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The Trauma Trinity: Comcast, Time Warner, Charter Now America’s Most-Hated Companies

ygbix_logoAmericans would rather deal with unwanted telemarketing calls, fight their insurance company, or pay top dollar for oil and gas because almost anything is better than dealing with the cable company, if it happens to be named Comcast, Time Warner Cable, or Charter.

As state and federal regulators contemplate allowing these three companies to co-mingle, Americans have bottom-rated them like never before in the most recent YouGov BrandIndex survey of consumer satisfaction.

Any number below 60 results in the failing grade of “F” and shame for all concerned. The three cable operators managed a grade of just 13.2, nearly twice worse than the next lowest scoring industry – wireless providers. The cable sector once again achieved the lowest scores among 43 rated industries and has sunk to a level reserved for a war criminal popularity contest.

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YouGov BrandIndex

Although Time Warner Cable’s scores were called “crap” by one consumer advocate reviewing the data, Comcast performed much worse, plummeting to new lows after customers related to the gone-viral recording of Ryan Block’s customer service call from hell. Block spent more than 20 minutes arguing with a cocky and insufferable customer service representative who repeatedly resisted Block’s efforts to cancel his service. It hit a familiar nerve with Comcast customers and the company took a major hit, according to Lance Fraenkel, head of client services for BrandIndex.

cable guy“That to me stands out as a major event over the last few months that has damaged the brand and category perception,” Fraenkel told The Huffington Post.

The proposed merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable, although well received by non-profit groups and politicians receiving Comcast contribution checks, is a dead on arrival proposition for average consumers. This allowed Charter, which typically rates about as popular as burnt popcorn, to achieve a new high in its perennially dismal consumer satisfaction score. It can take its “barely neutral” rating to the bank.

But it isn’t bad for everyone. Verizon FiOS in particular achieved top grades for service, with AT&T U-verse also doing better than the cable competition.

“If you have a couple brands in negative territory and the category average is still firmly positive, then you know that there are brands that perform well in the sector,” Fraenkel added.

Comcast and Time Warner Cable both acknowledged their lousy ratings, both promising to continue spending millions improving the customer service experience. Comcast has promised that annually since 2007 and its ratings continue to decline. Many blame offshore call centers and intransigent operators unwilling to depart from a script that emphasizes giving credits and refunds only as a last resort. Most complaining customers are offered temporary discounts on service upgrades, which eventually expire and result in an even higher bill.

Charter couldn’t be bothered responding to a call for a comment. When the alternative is DSL from Frontier, CenturyLink or Windstream, why should they?

The Menace of the Unburied Line: Cable & Phone Companies Create Hazards for Homeowners

One Alabama customer found her fence the home of not one, but two artistically-managed Charter Cable lines serving her neighbors.

One Alabama customer found her fence the home of not one, but two artistically-Amanaged Charter Cable lines serving her neighbors.

All across the country, people are encountering communications wiring that belongs underground or on a utility pole, but is instead scattered on the ground or left dangling on fences or in the street. Isolated incidents or a consequence of deregulation that has left community leaders’ hands tied? Stop the Cap! investigates.

A Louisiana woman eight months pregnant is suing Cox Communications Louisiana and its contractor after tripping over an exposed cable wire in her mother’s backyard the company didn’t bother to bury.

In Fort Myers, Comcast connected a neighbor’s cable service in a senior living community by scattering a cable across lawns and sidewalks for nearly a year before finally burying it.

In Alabama, Charter Cable turned cable wiring into an art form, attaching multiple homeowners’ cable TV wires in artistic designs to a neighbor’s fence, and he wasn’t even a customer.

Welcome to the scourge of the unburied, exposed cable wire. Typically called a “drop” by cable installers, these lines are common in communities where a cable or phone company uses a third-party contractor to manage buried lines. Some manage them better than others.

In the northern United States, replacement drops installed during the winter months often stay on the ground until spring because the ground in frozen, but in warmer climates in the southeast, cable companies are notorious for “forgetting” about orphaned cable lines that can take weeks or months to bury, often only after intervention by a local media outlet or politician.

Chardae Nickae Melancon’s complaint claims Cox installed cable service in June, 2013 and left the cable wire exposed in the backyard. In late August, Melancon claims she tripped and fell over the wire injuring her arm, right side, and other unspecified injuries. Her suit alleges Cox was warned the wire was installed improperly and only after her injury did Cox return to finish the job.

In Fort Myers, it took more than 11 months for Comcast to return and bury its line, snaked across lawns and sidewalks connecting several buildings in the retirement community.

Comcast left this cable lying across a sidewalk in a retirement community in Fort Myers, Fla. for 11 months.

Comcast left this cable lying across a sidewalk in a retirement community in Fort Myers, Fla. for 11 months.

“You know this [community] is 55 and older. We have got people in here that are 90 years old,” Bonnie Haines, a resident in the Pine Ridge Condo retirement community told WFTX-TV. “Could you imagine them walking or walking around that sidewalk and tripping over this, what would happen? They couldn’t see it at night. Fortunately for me I know it’s there. I’ve lived with it all this time but if somebody would come to visit an older person or something, they don’t know it’s there.”

Across the street lies another unburied Comcast cable.

“We’ve called multiple times. we’ve reported it multiple times,” said Eric Ray, the manager of the Pine Ridge Homeowners Association. “In fact, every time I see a Comcast truck in here I personally grab the driver, take him over to the spot, and he puts in a work order and takes pictures right in front of me and still no response.”

Comcast’s last reply before making the evening news:  “We’ll get to it soon.”

Twenty four hours after being a featured story on the station’s newscast, the cables were finally buried.

In Montgomery, Ala., an artistic cable installer has used one resident’s fence as the adopted home of Charter Cable’s lines. Jamie Newton, who isn’t a Charter customer, noticed an orange Charter Cable line attached to her fence one day after returning home. That was two years ago. Suddenly, an extra cable appeared, draped like Christmas tree garland.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WFTX Ft Myers Residents worried about exposed cable tv wire 1-15-14.mp4

Residents of a Ft. Myers, Fla. retirement community worry residents as old as 93 could be seriously injured if they trip over this Comcast Cable left on the sidewalk for at least 11 months. (3:00)

“At first I was surprised, and then it turned into a little bit of anger and frustration,” Newton told WSFA. “I have small children, I have friends’ children over, and the neighborhood kids come and play in my backyard. It’s not safe.”

Charter Cable is not interested because Newton is not a customer. Charter in fact recorded just one complaint from a Charter customer six months earlier, and they claimed a “glitch” was responsible for the cable not being buried.

(Image: WEWS-TV Cleveland)

(Image: WEWS-TV Cleveland)

While some customers have been encouraged to remove offending lines that cross property lines themselves, some have gotten into trouble doing so, charged with destruction of private property. The most common mistake homeowners make is cutting or displacing cables placed on or in a utility easement, which can be difficult to identify.

Some of the worst problems occur with cables that served now ex-customers. Residents complain AT&T, Comcast and Charter are not responsive to requests from non-customers to deal with abandoned wiring in disrepair. An outside line supervisor in San Francisco tells Stop the Cap! AT&T has few provisions to manage cabling no longer in service for a paying customers.

The city of Cleveland, Ohio is a prime example of how AT&T deals with unused cables. Residents reports dozens of abandoned lines snipped at head level and allowed to dangle off utility poles, eventually to fall to street level where children can handle them. Time Warner Cable was also accused of allowing cables to hang over Cleveland streets. Some are left over after demolishing vacant houses but the most frequent cause of hazardous cables is competition. When a customer cuts cable’s cord, drops a landline, or flips between providers, installation crews often cut and leave old lines swaying in the breeze or draped over sidewalks.

The problem grew so pervasive in Cleveland, city officials requested telecom companies coordinate an audit of their cable networks and remove dangerous wiring before someone gets hurt. But all they can do is ask. Ohio’s sweeping telecom deregulation law stripped local authority over AT&T and Time Warner Cable. The city’s leverage is now based on creative code enforcement and embarrassing the companies in the local media.

“We don’t have any regulation for phone and cable companies and hanging wires create a hazardous situation and it’s going to have to be regulated,” said Cleveland councilman Tony Brancatelli. “One of these times it’s going to be a hot line.”

Local media reported nearly the same problem four years earlier in Cleveland, and efforts to keep up with cables left in disrepair seem to wane after the media spotlight moves on.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WEWS Cleveland Neighbors worry kids will get desensitized to seeing low wires 4-3-14.mp4

Kids are at risk if they begin to disrespect hanging utility wires. An epidemic of abandoned cable and telephone cables are dangling over Cleveland streets and deregulation means cities have to ask providers nicely to deal with the problem. (3:00)

Time Warner Cable and AT&T have also pointed fingers at each other, implying the other is more responsible for the cables left hanging:

AT&T: “We certainly welcome attention on the topic of safety and any telephone wires that look out of place. To that end, we encourage you to share with your viewers the number for our statewide repair information line: 800-572-4545. Please do call this line to report locations of telephone wires that look out of place.  While your story pointed out that many of the problem lines you saw may not have been telephone lines, we look forward to removing or repairing any that we find, that indeed belong to our company.”

Time Warner Cable: “Maintaining line clearance is something we act quickly to correct anytime we identify a potential issue. Though it is not clear who owns the wires you cite in your story, when our lines need to be adjusted, we take immediate action.  If someone comes across a line they feel maybe too low, please call us and we will respond.”

One important tip from Stop the Cap! for both your safety and avoiding legal entanglements — don’t take on the job yourself.

Municipal officials tell us readers should call a local code enforcement officer and have them investigate utility cable issues. Unresponsive companies or those creating dangerous conditions for the public can be fined and most will respond quickly to an officer’s request to manage the problem, even when deregulated.

Customers allowing the cable company to install a temporary line in their own yard should check if they are signing a total liability waiver as part of the process. Doing so can limit your leverage if the cable company doesn’t return to bury the line.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WEWS City of Cleveland promises to address low hanging wires 4-7-14.mp4

WEWS-TV in Cleveland followed up on their earlier report after getting no response from cable and phone companies and finding even more hazardous, abandoned wiring littering Cleveland. (3:15)

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WEWS Cleveland Major utility and cable companies meet with City of Cleveland 4-17-14.mp4

Cleveland officials asked cable and phone companies to send representatives to coordinate action to fix the problem, but deregulation makes the effort voluntary. (2:47)

Cablevision Calls Deal-Hunters and the Credit-Challenged “Shoplifters;” ‘Go Call Verizon Instead’

Phillip Dampier November 6, 2014 Cablevision, Competition, Consumer News, Verizon 1 Comment

Shoplifting-Is-Crime-Sign-S-7247Beggars can be choosers if you are running Cablevision, the northeast’s largest non-conglomerate cable company, still run by the Dolan family.

In a conference call with Wall Street analysts, company officials noted Cablevision had noticeably tightened its credit standards during the third quarter and has implemented incentives for slow-pay and no-pay customers to take a hike and not come back, even at the risk of subscriber losses.

“Certain of our promotional eligibility policies have put pressure on our net subscriber results,” reported Cablevision CEO James Dolan. “However, we believe that these policies are consistent with our goal of growing long-term shareholder value. For instance, during the third quarter, we tightened certain of our customer credit and payment policies. While these policy changes effectively reduce the number of available sales, they are expected to contribute a stronger base of customers over time.”

For more than a year, Cablevision has restricted promotional pricing and retention offers to keep customers from coming back for better deals when their existing promotion expires. Now it is stripping eligibility for promotional pricing for late-paying customers as well. Subscribers are leaving as a result. Video customers declined by 56,000 during the third quarter, high-speed data customers declined by 23,000, and voice customers declined by 33,000.

“We’re no longer marketing [to] subscribers who have a history of non-pay, so we’re not inviting them back in if they’re not good actors,” said Cablevision’s chief operating officer Kristin Dolan. “We’re requiring full payment in a number of areas where homes have a history of bad debt. And then we’re not doing promotions [for] those customers either. So if you have a history of bad debt with us, you can’t come back in on a promotional offer. [We’re] not letting people back into the bucket that are going to end up being problematic later on in their relationship with us.”

Mr. Dolan was scathingly critical of his biggest competitor, Verizon FiOS, claiming the company will stop at nothing to poach Cablevision’s customers.

“Verizon, in our opinion, continues on a path of pursuing the destruction of their own capital,” said Dolan. “We don’t believe that they’re profitable on any level in our service area. They just rabidly pursue us in an attempt to try and get customers. And I think our strategy is actually working quite well because we’re giving them all the customers that we think are the most expensive customers and the ones that provide the least free cash flow to us.”

Mrs. Dolan told analysts Cablevision is particular about the kinds of customers it wants to win back from competitors.

“I think if it’s a win back that we want to have, that’s a differentiator,” she said. “We’re not going to just chase subscriber numbers. We don’t want to invite people into our store if they’re going to shoplift.”

Third Party Contractors Sue Comcast In Race to the Bottom for Wages, Business Contracts

Cable Line LogoComcast’s dependence on third-party contractors to support its cable plant and handle certain service calls has made a few companies very rich while putting several others into bankruptcy.

In March, Cable Line, Inc., and McLaughlin Communications filed suit against the cable company in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court for putting them out of business after being compelled “to start and finance work in new markets, only to abandon [both] firms once they had been induced to create the infrastructure necessary for Comcast’s expansion.”

Attorney Charles Mandracchia alleges both companies were sold on Comcast’s commitments and hired and trained scores of workers, opened new facilities and borrowed heavily to finance purchases of trucks and equipment only to face what the suit calls an arbitrary cancellation of both companies’ contracts while their workforce was hired away by firms favored by Comcast.

“This is about more than my company,” Cable Line owner Kevin Diehl told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “‘Scale up or die,’ they told us. I bought a Harrisburg warehouse and a Perkasie office,” and built his staff up to 120 workers.

Comcast’s dependence on Diehl’s firm was so strong, the cable company enforced a no-compete clause in Cable Line’s contract to block a lucrative acquisition offer from another company in the early 2000s.

Things changed dramatically in 2012 when Comcast suddenly canceled its contract and gave Cable Line’s business to larger firms that recruited away his trained workforce. Cable Line went out of business shortly afterwards. McLaughlin makes similar claims.

“Comcast clearly had a decided intent and plan to eliminate small companies like Cable Line and McLaughlin Communications in order to monopolize the market, and in fact it did precisely that,” according to the lawsuit.

installerAllegations of corruption were included in a similar federal lawsuit filed by an Illinois-based cable installer, Frontline Communications, that claimed top Comcast officials “accepted cash, gifts and other benefits” in exchange for awarding installation contracts to favored firms. That case was dismissed on a technicality and has yet to be refiled.

A handful of firms favored by Comcast have done well as favored partners. Dycom, a Florida-based telecommunications installer with a nationwide footprint has acquired a number of smaller competitors over the last three years and disclosed to the Securities & Exchange Commission that just three companies — AT&T, CenturyLink and Comcast account for 39% of its business. If Comcast and Time Warner Cable win merger approval, that number will increase to above 50%.

With consolidation of third-party cable contractors continuing, workers have seen dramatic compensation cuts. Installers working for Dyson-acquired Prince Telecommunications accuse the company of cutting their labor rate in half. Others complain contractors force them to buy their own tools, under-compensate for fuel and don’t pay workers when they arrive to find subscribers not at home to accept a service call.

“This consolidation across the country is very bad for skilled cable technicians, who now have very few choices of employment,” Diehl told the newspaper, warning that installers working for Time Warner Cable will see even more dramatic compensation and benefits cuts “as Comcast gobbles them up.”

Diehl told the newspaper he personally helped build Comcast’s cable system in the Philadelphia suburbs and calls it “obsolete.”

“It should be fully fiber. It should have a bigger power supply, like FiOS,” Diehl said. “That’s why your TV sometimes doesn’t work after a storm.”

Earlier this week, UniTek Global Services Inc., a Blue Bell company that employs 3,200 people installing DirecTV, ATT, Comcast and other TV and Internet systems, filed for Chapter 11 reorganization in federal bankruptcy court in Wilmington, Del. The company is seeking a “comprehensive debt restructuring” after trying to diversify its business portfolio beyond its major clients, including Comcast.

GreatLand Connections Has Few Employees, No Building; Yet Wants to Serve 2.5 Million Subscribers

greatlandGreatLand Connections, a new cable company with no headquarters building and only a handful of employees, is seeking permission to serve 2.5 million ex-Comcast/Time Warner Cable customers while saddled with $7.8 billion in debt the day its opens for business.

The entity, now administered primarily by a small executive team, will trade on the NASDAQ exchange under the symbol ‘GLCI’ and would start operations in 2015. Tidbits about the planned cable operator were included in a regulatory filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, primarily concerning how shareholders and executives will be handled if the merger is approved.

GreatLand Connections was created to appease the U.S. Justice Department and Federal Communications Commission that earlier expressed concern about any single cable operator exceeding 30 percent of the national cable television market. Spinning off 2.5 million customers in less desirable service areas keeps Comcast’s market share just under 30%, but the SEC filing reveals Comcast isn’t exactly kicking customers out in the cold and disinheriting them. Comcast shareholders will own and control 67% of GreatLand Connections. Comcast will also select six of the nine members of the Board of Directors at GreatLand, and the SEC filing includes an admission to shareholders that a conflict of interest could exist between certain executives and board members who have investments in both cable companies.

The new company’s large debt load — about five times the company’s estimated earnings before interest, depreciation, taxes, and certain other expenses, is designed to shield Comcast from having to pay taxes on the spinoff. GreatLand’s filing states the transfer deal and spin-up of its company will qualify as a tax-free reorganization transaction.

The initial debt load is considerably higher than what most other cable companies carry, which makes it likely subscribers will be asked to help pay it off in the form of higher rates for years to come.

Even without a single piece of office furniture in place, GreatLand could begin serving as one of the nation’s largest cable companies with an estimated value of $5.7 billion in less than a year.

(Clarification: This article was updated to reflect Comcast shareholders will own 67% of GreatLand after the transaction closes.)

Time Warner Cable Maxx Customers in LA Are Being Offered Free Cable Modems

Phillip Dampier November 4, 2014 Broadband Speed, Consumer News, Time Warner Cable 1 Comment

twcmaxTime Warner Cable broadband customers in Los Angeles still using older cable modems are being offered replacement modems from the cable company for free, avoiding Time Warner Cable’s $6 monthly modem rental fee.

The Los Angeles Times notes some customers are receiving letters offering a free modem upgrade, but the company won’t say exactly how many subscribers have been offered a way out of the company’s modem rental fee.

A survey of Los Angeles residents suggests Time Warner is primarily targeting customers still using older DOCSIS 2 or basic DOCSIS 3 modems that are not capable of getting the full benefit of Time Warner Cable’s Maxx speed upgrades, which provides up to 300Mbps service for the same price the rest of the country pays for 50Mbps.

Customers taking advantage of the offer are expected to swap out their existing modem themselves, using an “Easy Install Kit” mailed by Time Warner. They will need to contact the cable company to activate their replacement modem.

The replacement is a basic, yet fully capable DOCSIS 3 modem without built-in Wi-Fi. Customers who don’t use a router with built-in Wi-Fi can upgrade to Time Warner’s Wi-Fi capable modem, but it will cost around $11 a month for the service. Stop the Cap! recommends customers buy their own router with built-in Wi-Fi, which is almost always a better deal than renting equipment from Time Warner.

There is no word if a similar offer will be made to customers in other Maxx cities, New York and Austin.

Netherlands Telecom Regulator: A Broadband Duopoly Doesn’t Equal Competition

Phillip Dampier November 3, 2014 Broadband Speed, Competition, Public Policy & Gov't No Comments

logo-acm-enIn the Netherlands, having access to two broadband competitors isn’t enough to guarantee broadband competition, and Dutch telecom regulators are not about to deregulate Internet service in the country until consumers have more choices for broadband access.

The Dutch telecom regulator on Friday announced it will keep wholesale access regulations in place for an extra three years to guarantee KPN – the former state-owned telephone company – plays fair with competitors.

“If ACM were not to step in, there would be too little choice: Dutch telecom company KPN and cable company UPC/Ziggo would then dominate the market,” says the Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) in a written statement. “In ACM’s opinion, having just two providers in these markets cannot be considered healthy competition.”

“Furthermore, KPN and UPC/Ziggo are challenged by their competitors to continue to invest in their networks and to innovate,” said Henk Don, a board member of ACM. “As a result, faster and better connections become available in the Netherlands.”

kpn

KPN

The Dutch telephone and mobile provider will be required to continue allowing competitors such as Vodafone and Tele2 access to KPN’s landline and fiber to the home networks to offer competitive broadband service. ACM reports that Dutch consumers are saving at least $312 million a year in lower Internet access pricing just by forcing KPN to allow other companies to compete using its network.

KPN isn’t hampered by the forced openness, because ACM has also given the phone company relaxed operating rules to allow it to invest in DSL upgrades including vectoring and the forthcoming G.Fast standard, which could dramatically boost broadband speeds.

Most Dutch consumers, like those in North America, realistically have a choice between one telephone and one cable company — usually Ziggo (currently merging with UPC), for broadband service. But unlike in the United States, Dutch regulators have remained wholly unconvinced an effective duopoly is subject to enough competitive pressure to protect consumers and nascent competition from upstarts. Therefore, ACM has applied regulatory checks and balances to protect the marketplace and consumers from abusive pricing and service practices.

U.S. telecom companies argue that regulations hamper investment and delay network improvements. In the Netherlands, where broadband speed rankings exceed the United States, prices are also lower.

Rogers Snaps Up Another Independent Cable Company; Hamilton-based Source Cable

source-cableRogers Communications will acquire Hamilton, Ont.-area independent Source Cable in a quiet $160-million deal.

The transaction was first noticed in Rogers’ quarterly financial report to shareholders, noting that Source Cable provides cable, broadband, and phone service to only a part of the city of Hamilton. Rogers already provides service next to Source Cable’s service area so a transition to Rogers should pose few issues for eastern Canada’s biggest cable operator. The rest of greater Hamilton will continue to be served by Cogeco and Rogers in their respective service areas.

“We’re really excited about purchasing Source Cable,” said Kevin Spafford, Rogers Communications spokesperson. “We view this acquisition as a growth opportunity because the company is well run; the footprint is adjacent to our existing cable systems; they have really good penetration of cable TV and Internet services, and there is potential for new customers as the unbuilt part of the area develops.”

Subscribers are less enthusiastic.

The cable company has always been responsive to its customers and willing to pioneer new technology before larger providers like Rogers.

Source Cable customers may win some extra ethnic language programming now seen on Rogers, but will likely experience a major downgrade in how they deal with their cable provider. Source customers will eventually be exposed to Rogers’ much lower-rated customer service. Broadband customers are also likely to lose their unlimited Internet service, forced to select from Rogers’ usage-capped plans.

Source Cable was started by former city alderman Jim Campbell in 1974. Campbell died two years ago.

Source Cable's service coverage area is limited to a number of blocks in parts of Hamilton, Ont.

Source Cable’s service coverage area is limited to a number of blocks in parts of Hamilton, Ont.

 

The Inside Story: He Criticized Comcast and the Cable Company Complained; Result=Termination

The Don't Care Bears

The Don’t Care Bears

A few weeks ago, Stop the Cap! reported on the story of Conal O’Rourke, a Comcast customer billed for equipment he didn’t order, service he didn’t receive, and collection agents he didn’t deserve. When O’Rourke dared to complain to senior Comcast management in the company’s Controller’s Office, the controller himself called a senior partner at his employer and days later O’Rourke was fired.

Now O’Rourke is taking his case to court, claiming he lost his job because Comcast forced his employer – PricewaterhouseCoopers – to weigh his benefit against a $30 million consulting contract Comcast has with the major accounting firm.

The complaint names names and gives plenty of new details about how Comcast ruthlessly deals with customers who dare to bother its top executives with petty little service problems like $1,800 in unjustified billing, credit score-ruining collection activity, and the impossibility of canceling service.

The fateful call to Comcast’s Controller’s Office occurred back in February, and consisted mostly of his complaint that in the almost one year that he had been a Comcast customer, he had not received a single bill in which the charges were correct.

When he mentioned the constant billing errors might be of interest to the independent Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, it was the first time in more than a year Comcast efficiently targeted O’Rourke’s complaint for its brand of resolution: retaliation.

“Unfortunately, instead of redressing Mr. O’Rourke’s grievances, Comcast initiated a scorched-earth assault against him for expressing concerns over the legality of its conduct and the integrity of its accounting,” the lawsuit states. “On information and belief, defendants undertook these actions because they were concerned that Mr. O’Rourke would report them to the PCAOB, were angry that he had accused them of shoddy accounting practices, and wished to punish and destroy him for his temerity.”

O’Rourke claims Comcast ordered a background check on him and the results were forwarded to the controller himself — Lawrence Salva, who also happens to be a former partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Quicker than you can say “rate increase,” Salva was on the phone to Joseph Atkinson, the U.S. Advisory Entertainment, Media & Communications Leader for the accounting firm. He specializes in the cable business, so it was no surprise Comcast reached out to him to vent.

“Less than an hour after Mr. O’Rourke’s second call with Comcast’s Controller’s Office, Mr. O’Rourke received a call from Mr. Atkinson,” the lawsuit claims. “Mr. O’Rourke was shocked to receive the call – he had never before had occasion to deal with Mr. Atkinson. An angry Atkinson informed Mr. O’Rourke that he had received a call from Comcast’s Controller about Mr. O’Rourke. Mr. Atkinson told Mr. O’Rourke that the client was very angry, very valuable, was in fact the Philadelphia office’s largest client, with billings exceeding $30 million per year, and that Mr. O’Rourke was not to speak with anyone from Comcast.”

A few days later, security arrived with cardboard boxes allowing O’Rourke to collect his belongings and exit the building… permanently.

The accounting firm has refused to disclose the contents of email exchanged between itself and Comcast. If Comcast divulged personal information about O’Rourke, it may be in violation of federal privacy laws.

O’Rourke remains out of work and Comcast is alleged to still be refusing all requests to refund him the money it overcharged.

O’Rourke is asking for $1 million plus punitive damages for violation of the Cable Communications Policy Act, defamation, breach of contract, unfair business practices and infliction of emotional distress.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CNN Comcast Dispute Gets Man Fired 10-8-14.mp4

CNN talked with Conal O’Rourke, fired after complaining too much about Comcast, worth $30 million a year in contracts to his employer. (6:43)

Comcast Employees Stole, Sold Identities of Customers; Comcast Tells Victims to Pay Fraudulent Charges

Phillip Dampier October 15, 2014 Comcast/Xfinity, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't 1 Comment

crimeA Tennessee man is facing $1,300 in unauthorized cable charges and ruined credit after at least one Comcast employee allegedly stole his identity and provided it to an outside vendor who signed up new Comcast customers who never had any intention of paying their bills.

Ricky McClure of Murfreesboro first learned about the fraud when collection agencies working for Comcast sent him collection notices demanding payment of a combined $1,300 in unpaid charges made in his name in Shreveport, La.

McClure is already a Comcast customer, and he does not pay his cable bill late, so he called Comcast over what he thought was a simple billing error and ran into a customer service buzz saw.

“Comcast basically said the name and social matches what we have on record so this is your account. You need to pay the money and we’re not going to pull it back from collections,” McClure told WKRN-TV.

McClure was left investigating the mysterious charges on his own and discovered the extra accounts on his credit report, both using his Social Security number, and opened without his permission. Even more disturbing, the service addresses on file were in a city McClure has no ties to.

"Where is our money, lady?"

“Where is our money, lady?”

“It’s very alarming. You don’t know who is going to be calling you next,” said McClure.

Comcast’s customer service seemed unconcerned McClure’s identity was stolen. They simply wanted to clear up the matter of the $1,300 in unpaid charges. In fact, Comcast reserves the right to terminate an identity theft victim’s own service until the billing matter is settled or the fraud verified.

An isolated incident? Not quite.

Stop the Cap! reader John Spencer (not his complete real name at his request) in Nashville was also a victim of Comcast fraud. He wrote to share the story of McClure, which he recognized only too well. He faced over $2,000 in Comcast bills sent to collections for another “customer” in Shreveport. This time, the thieves were smart enough to submit a change of address for the bills headed for Louisiana, claiming it was a vacation property. The collection agency finally connected the Social Security number to Spencer’s address in Nashville and commenced collection activity that dropped his FICO score by more than 90 points, which now hovers around 600. Spencer’s damage went far beyond dealing with persistent collection calls. Alarmed credit card issuers running periodic credit checks suspended or slashed Spencer’s credit lines because he was suddenly a credit risk, and Verizon wants him to pay a deposit on his new cell phone account. His car insurance even went up $65 semi-annually, the insurance company explained, because his credit score necessitated a re-evaluation of his rate.

It took over three months for Comcast to finally get the negative information off his credit report, and nine months later he is still trying to get his former credit reputation back. While credit card companies did restore his former credit lines, they made new credit inquiries before granting his request, which has cost him 40 points on his restored FICO score for “excessive credit inquiries.” Verizon won’t budge on demanding a deposit, and his insurance company will reconsider his rate only after it comes up for renewal.

Comcast's identify theft reporting form runs six pages and requires a police report, a notarized signature, and  copies of your valuable photo ID.

Comcast’s identify theft reporting form runs six pages and requires a police report, a notarized signature, and copies of your valuable photo ID.

Identity theft has become pervasive enough at Comcast that the company dedicates a special section of its website to accept reports from customers victimized by unauthorized charges.

Comcast doesn’t offer much of a shoulder to cry on either, sternly telling victims they must complete and sign a notarized affidavit, attach a police report for the claim, and prove to Comcast’s satisfaction where they actually live.

Some customers already victimized by Comcast once aren’t too happy about another requirement – providing a copy of a valid government-issued photo ID like a driver’s license or passport. If Comcast employees were willing to peddle your Social Security number for quick cash, imagine what they can get for a copy of your driver’s license.

Don’t expect the collection calls to end immediately either. Comcast warns it considers all accounts valid and payable amounts due until proven otherwise.

San Francisco area customer Tammerlin Drummond was also a victim of a rogue Comcast employee who sold her Social Security number and address to an unknown third-party who opened an account and collected a bounty of cable equipment.

Comcast billed Drummond $442.13 for service at an address she had nothing to do with. Ironically, Comcast sent Drummond a separate letter claiming that the security of her account was “a top priority at Comcast” and included a PIN number.

Comcast doesn’t like to break a sweat investigating these scams and kept the fraudulent account open while putting Drummond on its customer fraud treadmill, insisting she do all the work completing the aforementioned affidavit. Another representative even suggested visit a Comcast store in Oakland because people associated with the fraudulent account were recently there to pick up more cable equipment.

“She gave me the ID of the rep who had handled the transaction and suggested I might go to the store to ask if he remembered anything,” Drummond wrote in a column published by the Contra Costa Times. “She said there was a lot of activity connected to my Social Security number and that it was an obvious case of fraud. It smelled like an inside job to me, and I told her so.”

Comcast admitted in all three cases different employees used their positions at the cable company to access customers’ Social Security numbers and other personal information and resell it to other criminals that offer “free” cable service or tell customers to pay them, not Comcast, for “discounted service.”

The two cases in Shreveport were never uncovered by Comcast. It took the initiative of the Shreveport Police Department to launch an investigation last March. Comcast first learned about it not from customers, but from the police department who contacted the cable company about the problem.

tn laVictims were eventually sent letters from Comcast explaining what happened:

“Based on what we know at this time, a small group of individuals employed by a third-party vendor and a former Comcast employee were engaged in identity theft and theft of Comcast services. These individuals may have used your information, including your name and/or social security number, for these unauthorized purposes.”

The letter goes on to say the company is offering a complimentary identity protection plan for a year.

But identity protection may not help much if Comcast can’t secure its customers private, personal information.

Out in San Francisco, Comcast spokesman Bryan Byrd told Drummond a Comcast employee had opened the fraudulent account and that “he has been dealt with.”

Comcast has closed the account, erased the bill and removed the mess from her credit report. Because Drummond was a victim, anyone (including her) will now need to show ID and proof of residence before opening a Comcast account — provisions that would likely protect every Comcast customer from identity theft if broadly enforced.

“It makes you wonder how protected one’s personal data is,” Drummond complained. “How many others did this rogue employee target?”

Comcast says these are all isolated incidents and not a pattern to a wider problem. But apologies are not forthcoming to Mr. McClure or Spencer.

Alex Horwitz, a Comcast spokesperson in Tennessee released the following statement:

“We take this matter very seriously and, out of an abundance of caution, we have contacted a small number of people whose information may have been used to create unauthorized accounts and are providing them with credit monitoring services. We have no evidence that this was an online system breach or that any additional personal information was obtained or used for any other purpose. We are continuing to cooperate with law enforcement and are conducting our own internal investigation. The individuals involved in this are no longer working on our behalf, and we have reinforced our privacy and security policies with employees and third-party vendors.”

Comcast won’t comment on how many cases of identity theft it deals with annually.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/WKRN Nashville Man gets 1-3K in Comcast bills 10-15-14.mp4

Several mid-Tennessee Comcast customers have been victims of identity theft, discovering unpaid Comcast bills run up in their names for service several states away. WKRN in Nashville shares the story of Ricky McClure, who faced $1,300 in Comcast charges sent to collections he didn’t owe. (2:41)

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