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Fox-Charter Showdown — Charter/Spectrum Customers Could Lose Fox Nets Wednesday

Phillip Dampier April 11, 2017 Charter Spectrum, Consumer News, Video 1 Comment

Every week brings the threat of yet another programming blackout because cable programmers want to be paid more and cable operators want to pay the same or less. This time, Fox Networks Group has sent a final warning to Charter Communications that their customers will lose several cable networks as soon as Wednesday if the two companies cannot reach a renewal agreement.

“Fox and Charter have an agreement to carry the Fox networks that Charter has chosen to ignore,” Fox said in a statement that was updated today. “We’re disappointed that despite our best efforts to reach a resolution, Charter Spectrum subscribers could lose access to multiple Fox sports and entertainment networks on April 12.”

The latest dispute surrounds the lucrative volume discounts that Time Warner Cable formerly negotiated for some of Fox’s non-news-related cable networks. Charter Communications acquired both Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks to secure those kinds of volume discounts for itself. In general, the larger a cable system is, the lower the wholesale rate charged for cable programming. Charter hoped it could continue paying the lower rates Time Warner Cable managed to secure after acquiring the much larger cable system. But cable programmers are not buying Charter’s approach and in one case sued.

In March, Univision blocked Charter from carrying its Spanish-language networks Univision, Unimás, Galavisión, Univision Deportes and El Rey in a similar dispute. A temporary restraining order brought the networks back to the lineup a day later, at least temporarily. Univision sued Charter Communications in 2016 over the programming fee dispute.

A significant amount of money is at stake depending on which side ultimately wins in court.

In the case of Univision, Charter’s own contract with the Spanish language programmer expired on June 30, 2016. That would normally require Charter to negotiate a contract renewal that it knew would be more costly than what it paid under the old contract. Charter learned Time Warner Cable had negotiated a contract with Univision that delivered better volume discounts and was not set to expire until June 2022.

To allow Charter Communications to argue that Time Warner Cable’s contract should continue to apply after the merger, it structured its acquisition (on paper at least) to allow Charter to claim Time Warner Cable would continue to manage all of its cable systems. Charter’s lawyers argued that because “Time Warner Cable” is in charge, the wholesale rates Time Warner Cable negotiated should now apply to all Charter systems.

Univision, among other programmers, balked at Charter’s creative thinking.

“Everyone knows that is simply not true: the longstanding CEO and the senior executive team of Charter, as well as its pre-existing board of directors, now in fact manage and control all such cable systems, and virtually the entire TWC leadership team has departed,” Univision argued in its 2016 lawsuit.

If the programmers win, Charter will have to negotiate new carriage agreements at 2017 prices instead of continuing to pay the lower rates Time Warner Cable won for itself in the past.

A similar dispute is likely behind the current battle between Charter and Fox. Each time a cable company has to negotiate a new contract, programmers tend to ask for a considerably higher wholesale price for their channels and try to get cable systems to also carry their other networks. When a cable operator refuses to pay what it considers to be an unconscionable renewal rate or does not want to carry the programmer’s other networks, a showdown takes place that often leads to channels being temporarily removed from the lineup. Cable companies usually lose these battles after subscribers get hostile, but some smaller cable operators have walked away from programmers like Viacom for good when the renewal price stayed too high.

As is the tradition in these disputes, Fox launched a website and social media blitz to warn Charter customers they are about to lose access to 19 regional sports channels, FX, FXX, FOX Movie Channel, National Geographic TV, Fox Sports and Fox Deportes and asked customers to start calling Charter and complain. The current dispute does not involve the FOX (TV) Network, the Fox News Channel or the Fox Business Channel.

“We’re disappointed that despite our best efforts to reach a resolution, Charter Spectrum subscribers could lose access to multiple Fox sports and entertainment networks on April 12,” FOX wrote on its website. “Charter’s tactics could result in its subscribers missing our popular programming including Fox Sports’ telecasts of the St. Louis Cardinals and Blues, Kansas City Royals, Cleveland Cavaliers, Cincinnati Reds and many other MLB, NBA and NHL teams on Fox Regional Sports Networks, Fox Deportes, National Geographic, and FX’s hit dramas The Americans and Feud as well as much more award winning programming.”

“Fox is trying to gouge our customers using the increasingly common tactic of threats and removal of programming,” Charter responded in a statement. “They are attempting to extort Charter for hundreds of millions of dollars. We will continue to work towards a fair agreement.”

Fox Networks is using this ad to warn Charter Spectrum customers they could lose Fox programming. (0:30)

Nationwide Class Action Lawsuit Filed Against Charter Claiming False Advertising, Deficient Equipment

Phillip Dampier April 3, 2017 Broadband Speed, Charter Spectrum, Consumer News 7 Comments

Charter Communications is facing a second lawsuit related to false advertising about its ability to provide fast internet service and allegations the company knowingly supplied customers with deficient equipment.

Hart et al. v. Charter Communications Inc., is seeking certification as a nationwide class action from a judge in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

The suit claims that Charter’s subsidiary Time Warner Cable purposely leased out modems and wireless routers it knew were incapable of achieving Time Warner Cable Maxx broadband speeds, consistently oversold its broadband network — resulting in slower internet speeds and performance than the company advertised, and raised customers’ bills without adequate notice.

The California lawsuit closely mirrors one filed in February by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, and focuses on similar claims that Charter is engaged in “false representations and other wrongful business practices.”

The complaint claims:

  • The company willfully and intentionally advertised internet service it could not provide, claiming customers would receive internet service that was “fast” with “no buffering,” “no slowdowns,” “no lag,” “without interruptions,” “without downtime,” and “without the wait.”
  • Charter leased older generation modems and wireless routers to many of their customers that were incapable of supporting the promised internet speeds. Older technology modems could not provide the full benefit of Time Warner Cable Maxx speeds of 100-300Mbps, and company-provided network gateways delivered Wi-Fi service at speeds considerably lower than advertised.
  • Charter regularly failed to manage their network in a manner that would give customers consistent broadband speeds. Instead, “Defendants included too many subscribers in the same service group and provided too few channels for such subscriber, thus causing an internet ‘traffic jam’ (particularly during peak hours) that slowed every subscriber’s connection to speeds substantially below what was promised and paid-for. Indeed, even when consumers resorted to using wired connections, their Internet speeds still fell short of the promised speeds.”
  • Defendants also have adopted an unlawful and unfair practice of adding new fees or other charges to consumers’ bills without adequate notice and outside of the terms promised upon sign-up. In 2016, one customer signed up for a promotional “Spectrum Internet with Wi-Fi” plan with a fixed rate of $64.99 and a $10.00 “Promotional Discount,” making her plan cost a total of $54.99 per month. This amount was reflected in her February 2017 bill. However, on her March 2017 bill, the customer was automatically charged $59.99, a $5.00 increase of which she was not given adequate notice and which was improperly charged to her credit card automatically.

The lawyers bringing the case propose to include as class members anyone who purchased internet service from Time Warner Cable/Charter Communications nationwide, those who believed the company’s advertising that claimed speeds were fast and reliable, and customers enrolled in auto-pay who were not properly informed of changes in price or the terms of service. If certified, the potential size of the class action case could involve millions of customers.

Charter Watch: Goodbye TWC’s $10 Modem Rental Fee, Hello Spectrum’s $5 Wi-Fi Fee

Former Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks customers in Florida, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin were glad to see the end of modem rental fees, something promoted as a tangible deal benefit of the merger by new owner Charter Communications. But many of those same customers are now upset to discover that up to $10 modem rental fee has been replaced with a $5 monthly fee for “Wi-Fi service.”

LuAnn Summers, a Bright House customer in Tampa, wrote Stop the Cap! in February to complain her new bill from Charter/Spectrum included a $9.99 activation fee and $5 a month for something called “Wi-Fi Service.” The same fees have since appeared on bills for some customers recently switching away from their old Time Warner Cable service plans to new Spectrum pricing and plans.

Rich D’Angelo in Wisconsin recently took Charter up on its offer to switch away from his legacy TWC plan when his promotion expired in January.

“I was able to get a big speed boost and bundle it with Spectrum’s Silver TV package, which includes two of the premium movie channels I was paying TWC $15 each for every month, and my bill was only supposed to go up $10,” D’Angelo tells Stop the Cap! “Instead, it went up $25 and I feel lied to.”

Wi-Fi sticker shock.

D’Angelo retired his old owned Motorola SB6121 modem in favor of a new network gateway supplied free of charge by Charter because his new package didn’t work with his old modem.

“My 6121 modem was a real workhorse and I bought it right after Time Warner started charging modem fees, but it cannot support Spectrum’s fastest speeds in Wisconsin and I didn’t feel like buying a new modem when Spectrum gives them to customers for free,” D’Angelo explained. “This was the device they handed me and I was not offered any other option.”

Champagne Johnson in Columbus, Ohio also took advantage of Spectrum’s new pricing plans thinking she could save her family money and get better internet speeds from the cable operator that advertises it’s a “new day” for Time Warner Cable subscribers.

“New day but the same old lies and deceit,” Johnson writes Stop the Cap! “Do these cable companies only hire thieves? I was told the cable modem was included, but now I am suddenly getting charged for Wi-Fi, which is crazy. I called Spectrum up and they told me there is a charge if I use their modem for my Wi-Fi. I told them I don’t need their Wi-Fi because I have my own router that works fine and they told me it was included inside their modem and I had to pay for something I won’t use.”

Charter assumes if you use Wi-Fi, you want their Wi-Fi Service

We contacted Charter to learn more about this new charge and what customers can do about it.

It turns out the Wi-Fi charge and activation fee applies when you use a network gateway device provided by the cable company. We learned the reason so many customers are finding this charge on their bill comes as a result of slightly deceptive sales practices when customers choose a Spectrum internet service plan.

“Do you use Wi-Fi at home?” a Charter representative asked us when we inquired about pricing for a new Spectrum service plan to replace our existing Time Warner Cable plan. When we answered yes, the representative said they would send our “free equipment” and noted we would no longer pay a modem rental charge (despite the fact we had owned our own modem at Stop the Cap! HQ for years). “You can either pick it up in a cable store or we can ship it direct to you in a self-install kit.” That equipment was a “network gateway,” which bundles a cable modem and router into a single device.

Our readers confirm that Charter representatives did not ask them if they have an existing in-home router, which probably already provides Wi-Fi access in the home. Nor do they disclose that accepting a network gateway, which was also interchangeably referred to as “a modem” means they are agreeing to pay a $9.99 activation fee and $5/mo ongoing fee for “Wi-Fi service.”

We called three times this afternoon as were given identical information, and no disclosure of any Wi-Fi fees.

On the fourth call, we specifically asked about Wi-Fi fees and the representative told us they did not know the answer and left us on hold for 10 minutes before finally disclosing that Charter does charge both fees. When we asked how to avoid them, we were first told we could not waive the fee if we used Wi-Fi in the home, but a supervisor later clarified that it only applied to their gateway and we could specifically request a “basic modem” or have Wi-Fi disabled on a network gateway, and neither charge would apply.

“How are we supposed to know and understand that in advance?” Johnson asked us.

“Considering more than 90% of Time Warner Cable customers were paying $10 a month for a modem without ever realizing or understanding they could buy their own and avoid that charge, how many Spectrum customers are proficient enough to tell Spectrum they want their network gateway set to bridge mode or want a traditional cable modem without router functionality? It’s clear Charter is going to make $5 a month from a whole lot of customers, and it should be disclosed up front. It even got me and I am a network engineer.”

Summers learned about the controversy of the Wi-Fi charge after googling the fee and discovered a Tampa Bay Times story about the fee.

Spectrum spokesman Joe Durkin told the newspaper the fee should not apply to customers Charter inherited from Bright House who already had internet service. He said Spectrum is reviewing cases the Times has brought to its attention to see if the charges were appropriate.

But that isn’t always the case for customers placing orders on Charter’s website or contacting customer service by phone. In both cases, Charter implied if you want to use Wi-Fi at home, you owe them an extra $5 a month:

Charter’s website suggests that you have to pay $5 a month if you intend to use Wi-Fi at home.

Getting the charges off your bill

Luckily, Charter is readily agreeing to customer requests to remove the charge(s) from customer bills and will supply equipment with Wi-Fi disabled (or not present when using a traditional cable modem). You may need to exchange equipment, however. If either charge appears on your bill, call and complain. While we no longer recommend customers invest in their own cable modems as long as Charter is providing them without a rental fee, we do suggest customers buy their own router and avoid ongoing fees for Wi-Fi service.

Also be aware that if you are still on a legacy Time Warner Cable internet plan, Charter will keep collecting that $10 monthly modem fee until you abandon your Time Warner plan for a Spectrum internet plan. You can still avoid the rental fee by buying your own modem. Charter’s list of supported modems is here.

Earthlink Kills New Customer Promotion for Existing Charter/Spectrum Customers

Nine years after Earthlink began promoting its $29.99 six-month offer for alternative broadband service for Time Warner Cable customers, the completion of Charter Communication’s takeover of Time Warner Cable has eliminated a clever way for customers to get broadband rate relief.

For almost a decade, savvy broadband-only Time Warner Cable customers have been able to bounce between new customer promotions at Time Warner Cable and Earthlink. When a year-long promotion with Time Warner Cable ended, a customer could switch seamlessly to Earthlink for six months and pay just $29.99 a month — charged to their Time Warner Cable bill. When the Earthlink promotion ended, customers were entitled to enroll as a new Time Warner Cable broadband customer and pay a lower rate for up to one year. After that, back to Earthlink.

No more.

Charter Communications closed that loophole this month and now prohibits existing Charter/Spectrum customers from getting promotional rates from Earthlink.

Once Charter customers end a broadband-only new customer promotion, currently $44.95 a month for one year, the rate jumps to $64.99… and stays there indefinitely.

The new restrictions appear in fine print on Earthlink’s website:

Charter Communications eliminated lower-cost broadband options for its customers, but claims its single remaining advertised offer (60Mbps in non-Maxx areas, 100Mbps in former TWC Maxx cities) offers a greater value because it is faster than Time Warner Cable’s Standard Internet 15Mbps plan and ends Time Warner’s practice of charging a $10 modem rental fee.

But it also costs more than earlier promotions at Earthlink ($29.99) and Time Warner Cable ($34.95).

Charter has junked Earthlink’s former promotion for Time Warner Cable customers.

“My broadband bill is now double what it used to be because I cannot switch to a broadband promotion with Charter as my Earthlink promotion ends this month,” reports Jim Deneck, a former Time Warner Cable customer in South Carolina. “I was paying $30 a month and now Spectrum wants to charge me $65 a month. The modem fee savings is irrelevant to me because I bought my modem years ago.”

Charter/Spectrum customers hoping for a better promotion from Earthlink are now also out of luck.

“After Spectrum pricing took effect in my area, my bill went up $30 a month,” writes Stop the Cap! reader Gennifer in Maine. “I was hoping to switch back to Earthlink but after placing an order with Earthlink, a representative from Charter/Spectrum called me and denied my request. It’s false competition. Since when is it okay to sign up with one company and then get a call from another telling me I am not allowed to take my business elsewhere. It’s monopoly abuse!”

Earthlink is entirely dependent on Charter Communications allowing them to resell service over Charter’s cable lines. Earthlink has been cautious not to outcompete either Charter or its predecessor Time Warner Cable, and charges roughly the same rates as a customer would get direct from either cable operator. The only benefit of the arrangement for customers was the ability to bounce between new customer promotions to pay the new customer rate indefinitely, but Charter has made sure that practice stops.

Gennifer did manage to ultimately outwit Charter, but at the cost of time and inconvenience.

“I called Spectrum and canceled my service and we signed up as a new customer under my husband’s name,” Gennifer writes. “Unfortunately, Charter won’t process an order at an address with existing service so you have to cancel and turn in equipment first and then place an order under a different name to qualify for a promotion. They really don’t want to give their customers a break or a discount. I wish we had other options.”

Charter/Spectrum Arrives in Northeast/Mid-Atlantic Region, Big Rate Hikes Sure to Follow

The last remaining parts of the country formerly served by Time Warner Cable are rebranding as Charter/Spectrum today, with the introduction of new service plans in upstate New York, western Massachusetts, Maine, and parts of the Carolinas.

“Redefining what a cable company can be,” as Charter Communications promotes to its customers, is a tall order for a cable company that is often loathed by its customers. Our readers have reached out to us all day to suggest, at least so far, Spectrum is the same old cable company, just with a new name.

“If I switch away from my Time Warner Cable plan to adopt a Spectrum plan, my bill will increase $40 a month,” complained Rochester, N.Y. resident June Patterson. “Even the customer service person I talked to said it would be crazy for me to switch plans.”

A customer in Albany, N.Y., reported their bill would increase by $30 a month. Another in Silver Creek, N.Y., claimed a $40 rate rise by switching to a Charter/Spectrum plan.

“I pay $92.06 now for Starter TV and Ultimate Internet in the Ithaca area,” shared another customer on DSL Reports. “After going through two operators, the second one is telling me my price will go up to $125.”

That’s a rate increase of $32.94 a month — $395.28 more a year.

Customers are encountering new plans for television service, but many areas only receive one advertised broadband speed option: 60Mbps. In fact, most areas can also buy 100Mbps service, but it’s very expensive at around $100 a month with a $200 setup fee. Customers have to call to change plans to get either speed. Some customers in former Time Warner Cable Maxx areas have better luck getting the setup fee waived than those living in areas Time Warner Cable never had a chance to upgrade.

In Idaho, The Spokesman Review’s D.F. Oliveria reports Charter/Spectrum is even worse than what Time Warner Cable offered before:

Our new internet service provider, Spectrum (Charter Communications), the company that “merged” with Time Warner’s local cable, has come under increasing fire lately. Many consumers have been calling me about poor customer service, very slow and/or inconsistent internet speeds, higher monthly prices and no printed material available to consumers regarding offerings.

“Since the merger, my bill went up $20 a month and speeds have slowed significantly,” shared ‘Nic’ in northern Idaho. “It’s ridiculous.”

WFTS in Tampa reports former Bright House customers can expect steep rate increases from Charter/Spectrum. (3:21)

In former Bright House territory in Florida, customers saw bills skyrocket by as much as $182 a month, resulting in monthly charges of an unprecedented $305 a month. Charter Communications refused to deal with the affected customers until WFTS-TV’s “Action News” consumer reporter Jackie Callaway intervened and finally got the company to admit the bills were too high by mistake:

Bright House customers Ivan and Linda Sordo say the rate hike hit without warning. The Sordo’s typical bill of $141 shot up to $305 overnight and without warning. And Lillian Rehrig’s normally $123 bill more than doubled to $305. Rehrig says calls to Spectrum got her a partial reduction but no real relief. Her next Spectrum statement came in $120 higher than her old Bright House bill.

What happened in these two cases turned out to be a billing error, an error Spectrum’s owner Charter Communications corrected after we started asking questions.

“When you started speaking with them is only when I got anyone to respond.”

It isn’t known how many other Tampa area customers were also overbilled or if Charter was working to identify and refund those who did not pursue a complaint with a local television newscast.

Charter Communications did tell WFTS-TV the majority of the one million former Bright House customers in the area now being served by Charter/Spectrum will face rate increases of $20-30 a month on average as their current package with Bright House expires. Those customers switching from a grandfathered Bright House or Time Warner Cable package will also automatically lose any promotion those packages were receiving.

In North Carolina, Time Warner Cable is gone and apparently so are some customers’ $300 rebate cards. Time Warner Cable had a long history of customer complaints about its rebate programs, but Charter Communications isn’t too interested in helping customers meet the terms of those rebates and intervene when something goes wrong.

A Steele Creek couple told WSOC-TV Time Warner rejected their rebate after they configured autopay on their Spectrum account with the help of a Charter customer service agent. Despite repeated assurances from customer service, the transition to autopay did not take effect quickly enough and they missed a payment, which canceled their rebate eligibility. Countless hours of negotiations with Charter’s customer service representatives got the couple nowhere. But the promise of bad publicity on the local evening news made the difference, and a $300 gift card was promptly mailed to them. Many other customers simply give up.

WSOC in Charlotte covers the case of the missing Time Warner Cable gift card. Customer service was no help. (1:54)

In Southern California, Spectrum is busy raising rates as well. Hannah Kuhn (76) of Simi Valley saw her bill jump $46 a month after Spectrum took over from Time Warner Cable last fall. Nobody would offer an explanation and in return for her complaints, they evidently shut the grandmother’s cable service off. Most Time Warner Cable customers are enrolled in some type of bundled service promotion. As those promotions expire, Spectrum raises rates to the regular price it intends to charge customers going forward, ending Time Warner Cable’s practice of lowering rates when customers complain.

Most customers with a popular bundled service package rate combining broadband, phone, and television could see their rates rise between $250-360 a year.

Former Time Warner Cable customers across the northeast and mid-Atlantic woke up this morning to incessant advertising like this promoting a “new day” for cable service, courtesy of Charter/Spectrum. (:60)

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