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He’s in the Money… Time Warner Cable CEO Takes Home $34.6 Million in Compensation for 2014

Phillip Dampier May 19, 2015 Consumer News, Time Warner Cable No Comments

Money-Stuffed-Into-PocketTime Warner Cable CEO Rob Marcus was paid $34.6 million in 2014, four times the amount he earned in 2013, thanks to generous stock awards.

Marcus’ pocket change base salary of $1.5 million represented a pay raise of 50% over the $1 million he took home in 2013, according to a statement filed with the Securities & Exchange Commission. Marcus’ real money came from stock awards worth $24.7 million, which represented more than 10 times the amount of his stock bonus the year before.

Time Warner Cable paid their top executives handsomely in 2014, in part to convince them to stay with the company as its merger with Comcast worked its way through the regulatory process. Marcus oddly won an extra incentive bonus in 2014 — $7.95 million if he agreed to stay with Time Warner long enough to collect an $80 million golden parachute severance package if the merger with Comcast was approved.

Unsurprisingly, Time Warner Cable praised itself for the effectiveness of its ‘Stay and Get Paid’ effort, showering top executives with cash bonuses to ‘tough it out’ through 2014.

“The company’s executive team remains in place and—as evidenced by the company’s 2014 operating and financial results—was intently focused on achieving the company’s short and long-term goals despite the uncertainty and challenges during the pendency of the transaction,” TWC said in its proxy.

Evidently that also means Time Warner was not in a position to find replacements willing to accept less than $34 million in compensation that would be capable of delivering similar results.

Time Warner Cable’s CEO Reflects on His Efforts to Transform Company’s Image; Gigabit Speed Arrives by 2017

Marcus

Marcus

Even as some of the largest investment banks on Wall Street are assembling a $24 billion loan package to further Charter Communication’s next effort to acquire Time Warner Cable, CEO Robert Marcus has learned not to take his eyes off the day-to-day business of running the country’s second largest cable operator.

Marcus turned up late last week at Le Parker Meridien in New York to speak at the 2nd Annual MoffettNathanson Media & Communications Summit, largely an affair putting Wall Street investors together with top cable executives to learn about industry trends.

Immediately peppered with questions about the failed merger between Time Warner and Comcast, Marcus sought to turn the page on the deal that would have handed him an $80 million golden parachute.

“The horse is dead,” Marcus said in response to continued questions about the deal.

But Marcus did say he felt the deal was rejected for reasons that were never explained to him or the industry, which could have an impact on future cable mergers and acquisitions. Regulator-inspired uncertainty could make some companies think twice about pursuing the next big deal, but so far that does not seem to apply to Charter Communications — still hot on the trail for a deal with the much larger Time Warner Cable.

twc maxxMarcus claims he understood Time Warner Cable’s image with customers was a real problem that needed to be addressed immediately after becoming the company’s new CEO in  January 2014.

“The residential business was where the work needed to be done,” said Marcus.

Reliability became the top priority for Marcus’ team.

“It trumped features and functionality,” Marcus said, noting that if its network performed as it should, that would result in fewer calls into its customer care centers and reduced “truck rolls” to customer homes, saving Time Warner Cable time and money and improving its image. Marcus claims those efforts paid off.

“It works, we’re not pixelating, and we don’t have [huge] outages,” Marcus said.

Under Marcus’ leadership, Time Warner has adopted a “non-sexy stuff” approach to the cable business, focusing on making sure its existing products work before jumping into new products. That may explain why Time Warner has traditionally been behind other operators introducing vast broadband speed increases, cloud-based set-top boxes with improved user interfaces, more TV Everywhere contract arrangements allowing Time Warner customers to access online video content from third-party cable network websites, and the largest on-demand video libraries.

Not much is likely to change for the time being. Marcus reiterated his plan for major network upgrades under his Time Warner Cable Maxx program remain on track to reach 75% of Time Warner Cable service areas by the end of 2016.

When Maxx upgrades are complete, customers are transitioned to an all-digital television platform and Standard broadband customers move from 15/1Mbps service to 50/5Mbps at no additional charge. Although the top speed for Time Warner Cable broadband is currently 300/20Mbps in Maxx markets like New York, Los Angeles, Austin and Kansas City, Marcus said he was ready to bring 1Gbps broadband to Time Warner Cable customers sometime in late 2016, after DOCSIS 3.1 equipment becomes available.

“As the market evolves to that place, we’ll make it available,” Marcus said.

Recent movement at the Federal Communications Commission to introduce additional oversight over the cable industry has not made much impact at Time Warner Cable, which plans business as usual.

“I live in a different world than Chairman Wheeler in terms of the competitive dynamic,” Marcus said. “We’re fighting it out everyday in the trenches to gain and keep High Speed Data subscribers. The idea we would pull back and not press any competitive advantages of product enhancements we’re capable of delivering, just feels counter-intuitive and bad business.”

The idea that policy changes in Washington would somehow impact the investment in and introduction of new and better services from Time Warner Cable was ridiculous to Marcus.

“I cannot translate that into holding back the product and I can’t imagine what the policy objective would be that would encourage holding back the product,” Marcus said.

Time Warner Cable Maxx Developments in Charlotte, N.C., San Antonio

Phillip Dampier May 14, 2015 Consumer News, Time Warner Cable 1 Comment

twc maxxTime Warner Cable is notifying its customers in Charlotte, N.C. to prepare for the transition to all-digital cable television service which will be complete by the end of this summer. Further south, San Antonio customers can swing by their local cable store and pick up Time Warner Cable’s new terabyte DVR, which can record up to six different programs at the same time and store six times more content than current DVR boxes.

The changes are part of Time Warner Cable’s Maxx upgrade program, which will vastly increase broadband speeds and deliver an all-digital experience to current customers in cities where the upgrade is underway.

“The bad news is you need boxes on all of your televisions,” writes Stop the Cap! reader Susan in Charlotte, who had to pick up three new set-top boxes to keep cable television running in her home. “They are going to move channels in groups to digital-only service over the summer so you will gradually lose your cable television unless you have a box on every set.”

The transition begins in early June and will last into August. Time Warner is offering customers a digital adapter to bring back the digital-only channels on older televisions. Those ordering before Dec. 10 will get them free until Aug. 11, 2016. After that, they will cost $2.75 a month each.

“Weren’t they going to rent these things for $0.99 a month,” asks Susan.

Indeed, when Time Warner Cable unveiled the small devices, they promoted the post-promotional price as $0.99 a month. Earlier this year, the price jumped to $2.75 without explanation. Standard set-top boxes can cost $7 or more a month, but are equipped with an on-screen guide and can access on-demand shows that the digital adapters cannot.

In San Antonio, customers can ditch their old DVR for a major upgrade with more storage space and a better user experience, or so the company claims. Current DVR users should be able to swap out the equipment by bringing in their existing box for an exchange. Be aware all recorded shows will be lost.

Sad Tales About Executives’ Lives Disrupted By Never-to-Be GreatLand Communications Are Breaking Our Hearts

CryingTowel1The would-be CEO picked to head the illegitimate child of the Comcast/Time Warner Cable merger wants your sympathy and understanding over the loss of bulging signing bonuses, pay packages, and benefits with the demise of the cable company that never was: GreatLand Connections.

While about 2.5 million customers in Minnesota, Indiana, and Kentucky braced for the arrival of their new cable company — one that lacked letterhead, much less any track record or experience — executives shared a box of tissues contemplating the wasted stress of moving their children from one exclusive private school to another in the ‘barren cultural wasteland’ of the midwest.

“The people aspect of this is just breathtaking,” said GreatLand’s never CEO Michael Willner, who has now been sidelined by Time Warner Cable twice – once when the company he used to oversee, Insight Communications, was absorbed into the Time Warner hegemony and now a second time, when the rug was pulled out of the cable company he was hired to run. “For 14 months this deal was meandering through the regulatory process, for whatever reason they just decided that after all the planning and all the money and all the people commitment and people who had moved to other cities, and planning to move for other cities for new jobs – there were even a few people who were told they wouldn’t have jobs after the close – they just decided there was no way to do the deal. It was unprecedented.”

Willner can keep on smiling.

Willner can keep on smiling.

Willner told his sad tale to Multichannel News, noting (thank goodness) there wasn’t a giant warehouse in the midwest full of GreatLand truck decals looking for a new home. In fact Willner spent the last 14 months preoccupied with filling 15-20 top senior vice president and vice president management positions, dangling lucrative pay and bonus offers to convince executives to move their elite east coast families to a state like… Kentucky. Time Warner Cable treasurer Matt Siegel, his biggest catch, had already bitten and was considering his new home options.

Meanwhile, nervous employees of the systems scheduled to be thrown overboard by Comcast forced Willner to personally stop by their offices several times over the past 14 months to reassure them they did not have anything to worry about.

“All the people going to GreatLand were Comcast people,” Willner said, claiming, “These employees loved working for Comcast. I had to convince them that life would be OK with us. It took me awhile.”

Willner did not bother reassuring affected customers.

In the end, it was all for naught.

“When they said ‘We’re done,’ we were done too,” Willner cried after the Comcast-TWC deal swirled in the bowl.

Despite the “unprecedented” disruption, Willner and his would-be executives all landed on their feet. Siegel went back to Time Warner Cable, most of the other executives stayed with Comcast and Willner himself did not have to skip a beat, instantly resuming his old job as CEO of video software company Penthera Partners.

Time Warner Cable and Charter Both Talking to Bright House Networks About Acquisition Deal

Phillip Dampier April 30, 2015 Bright House, Charter, Time Warner Cable No Comments

brighthouse1In the last week, executives from both Charter Communications and Time Warner Cable have talked to the Newhouse Family, controlling owner of Bright House Networks, about an acquisition of the cable company.

Time Warner may hold the stronger hand. In addition to being a much-larger and wealthier cable company, Time Warner has the advantage of a long-standing partnership dating back to the early 90’s with Bright House in which Time Warner shares its volume discounts on cable programming and technology with Bright House in return for an annual fee. As part of that arrangement, Time Warner has the right of first offer if Bright House ever chose to sell. If Time Warner matches or beats a competing offer, such as that now on the table from Charter Communications, it wins Bright House for itself.

Bright House decided it had to sell to someone after the Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger threatened to end its arrangement with Time Warner. Bright House would pay substantially more for programming and equipment without the volume discounts Time Warner received. With the Comcast deal off the table, Time Warner remains an acquisition target.

Charter_logoBright House is coveted by Charter as a stepping stone to a much larger acquisition of Time Warner Cable. Charter’s balance sheet is loaded with debt and its stock isn’t worth as much as that of Time Warner Cable. Combining Bright House’s two-million subscribers with Charter’s own five million customers strengthens Charter’s balance sheet and increases its borrowing capacity as it prepares to acquire Time Warner Cable for a second time.

Time Warner Cable’s interest in Bright House would make life more difficult for Charter, preventing the company from leveraging a quick deal for Time Warner. It also would make Time Warner Cable considerably more expensive (and complex) to acquire. In January 2014, Charter offered $132.50 a share to Time Warner Cable shareholders to acquire the cable company. Time Warner Cable executives immediately recommended shareholders reject the deal as undervalued. Today Time Warner stock is worth around $156 a share, meaning Charter would have to offer at least $160 a share, and probably more than that, to interest Time Warner executives.

timewarner twcThe Newhouse family is sitting in a lucrative position as it is courted by the two larger cable operators. One of those familiar with the talks suggested Time Warner was offering the Newhouse family influence in a combined Bright House-Time Warner Cable, because its offer would leave the Newhouse family as the largest individual shareholder of the combined company. Charter’s offer would hand power to John Malone’s Liberty Broadband, and leave the Newhouse family with little, if any voice.

Based on that, the Newhouse family may gravitate towards Time Warner Cable unless Charter significantly sweetens its deal and Time Warner drops out. With the Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger in tatters, both sides have a 30-day “good faith” period to renegotiate and tweak their respective offers.

Despite all that, Bright House may decide not to sell after all, at least until after the bigger players settle their own deals and acquisitions. In that case, Charter may have other targets in mind. At the top of the list are Mediacom and Suddenlink.

Time Warner Cable’s Post-Merger Conference Call: Improved Subscriber Numbers But ‘We’ll Let Others Take the Lead’

road runner

Time Warner Cable held its first post-merger-flop conference call with investors this morning and reported surprisingly good subscriber numbers for the first quarter of 2015.

Despite disappointing investors for not meeting projected profit and revenue numbers for the first three months of the year, Time Warner managed to add 30,000 net video customers for the first time since 2009. High-speed data customers grew by 315,000, compared with 269,000 a year ago, while voice customers increased by 320,000, compared with 107,000 in the prior-year period. The company also reported $26 million in wasted merger-related costs.

8999

Time Warner’s latest triple play promotion has fewer gotchas in the fine print than usual, but the modem fee is still there so buy your own.

A renewed love for Time Warner Cable was not the reason the cable company added customers. Aggressive pricing with fewer fine print “gotchas” and Time Warner Cable Maxx upgrades helped the company pick up new subscribers. Last October, Time Warner added a $90 triple play offer valid across much of its service area, offering unlimited calling phone, Preferred TV, and 30Mbps broadband with one set-top box for $89.99 a month for one year, an offer Artie Minson, chief financial officer of Time Warner Cable called “clean.”

For the last two years, Time Warner Cable executives decided to de-emphasize promotional pricing on phone service, preferring to draw more attention to its double-play television and broadband offers. This year, that thinking is long gone as the cable company re-emphasizes its triple-play packages and offers current customers the chance to add phone service for as little as $10 a month. The strong growth in new phone customers during the quarter reflects the success of those promotions.

Minson was less impressed with the sales of “skinny bundles” of bare basic cable television, HBO, and broadband service, noting it had little impact on Time Warner’s subscriber growth. The allure of its $14.99 everyday low price, low speed Internet offer has also waned.

“There’s a lot of attraction in the press about skinny packages,” echoed Dinesh C. Jain, chief operating officer of Time Warner Cable. “I think a lot of the times, customers don’t want to get bogged down in a lot of choices to make on those kinds of things. There’s a lot of value in our triple-play packaging right now and it’s a simpler sale.”

Marcus used the conference call to re-emphasize the company has not been distracted by 14 months of merger talks with Comcast and has executed on its pre-merger business plan all along.

twc maxx

Coming in 2017 (If We Live That Long)

Network upgrades under the TWC Maxx program are continuing on schedule.

“New York City, LA and Austin are complete, Dallas, San Antonio and Kansas City are underway and Charlotte, Raleigh and Hawaii on the docket for later in the year,” said Marcus. “We also plan to begin the Maxx process in San Diego this year and finish up in early 2016. It’s still early days, but Maxx certainly appears to be making a difference. Customer feedback has been great and churn among Maxx customers with new DOCSIS 3.0 modems is dramatically lower.”

But it will take another two years to complete the entire Time Warner footprint, of which 40-50% will be upgraded by the end of this year.

“The exact pace at which we continue that process in 2016 and 2017 depends on the experience we have in 2015. We’re feeling better about our ability to roll out all-digital this year than we did last year, which was really the first year of the program,” said Marcus. “And we’ll evaluate, as we go into 2016, how quickly we think we can ramp the next batch of systems.”

In a recurring theme throughout the conference call, executives emphasized Time Warner does not want to pioneer tinkering with the traditional cable package.

For example, Marcus acknowledged Cablevision’s experiment with Wi-Fi calling as a cellular replacement strategy, but said Time Warner Cable will take a wait and see approach.

“I’m inclined to watch and see how that evolves and then we’ll see how best to develop our own strategy on that front,” Marcus said.

Marcus

Marcus

“There’s a lot of talk and a lot of work going on out there from other guys,” said Jain, referring to slimmed down cable packages and unbundling. “And if any of their things work, we’ll just be fast followers on that stuff because I think there are some segments of our customer base where that is going to have appeal.”

Marcus also complained there was far too much attention being paid on Millennials as an excuse to break up the traditional cable experience.

“There tends to be, in my opinion, an obsessive interest in Millennials, maybe at the expense of the broader customer base,” Marcus said. “For the vast majority of our customers, the way we currently deliver the video product is pretty darn attractive. That said, sure, there’s a group of customers who might very well like to access video via other means. So it is definitely the case that over time, I can see a world where more and more customers consume our offering without needing to lease a set-top box from us. But that doesn’t mean we’re going to abandon the largest portion of our customers who actually do like the current model.”

On other subjects, the implementation of Net Neutrality under Title II regulations will have no impact on Time Warner’s future plans or investments, according to Marcus.

“We’ve said in the past that our normal business practices comply entirely with the notion of the open Internet, no blocking, no discrimination, no throttling, and transparency are fundamental parts of the way we do business. So to the extent that that’s the full scope of what’s getting incremented under Title II, I think you won’t see a change in the way we do business.”

But he warned if the FCC intends to more broadly regulate Internet access, that could have an impact on pricing and future investment.

Marcus also re-emphasized his intention not to change the way Time Warner sells broadband. That means no compulsory usage caps or usage-based pricing.

“We’re very focused on delivering compelling products to customers at a price that delivers real value,” said Marcus. “We can’t think in terms of taking gross margin dollars that are lost because we lose a video customer and somehow embedding those into high-speed data [with usage pricing] and not seeing an impact on high-speed data.”

Comcast’s David Cohen Survives Night of the Long Knives Blame Game for Comcast Merger Failure

David "I'm crushing your head" Cohen

David “I’m crushing your head” Cohen

Your boss authorized $32 million on lobbying for a $45 billion dollar merger deal that just went down in flames on your watch and you were the guy the company depended on to push it through. What do you do?

If you are Comcast vice president David Cohen, you pray for a press release signed by the CEO reaffirming trust in you.

Cohen can breathe a little easier because Brian Roberts, CEO of Comcast, did exactly that.

“There is nobody better than David Cohen,” Roberts wrote. “He’s incredible at what he does and we are beyond lucky that he helps passionately lead so many areas at Comcast. He is also a huge supporter of Philadelphia and has done so much for the community. I’m extremely proud to have him on our team.”

It could have been much worse for Cohen, whose contract (and $15 million annual salary) is up at the end of this year. He’s the fourth biggest earner at Comcast, but his stunning arrogance before Congress and the public may have helped nail the coffin shut on a merger worth tens of billions.

Some media outlets have called Cohen myopic, unable to see the building torrent of opposition from consumers, public interest groups, and even regulators.

The NY Post:

“They just lost a big battle. Does the company need a new general to supervise the Washington political strategy?” asked one source.

Comcast is already on the hunt for a new chief financial officer, with Michael Angelakis walking away to begin his own Comcast-backed private-equity fund before the deal imploded.

comcast twcComcast’s claims of “deal benefits” for consumers was perceived to be tissue-thin by legislators like Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.), whose district would have seen Time Warner and Charter customers absorbed into the Comcast Dominion.

“[Cohen] was smothering us with attention but he was not answering our questions,” Cárdenas told The New York Times, adding in the early stages of the deal he was open to supporting it if his questions were addressed satisfactorily. “And I could not help but think that this is a $140 billion company with 130 lobbyists — and they are using all of that to the best of their ability to get us to go along.”

Comcast’s swaggering arrogance, condescending editorials, and dismissive attitude towards consumers questioning the deal rubbed a lot of lawmakers the wrong way.

Not only did Comcast offend lawmakers, but their all-important staffers as well. Staffers told the newspaper they felt Comcast was so convinced in the early stages that the deal would be approved that it was dismissing concerns about the transaction, or simply taking the conversation in a different direction when asked about them.

Elected officials associating themselves with Comcast, whose customer service on a good day is considered miserable, was also considered political poison. Few lawmakers were willing to publicly support foisting Comcast on their constituents. Local lawmakers in Time Warner Cable service areas who had no direct experience with Comcast customer service’s special touch of hell often did offer support, especially when a handsome check was sent weeks earlier. But voters with relatives or friends who loathed Comcast (practically everyone in America) were never fooled.

hurricane comcast“They talked a lot about the benefits, and how much they were going to invest in Time Warner Cable and improve the service it provided,” said one senior Senate staff aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly. “But every time you talked about industry consolidation and the incentive they would have to leverage their market power to hurt competition, they gave us unsatisfactory answers.”

Politicians asked to publicly support the deal characterized their sentiment as “leery” in polite company.

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) was unwilling to victimize her constituents by replacing two bad cable companies – Time Warner Cable and Charter with one horrible alternative – Comcast.

“No amount of public-interest commitments to diversity would remedy the consumer harm a merged Comcast-Time Warner would have caused to millions of Americans across the country,” Ms. Waters said.

Other lawmakers who already understood Comcast as the Hurricane Katrina of cable companies got into storm shelters early.

“There are limits as to how effective even the best advocate can be with a losing case,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, who was critical of the deal from the start, “as this merger would have further enhanced this company’s incentive, its means and its history of abuse of market power.”

Comcast even cynically attempted to color and race match lobbyists with legislators, believing the shared ethnic heritage would be an added incentive.

The New York Times:

Comcast, for example, assigned Juan Otero, a former Department of Homeland Security official who serves on the board of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute and now works as a Comcast lobbyist, to be the point person to work with Mr. Cárdenas.

Meanwhile, Jennifer Stewart, an African-American lobbyist on the Congressional Black Caucus Institute board, was assigned to work with Marc Veasey, Democrat of Texas, who is also black. She personally appealed to Mr. Veasey’s staff, urging that he not sign a letter last August questioning the deal, according to an email obtained by The New York Times, citing the company’s work on behalf of the minority community. (Mr. Veasey still signed a related letter.)

Comcast also asked Jordan Goldstein, a former official at the Federal Communications Commission who is now a Comcast regulatory affairs executive, to work with Mr. Blumenthal’s office. Mr. Goldstein had previously developed a working relationship with Joel Kelsey, a legislative assistant in charge of reviewing the matter for the senator, who is a member of the Senate Commerce Committee.

Time Warner Cable Goes Shopping: Approached Cox for Deal, Told to Take a Hike

Phillip Dampier April 27, 2015 Competition, Consumer News, Cox, Time Warner Cable No Comments

coxA week after its deal with Comcast collapsed, Time Warner Cable may be in the buying mood.

The Wall Street Journal reports the cable giant approached privately held Cox Communications about a deal. Cox told them they weren’t interested.

“We’ve been clear we’re not for sale and we’ll continue to explore any potential growth opportunities that align with our business objectives,” said a Cox spokesperson.

Time Warner Cable’s apparent interest in cutting a quick deal with another operator may be a sign they are not going to lie down for another expected offer from Charter Communications that could come within days or weeks. The groundwork for such a deal is already being laid.

Cox, like Cablevision, have been perennially rumored takeover targets, but both have proved elusive. In 2004, Cox went private for a second time and a second generation of the Dolan family, which holds a controlling interest in Cablevision, continues to be integrally involved in Cablevision’s operations.

Time Warner Cable still has several options to pursue acquisitions. Suddenlink customers are in open revolt over that company’s decision to enforce usage caps on its broadband service. Both Charter and Mediacom are routinely rated poor by customers and could be swayed into a deal. Bright House Networks already relies on Time Warner Cable for programming deals and technical services.

Updated 4:22pm — Reuters is reporting Time Warner’s denials that it approached Cox for a deal. “It’s simply not true. We have not engaged in any discussions with Cox,” Time Warner Cable’s spokeswoman Susan Leepson told Reuters.

Disappearing Promotion/Retention Deals from Time Warner Cable; Watch Your Cable Bill

shellYou negotiated for a better rate from Time Warner Cable and thought you were all set for another year or two, only to discover the promotion ended early or never got applied at all.

You are not alone.

We did some negotiating of our own back in February and thought we managed an agreement to cut our bill from $175 to $112 — a savings of $63 a month. Instead, the first bill under the new rate was $150.

timewarner twc“You’d be surprised how many people never bother to pursue reneged on promotions like this,” said Sam Tremblay, a telecommunications bill analyst for a major regional supermarket chain.

Tremblay analyzes his employer’s telephone, broadband, and wireless bills that total close to $100,000 a month. He says he saved his employer over $50,000 in 2014 finding billing errors and getting companies to deliver on the rate promises made by salespeople.

“What a salesperson or customer service representative promises and what is actually compatible with their billing system are often two different things,” Tremblay tells us. “You are most at risk of billing errors when making changes to your account, especially if those changes involve a billing credit or special discount.”

Did you get what you were promised? (Image: Bruce Kushnick)

Did you get what you were promised? (Image: Bruce Kushnick)

He explains that many billing systems are not tied directly to call center employees offering promotions or, in our case, customer retention offers. If an employee attempts to apply a promotion the customer was not entitled to receive, or one that had expired by the time it was processed by the billing system, it is typically rejected.

The latter is what happened to us, despite initially seeing the promotion applied.

Time Warner Cable often generates a temporary “virtual” mid-cycle bill available for review online when significant changes are made to your account. We were able to see the promotion correctly applied to this temporary “bill” but it was gone by the time the official bill was mailed. By the time we noticed it, a second inaccurate bill was ready to be processed.

Other customers have found their promotions canceled or unfulfilled, especially when the offer involved a high value gift card, tablet, or other electronics. As we reported earlier, fighting for a rebate card or tablet is often a waste of time. It is typically better to request a bill credit equal to the value of the gift card or promotional item because Time Warner relies on a third-party to fulfill those offers and getting an exception made to a rebate/offer rejection is extremely time-consuming and often fruitless. Use the savings from a substantial bill credit to buy your own tablet.

“A lot of customers just don’t bother to pursue things like this, believing they were bait and switched by customer service, have no recourse, and chalk it up as another reason to hate the cable company,” said Tremblay.

Not us. We pursued the mysterious disappearing promotion with Time Warner’s social media team who forwarded the complaint to the nearest regional office and we received a call early this morning with an apology.

It turned out Tremblay had figured out the problem before Time Warner Cable.

The retention promotion we were offered on Feb. 27 expired Feb. 28 — a Saturday. By the time the account changes were processed by Time Warner’s billing system the following Monday, the promised promotion could no longer be applied, hence a $150 bill instead of $112.

To resurrect the promised promotion, the Time Warner representative placed us on the next best valid promotion — $130 a month, and before we could complain about the $18 difference, also offered a $275 credit making up for overpayments already made and ensuring the two offers are financially equal.

Tremblay said such errors are usually unintentional, especially when there is lag time between the first customer contact and the date a company’s systems are updated with the changes.

“If a company’s call center or customer-facing system is not directly tied with the billing system, it is easy to apply a credit or promotion the customer isn’t entitled to receive based on the rules programmed into the billing system,” Tremblay said. “Once the change is received by the billing system, it rejects it.”

He added the mistake Time Warner Cable made was not following up after the promotion was rejected, correcting it before an unexpected higher bill was generated.

“A customer should not have to call a second time to get a provider to live up to its original commitment, but it happens all the time,”  he said. “In my experience, 80% of billing errors are in their favor, 20% in ours.”

Our Long Nightmare is Over At Last: Stop the Cap! Ponders the Failed Comcast-Time Warner Cable Merger

Phillip "Victory is Ours" Dampier

Phillip “Victory is Ours” Dampier

It has been 14 months since we heard for the first time Comcast was planning to acquire Time Warner Cable. It was the night of February 12, 2014. I still remember where I was the moment I first learned the news.

Stop the Cap! has maintained a civil relationship with Time Warner Cable for the most part over our seven-year struggle fighting usage caps, lousy broadband, and high prices. We fought one major battle with the company in April of 2009, when Time Warner executives planned a compulsory usage cap experiment on customers in Rochester, N.Y., Austin and San Antonio, Tex., and Greensboro, N.C.

Just as we had done with Frontier Communications a year earlier, we successfully beat down their efforts to impose usage allowances on customers already paying a significant chunk of money for broadband Internet access. After that battle ended, Time Warner Cable changed their position on usage caps and stated emphatically that customers should always have the option of unmetered/unlimited access. They have kept their word. In fact, their optional usage cap experiments have been a spectacular flop, attracting less than 1% of their customer base and delivering the message we’ve tried to get across the industry for years: customer hate usage caps, usage-based billing, and speed throttles.

Comcast is a company that long ago stopped listening to their customers. It applied an arbitrary usage cap on all their customers in retaliation for a FCC decision that disallowed them from running hidden speed throttles on peer-to-peer Internet traffic. Comcast lied about throttling traffic, paid homeless people to stack a hearing on the issue to keep company critics out of the room, and slapped the caps on in the fall of 2008 with the flimsy excuse it represented “fairness” to customers. Only later, we would learn usage caps were never about “fairness” or good traffic management. It’s just a way to deter customers from spending too much time on the Internet, especially if that time is spent watching online videos. Too much time spent watching Netflix might convince you your cable TV package isn’t necessary any longer.

comcast twcComcast customer service horror stories reached a level unparalleled by other cable companies when a Comcast predator-installer was convicted of raping and strangling to death 23-year old Comcast customer Urszula Sakowska,  whose lifeless body was found in a bathtub inside her Chicago-area home back in 2006. But Triplett’s violent service calls didn’t stop there. He also faced charges in the death of 39-year old Janice Ordidge, a Comcast customer in Hyde Park. Those two Comcast customers lost their lives. In 2009, another Comcast installer set a Pennsylvania customer’s house on fire. Other installers stole jewelry right out of customers’ homes. Others have exposed themselves in front of female customers or fallen asleep on their couches.

Billing errors are the stuff of legend at Comcast. Offshore call centers with language barriers, inept customer service, and long, long, long lines at cable stores with windows only partially manned by agents sitting behind bullet-proof glass also helped cultivate a customer relationship that can best be described as “perp and victim.”

Comcast isn’t just a bad cable company, it’s a menace. We didn’t have to spend hours proving our case. Fortunately, Comcast’s appalling reputation preceded it. Outside of two executive suites in Philadelphia and New York, nobody was for supersizing Comcast. Just to make sure our regulators knew this, we traveled to Buffalo in June of last year to testify at a Public Service Commission hearing on the subject of the merger. We didn’t mince words.

Sure, there were non-profit groups like the Boys & Girls Club that absolutely sullied their reputation pushing for the merger (Comcast wrote large checks to the organization so you need not give the group a single penny of your money in the future). “Civil Rights” organizations like the Urban League, NAACP, and others that used to defend minority rights now concern themselves with defending the interests of giant cable companies, just as long as they get a nice check in the mail with Comcast’s name on it. Among the worst of all – Shakedown Al Sharpton who will either be your merger deal’s best friend or will go away and leave victims of racism in peace, if you cut his organization a big fat check. (Now that the merger has collapsed, perhaps Comcast-owned MSNBC will end the thinly veiled quid-pro-quo arrangement it has with the man that gives him an hour a night to perform a talent train wreck.)

My own state assemblyman, Joe Morelle, who served as New York’s interim assembly speaker for about five minutes literally plagiarized his letter in support of the Comcast merger (after cashing their check) almost word-for-word from Comcast press releases and congressional testimony. Say it ain’t so, Joe!

morelleN.Y. State Assembly Leader Joe Morelle: “The combination of Comcast and Time Warner Cable will create a world-class communications, media and technology company to help meet the increasing consumer demand for advanced digital services on multiple devices in homes, workplaces and on-the-go.”

 

cohenDavid Cohen, executive vice-president, Comcast: “The combination of Comcast and TWC will create a world-class communications, media, and technology company to help meet the insatiable consumer demand for advanced digital services on multiple devices in homes, workplaces, and on-the-go.”

 

There was not a doubt in my mind that replacing Time Warner Cable with Comcast would be a disaster for Time Warner Cable customers. Despite promises Comcast would upgrade Time Warner’s network, it would also upgrade customer bills, resorting in higher priced service, higher modem fees, and lousy customer service. Comcast vice president David Cohen also made it clear usage caps would be a part of our life within five years. No amount of protesting or rational argument would stop Comcast from being Comcast. Don’t like it? Just try to cancel.

Time Warner Cable can be bad but it is no Comcast.

Malone: Waiting in the wings?

Malone: Waiting in the wings?

Life will be just fine without Comcast, but danger lurks on the horizon. Still interested in the possibility of taking over Time Warner Cable is the smaller Charter Communications, now effectively controlled by cable magnate John Malone (he owns his own castles). Malone has a long history of enriching himself at the expense of customers with no other choices for cable/broadband service. He used to control Tele-Communications, Inc. (TCI), a cable company that literally threatened city officials who didn’t do what TCI wanted.

We remain unsure exactly what will happen next. Charter could bid aggressively to buy Time Warner Cable, Time Warner Cable could go it alone, or Time Warner Cable could start buying other cable companies (like Charter).

What we hope will happen is Time Warner Cable will refocus its energy on expanding its Maxx upgrade program as quickly as possible to reach all Time Warner Cable markets with faster broadband and a better cable TV experience. We also hope the company will stand by its word that compulsory usage caps are off the table.

I’d like to thank all of our readers who took the time to get involved in the fight and helped make a difference. Wall Street and Washington, as well as Comcast CEO Brian Roberts are all shocked the merger deal collapsed after a torrent of criticism from consumers. It also left state regulators cautious about how to proceed. New York’s Public Service Commission delayed making a decision eight times, recognizing the merger as a hot potato.

Our experience demonstrates that ordinary citizens can wield considerable power when unified and involved. We’ve proved that with multiple victories on the usage cap front as well as the AT&T/T-Mobile merger and Net Neutrality.

Let the fight for better broadband continue!

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  • Joe V: I hope the people of New Jersey are happy. They voted for Chris Christie and this is exactly what they got....
  • Susan: After diligently watching my credit score for over a year and how negative as well as positive postings affect it, I have a hard time believing that o...
  • David Therchik: An intense investigation needs to put into this! As soon as one starts I bet they'll stop charging/cheating people from over usage. Before they bought...
  • Charles Bingham: I did but customer no service was no help - said it did no good to have pass word with symbols, cap and small letters and #'s. IF only I had an alte...
  • Phillip Dampier: That assumes this customer had access to a working usage meter and notification messages and ignored them. Evidently it was big enough of a problem fo...
  • Are you kidding me...: "Over the years" people are using the internet differently. If your bill went up, you have usage. Responsible would be calling and talking to them ab...
  • Charles Bingham: Actually my usage has decreased over the years as I sold my business and only kept the internet for a few tax returns that I still do, no employees no...
  • Are you kidding me...: This entire article reeks of "poor me, I'm a victim and I can't be responsible about my own Internet usage, my own bills or my own actions." Grow up....
  • a gci customer: even with the new plans, you are still data capped, they just speed rate you at that point vs charging you for overages. You are given the ability t...
  • random-gci-customer: How do you think their Senior Vice President of Consumer services funds his opulent exotic car collection??? https://www.dropbox.com/s/uj7yh1r7hcfc03...
  • whyatt: Well this is what I know. There are 4 internet plans called r:10 r:50 r:100 and RED. And these plans are cheaper than the old plans. Those old plans u...
  • oobovigif: Well I guess they don't want the Tax Breaks anymore either. They just need to seriously Stop with all this BS about lack of Spectrum. They have Plenty...

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