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Frontier Overcharging Some Florida, Texas, and California Customers Hundreds of Dollars

Phillip Dampier October 17, 2017 Consumer News, Frontier, Video 2 Comments

Customers switched to Frontier Communications from Verizon in Florida, California and Texas continue to complain they are being overcharged for service, sometimes by hundreds of dollars a month, and they’re fed up.

Danielle Ferrari, owner of a clothing and consignment shop in Tampa, has been battling the phone company over its erroneous billing since the first day it took over service from Verizon Communications.

“The very first bill was wildly wrong,” Ferrari told WFTS Action News. “The next one wasn’t correct and the next one wasn’t correct.”

Ferrari had paid Verizon a little more than $100 a month, but Frontier sent a bill for more than $340. Calls to customer service brought broken promises the company will fix Ferrari’s bill, but the overcharges kept on coming. Subsequent calls to Frontier have accomplished nothing, and attempts to speak with a supervisor were denied.

Customers who decide to cancel their Frontier service and change providers are not out of the woods yet either. Canceling is what 79-year old Dennis Klocek from Palm Springs, Calif. tried to do, leaving him owed $127.62 for dropping his Frontier phone, TV, and internet service. Frontier claims it refunds customers not with a check, but a prepaid debit card, which the company promised to mail to his home address. It never arrived.

When Klocek called Frontier about the missing card, the company refused to reimburse him, claiming the card had been sent and was almost entirely depleted by someone who used it at several convenience stores and fast food restaurants in nearby Cathedral City. As far as Frontier was concerned, once the card was mailed, the matter was out of their hands and responsibility. Klocek is upset Frontier sent his refund in the form of a debit card, which he never authorized and obviously lacked the security features a refund check would have given him.

“These people can’t get away with this,” Klockek told KESQ-TV. “What’s going on? How many other people are getting screwed like this? I don’t like this and I am going to get to the bottom of it. I feel empty. I feel like I can’t trust anybody in big business, meaning ‘AKA’ Frontier.”

Frontier also refused Klockek’s request to speak to a supervisor, leaving him at a dead end. He took his complaint to the Palm Springs television station instead, which seems to potentially bring Frontier around.

“We empathize with our former customer and are actively helping him work with the card issuer to implement a fraud investigation, resolve the matter and receive the refund,” wrote Frontier representative Javier Mendoza.

WFTS-TV in Tampa reports multiple Florida customers are having billing problems with Frontier Communications. (1:38)

Back in Tampa, Frontier customer Christina Herrman said she’s been dealing with overcharges by Frontier Communications for years.

“Ever since Frontier took over, our bill has gotten exceedingly more each month, now up to $260,” she posted on a thread talking about the issue on Facebook. “Even charging us for a 2nd cable box/DVR for the past year that we never had.”

Requesting a supervisor can lead to punishing hold times.

“I wait on hold for 20 minutes to get one on the phone, to spend another hour and they can’t help me,” she posted. “Hours upon hours wasted trying to deal with them.”

She eventually surrendered and now just pays whatever amount Frontier bills her.

In Dallas, Tex., Beth Smith Powell also took to Frontier’s Facebook page to complain she spent almost 40 hours on the phone with Frontier representatives about their bait and switch promotions.

“I had a sales rep come to my home and give me a price on TV/internet/phone for two years,” Powell wrote. “I asked her several time was this price good for the full two years, she said yes.”

When the first bill arrived, it was nearly $500, leaving Powell aghast. After two hours with Frontier’s customer service, she was promised the bill would be adjusted. It wasn’t adjusted much because when the next bill arrived, it was over $400, forcing her to spend another two hours working with Frontier to straighten that bill out. In the meantime, she was threatened with service interruption and a collection agency if her original bill was not paid in full.

Just a few months later, Powell’s bill suddenly increased $40 a month and nobody could initially explain why.

“Come to find out my two-year CONTRACT was BS — it was only a six-month discount,” Powell wrote. “I have the paperwork but […] Frontier will not honor this contract.”

It appeared Frontier walked away from the commitments their third-party door-to-door sales agents made promising 24 months of savings by only delivering six, after the billing errors were corrected.

“Shame on Frontier for being dishonest and not honoring your written sales rep contract,” Powell complains. “I’ve spent about 40 hours on the phone and chat trying to get help and no one will honor your advertised rate!”

Alan Borden, a Tampa consumer protection attorney with Debt Relief Legal Group, told WFTS Frontier’s bills are very long and hard to understand.

“They make it as convoluted as possible but theoretically, they can sneak in these overcharges where you won’t notice, or you’ll just give up,” Borden said.

Which is exactly what many customers do. Frontier has earned an “F” rating from the Better Business Bureau and has collected more than 9,400 customer complaints in the last few years.

Despite Net Neutrality, Providers Launch Fiber Spending Spree

Despite claims from some industry-backed researchers and former members of Congress that Net Neutrality has reduced investment in telecommunications, a new research note from Deutsche Bank shows America’s top telephone and cable companies are spending billions on fiber upgrades to power wireless, business, and consumer broadband.

“Telecoms have become much more public signaling their intent to increase fiber investment, with AT&T and Verizon leading the spending ramp,” reports Deutsche Bank Markets Research.

Verizon has been on a fiber spending spree in the northeastern United States, signing contracts with Corning and Prysmian worth $1.3 billion to guarantee a steady supply of 2.5 million miles of fiber optic cable Verizon plans to buy over the next three years. Much of that spending allows Verizon to lay a foundation for its future 5G wireless services, which will require fiber to the neighborhood networks. But in cities like Boston, Verizon is also once again expanding its FiOS fiber to the home service to consumers.

AT&T is committed to connecting 12.5 million homes to gigabit-ready fiber broadband by 2019 — part of a deal it made with the FCC to win approval of its acquisition of DirecTV. AT&T claims it has already connected 5.5 million homes to its gigabit AT&T Fiber network, expected to reach 7 million by the end of this year.

Deutsche Bank thinks providers’ future drive towards 5G service will also simultaneously benefit fiber to the home expansion, because the same fiber network can power both services.

“To support the upcoming innovations such as autonomous driving, IoT, smart cities, the US needs to densify its fiber network,” Deutsche Bank said. “The U.S. fiber penetration rate is 20% vs. 75% for leading OECD countries, which suggests a large gap needs to be closed.”

Altice founder Patrick Drahi (second from left) and Altice USA CEO Dexter Goei (center) visit a Cablevision fiber deployment on Long Island, N.Y.

The bank predicts companies will spend around $175 billion over the next 10 years building out their fiber networks, with most of the spending coming from the phone companies, who may see fiber buildouts as their best attempt to level the playing field with cable operators’ hybrid fiber-coaxial cable networks. As cable operators expand their networks to reach more business parks, they have been gradually stealing market share for phone and data services from phone companies. Consumer broadband is also increasingly dominated by cable operators in areas where phone companies still rely on selling DSL services.

FierceCable notes Comcast and Altice have stepped up aggressive spending on fiber networks for their consumer and business customers. Altice is planning to decommission Cablevision’s existing coaxial cable network and move customers to fiber-to-the-home service. Comcast is deploying fiber services while still selling traditional cable broadband upgraded to DOCSIS 3.1, which supports substantially faster broadband speeds. The two networks co-exist side-by-side. Customer need dictates which network Comcast will use to supply service.

Customers benefit differently in each state, depending on what type of service is available. Comcast’s large footprint in Pennsylvania, outside of Philadelphia, is usually served by traditional coaxial cable. Verizon still sells DSL in much of the state. In Massachusetts, Verizon is building out its FiOS network to serve metro Boston while Comcast will depend on DOCSIS 3.1 upgrades to speed up its internet service. In New Jersey, long a battleground for Verizon’s FiOS service the company stopped aggressively expanding several years ago, Comcast has announced DOCSIS 3.1 upgrades for the entire state.

Independent phone companies are also seeing a bleak future without fiber upgrades. Both CenturyLink and Windstream are planning moderately aggressive fiber expansion, particularly in urban service areas and where they face fierce cable competition. Frontier continues its more modest approach to fiber expansion, usually placing fiber in new housing developments and in places where its copper facilities have been severely damaged or have to be relocated because of infrastructure projects.

None of the companies have cited Net Neutrality as a factor in their future broadband expansion plans. In fact, fiber networks have opened the door to new business opportunities to the companies installing them, and the high-capacity networks are likely to further reduce traffic/transit costs, while boosting speeds. That undercuts the business model of selling digital slow and fast lanes.

Frontier Starts Retiring Copper in Spencerport, N.Y. and League City, Tex.

Phillip Dampier September 25, 2017 Broadband Speed, Consumer News, Frontier, Public Policy & Gov't 1 Comment

Frontier Communications has started notifying the Federal Communications Commission of small-scale retirements of its existing copper wire facilities in favor of all-fiber optic replacements.

The company has begun copper wire retirement with certain customers in the hamlet of Adams Basin in Spencerport, N.Y. and League City, Tex. near Houston, in both cases due to roadwork.

“Frontier Communications announces that it is retiring copper feeder plant as part of a Highway Improvement plan impacting its Spencerport, New York Central Office,” Frontier wrote in its notification to the FCC. “The copper loops will be replaced with fiber to the home and impact a portion of the Spencerport Central Office service area. After the planned copper retirement, there will no longer be copper loop feeder facilities providing connectivity between Frontier’s Spencerport, NY Central Office and the customer premises locations listed below. Frontier is planning to replace the existing copper loops with fiber drops as part of this project. After the planned network changes are implemented, Frontier will (1) no longer offer services over copper facilities; and (2) cease maintaining the copper facilities. Following the transition to fiber, customers can anticipate receiving services from Frontier that are equivalent to or better than those they received over copper facilities, and at that same prices.”

The retirement will not impact the entire community of Spencerport, but rather customers near the hamlet of Adams Basin, named for the Adams-Ryan House, an inn opened in 1825 that provided rest and refreshments for those journeying the original Erie Canal.

Affected Customers:

  • 3486-5206 Brockport-Spencerport Rd.
  • 439-550 Washington St.
  • 2-31 Dresser Rd.
  • 40-100 Hubbell Rd.
  • 545-848 Gallup Rd.
  • 5-211 Campbell Rd.
  • 4436-4452 Canal Rd.

In League City, Tex. Frontier will retire its copper network in areas around a road expansion project widening Calder and Butler Roads and Turner St. Affected customers will receive FiOS fiber to the home service instead. The handful of impacted customers are located at:

  • 2502-3000 Butler Rd.
  • 1313-1325 Turner St.
  • 1201-1217 Weyer St.

Frontier’s very conservative fiber expansion effort was discussed by Perley McBride, chief financial officer at the phone company, during the recent Goldman Sachs Communacopia 2017 conference.

McBride predicted Frontier would expand fiber to the home service to 50,000-100,000 customers over the next two years, mostly in new housing developments.

“Anywhere there are ‘greenfield’ or subdivision builds, that’s always fiber-to-the home,” McBride said. “We will do about 50,000 of those this year and another 50,000 to 100,000 next year. We do see instances where overlaying fiber on top of fiber-to-the-home and fiber-to-the-node has made some sense. I think the beauty of the fiber-to-the-home network is that it is low-cost. If you need to then move into the next generation of speed, it’s not a very capital-intensive change you have to make.”

It also seems likely Frontier will replace copper wiring infrastructure in areas where infrastructure projects are underway, particularly those that will require utilities to relocate their current infrastructure, such as in road construction or expansion projects. In the past, Frontier would have moved poles and either reused existing copper wiring or replaced it with new copper wiring. As seen in New York and Texas, fiber will likely now be used instead.

But such upgrades are incremental at best, and upgrading 100,000 customers to fiber optics is a small percentage of the nearly five million residential customers Frontier serves across the country.

Even Frontier Hints Without Major Broadband Upgrades, It’s Dead

Phillip Dampier September 18, 2017 Consumer News, Frontier 9 Comments

Frontier Communications spent $2 billion in 2014 to purchase AT&T’s Connecticut wireline business, believing it could make a fortune selling internet and cable television service to wealthy Nutmeg State residents over a network AT&T upgraded to fiber-to-the-neighborhood service several years earlier.

But thanks to a combination of management incompetence, cord-cutting, and Frontier’s competitors, the phone company’s dreams have turned bad in Connecticut, where the company lost hundreds of millions in the last three years along with at least 22% of its customers in the state. As a result, Frontier has turned a business that made AT&T $1.3 billion four years ago into one that earned Frontier $901.9 million last year.

Hartford Business notes Frontier’s biggest challenge is holding on to customers once they disconnect their landline service. In Connecticut between 2014 and 2016, Frontier lost 154,000 landline customers in the state, leaving just under 522,000 remaining landline customers. That is way down from the 675,000 customers AT&T had just before it sold the service area to Frontier. AT&T struggled with a similar problem, having more than one million landline customers in 2011, according to numbers from Connecticut’s Public Utilities Regulatory Commission (PURA). What made AT&T different is its investment in U-verse — AT&T’s answer to the challenge of lost landline customers. AT&T invested in a new fiber to the neighborhood network to boost broadband speeds and sell television service, giving departing landline customers a reason to continue doing business with AT&T.

For millions of Frontier Communications customers in its “legacy service areas” — owned and operated by Frontier for years, if not decades, those upgrades have been slow to come, if they have come at all. As a result, dropping Frontier service in favor of a wireless or cable company is not a difficult decision for many customers, and cable operators report significant growth where their only competition is DSL service from Verizon or Frontier.

Frontier’s own executives admit broadband upgrades are essential if Frontier is to survive the challenges of landline disconnects.

Customers are increasingly taking a pass on landline service.

“It’s a surprise to no one that we have voiceline declines in Connecticut,” Mark Nielsen, Frontier’s general counsel and executive vice president told the business newspaper. “The challenge is to build our internet and video business so as to offset the declines in voice. We are very committed to the Connecticut operation, we see great potential in it.”

That commitment is coming in the form of internet speed upgrades. Frontier’s primary competitors in the state are cable operators Comcast, Charter, and Cox, some offering speeds as high as a gigabit. Frontier is trying to compete by introducing speeds at or greater than 100Mbps, but so far only in a few parts of the state.

According to Nielsen, Frontier’s profitability is less important to investors than maintaining positive cash flow, which means assuring more money is coming into the operation than going out.

“Cash is what’s available to make investments to return capital to shareholders,” Nielsen said.

But that represents a conflict for Frontier, because many shareholders are attracted to the stock’s long history of returning money to shareholders in the form of dividend payouts. If Frontier has to invest more of its capital on upgrades and network upkeep, that can result in a dividend cut, which usually causes the share price to decline, sometimes dramatically. If Frontier can manage to invest less and cut costs, that frees up more money that can be paid to investors.

For the past several years, Frontier’s business plan has been to avoid spending large sums on network upgrades. But the company was willing to spend handsomely to acquire more customers from a three-state deal with Verizon that cost $10.5 billion. Frontier’s acquisition of Verizon landline customers in Florida, California, and Texas made sense for many shareholders because it would dramatically increase the number of customers served by Frontier, and that in turn would boost revenue and cash flow, from which Frontier’s dividend to shareholders would be paid. Frontier acquired a fiber rich, FiOS service area in all three states, which automatically meant the company would not need to undertake its own significant and costly upgrades.

But Frontier did have to transfer its newest customers from Verizon’s systems to those operated by Frontier. If a company spends enough time and money to protect customer data during such “flash cutovers,” they are usually successful. A company that attempts it without careful planning causes service to be disrupted, sometimes for weeks, which is exactly what happened after Frontier switched customers in the three states to its systems. Customers have never forgotten, and have left every quarter since the deal was first announced.

Financial analysts see where this is headed.

“Each and every quarter their revenues decline, and each and every quarter their customer totals decline,” David Burks, a financial analyst at Hilliard Lyons, told the newspaper. He called Frontier a company that is struggling. He added Frontier needs to stem revenue erosion. He downgraded Frontier’s stock last month after the company reported a second-quarter net loss of $662 million. He could not ignore what he called “disturbing trends,” such as an 11.5 percent year-over-year decline in total customers across Frontier’s entire operation.

 

To win new customers Frontier must improve its network with upgrades that will cost the company billions — spending that is certain to affect Frontier’s shareholder dividend. Even if it does spend money to upgrade, some analysts are wondering whether it is too late.

“The time to play catch up has passed, given the time to market advantage that cable has, and we expect continued pressures from cable as DOCSIS 3.1 steps up the speed advantage that cable already enjoys,” wrote Jeffries in a a report written about by FierceTelecom. “In our view, it is far too late for the ILECs to ramp spend to compete, particularly given high leverage and the significant cost required to expeditiously play catch up.”

Telecom Companies Prepare for Hurricane Irma

AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint, and T-Mobile are sending technicians to hundreds of cell sites across Florida to top off fuel generators, test back up batteries, and protect facilities from Hurricane Irma’s anticipated storm surge and associated flooding.

“Customers rely on us, especially during major storms,” said Joe York, AT&T Florida president. “That’s why we practice readiness drills and simulations throughout the year. We do all we can to have our networks prepared when severe weather strikes. We’ve worked for the past few days to position equipment and crews to respond to the storm. We’re closely linked with Florida public officials in their storm response efforts. With a storm of this size, we may have some outages. But if service goes down, we’ll do all we can to get it back up as fast as possible.”

With landfall possible along the Florida coast or inland, Verizon pointed out that in Florida, since last hurricane season, it has densified its network with 4G, fortified coverage along evacuation routes, put cell sites equipment on stilts and installed new systems in hospitals, government and emergency facilities, and high-traffic public areas.

“The country is only beginning to wrestle with recovery efforts from Harvey, and already, residents of Florida and the Caribbean are bracing for another potentially devastating storm in Hurricane Irma,” said Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure. “During times like these, the cost of staying connected to friends and loved ones should be the last thing on anyone’s mind, and we want to do what we can to support our customers across impacted areas.”

Hurricane Irma’s impact on Puerto Rico.

AT&T and Verizon Wireless are positioning portable cell tower trailers just outside of areas anticipated to take the brunt of the hurricane. AT&T in particular has a lot to prove as its network now includes FirstNet — a public private wireless broadband network for emergency responders that also depends on AT&T’s wireless networks. States are still in the process of opting in to AT&T’s FirstNet. The company has more than 700 pieces of emergency cellular equipment, including Cell on Wheels, Cell on Light Trucks, portable trailers and generators, and even the possibility of deploying Cells on Wings — airborne cell towers that can restore cell service in areas where roads are inaccessible because of floods.

Wireline companies are also positioning repair crews in the region to bring service back online. Other technicians are checking on emergency generator and battery backup power, particularly for maintaining landline service.

“Our team is working to prepare for extreme weather and will be there for our business and residential customers to quickly and safely restore any affected network services,” reports Frontier Communications, which provides service in former Verizon landline service areas.

The phone company is reminding landline customers that not all phones will operate during a power outage, but that does not mean Frontier’s landline network is down.

“Customers who rely on cordless phones should consider plugging a traditional corded phone directly into the wall. In the event of a commercial power outage, corded phones on the copper network will still operate; cordless ones will not,” the company says. “If commercial power is unavailable, generators and batteries in Frontier’s central offices serve as a backup. Phone lines generally will have enough power in them to use a corded phone. For customers using FiOS phone services, the battery backup will supply voice service for up to eight hours.”

The company also warns customers to watch out for damaged utility lines after the storm is over.

“Stay far away from any downed cables or power lines. Contact Frontier at 800-921-8102 (business) or 800-921-8101 (residential) to report any fallen telephone poles or cables.”

Some companies are offering customers a break on their bills:

  • Verizon: Landline customers will not pay any long distance charges for calls to Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Haiti, and the Turks and Caicos Islands from Sept. 6-9. Taxes and any government surcharges applicable will still apply. Verizon Wireless customers inside the U.S. will not be charged for texts or calls originating in the U.S. to those same countries and territories for the same period.
  • T-Mobile and MetroPCS customers in affected areas of Puerto Rico:  Will get calls, texts, and unlimited data free from Sept. 6th through Sept. 8th. This free service will be available to customers in the 787 and 939 area codes.
  • Sprint: Effective today through Sept. 9, 2017, Sprint will waive call, text and data overage fees for its Sprint, Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile customers in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. For Sprint, Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile customers in the U.S., the company will also waive all international call and text overage fees to the following: Anguilla, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Turks and Caicos, and British Virgin Islands. For the same period, Sprint will also waive roaming voice and text overage fees for its customers in those locations. Fees will be waived during the time specified.
  • Comcast: Opening more than 137,000 XFINITY Wi-Fi hotspots throughout Florida to anyone who needs them, including non-XFINITY customers, for free. For a map of XFINITY Wi-Fi hotspots, which are located both indoors and outdoors in places such as shopping districts, parks and businesses, visit Xfinity.com/wifi. Once in range of a hotspot, select the “xfinitywifi” network name in the list of available hotspots and then launch a browser. Comcast internet customers can sign in with their usernames and passwords and they will be automatically connected to XFINITY Wi-Fi hotspots in the future. Non-Comcast internet subscribers should visit the “Not an Xfinity Internet Customer” section on the sign-in page to get started. Non-customers will be able to renew their complimentary sessions every 2 hours through Sept. 15, 2017.

AT&T Offers These Customer Tips:

  • Keep your mobile phone battery charged. In case of a power outage, have another way to charge your phone like an extra battery, car charger or device-charging accessory. Applicable sales tax holidays are a great time to stock up on cell phone accessories.
  • Keep your mobile devices dry. The biggest threat to your device during a hurricane is water.  Keep it safe from the elements by storing it in a baggie or some other type of protective covering, like an Otterbox phone cover.
  • Have a family communications plan. Choose someone out of the area as a central contact.   Make sure all family members know who to contact if they get separated. Most importantly, practice your emergency plan in advance.
  • Program all of your emergency contact numbers and e-mail addresses into your mobile phone. Numbers should include the police department, fire station and hospital, as well as your family members.
  • Forward your home number to your mobile number in the event of an evacuation. Call forwarding is based out of the telephone central office. This means you will get calls from your landline phone even if your local telephone service is disrupted. If the central office is not operational, services such as voicemail and call forwarding may be useful.
  • Track the storm and access weather information on your mobile device. Many homes lose power during severe weather. You can stay up to speed as a DIRECTV customer, by streaming local weather channels using the DIRECTV application on your smartphone. If you subscribe to mobile DVR, you can also stream every channel directly to your phone.
  • Camera phones provide assistance. If you have a camera phone, take, store and send photos and video clips of damage to your insurance company.
  • Use location-based technology.  Services like AT&T Navigator and AT&T FamilyMap can help you find evacuation routes or avoid traffic from downed trees or power lines. They can also track a family member’s wireless device if you get separated.
  • Limit social media activity. Keep social media activity to a minimum during and after a storm to limit network congestion and allow for emergency communications to go through.

Business Tips:

  • Set up a call-forwarding service to a backup location. Set up a single or multiple hotline number(s) for employees, their families, customers and partners so they all know about the business situation and emergency plan.
  • Back up data to the Cloud. Routinely back up files to an off-site location.
  • Outline detailed plans for evacuation and shelter-in-place. Practice these plans (employee training, etc.). Establish a backup location for your business and meeting place for all employees.
  • Assemble a crisis-management team. Coordinate efforts with neighboring businesses and building management. Disasters that affect your suppliers also affect your business. Outline a plan for supply chain continuity for business needs.

Keeping the lines open for emergencies:

During evacuations, the storm event and its aftermath, network resources will likely be taxed. To help ensure that emergency personnel have open lines, keep these tips in mind:

  • Text messaging. During an emergency situation, text messages may go through more quickly than voice calls because they require fewer network resources. Depending on your text or data plan, additional charges may apply.
  • Be prepared for high call volume. During an emergency, many people are trying to use their phones at the same time. The increased calling volume may create network congestion, leading to “fast busy” signals on your wireless phone or a slow dial tone on your landline phone. If this happens, hang up, wait several seconds and then try the call again. This allows your original call data to clear the network before you try again.
  • Keep non-emergency calls to a minimum, and limit your calls to the most important ones. If there is severe weather, chances are many people will be attempting to place calls to loved ones, friends and business associates.

Additional information and tips for disaster preparedness can be found at www.att.com/vitalconnections.

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