units instead, which can deliver cable TV to your spare TV sets over your home Wi-Fi. (Also available on: Roku 3, All Roku 2 Models, Roku LT, Roku HD (2500X), the Roku Streaming Stick, Kindle Fire HD & HDX, Samsung Smart TV, Xbox 360 and Xbox One.) Time Warner provides their lineup on these devices with a free app. A one time equipment purchase will pay for itself in a few years, give instant access to Hulu, Netflix, and other services and offer a less frustrating experience.

Cable modems are another piece of equipment you should not be renting from Time Warner. These devices work with your Internet service and now cost $10 a month. The top recommended Arris (formerly Motorola) SB-6141 can be purchased on eBay for around $50 (for refurbished units) and from retail outlets for $70-80 (new). If you are still renting a modem from Time Warner, go and buy one today.

Am I Getting a Good Deal?

While tempting, these offers usually require upgrades that raise the price. For example, Whole House DVR mandatory service and equipment fees add $11.75 a month per cable box, with at least two boxes required.

While tempting, these typical Time Warner Cable offers usually require upgrades that raise the price. For example, Whole House DVR mandatory service and equipment fees add $11.75 a month per cable box, with a two-box minimum. That gift card offer is only good if you are able to prove you are switching from another provider and can produce a copy of your final bill.

This is the part people dread the most — having to haggle over their cable bill. How do you know if the offer Time Warner gives you is a good one? The answer is: by comparing it against the competition and what Time Warner would charge new customers for the same services. If it is within that range, you’ve done okay. If you keep pushing far beyond that, you are likely to find diminishing returns and increasing aggravation – sometimes an offer promised on the phone never even makes it to your bill, because it was offered in error. Then it becomes a dispute over crediting the difference between an offer promised and one actually received. We also don’t recommend people push for rebate cards, because even if you are offered one to keep your business, you usually will not qualify for it because you typically cannot meet the rebate’s terms and conditions, resulting in a rejection letter several months later from the third-party rebate processor.

To find out pricing of current promotions, start by visiting the phone company’s website to see what it has to offer. After that, it is off to Time Warner Cable’s website, pretending to be a new customer and creating a package similar or identical to what you receive today.

PrismTV + Internet, from CenturyLink

PrismTV + Internet, from CenturyLink. This service is being introduced in a number of CenturyLink-served communities.

Along the way, take note of fine print disclosures about contract terms, equipment fees, surcharges, etc. Some new customer offers increase in price during the second year, but ignore that. You are only negotiating for a better price for one year. In general terms, you are probably going to find new customer prices averaging in this range:

  • Broadband only: $34.95/mo for 12 months (Standard service)
  • Triple Play (broadband, TV + Enhanced DVR, phone): $99.99/mo for 12 months (30Mbps service)
  • Double Play (broadband + TV): Expect to pay around $80-90 for Standard/Turbo/Extreme broadband with traditional 200+ channel Preferred TV (periodic promotions offer enhanced speed broadband at the higher side of this price range)

Be aware most promotions start with lowball offers that do not include equipment like the very popular and expensive DVR (with the equipment and service fee), and the additional cost of a second set-top box many people have in their master bedroom. There are also Broadcast TV and Sports Programming surcharges increasingly charged by providers, and the usual taxes and fees.

No, dealing with Time Warner Cable won't reduce you to tears.

No, dealing with Time Warner Cable won’t reduce you to tears.

If you want to save time and are comfortable with a triple play package including 200+ channel Preferred TV with DVR and one additional standard HD set-top box, Ultimate Internet (50Mbps or 300Mbps in Maxx-upgraded areas), and Unlimited local/nationwide home phone service with voicemail, you should be able to easily negotiate a price hovering around $120-130 a month. We pay closer to the high side of that range after subscribing to “whole house” DVR service, which allows you to watch shows recorded on a DVR in another room. That price represents about a $50/month savings over the $175 price we would pay with the lesser promotion they offered us after the most recent one expired. If you are in a more competitive market with an even better deal than we found from our local providers, Time Warner should be able to match it too.

It’s Time to Make the Cancel Call

We’re getting close to making that phone call. Just one more reminder: the retention operator will probably try to question your competitor’s deal. That is where our magic word UPGRADED comes in. You are going to stay resolute the competitor’s offer you negotiated and are telling Time Warner about specifically targeted those gotcha fees and hidden charges, which have all been waived or do not apply. To win your business after the upgrade, the price quoted is the “out the door” price exactly as it will be billed to you, without hidden fees, no term contracts, and no gotchas. You can acknowledge those fees are common among many providers, but they do not apply to you in this case.

Get a glass of water, a pen and paper, and be prepared to spend about 30 minutes total on the phone (most of that will be on hold as they change your account to add the promotion you just won).

Call 1-800-892-4357 and say “cancel service” when the automated system asks what you are calling about. From there, your call will be forwarded to a customer retention call center. The first thing you should ask when connected is the representative’s name and extension (or other identifying information). If your deal isn’t applied (or applied correctly) to your account, the name of the person you spoke with will go a long way to getting any problems straightened out.

timewarner twcYou will be asked why you are canceling service. You want to emphasize “it costs too much” and you have “found a better deal” elsewhere. You should expect the representative to start negotiations by attempting to downgrade your current service to save money. Do not play this game at this point in the call. Politely tell the representative you are not interested in a reduction in your services because you can get the same or better from the competition… at a lower price. Keep reminding them your concern is over the cost of the service, nothing else. Don’t get sidetracked talking about service problems or poor customer service. Address those issues at the end of the call.

Despite assertions Time Warner Cable customers won't endure extended hold times, at least 2/3rds of our recent calls were spent listening to hold music.

Despite assertions Time Warner Cable customers won’t endure extended hold times, at least 2/3rds of our recent calls were spent listening to hold music.

You will be asked to describe the deal from the competitor. Let them know that with recent upgrades in your area it covers all the TV channels you want to watch, has the same broadband speed you are getting now, and offers unlimited local and long distance calling to all the places you care about. Let them know you have already talked to the other company but after a family discussion, you decided to give Time Warner a chance to match or beat their offer and will stay as a customer if they can.

The retention operator will likely try to challenge the competitor’s offer, but each time politely remind them your offer either includes those fees/charges or waives them with no contract obligation and no cancellation penalties. Tell them that competitor is going all out to sign up new customers in your neighborhood.

At all times, be polite, persistent, and persuasive. If you are pleasant, representatives will often go the extra mile for you. Try saying, “is there anything else you can try to get me a better price,” “I really appreciate all of your help today,” and “thank you for looking into this for me.” If things seem to be going against you, remind them, “I know there must be something we can do together to get to a better deal,” “I know you might not be able to do this for me, but perhaps a supervisor could?” and “maybe I am approaching this wrong and we need to start over and try to find the best promotion we can, even if it means adding or changing something that will get me a better deal.”

At this point, the operator will put you on hold and review the promotional offers they can apply to your account. When they return to the line, hear them out but you need them to come within $5-10 of the deal you took to them. If they can’t, you can usually ask if a supervisor will grant you a one time service credit for the difference between the two prices, or to give you a free upgrade to faster Internet speed, a premium movie channel, or something else to sweeten the offer. Try to stay flexible over a few dollars either way. The representative cannot make up a deal, they have to find one in the system that matches your current services and enter the proper code(s) to apply it to your account. Write everything down and repeat it back as you go to make sure you both understand the terms. Also make certain to ask if ANY other fees or charges apply, and if they do, write them down. In most cases, the price you get will be before taxes and some surcharges.

If you find you are dealing with a difficult or intransigent representative, thank them for their time, hang up and call back in a few hours and try again. You never have to commit to a deal immediately. If you want to think about it, ask for the representative to note your account with the offer he or she made and ask their name so you can refer back to that conversation when you call back.

Save your notes. It is unfortunately all too common that the deal you were promised over the phone can look very different on your first bill. But if you kept your notes and the name(s) of representatives you spoke with, any problems can be fixed later with a corrected deal or service credits.

Amy Schumer calls Time Warner Cable. It wasn’t this bad for us, we swear! (4:45)

Big Headaches for Frontier Takeover of Verizon Landlines/DSL/FiOS in Texas, Florida, and California

As of late Monday afternoon, Downdetector.com still shows widespread outages for Frontier customers in North Texas, western Florida and parts of California.

As of late Monday afternoon, Downdetector.com still shows widespread outages for Frontier customers in North Texas, western Florida and parts of California.

Despite promises this past weekend’s transition from Verizon Communications to Frontier Communications would result in little more than “a logo change,” countless customers in the affected states of Florida, Texas, and California reported long service outages, website problems, and long holds waiting to talk to customer service representatives about when service would be back.

The outages were most widespread on Friday morning, April 1, when many subscribers awoke to discover they no longer had phone, television, or broadband service. A blitz on social media directed at Frontier quickly followed on Facebook and Twitter, many summing up their first experience with Frontier to be like “dealing with a third-rate phone company.”

Louise Thompson called the transition “a total fiasco” and some businesses lost thousands of dollars on Friday alone. The “Happy Grasshopper” was one of them, after losing Internet and phone service.

“We have 20 employees who can’t get any work done here today,” said owner Dan Stewart.

Gerard Donelan, a real estate appraiser who works from home in South Tampa, was still without service Friday afternoon. “I talked to customer service about 10:30. … He told me service was down in the Tampa Bay area, and he didn’t know when it was coming back, and there was nothing he could do,” Donelan told the Tampa Tribune. “What a joke. These guys were telling us just yesterday how seamless this was going to be. My next phone call is to Bright House.”

welcome frontierThe popular Zudar’s sandwich shop downtown was still unable to swipe credit cards or take phone or Internet orders at mid-afternoon. “It’s having a terrible effect on business,” said owner Eric Weinstein. “It’s absolutely an epic failure on their part. An amazing lack of customer service and communication.”

frontier texasThe City of Plano (Tex.) lost its website in the transition. Frontier shared its failure with AT&T mobile customers in parts of Florida, who found cell service not working because Frontier also took control of fiber links connecting many of AT&T’s cell towers to AT&T’s network. Many of those were down too.

“During the early morning of April 1, 2016, a technical issue occurred during the integration of the systems Frontier acquired from Verizon that impacted service to some enterprise and carrier customers in Florida, Texas and California.  As of 9:30 am eastern, the issue was resolved,” the company’s statement said.  “In addition, an unrelated fiber cut occurred that impacted customers in the Tampa market.”

Across all three states, Frontier officials hurried to downplay the impact of the service outages, which are continuing to this day for some customers. In some statements, Frontier claimed only about 500 business customers lost service, and there were no widespread problems. But many of the 3.7 million customers in Texas, Florida and California enduring the transition say those outages and problems affect residential accounts.

“There is ‘absolutely nothing widespread going on?'” asked Eric Petty, an adjunct professor at St. Petersburg College. “What a bunch of liars. How stupid do they think their customers are?”

One of the biggest problems customers are encountering is the procedure to transition their online access from Verizon to Frontier. To begin that process, customers need a new Frontier ID, but that is easier said than done if you lack landline service. As part of the registration process, customers need to enter the account PIN number usually displayed on landline bills, but often missing from broadband-only service bills.

frontier floridaLee Allen of Dallas was one of many frustrated customers. He spent an hour trying to manage the Frontier MyAccount registration process and when he tried to sync his Verizon and Frontier account together, it was a flop.

Two calls to Frontier customer service and still no joy reports the Dallas Morning News.

“I’m in limbo,” he said Friday afternoon.”I’m self-employed and work from home. They are supposed to be a technology company. They should have been ready.”

Frontier says they are aware of this problem and are working on a solution.

In Los Gatos, Calif., it was an Internet-free weekend for most of the city’s former Verizon Internet customers, who also lost service on Friday. As of Sunday morning, they still didn’t have service, according to the San Jose Mercury News:

Los Gatos customers were assured the transition on April 1 would be smooth with no interruption to service. But that hasn’t been the case, said Beau Graeber, Fenesy’s neighbor who’s helping him contact the company and reconfigure his Internet.

“It’s a little frustrating,” Graeber said, adding that Verizon — now Frontier — is the only option for Internet and telephone service in Los Gatos, outside of cable or satellite providers. “For Ralph and some of my other neighbors, it’s a terrible inconvenience.”

frontier californiaConcerned customers with bills due this week are finding they don’t have enough access on Frontier’s website to arrange payment of their bill. Frontier says not to worry – “Until this process is completed on April 8th, you will only have very limited account access, even with a Frontier ID,” Frontier reports. “You can still use your Frontier ID to download the Frontier TV App, HBO GO, Watch ESPN, Disney and other popular entertainment Apps. If your bill is due during this period, rest assured that all late fees will be waived.”

Beyond total service outages and interruptions, other customers are reporting various problems with Frontier’s version of FiOS TV:

  • Frontier began migrating their 100,000 title On Demand library to FiOS on April 2. The process was supposed to be complete Saturday afternoon, but some customers are still having problems. Frontier: “We understand how important Video on Demand is to our customers. We apologize for the inconvenience and are working diligently to ensure the content is available as soon as possible. If you get a message that the service is ‘temporarily unavailable,’ you should reboot your set-top box to refresh the VOD service. To reboot, unplug your set-top box, wait at least 10 seconds, and then plug it back in. Please note, a reboot can take up to 3 minutes as the system refreshes your settings. If you continue to experience any issues accessing VOD, please call our Tech Support team at 1-877-600-1511.”
  • The Nickelodeon Jr. FiOS TV Widget/App was retired by Nickelodeon on March 31 prior to the transition to Frontier. It is, therefore, not available. Customers can still watch Nick Jr. on their home television. Customers can also access Nick Jr.’s programming via the web, at www.nickjr.com, or through Nickelodeon’s mobile apps for iOS and Android.
  • When searching for a Video on Demand title with the FiOS TV remote, customers may notice due to the transition from Verizon to Frontier, many of the movies and TV shows are not appearing in either “New Releases” or “Collections”. However, they can be found by scrolling down to “By Title” and then selecting “All” in order to find your choice. You can also search for your VOD by selecting the “B” button on your FiOS TV remote.

frontier new logoFrontier promised regulators things would go better for new Frontier customers after the company botched a similar transfer of AT&T customers in Connecticut that went so poorly, the company had to offer $50 service credits to affected customers.

“We have lessons to learn,” Frontier spokeswoman Kathleen Abernathy told Connecticut regulators at the time.

“They didn’t learn a thing,” said Stan Rogers, a transitioned Frontier customer outside of Allen, Tex. “I was there for the Connecticut switchover two months before I moved down here and now I get to experience the same thing all over again. To give you an idea of where Frontier is on the technology curve, they have sent me information about how to transition my Verizon e-mail address to AOL. Hello!”

North Texas resident Larry Allen agrees, “I didn’t think anything could drive me back to Comcast, but Frontier may do it. TV issues, email issues, Frontier can’t process my information to set up an account, horrible/outdated selection of movies on demand, [and] Frontier [is] not responding to emails for assistance.”

WTSP in Tampa reports Florida area customers didn’t get the easy transition from Verizon to Frontier they were promised. (2:22)

KTVT in Dallas reports Frontier service outages created headaches for customers across North Texas. (2:08)

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  • Josh: Wow, great article! I'm feeling nostalgic, and kind of weirded out by VHS going away, and the realization we're (once again) likely to lose a giganti...
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  • Sharon: I too have gotten taken by Verizon, and they are continually trying to add more costs to my plan; daily. This number did call today, showing as a Ver...
  • Josh: I need PBS and The CW...I can't believe those aren't on here! I'd want BBC America too. I'd really want a much longer DVR too...28 days isn't good...
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