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Math Problem: The Telecom Industry’s Bias Against Fiber-to-the-Home Service

Phillip "Spending $6k per cable customer is obviously a much better deal than paying half that to build a fiber to the home network" Dampier

Phillip “Spending $6k per cable customer is obviously a much better deal than paying half that to build a fiber to the home network” Dampier

Math was never my strong subject, but even I can calculate the groupthink of American cable and telephone companies and their friends on Wall Street just doesn’t add up.

This week, we learned that cable companies like Bright House Networks, Suddenlink, and Charter Communications are already lining up for a chance to acquire three million cable customers Comcast intends to sell if it wins approval of its merger with Time Warner Cable. Wall Street has already predicted Comcast will fetch as much as $18 billion for those customers and pegged the value of each at approximately $6,000.

But for less than half that price any company could build a brand new fiber to the home system capable of delivering 1,000Mbps broadband and state-of-the-art phone and television service and start banking profits long before paying off the debt from buying an inferior coaxial cable system. Yet we are told time and time again that the economics of fiber to the home service simply don’t make any sense and deploying the technology is a waste of money.

Let’s review:

Google Fiber was called a boondoggle by many of its competitors. The folks at Bernstein Research, routinely friendly to the cable business model, seemed appalled at the economics of Google’s fiber project in Kansas City. Bernstein’s Carlos Kirjner and Ram Parameswaran said Google would throw $84 million into the first phase of its fiber network, connecting 149,000 homes at a cost between $500-674 per home. The Wall Street analyst firm warned investors of the costs Google would incur reaching 20 million customers nationwide — $11 billion.

“We remain skeptical that Google will find a scalable and economically feasible model to extend its build out to a large portion of the U.S., as costs would be substantial, regulatory and competitive barriers material, and in the end the effort would have limited impact on the global trajectory of the business,” Bernstein wrote to its investor clients.

dealSo Google spending $11 billion to reach 20 million new homes is business malpractice while spending $18 billion for three million Time Warner Cable customers is confirmation of the cable industry’s robust health and valuation?

Bernstein’s firm never thought highly of Verizon FiOS either.

“If I were an auto dealer and I wanted to give people a Maserati for the price of a Volkswagen, I’d have some seriously happy customers,” Craig Moffett from Bernstein said back in 2008. “My problem would be whether I could earn a decent return doing it.”

Back then, Moffett estimated the average cost to Verizon per FiOS home passed was $3,897, a figure based on wiring up every neighborhood, but not getting every homeowner to buy the service. Costs for fiber have dropped dramatically since 2008. Dave Burstein from DSL Prime reported by the summer of 2012 Verizon told shareholders costs fell below $700/home passed and headed to $600. The total cost of running fiber, installing it in a customer’s home and providing equipment meant Verizon had to spend about $1,500 per customer when all was said and done.

Moffett concluded Verizon was throwing money away spending that much on improving service. He wasn’t impressed by AT&T U-verse either, which only ran fiber into the neighborhood, not to each home. Moffett predicted AT&T was spending $2,200 per home on U-verse back in 2008, although those costs have dropped dramatically as well.

Moffett

Moffett

Moffett’s solution for both Verizon and AT&T? Do nothing to upgrade, because the price wasn’t worth the amount of revenue returns either company could expect in the short-term.

It was a much different story if Comcast wanted to spend $45 billion to acquire Time Warner Cable however, a deal Moffett called “transformational.”

“What we’re talking about is an industry that is becoming more capital intensive,” Todd Mitchell, an analyst at Brean Capital LLC in New York told Bloomberg News. “What happens to mature, capital-intensive companies — they consolidate. So, yes, I think the cable industry is ripe for consolidation.”

Other investors agreed.

“This is definitely a bet on a positive future for high-speed access, cable and other services in an economic recovery,” said Bill Smead, chief investment officer at Smead Capital Management, whose fund owns Comcast shares.

ftth councilBut Forbes’ Peter Cohan called Google’s much less investment into fiber broadband a colossal waste of money.

“Larry Page should nip this bad idea in the bud,” Cohan wrote.

Cohan warned investors should throw water on the enthusiasm for fiber before serious money got spent.

“FTTH authority, Neal Lachman, wrote in SeekingAlpha, that it would cost as much as $500 billion and could take a decade to connect all the houses and commercial buildings in the U.S. to fiber,” Cohan added.

Cohan was concerned Google’s initial investment would take much too long to be recovered, which apparently is not an issue for buyers willing to spend $18 billion for three million disaffected Time Warner Cable customers desperately seeking alternatives.

An investment for the future, not for short term profits.

An investment for the future, not short term profits.

Municipal broadband providers have often chosen to deploy fiber to the home service because the technology offers plenty of capacity, ongoing maintenance costs are low and the networks can be upgraded at little cost indefinitely. But such broadband efforts, especially when they are owned by local government, represent a threat for cable and phone companies relying on a business model that sells less for more.

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), funded by Comcast, Time Warner, AT&T, Verizon, and other large telecom companies is at the forefront of helping friendly state legislators ban community fiber networks. Their excuse is that the fiber networks cost too much and, inexplicably, can reduce competition.

“A growing number of municipalities are [...] building their own networks and offering broadband services to their citizens,” ALEC writes on its website. “ALEC disagrees with their answer due to the negative impacts it has on free markets and limited government.  In addition, such projects could erode consumer choice by making markets less attractive to competition because of the government’s expanded role as a service provider.”

The Fiber-to-the-Home Council obviously disagrees.

“Believe it or not, there are already more than a thousand telecom network operators and service providers across North America that have upgraded to fiber to the home,” says the Council. “The vast majority of these are local incumbent telephone companies that are looking to transform themselves from voice and DSL providers into 21st century broadband companies that can deliver ultra high-speed Internet and robust video services, as well as be able to deliver other high-bandwidth digital applications and services to homes and businesses in the years ahead.”

Stephenson

Stephenson

In fact, a good many of those efforts are undertaken by member-owned co-ops and municipally owned providers that answer to local residents, not to shareholders looking for quick returns.

The only time large companies like AT&T move towards fiber to the home service is when a competitor threatens to do it themselves. That is precisely what happened in Austin. The day Google announced it was launching fiber service in Austin, AT&T suddenly announced its intention to do the same.

“In Austin we’re deploying fiber very aggressively,” said AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson. “The cost dynamics of deploying fiber have dramatically changed. The interfaces at the homes, the wiring requirements, how you get a wiring drop to a pole, and the way you splice it has totally changed the cost dynamics of deploying fiber.”

Prior to that announcement, AT&T justified its decision not to deploy fiber all the way to the home by saying it was unnecessary and too costly. With Google headed to town, that talking point is no longer operative.

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Time Warner Cable Wins Cheap Hydropower from New York State for Its Buffalo Call Center

timewarner twcTime Warner Cable is one of three New York businesses that are the latest to be awarded almost 1 megawatt of inexpensive hydropower under the state’s ReCharge New York program.

The cable company was allocated 176 kilowatts of electricity for its new call center in Buffalo from the Power Authority’s hydroelectric plants in Lewiston and Massena, and from the open market. In return, it plans to add 152 new jobs in Buffalo.

The program is designed to encourage businesses to increase investment in New York communities. Most of the inexpensive power awarded recently went to Pratt and Whitney in Middletown in the Hudson region and to six businesses on Long Island.

“ReCharge NY is one of the strongest tools in the Empire State’s economic development arsenal,” Governor Cuomo said. “Low-cost power for businesses has helped create thousands of high-impact jobs in local communities, and its ripple effect of ReCharge NY can be felt statewide. Innovative initiatives like ReCharge NY continue to establish New York as a great place for businesses to thrive and grow.”

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Time Warner Cable Releases Video Showing Broadband Upgrades Underway in LA, NYC

twcmaxDespite its pending merger with Comcast, Time Warner Cable is still promising to boost broadband speeds by the end of this year in New York City and Los Angeles.

The TWC Maxx program was announced before the merger, but Time Warner says it is still going ahead with upgrades and produced a video showing some of the behind-the-scenes work in Los Angeles.

Although the video doesn’t show much more than people pointing at equipment displays and maintaining equipment racks, it does include an interview about what Time Warner is doing to prepare for infrastructure upgrades serious enough to need a bigger air conditioner for the building.

Time Warner does warn customers they may experience brief service interruptions as a result of the work.

When complete, Time Warner Cable customers in both cities will have all-digital television service and major broadband speed upgrades:

 

Current Mbps Speeds Up to

New Mbps Speeds Up to

Everyday Low Price   Customers

2/1

3/1

Basic Customers

3/1

10/1

Standard Customers

15/1

50/5

Turbo Customers

20/2

100/10

Extreme Customers

30/5

200/20

Ultimate Customers

50/5

300/20

These upgrades may be modified if/when Comcast takes over, and Time Warner has not disclosed which cities will get the upgrades next.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/TWC Behind The Scenes at a Los Angeles Hub Time Warner Cable 3-26-14.flv

Jay Gormley, a former reporter for KTVT in Dallas now working for Time Warner Cable takes customers on a tour of a Los Angeles Time Warner Cable hub slated to get service upgrades. (2:01)

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As Usual, Big Telecom in the Running for Worst Company in America 2014

2014wciabracketdayfive

Our friends at The Consumerist invite you to participate in the 2014 Worst Company in America contest. Readers are invited to cast a series of votes — one each day — to help narrow the field to the truly abysmal, the god-awful, and the despised. The ultimate winner receives the Golden Poo award.

Not surprisingly, the nation’s biggest telecom companies are among the regular finalists. The big ones are all there — Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Verizon, and AT&T.

Hated cable companies frequently beat down big banks like the vipers at Chase, where settlements in the hundreds of millions with the government for wrongdoing are almost a monthly occurrence. Voters would rather fly the Unfriendly Skies with Divided Airlines, Last Frontier Air — even US Scare — than deal with Comcast’s offshore customer service. The bad boys at Electronic Arts and Koch Industries bring knives to AT&T’s gunfight on good customer relations.

Over the last eight years, Comcast turned up as the big winner of the Golden Poo award in 2010 and either runner-up or third place in 2008, 2009, 2011, and 2013. AT&T achieved third place in 2012. Time Warner Cable and Verizon are usually eliminated in the finals, but their regular appearance on the nominations list is not something they can be proud of. Time Warner Cable has already managed to beat back EA, big winner in 2012 and 2013. So this year they might go all the way to the top… or is it bottom?

Year Winner Runner-up Third place
2006 Halliburton Choicepoint Wal-Mart and US Government
2007 RIAA Halliburton Wal-Mart and Exxon
2008 Countrywide Financial Comcast Diebold and Wal-Mart
2009 AIG Comcast Bank of America and Ticketmaster
2010 Comcast Cash4Gold Bank of America and Ticketmaster
2011 BP Bank of America Comcast and Ticketmaster
2012 Electronic Arts Bank of America AT&T and Wal-Mart
2013 Electronic Arts Bank of America Comcast
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Time Warner Cable, Comcast Crash, Burn in Consumer Reports’ 2014 Ratings

consumer reportsDespite claims of improved customer service and better broadband, Comcast and Time Warner Cable’s customer satisfaction scores are in near-free fall in the latest Consumer Reports National Research Center’s survey of consumers about their experiences with television and Internet services.

Although never popular with customers, both cable operators plummeted in the 2014 Consumer Reports ratings — Time Warner Cable is now only marginally above the perennial consumer disaster that is Mediacom. Comcast performs only slightly better.

In the view of Consumers Union, this provides ample evidence that two wrongs never make a right.

“Both Comcast and Time Warner Cable rank very poorly with consumers when it comes to value for the money and have earned low ratings for customer support,” said Delara Derakhshani.  “A merger combining these two huge companies would give Comcast even greater control over the cable and broadband Internet markets, leading to higher prices, fewer choices, and worse customer service for consumers.”

These ratings reflect Internet service only.

These ratings reflect Internet service only.

Comcast ranked 15th among 17 television service providers included in the ratings and earned particularly low marks from consumers for value for the money and customer support.  Time Warner ranked 16th overall for television service with particularly low ratings for value, reliability, and phone/online customer support.

Another ratings collapse for Comcast and Time Warner Cable

Another ratings collapse for Comcast and Time Warner Cable

Comcast and Time Warner Cable were mediocre on overall satisfaction with Internet service.  Both companies received especially poor marks for value and low ratings for phone/online customer support.

“In an industry with a terrible track record with consumers, these two companies are among the worst when it comes to providing good value for the money,” said Derakhshani.  “The FCC and Department of Justice should stand with consumers and oppose this merger.”

For as long as Stop the Cap! has published, Mediacom has always achieved bottom of the barrel ratings, with satellite fraudband provider HughesNet — the choice of the truly desperate — scoring dead last for Internet service. We’re accustomed to seeing the usual bottom-raters like Frontier (DSL), Windstream (DSL), and FairPoint (DSL) on the south end of the list. But now both Comcast and Time Warner Cable have moved into the same seedy neighborhood of expensive and lousy service. Comcast couldn’t even beat the ratings for Verizon’s DSL service, which is now barely marketed at all. Time Warner Cable scored lower than CenturyLink’s DSL.

Breathing an ever-so-slight sigh of relief this year is Charter Communications, which used to compete with Mediacom for customer raspberries. It ‘rocketed up’ to 18th place.

If you want top-notch broadband service, you need to remember only one word: fiber. It’s the magical optical cable phone and cable companies keep claiming they have but largely don’t (except for Verizon and Cincinnati Bell, among a select few). If you have fiber to the home broadband, you are very happy again this year. If you are served by an independent cable company that threw away the book on customer abuse, you are relieved. Topping the ratings again this year among all cable operators is WOW!, which has a legendary reputation for customer service. Wave/Astound is in second place. Verizon and Frontier FiOS customers stay pleased, and even those signed up with Bright House Networks and Suddenlink report improved service.

Ratings are based on responses from 81,848 Consumer Reports readers. Once again they plainly expose Americans are not happy with their telecom options. The average cost of home communications measured by the Mintel Group is now $154 a month — $1,848 a year. That’s more expensive than the average homeowner’s clothing, furniture or electricity budget. The same issues driving the bad ratings last year are still there in 2014: shoveling TV channels at customers they don’t want or need, imposing sneaky new fees along with broad-based rate increases every year, low value for money, and customer service departments staffed by the Don’t Care Bears.

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New York Regulators Could Derail Comcast-Time Warner Cable Merger

Gov. Cuomo

Gov. Cuomo

New York State is hardly overwhelmed with excitement over the merger of the nation’s largest and second-largest cable operators and is taking steps to give regulators enough power to derail the merger.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has decided the state will not be a bystander as the $45 billion deal is reviewed by federal regulators and is seeking new powers for the state’s Public Service Commission that could force Comcast and Time Warner Cable to prove their merger is pro-consumer.

The New York Post reports the new approach would be the opposite of current rules that force the PSC to carry the burden of proof that a deal hurts the public interest.

“[The proposed changes] are very important arrangements, and the state has a valid role in making sure that the consumer is protected,” Cuomo said at the State Museum in Albany.

A source told the newspaper the rules change “could essentially kill the deal.”

comcast twcSince the federal government deregulated the cable industry in the 1990s, state and local officials have had little oversight over cable service and pricing, but in many states regulators still have a voice in mergers and other business deals.

The Cuomo Administration denied the rule changes were specifically aimed at Comcast, claiming that the state was simply mirroring the type of regulations impacting gas and oil companies doing business in New York.

If the deal fails to win approval in New York, it would mean Comcast could not assume control of Time Warner Cable’s lucrative franchises in New York City and most of upstate New York. Analysts speculate Comcast is especially interested in aligning its operations in northern New Jersey with those of Time Warner Cable in New York — both part of the largest television market in the country.

nys pscSo far, Comcast does not seem concerned about Cuomo’s proposal.

“We are confident that the pro-competitive, pro-consumer benefits like faster Internet speeds and improved video options resulting from the transaction are compelling and will result in approval from the state,” Comcast said in a statement, adding that it looks forward to “presenting the multiple consumer benefits” of the deal for New Yorkers.

Reuters reports Florida, Indiana and Pennsylvania — home state for Comcast’s corporate headquarters — will also be taking a closer look at the merger.

Florida will be coordinating with U.S. Department of Justice’s anti-trust officials to review the deal.

“We are part of a multistate group reviewing the proposed transaction along with the U.S. DOJ Antitrust Division,” the Florida attorney general’s office said in an email.

Indiana is studying the impact of the merger on its state, and Pennsylvania promised an “independent review.”

The attorneys general group is focused on broadband instead of cable television in assessing the $45.2 billion deal, according to a source familiar with the effort who was not authorized to speak on the record.

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Golden Parachute Bonanza for Time Warner Cable Executives

powerballNormally when one learns they are losing a job after only a few months in management, it is a time for sober reflection and emotional recovery.

Not so for top executives at Time Warner Cable who can expect Golden Parachute packages that rival the Powerball jackpot.

CEO Robert Marcus, who will eventually walk away from Time Warner Cable after becoming its CEO only this year will receive a package worth up to $80 million, according to a document filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. That is way up from the estimated $56 million severance package he was anticipating.

In addition to more cash and stock options, Time Warner Cable created something called a “supplemental bonus opportunity” that will hand Marcus an extra $2.5 million in walk-around money if he agrees to stick around until the merger is completed. The idea behind the bonus incentive is to keep executives happy during the pendency of the merger. If top employees defect or lose focus on Time Warner Cable’s operating plan over the coming year, it could rattle the value of the company’s stock.

Most regular employees are not invited to the enhanced compensation party and will spend the rest of this year updating their resumes before the combined company finds millions in “cost savings” from anticipated layoffs and call center closures.

Time Warner Cable’s Golden Parachute Compensation

Name Cash
($)(1)(2)
Equity
($)(3)
Perquisites/
Benefits
($)(4)
Other
($)(5)
Totals
($)
Robert D. Marcus
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (former President and Chief Operating Officer) 20,458,904 56,506,890 399,838 2,500,000 79,865,632
Glenn A. Britt
Retired Chairman and Chief Executive Officer(6)
Arthur T. Minson, Jr.
Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer 7,008,904 19,327,402 80,132 675,000 27,091,438
Michael LaJoie
Executive Vice President and Chief Technology and Network Operations Officer 3,374,658 12,539,053 72,164 325,000 16,310,875
Philip G. Meeks
Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Business Services 3,715,068 7,622,524 58,751 300,000 11,696,343
Irene M. Esteves
Former Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Among the benefits for the top-five executive officers:

  • accrued but unpaid bonus for any previously completed fiscal year, based on actual results for the year;
  • pro rata bonus for service during the year of termination, based on actual results for the year;
  • 36 months of continued salary and bonus payments, paid on TWC’s normal payroll payment dates for salary, where the bonus component is set at target.

Wall Street Bank Money Party

comcast twcIn the all-encompassing merger proposal submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission, Time Warner Cable noted it sought the advice of several Wall Street investment banks and related institutions. Unsurprisingly, based on the material submitted voluntarily by Time Warner Cable and Comcast, the banks submitted written reports declaring that the merger proposal seemed fair. For that, these advisers were well-compensated. In all, Time Warner Cable and Comcast will pay a combined $135.5 million in fees in return for the positive assessment of the merger’s potential:

  • In connection with Allen & Company’s financial advisory services, TWC has agreed to pay Allen & Company an aggregate cash fee of $25 million, a portion of which was payable upon delivery of Allen & Company’s opinion to the TWC board of directors in connection with the merger and $17.5 million of which is contingent upon consummation of the merger;
  • In connection with Citi’s services as TWC’s financial advisor, TWC has agreed to pay Citi an aggregate fee of $36 million, of which a part was payable upon delivery of its opinion and $28.5 million is payable contingent upon consummation of the merger. In addition, TWC has agreed to reimburse Citi for certain expenses, including fees and expenses of counsel, and to indemnify Citi and related parties against certain liabilities, including under federal securities laws, arising from Citi’s engagement;
  • TWC has agreed to pay Morgan Stanley for its financial advisory services in connection with the merger an aggregate fee of $36 million, of which a part was payable upon delivery of its opinion and $28.5 million is payable contingent upon the closing of the merger;
  • In connection with Centerview Partner’s LLC services as the TWC independent directors’ financial advisor, TWC has agreed to pay Centerview an aggregate fee of $11 million, portions of which were payable upon the rendering of Centerview’s opinion and in connection with its engagement and $3 million of which is payable contingent upon consummation of the merger;
  • J.P. Morgan has acted as financial advisor to Comcast with respect to the proposed merger and will receive a fee from Comcast for its services equal to a total of $27.5 million, $25 million of which will become payable only if the proposed merger is consummated.
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Cable Customer Service Improvements: Fool Me Once, Shame on You; Fool Me Twice, Shame on Me

Phillip "More empty promises from the cable industry" Dampier

Phillip “More empty promises from the cable industry” Dampier

Listening to Time Warner Cable’s “Here today and gone much richer tomorrow” CEO-in-passing Rob Marcus prattle on endlessly about improving “the customer experience” on analyst conference calls, the cable company’s blog, and in various press statements always makes me pinch myself to be certain I am not dreaming.

Time Warner’s Rob Marcus:

I’m focused on ensuring we establish a customer-centric, performance-oriented, values-driven culture defined by four basic tenets:

  • We put our customers first,
  • We are empowered and accountable,
  • We do the right thing, and
  • We are passionate about winning

What does that mean for customers? If we expect customers to trust us to connect them to what matters most, we must put them at the center of everything we do.

How is that working out for you?

Based on consumer surveys, many of Marcus’ customers may have a different sentiment:

  • Time Warner puts what is best for Time Warner first,
  • Time Warner is empowered to raise rates for no clear reason and as a deregulated entity is accountable to no one,
  • Time Warner does the right thing for Time Warner executives and shareholders,
  • Charlie Sheen was also passionate about “winning.”

 

So much for Comcast's customer service improvement project promised back in 2007.

So much for Comcast’s customer service improvement project promised back in 2007. (Source: ACSI)

There is nowhere to go but up when it comes to improving the abusive relationship most Americans have with the local cable or phone company. CNN asked the question, “do you hate your Internet provider,” and within hours more than 600 customers sang “yes!”

Marcus

Marcus

This is hardly a new problem. Karl Bode at Broadband Reports reminds us that Comcast broke its promises for major improvements in customer service more than five years ago. CEO Brian Roberts at the time blamed the troubles on Comcast’s enormity — taking 250 million calls a year handling orders, customer complaints, etc., is a lot for one company to handle.

“With that many calls, you are going to have failures,” Roberts admitted.

With more than 10 million Time Warner Cable customers waiting to move in at Comcast, if what Roberts says is true, things are about to get much worse. In fact, even before the merger was announced Comcast was just as despised as ever, thanks to rate hikes, usage caps, and poor service often delivered from their notorious sub-contractors that appear on the news for falling asleep, murder, digging in the wrong yard or blowing up laptops, dishwashers or homes.

Judging from the enormous negative reaction customers of both Time Warner Cable and Comcast had to the news the two were combining, it’s clear this merger isn’t the exciting opportunity Marcus and Roberts would have you believe.

‘If you despise Comcast today, your hate will know no bounds tomorrow as Comcast spends the next two years distracted with digesting Time Warner Cable,’ suggested one customer.

Another asked whether Americans have resigned themselves to a trap of low expectations, seeking out one abusive telecom company relationship after another.

highlights“After twenty years of Time Warner’s broken promises, service you can’t count on, and price hikes you can, I made the fatal mistake of running away from one bad relationship into the arms of another with the Bernie Madoff of broadband: AT&T,” wrote another. “Slower service, an unnecessary allowance on broadband usage, and one rate increase too many is hardly the improvement we were promised in the shiny brochure. But we have nowhere else to go.”

Being stuck with an independent phone company with no cable provider nearby can mean even worse service.

“I live in Seattle, and the only option in my neighborhood is CenturyLink DSL,” wrote Jen Wilson.

CenturyLink’s top speed in Wilson’s neighborhood? 1Mbps. At night, speeds drop to 122kbps — just twice the speed of dial-up Internet.

CNN’s Frida Ghitis observed the current state of broadband in the United States is alarmingly bad, and allowing Comcast and Time Warner Cable to merge won’t fix it:

Americans are divided on many issues, but resentment against these telecom giants is so pervasive that it may just be the most heartwarming symbol of national unity. And that’s as it should be. Except that the resentment should extend to politicians who have made this disastrous system possible and allow political contributions to prevent them from fixing it. The problem is not just one of dismal customer service. Instead, it is a growing threat to the country’s economic and strategic position.

If you travel overseas, you will quickly notice that Web access in much of the developed world is light years ahead of America’s. You may also be irritated to discover that far better Internet is much, much cheaper in other countries.

Time Warner's notorious modem rental fee was just a hidden rate hike, according to the ex-CEO.

Time Warner’s notorious modem rental fee was just a hidden rate hike, according to the ex-CEO.

Thus far, Time Warner’s remedy to improve service is yet another rate increase. Broadband prices are rising an average of $3 a month — $36 a year, with no speed enhancements on the horizon except in New York, Los Angeles, and cities where Google Fiber is threatening to kick the cable company in the pants. That means Time Warner’s 11.1 million broadband customers will deliver as much as $33.3 million more in revenue each month for broadband service alone. What will you get in return? In most cases, nothing.

Television customers will be pick-pocketed for the newly-”enhanced” on-screen guide many still loathe, which carries a new surcharge applied to the cost of set-top boxes and DVRs. This “enhancement” alone will cost most customers with two boxes an extra $30 a year. It will provide Time Warner with more than $170 million each year in revenue enhancement.

The cable company that fought a battle with CBS last summer “on behalf of customers” faced with paying extortionist pricing for CBS-owned cable networks and local stations will instead send their extortion payment direct to Time Warner, thanks to a new $2.25/mo “Broadcast TV Fee” imposed this spring by the cable company.

But Time Warner is unlikely to hang on to that money for long.

If it wanted to discourage programmers from demanding double-digit percentage rate increases, the plan is likely to backfire once the networks smell the money — more than $25 million a month, $300 million a year — Time Warner claims to be collecting on their behalf.

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Time Warner Cable’s Teeny-Tiny Fine Print Makes Redeeming Rebates Difficult

Good luck reading the fine print.

Good luck reading the fine print.

A Texas Time Warner Cable customer has discovered the fine art of cable company fine print, and it only cost her the Samsung Galaxy Note tablet promised in return for upgrading her cable package.

Sherry Buffington of Farmers Branch learned first hand that 1/16th of an inch print has but one purpose — to take away the promised tablet worth $399.

Time Warner Cable ran the tablet promotion nationwide over the holidays. Buffington wanted to know she would qualify before upgrading her service, so she called Time Warner Cable and got confirmation. She upgraded her service on the spot.

Weeks later, no tablet and no answers from Time Warner Cable. It took the Dallas Morning News’ Watchdog reporter to finally pry some answers out of the cable company.

Time Warner Cable’s position was finally made clear: No tablet for Ms. Buffington; she did not qualify for the offer because she didn’t pay attention to the fine print. It turns out customers have to switch to a specific bundled package to qualify for the promotion. Customers who simply upgraded service more often than not did not qualify for the promised tablet.

But Buffington still got something after her ordeal. It turns out Time Warner likes to keep recordings of customer calls indefinitely. A supervisor was able to pull the months-old recording of the call between Buffington and the customer service representative who promised she qualified for the tablet even though Time Warner now insists she does not. The cable company offered Buffington a $300 credit on her next bill to set things right.

Consumer advocates warn customers to take special care reviewing the fine print attached to most promotional offers and follow instructions precisely to qualify. But Watchdog Dave Lieber said Time Warner really went beyond the pale with the “disgustingly small” fine print he found completely unreadable.

Lieber’s inability to read the terms and conditions did not faze Melissa C. Sorola, TWC’s director of public relations. She reminded him the requirements are “stated three times in the documents.”

twc“Yes, that’s true,” wrote Lieber. “But it was in 1/16 of an inch everywhere. I don’t find that acceptable. Do you?”

Texas’ competing electric companies are held to a different standard. They have to produce their fine print in no smaller than 10-point type in paragraphs that do not exceed 250 words. Time Warner’s is half that size.

Customers rejected for rebates or promotions should file complaints with both the Better Business Bureau and their state’s Attorney General. This usually triggers a contact from an executive customer service agent to settle the matter. If you made a good faith effort to comply with the rebate, you should be able to receive a service credit equal to the amount or value of the rebate. Do not insist on receiving the promotional item or gift card, which is usually handled by a third-party fulfillment company.

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  • Milan in Austin: Cable TV is an obsolete product! I suggest everyone seriously consider dropping cable television. I cut the cord in August of 2013, and don't miss ca...
  • gsuburban: I have to agree that Verizon is not interested in providing its customers with a "clear pipe" due to the politics of peer-to-peer data sharing or what...
  • Scott: Not good, that takes away all your leverage in the situation. If you're holding the money you can work through the BBB or try and negotiate with the ...
  • Hudson Mohawk Press: We knew it couldn't last forever. Starting this month Time Warner Cable of NYC is charging Earthlink Internet customers a $5.99 modem lease fee. The w...
  • Eric: Frontier still sucks..Their service still sucks..they are still a ripofff...
  • punki: Thanks Scott, unfortunately mine is already paid......
  • Scott: Personally I'd refuse to pay, there's no way that's actual usage....

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