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Charter Begins “Sweeping” Old Time Warner Cable Customers Into Spectrum Packages, Higher Fees

Phillip Dampier May 17, 2017 Charter Spectrum, Competition, Consumer News 3 Comments

The cable operator has begun “sweeping” accounts looking for customers it deems to have paid too little for too long or who are getting grandfathered cable channels the company feels they are no longer entitled to receive.

One of the first cities to be hit with Charter CEO Thomas Rutledge’s ‘account sweeps for more cash’ initiative is Lexington, Ky., where longtime customers are discovering their cable service is missing more than a dozen channels with no warning or explanation.

Daniel Fitzgerald discovered many of his cable channels were gone, replaced with a message that his subscription no longer included the cable channels that had been a part of his Standard cable package for years.

“I thought, ‘What the hell? I just paid the cable bill,’” Fitzgerald told the Herald-Leader last week at his tiny Lexington apartment he shares with his disabled 16-year-old son.

It turns out he wasn’t paying enough to satisfy Charter Communications.

A Spectrum representative told Fitzgerald that he hadn’t been paying Time Warner enough for the standard cable package. If he wanted those channels back, his monthly bill for cable and internet would jump $36 a month, from $103 to $139, effective immediately. No new channels, no new features, just a new much higher bill. To add insult to injury, the representative didn’t much care for the cable box Time Warner Cable provided him several years earlier and demanded its replacement, for a $24 service fee to send a technician out to check his service and replace his equipment.

When Fitzgerald attempted to negotiate with the cable company that claims it’s a “new day” for how cable companies treat their customers, the representative promptly cut him off.

‘This is Spectrum’s deal, take it or leave it,’ he was told.

“It was bull crap,” Fitzgerald said. “They don’t give us any notice, they just spring it on us in the middle of the month. And then they tell us we’re getting an ‘upgrade.’ This isn’t an upgrade, it’s the same channels we already had!”

Fitzgerald was not the only customer affected with Charter’s “surprise ‘upgrade,'” according to Lexington city officials, whose phones have rung off the hook about cable channels being held ransom for steep rate increases.

City officials who called on Spectrum to explain themselves eventually heard back from the cable company in a terse e-mail claiming Charter has begun performing “sweeps of customer accounts” looking for customers who have got too good of a deal from the cable company. Those customers are then summarily “repackaged” with no warning. Charter was busy “repackaging” a lot of Fitzgerald’s neighbors in his Alexandria Drive apartment building as well.

Rutledge told Wall Street investors this quarter it was all a part of Charter’s commitment to “move prices in the right direction.”

At Ximena McCollum’s home in Lexington, Charter cut off the NCAA men’s basketball tournament in-progress. When McCollum called Spectrum, she was informed she was “repackaged” as well, and could get her basketball game back for the right price: $45 more every month.

The customer service representative told her the channels she claimed she was getting were no longer part of her subscription.

“So if I had been getting them, I shouldn’t have been getting them,” McCollum said last week. “I told her that I’ve lived in this house for seven years. I’ve always had the same channels. She kept insisting that I wasn’t supposed to be getting these channels unless I paid them some ridiculous price. You could tell that she was confused and reading from some sort of script they had given her. Finally, I said, ‘Just cancel my subscription. I cut the cord.”

The Herald-Leader reported the “repackaging” comes down to one issue: money. Charter wants more, a lot more in some cases.

Rutledge has repeatedly claimed Time Warner Cable was effectively giving away the store and kowtowing to appease customers with lower rates when they complained about their cable bill. As far as Rutledge is concerned, the iron hand of discipline for former Time Warner customers is long overdue.

Rutledge promised he will force higher cable prices this spring as the company starts driving customers out of the Time Warner Cable packages into more expensive Spectrum packages. The company does that by allowing bundled discounts and promotions to expire on existing Time Warner packages, which results in sometimes-shocking rate increases of $50 or more per month. When customers call to complain, they are pushed towards slimmed-down Spectrum TV packages that cost slightly more than what customers used to pay and include more than a dozen fewer cable channels.

No one is exempt from being herded into Spectrum’s vision for the future. Even some of the city government’s office televisions have gone dark after “repackaging.”


City councilwoman Jennifer Mossotti got the Spectrum treatment as well, told if she wanted to keep her cable service, she needed to pay $21.50 more a month. Mossotti assumed she could whittle that amount down by dropping her Time Warner Cable phone service, but Spectrum told her that would cost her even more because it would break up her triple play bundle, resulting in an even bigger rate hike.

Lexington officials claim they feel held hostage by Charter and the ransom the city and its citizens have to pay doesn’t get them better service, just the same service they used to have for more money.

“It’s frustrating to the Nth degree. People are calling our offices daily about this,” Mossotti told the newspaper. “We felt like we at least had a little leverage with Time Warner. You could talk to them and usually you could work something out. With Spectrum, everything falls on deaf ears.”

In the face of the public relations disaster this is causing Charter in Kentucky, company representatives are trying to shift the blame on to customers, claiming they have been freeloading channels that have been part of legacy cable packages from years earlier that were either grandfathered or long forgotten, and Charter is simply tidying up.

For example, a local man who lives on Social Security benefits and who received the same cable lineup for 20 years “has only been paying for the Starter TV package,” Jason Keller, Charter’s senior director of government affairs, told city officials in an April 10 email. “The most recent sweep of customer accounts is what knocked out the channels, since he wasn’t paying for them. However, we’ve now repackaged him into a new service offering that has restored the channels and provides him with a new HD box.”

Keller did not respond to calls from the Herald-Leader asking how many Lexington customers now face higher cable prices.

In a prepared statement, Charter spokesman Michael Pedelty wrote: “Time Warner Cable was providing some programming inadvertently to a small number of customers whose packages didn’t include them. We want our customers to have the best quality and most reliable video experience. Earlier this year, we started a network project that adds an element of security and ensures individual channels are encrypted and available exclusively to those who subscribe to them.”

A few Lexington area residents told Stop the Cap! they felt abused by the entire process.

Barbara Montgomery, a subscriber of Charter (and two of its predecessors) claims she faced a higher bill after many of her channels disappeared a few weeks ago.

“We were ‘repackaged’ and told it would cost us $34 to get channels back,” Montgomery told us. “The [Charter] guy literally told us ‘tough luck, honey!'”

Edgar, who withheld his last name, reported that a Charter representative came close to accusing him of being a cable thief for getting channels he was not supposed to receive.

“I had this cable package for 27 years, no less and no more, and the last two companies – Insight and Time Warner Cable – let me keep paying for it year after year and I never saw any reason to change it,” he told us. “But Charter did, and on their own. One day the channels were there, the next day they were not. They tell you it’s too bad but that is way things are with Spectrum and they keep telling me their internet service is better, but I am 92 years old and don’t even have a computer.”

The experience of customers in Lexington may explain why tens of thousands of former Time Warner Cable customers are dropping Spectrum like a hot rock when the rate increase hits. For Rutledge, who was rewarded with a $98.5 million pay package in 2016, charging current customers a lot more for cable service more than makes up for the former subscribers they manage to drive off. For him, customers either get with the Spectrum program or they can go somewhere else, if there is somewhere else for customers to go.

From: Charter Communications’ 1Q 2017 investor presentation

Those experiencing the Spectrum Treatment are switching to AT&T U-verse, although AT&T is trying very hard to get them to sign up for DirecTV instead.

Montgomery tells us AT&T really doesn’t want their cable business, but they will sell her an expensive cell phone or satellite TV.

“AT&T is a happy hog making a lot of money in the cell phone business, but they sure don’t want to spend much on giving me TV service, and told me I’d be happier with satellite TV,” she said. “If I wanted satellite TV, I would have called DirecTV or Dish myself.”

The other option for parts of Lexington is Windstream’s Kinetic TV, a fiber to the neighborhood service available in some Windstream service areas. But Kinetic TV is getting mixed reviews from customers who have the service, and for those that want broadband, Kinetic speeds don’t cut it for many.

While Rutledge figures out how to spend his eye-popping compensation package, those on fixed incomes like Fitzgerald who live on less than $1,000 a month are trying to figure out where they will get the extra money to pay Charter.

Fitzgerald was giving the cable company $103 a month for standard cable television with no premiums and internet service. Now Spectrum wants 35% more for the same service he used to get.

A nearby neighbor told Fitzgerald and the newspaper their Spectrum bill went up $18 a month.

“A five dollar increase, OK, fine, I guess I could deal with that,” the neighbor said. “But twenty bucks just because a new company comes in? This is felonious. What am I gonna do, tell Social Security that I need $20 more every month because Spectrum wants it? It doesn’t work that way.”

“There ain’t much you can do about it, though,” Fitzgerald told the neighbor. “They’re the cable company.”

Please Stand By… Charter and I Have a Disagreement

A typical crowd at a Charter/Spectrum store still displaying Time Warner Cable signage. (Image: Sherry T.)

Your patience is appreciated as I spent the last two days more offline than online, courtesy of “problems” with Charter Communications and their confusion factory.

The good news: The local employees I have dealt with have been both polite and professional and are trying to be helpful, and I’ve always recognized this as true with both Time Warner Cable and now Charter.

The bad news: Corporate policies, the merger, and confusion over glacially slow integration of Charter and TWC’s separate billing and provisioning systems can leave customers caught in the middle. Also, despite the well-intentioned assistance provided by the offshore call center workers (Sandheep, Moanwalla, and someone I think was named Sunshine), their abilities to navigate Charter’s own service and provisioning systems properly left plenty to be desired. Much of their efforts had to be redone from the beginning stateside.

Phillip Dampier’s Charter/Time Warner Cable Account — Born 2004, Died 2017.

We will be back with regular articles tomorrow, assuming our internet service is functioning properly, and look for a write-up of my experiences navigating around Charter’s new policies towards their adopted TWC and Bright House customers.

To be sure, I was not alone having problems with Charter. I have never seen such crowds at Charter Cable Stores, where 20 people were ahead of me in line at one location, almost 30 at another. Nearly half brought their equipment back with new, higher bill in hand. They had enough after their bill increased $20-80(!) dollars, all thanks to Charter’s “pro-consumer merger benefits.”

Yes, a higher bill and a package of fewer channels.

It was stunning to think Charter had lost several hundred thousand TWC customers in just three months, but not after what I witnessed yesterday. It is entirely believable they will be losing a lot more, all thanks to higher prices and intransigence on giving loyal customers the kind of deals new customers get.

Charter/Spectrum: Same s***, different name.

Former Time Warner Cable Customers in Non-Maxx Areas Get Minor Speed Upgrades

An email from Charter/Spectrum announcing minor speed upgrades. (Image courtesy: pspfreak)

Former Time Warner Cable customers that never received Maxx upgrades are now getting a minor consolation prize from Charter Communications: a minor broadband speed boost at no additional charge.

Customers eventually receive an email message from Charter/Spectrum advising them of the upgrade. For Standard Internet customers, the email reads:

Dear Valued Customer,

We just made your fast Internet speeds even faster. And the best part is, you don’t have to do a thing.

We know that today there is more to see, learn, play, share and do online than ever before. That means more streaming video, more music and movie downloads, more photo sharing and more gaming. You have more devices in your home than ever before, from laptops to game consoles, e-readers to smartphones, which means you need more speed so everyone can do what they need to, and all at the same time if they want to. That’s why we have increased your Internet speeds from 15Mbps to 20Mbps.

This speed increase for our customers is just our way of saying thanks. Enjoy your faster speeds!

Customers in western New York were upgraded over the past weekend, while some others have quietly been getting upgrades over the last two weeks. At press time, we have confirmed two tiers have been upgraded, but others may have as well. Customers need to disconnect the power cable from their modem for 10 seconds and plug it back in to get the new speeds:

  • Time Warner Cable Standard Internet: Was 15Mbps, now 20Mbps. (Speeds are overprovisioned and may report somewhat faster during speed tests).
  • Time Warner Cable Ultimate Internet: Was 50Mbps, now 60Mbps. (Speeds are overprovisioned and generally report 70/6Mbps during speed tests).

Stop the Cap! reader Howard in Albany, N.Y. reported his area was upgraded over the weekend, and we can confirm customers in the Rochester/Finger Lakes region in western New York are now also getting the higher speeds.

Legacy Time Warner Cable customers can report their experiences in the comment section. We’d be particularly interested in knowing if these upgrades also happened for Turbo and Extreme customers.

Charter Blames Departing Time Warner Cable Customers for Customer Losses

Phillip Dampier May 2, 2017 Charter Spectrum, Competition, Consumer News 6 Comments

Buh, bye Charter!

Despite happy talk from Charter Communications about a “new day” with Spectrum packages and pricing, some former Time Warner Cable customers are voting with their feet and canceling service when their promotional pricing packages end and rates have nowhere to go but up.

More than 100,000 video customers left Charter during the first quarter of 2017, the majority former TWC customers facing repricing and package changes as their bundle pricing and promotions expired. At that point, rates spike dramatically and customers have to choose a Spectrum package many don’t like or leave.

With only 17% of Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks customers nationwide having switched to Spectrum plans and pricing, Charter has a long way to go and a lot of customers to lose because of the company’s unwillingness to negotiate.

“As we’ve implemented consistent retention policies nationwide, we’re managing through higher churn at TWC in the short term,” noted Charter’s chief financial officer Christopher Winfrey. “As we migrate and replace the legacy base through a disciplined approach, legacy TWC churn will improve.”

In plain English, Charter has dramatically curtailed promotional customer retention offers and has refused to negotiate with customers that have been on promotional packages for years. Hardest hit are Time Warner Cable customers, and Charter is willing to let them walk instead of extending lower prices.

“The TWC churn, somebody was given a $10 unlimited video basic package, where can you move them?” asked Winfrey. “And they have an exploding offer. It was promotional offer. Where can you move them that’s a satisfactory place relative to what they were given before.”

This Dexter, Mich. Charter customer delivers a “thumbs-down” to the company’s “terrible service.”

CEO Thomas Rutledge has been harshly critical of Time Warner Cable’s penchant to reach for promotional pricing to keep customers happy. He has instituted “discipline” to get customers away from the idea they can get a lower cable bill just by asking. Rutledge understands most of his customers don’t have a great alternative and are effectively captive to limited competitive options. For Rutledge, by taking away discounted options, customers can be retrained to accept higher prices as a fact of life.

So far, many former Time Warner Cable customers are not willing to be led to a higher bill and as their legacy promotions expire, families are having conversations about dropping service(s) as a result of price and Charter’s intransigence about lowering it.

First quarter results show the first, and widely expected victim of Charter’s “repricing” is Time Warner Cable’s home phone product, which has been offered in bundles for $9.99 a month over at least the last four years. Charter discontinued Time Warner Cable’s popular international calling feature which offered free calling to the European Union, parts of Latin America and Asia. It also raised the promotional price to $19.99 a month, and now limits free long distance calling to the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Guam, U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Northern Marianas.

As customers transition to Spectrum plans, they are leaving their voice lines largely behind as a result. During the first quarter of 2017, Charter only picked up 37,000 new Spectrum phone customers signing up for a Spectrum package versus 213,000 last year. Price was the only factor mentioned for the decline.

Decisions about cord-cutting are also being made at many former Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks homes when Spectrum’s new cable television offer is presented to customers. Cindy Sims of Apopka, Fla., summed it up this way: “They are raising prices and doing nothing different.”

Customers with limited budgets or fixed incomes are being priced out of Spectrum.

Sims is former Bright House Networks customer who saw her bill jump from $150 to $175 a month after Charter Communications took over. Since she is a “new customer” of Charter Communications, she hoped to get an introductory offer from the company but Charter no longer considers its acquired customers “new customers,” so she was forced into Spectrum’s regular pricing, which is higher than what she paid before. She is not alone. Charter executives admit customer cancellation/retention call center contacts from former Time Warner Cable customers are 50-60% higher than those of legacy Charter customers that have been with the company for several years.

The last straw for many is the fact customers often find they have to upgrade to the most expensive TV package to keep the channels they had before.

“They are kicking the old customers in the butt,” she added, noting that some Charter representatives handling customers threatening to leave have gotten downright nasty and rude on the phone.

Given no good alternative, some customers decide the time is right to cut cable-TV for good, and TWC’s video net loss was 129,000 worse than last year. The company claims over 90% of the losses were from budget-priced, limited-basic TV disconnects. Charter prefers to sell customers large bundles of channels for considerably more, while Time Warner Cable offered local channels and a small selection of cable networks for as little as $10 a month to certain internet-only customers.

The customer losses are expected to continue for up to a year as the other 83% of customers still on a legacy Time Warner Cable or Bright House Networks package see their prices jump as promotions end. For now, Charter won’t force customers to move to a Spectrum package, but by refusing to negotiate lower prices for legacy packages, the rate increases that happen after regular rates return are enough to push many customers to make a decision to switch or cancel service.

How much of a rate jump? Consider one Time Warner Cable triple-play package with Whole House DVR service, phone and 50/5Mbps internet access reset from $129 a month to $180 after the year-long promotion expired. A comparable package from Spectrum is still $30-40 higher than what Time Warner Cable used to charge.

The impact of the transition to Charter’s Spectrum plans and pricing is also dragging down growth of its internet service. Customers signed up for less expensive and slower tiers with Time Warner Cable are being priced out of the market by Charter’s single-advertised offer – 60 or 100Mbps for approximately $65 a month ($45 for new customers), depending on the area. Higher speed tiers are available if customers call in, if only to give them the bad news a $199 upgrade fee typically also applies.

As a result, residential internet growth among customers signing up for a Spectrum plan was 428,000 during the quarter versus 520,000 last year.

Despite the concerning numbers, Rutledge declared victory and claimed Charter would continue full-speed ahead.

“As we near the first anniversary of the close of our transformative transactions in May of last year, the execution of our integration and operating plan remains on track,” Rutledge said in a statement. “We have now launched our Spectrum pricing and packaging to nearly all of the homes we pass in our new footprint. We are already seeing the benefits of our customer-focused strategy in those markets, including greater connect volumes and the sales of higher quality products, all of which will lead to higher customer satisfaction, lower churn, and faster customer and financial growth in future quarters.”

Rat’s Nest: Maine’s Governor Picks Former AT&T Lobbyist as State’s New Public Utility Advocate

Phillip Dampier May 2, 2017 Issues No Comments

Republican Gov. Paul LePage has picked a former telecom industry insider and lobbyist to serve the interests of public utility customers and consumers in Maine.

Barry Hobbins is known as an “old school” Democrat, and has been a part of Maine politics for 26 years — since 1972 — most recently as a top political fundraiser. Perceived as unlikely to rock many boats, he was appointed by the Republican governor to replace the current Public Advocate Tim Schneider, who worked on a solar energy bill the governor loathed and vetoed last year.

At the same time the governor is suing the state’s Attorney General for refusing to toe his line on the political positions of his administration, LePage insists Hobbins will serve only the interests of public utility customers and not those held by special interests. The Public Advocate is the public’s representative before the Maine Public Utilities Commission, federal regulators and the state legislature.

“That’s what the public advocate job is: to represent the ratepayer, not to represent a special interest,” LePage told reporters at a recent press conference.


But consumer advocates note Hobbins has already represented several special interests, most notably AT&T, where he served as a lobbyist after temporarily leaving the legislature in 1990. Hobbins is also no stranger to taking lavish gifts from the state’s largest telecom companies, including Time Warner Cable (now Charter Communications). In 2013 and 2015, Hobbins was paid $5,300 and $8,257 respectively to attend industry-sponsored events the cable company called their “winter policy conferences.”

In 2015, Stop the Cap! reported on one of these conferences held at the cushy Cape Elizabeth seaside resort Inn by the Sea, where room rates routinely hit the $500 a night mark. Hobbins was in attendance with about a dozen other legislators, enjoying the complimentary menu which included light noshing options like a herb marinated skirt steak with roasted mushrooms, chimichurri, piquillo aioli, and herbed hand cut steak fries that would cost you or I at least $26, drinks not included.

Hobbins also stayed to enjoy a full menu of lobbyist hobnobbing and “educational” attacks on community broadband, opposition to government oversight of broadband, and efforts to ensure state laws continued to favor incumbent providers:

“Welcome to Inn by the Sea, where relaxed coastal luxury comes naturally.”

  • Moderator (Session 1): Jadz Janucik, National Cable & Telecommunication Association – The NCTA is the nation’s largest cable industry lobbying group;
  • Dave Thomas, Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP: A corporate attorney representing cable companies, particularly when they face competitive threats;
  • Lisa Schoenthaler, National Cable & Telecommunication Association;
  • Moderator (Session 2): Charlie Williams, Time Warner Cable;
  • Charles Davidson and Michael Santorelli from the Advanced Communications Law and Policy Institute at New York Law School. Both have received direct compensation from Time Warner Cable for their  “research” reports and are very active and frequent defenders of Time Warner Cable’s public policy agenda;
  • Joe Gillan, Gillan Associates – an economist working under paid contract with the cable industry;
  • Moderator (Session 3): Tom Federle, Federle Law: Chief lobbyist for Time Warner Cable in Maine for over seven years;
  • Robin Casey, Enockever LLP: Casey is one of the nation’s pre-eminent cable industry lawyers, called by the Texas Cable Association “the authority on the telecom industry;”
  • Mary Ellen Fitzgerald, Critical Insights: A Maine pollster hired by Time Warner Cable to carry out the company’s carefully worded survey on broadband issues;
  • Moderator (Session 5): Melinda Poore, senior vice president of governmental relations, Time Warner Cable Maine.

Hobbins claimed his extensive involvement in the telecommunications industry never influenced his legislative work and won’t if he becomes public advocate. But Hobbins has kept extremely close ties with his friends in the cable industry. Tom Federle, Time Warner Cable’s former chief lobbyist also served as former treasurer of a political action committee directly controlled by Hobbins, one that raised more than $30,000 for Maine politicians from Time Warner Cable, AT&T, an industry association, and Federle’s own law firm. That fundraising committee coincidentally disbanded.

Federle promotes his close ties to legislators like Hobbins on his website:

Since 2000, Tom has been an extremely effective advocate and lobbyist for clients before the Maine Legislature. Tom has represented some of Maine’s largest businesses and associations in advancing sound public policy positions. Tom’s work experience both in the private sector and at the highest levels of state government provides him with invaluable perspective and real know-how. Tom puts this to work for his clients to influence the outcome of legislation that impacts his client’s objectives. Tom’s balanced demeanor and tenacity combine to make him a particularly effective advocate before the Maine legislature.


In recent testimony, Federle used his position and influence to blast efforts to improve community-owned broadband services in Maine, telling the legislature: “There are countless examples of government getting into the business of providing broadband, with taxpayers footing the bill, only to end in failure with mountains of debt.”

In April, Maine State Representative Nathan Wadsworth (R-Hiram) introduced a bill to revoke local authority over building internet networks needed by local businesses and residents. The one-time Maine state ALEC chair introduced HP 1040 (also cross filed as LD 1516) to attempt to block efforts to construct public broadband networks and protect incumbent providers. This, despite the fact Maine has ranked 49th out of 50 states in the quality and availability of broadband service.

“This effort joins a national trend of big cable and telephone companies, like Time Warner Cable and FairPoint, leaning heavily on state legislatures to protect themselves from competition,” says Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. “Communities do not make these investments when they are well served. If big cable and telephone companies want to preserve market share, they should invest in better services rather than crony capitalist laws.”

Where Hobbins stands on the issue isn’t known.

The nomination will go before a legislative confirmation hearing May 9.

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