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Updated: Charter Cable Tells Tornado Victims to ‘Look Around the Neighborhood’ for Cable Boxes or Else

Phillip Dampier May 18, 2011 Charter Spectrum, Consumer News 32 Comments

“If your house was destroyed, and you have looked around the neighborhood for our cable box and cannot find it, you owe us $212 and you need to either pay us or make an insurance claim on our behalf.”

Those were the exact words of a Charter Cable representative talking to a storm victim who lost her home, possessions, and yes, Charter Cable’s set top box.  Stop the Cap! reader Jake from Alabama shared the story of his friend Kelly — a single mother with three kids who lived in Jefferson County, until last month’s tornado flattened her home and scattered everything the family owned for miles around.  Kelly is now living with her parents in Georgia and trying to sort through insurance claims, school for her children, her future career, and the cable company.

“She told me everyone was wonderful, offering food, aid, temporary shelter, and even assistance with insurance claims,” Jake writes.  “Everyone but Charter Cable, who immediately demanded payment for equipment that could have blown into the next county.”

Kelly told Jake the other utilities were glad to help suspend service to her now non-existent home.  The phone company is even forwarding phone calls to her Alabama phone number, which now connects to her cell phone.  Nobody asked for a penny, and all expressed sorrow for the loss.  Charter Cable expressed an interest in Kelly’s credit card number to pay for her lost cable box.

“She told me the woman at Charter demanded to know if she was not prepared to pay today, when would she file her insurance claim so the company can get paid,” Jake says.  “Even worse, if she didn’t pay, they would assess late fees and turn her over to a collection agency.”

Cable companies demanding payment for lost or destroyed cable equipment is nothing new.  Stop the Cap! has documented instances where operators demand payment for cable boxes destroyed in fires, even when the customer lacks insurance.

“It’s become a hot topic in Birmingham and storm-damaged areas because relief workers are hearing horror stories from customers, some injured, who are told to start combing through adjacent yards to look for their lost cable equipment,” Jake says.

Bright House Networks, which also provides service in some storm-damaged areas, has been particularly nasty.

Jake notes one local talk show featured a caller who shared the story of a Bright House representative who told the customer she would wait on the phone while she searched the backyard for Bright House’s DVR box.

“It was disgusting, and Bright House told a Birmingham newspaper it was their policy to demand homeowners file insurance claims on the cable company’s behalf so they can get paid full value for their damaged, usually previously used, cable equipment,” Jake says.

In fact, that is Bright House Networks’ policy, notes the Birmingham News:

Bright House Networks, whose service area includes hard-hit Pratt City, also expects its customers to file claims under homeowners’ or renters’ insurance to pay for lost or destroyed cable boxes. “That’s how we normally handle it,” spokesman Robert L. Smith said.

If storm victims don’t have insurance, he said, decisions will have to be made on a case-by-case basis.

“For those who have lost everything, talking to a cable company is probably the last thing on their minds,” Smith said. “We’re not going to pressure someone for a set-top box.”

But in fact cable companies have pressured customers into paying for lost equipment and told they’ll get their money back from the final insurance settlement.

“The problem here isn’t so much that Charter and Bright House want to get paid for destroyed equipment, it’s how zealous they are about getting paid right now, even as people are still wrapping their hands around the cards dealt to them by the massive tornado damage,” Jake says.

The News notes not every cable company is out for customers’ credit card numbers:

Among other television services, AT&T’s U-verse customers who lost their leased equipment in the storm can have it replaced at no charge, company spokeswoman Sue Sperry said.

DirecTV waives replacement costs for equipment damaged in storms if customers continue services, spokeswoman Vanessa Dunham said. If service can’t be restored because of damage to the home, DirecTV offers to cancel the account and waive fees for not returning equipment, she said.

[Update 5/20: Charter Communications sent a statement saying, in part: Charter will not charge customers for missing, destroyed, or damaged equipment as a result of the recent tornadoes. We adjusted our policy shortly after the tornado in response to the large-scale and catastrophic nature of this storm.  We have now confirmed the company is now crediting customers for lost or damaged equipment.]

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Kent
Guest
Kent

How utterly despicable, and an example of bad corporate behavior pointing straight to the disconnected top. Compared to the size of their overall customer base, they should be willing to forego the small number of relative losses due to such infrequent, documentable catastrophes. That equipment may also be aged and thus worth less, and they’ve certainly depreciated it partially or completely already. They perhaps have an even greater community obligation, considering that they are taking advantage of community infrastructure to generate their revenue. Eventually, through competitive technology alternatives, new regulations, or simply mass customer exodus, companies like Charter will feel… Read more »

me
Guest
me

How that conversation would have went with me.

‘ok you are going to charge me that much for it. I will not use your service for at least 2 years and will be using one of your competitors. How much did you want to charge me again and how much will this end up costing your company when I tell others? your call and I will be telling your CEO in certified letter form.’

Dylan T Hill
Guest

Good Morning, My name is Dylan T Hill and I am a Communications Specialist with Charter. We apologize for the concern this issue has brought on and we wanted to clarify our current policy on the topic. Charter will not charge customers for missing, destroyed, or damaged equipment as a result of the recent tornadoes. We adjusted our policy shortly after the tornado in response to the large-scale and catastrophic nature of this storm. This was the right thing to do for our customers. We understand that this is a difficult time for many in Alabama. We are available through… Read more »

Three Zero Four
Guest
Three Zero Four

Mr. Hill, Does the phrase “too little, too late” mean anything to you or your employer? If not, it certainly should, and it will mean a great deal more once this story gets more attention. This goes beyond a simple public relations gaffe – this is insensitivity of the highest order, and really should be punishable by law, not just karma or cosmic justice. “We adjusted our policy shortly after the tornado…” Isn’t that just wonderful? The fact that there was a policy to adjust is appalling in and of itself. Look, any company that rents out or otherwise provides… Read more »

Mark W. Jaspers
Guest
Mark W. Jaspers

It’s funny how insensitive a company can be until they are put in the spotlight. Shame on you, Charter, for being so freaking insensitive in the first place. You should be embarrassed and ashamed for being such a scumbag, self-centered company. How embarrassing for you!!!!!

spydyee
Guest
spydyee

You know I was almost ready to leave AT&T and bring my phone and other business back to Charter until this little incident. Kiss that concept goodby. I was just part of my Church’s relief efforts in Alabama and let me tell you that when people are burying their dead, praising God that they survived while picking through what used to be their home, mourning the loss of friends they had known since childhood, and praising the work being done by churches that they would normally attack at the drop of a hat the last thing on their mind is… Read more »

Don Stone
Guest
Don Stone

So now that you’ve been caught being completely greedy, selfish douches, you’re going to change? Sorry if I find your company to be less than genuine. As soon as the spotlight moves on Charter will be right back to its greasy and greedy ways.

The only thing, besides the Justice Dept. authorized monopoly that each cable company operates in, that keeps you guys in business is that Comcast and the other cable companies are just as horrible.

J Webb
Guest
J Webb

Now I am certainly glad I dropped Charter. Recently I moved to AT&T U-verse due to Charters rather awful mishandling of my account, and refusal to fix a problem with their lines.

Now I hear that they are harassing victims of a horrific natural disaster? I truly thought when I moved I would probably go back to Charter… never again.

You lost my business for good Charter, and no amount of policy changes will fix this… the policy shouldn’t have existed in the first place!

bones
Guest
bones

Very cold Charter Cable. Nothing like kicking someone when they are down.

Concerned
Guest
Concerned

I don’t know whats worse. Charter demanding money or the copyrighted picture used for this article.

Joseph W
Guest
Joseph W

Do you have any evidence showing that they did not license this picture from the copyright holder?

I would not recommend jumping to such hasty comparisons. But based on the kind of comment you made, you probably wouldn’t take my recommendation to heart.

Abdel Irada
Guest

You “don’t know whats [sic] worse” between a cable company instituting and enforcing a callous policy that punishes people for having been dispossessed by a natural disaster on the one hand, or, on the other, a noncommercial use of an image that may or may not be copyrighted?

At the very least, I would say, based on that remark, that you have an imperfect sense of right and wrong. I sincerely hope that you’re not in a position in which you exercise power over anyone, because this is the essential characteristic of psychopathy.

Eric
Guest
Eric

It’s more likely that employees were just following the book until orders from higher up propagated down – it’s not like they hire people who think for themselves, hell a lot of the support probably didn’t even know there were tornadoes because they don’t even live in this country.

Kyle
Guest
Kyle

I work for a small cable company, 11k customer. We do ask customers file insurance claims on the cable boxes. But I can’t imagine us ever charging someone that didn’t have insurance for a catastrophic event. I called a customer once who I noticed their equipment had been in alarm over a month (kinda long for a vacation/power service outage). Got their adult child, my customer had died in a fire. I told them don’t worry about the bill from us or anything. I got everything back dated on the account to the time of last payment, cable boxe fee’s… Read more »

charter servant
Guest
charter servant

Good Morning, My name is backpedaling cable company and I am a secretary that pretends he is a specialist with Charter. We apologize for the concern this issue has brought on and we wanted to clarify our current policy on the topic. Charter will not charge customers for missing, destroyed, or damaged equipment as a result of the recent tornadoes. We had terrible PR so we adjusted our policy shortly after the tornado in response to the large-scale and catastrophic nature of this storm. This was the right thing to do for our customers (see we are good guys). We… Read more »

Disappointed
Guest
Disappointed

This was not particularly clever.

Different Perspective
Guest
Different Perspective

So everyone here is so against the “company” that you can’t understand the policy that was in place? In my understanding, after speaking with the company, the policy was fairly simple and straightforward. “Loss or damage of leased equipment is the responsibility of the customer to replace or pay for.” Hmmm, wow, sounds to me like any other leased or rented equipment out there, be it a car, a cable box, or a television from a rental company. How self righteous of everyone on this site to immediately jump to the conclusion that the “god awful horrible cable companies are… Read more »

S Pat
Guest
S Pat

Well I would say shame on you Charter, but this isn’t the first time. Why is it all cable, satellite, and fiber providers in these types of areas suck? Honestly even after this I would still recommend Charter over Uverse purely due to the consistency that AT&T has time and time again screwed me and many of its customers over. Being “nice” during one natural disaster doesn’t make up for years of poor service. Now, this isn’t saying Charter is a bunch of “angels” either. In this situation it’s sadly the lesser of two evils. Moving all over the US… Read more »

Abdel Irada
Guest

Your “advice” to read a book makes far more sense than your long first paragraph of equivocations and rationalizations. Neither AT&T nor Charter nor Comcast nor any other cable company I’ve heard of behaves with decency and respect; they don’t have to, since they often hold monopolies on their local markets. Enlightened self-interest suggests getting rid of cable, and of television altogether. Ask yourself what it really contributes to your life that you can’t better elsewhere. My family has been without TV for nearly ten years, and we haven’t missed it once. We all have a far clearer understanding of… Read more »

Richard
Guest
Richard

This story is absolutely false. As a Charter employee, we were told the week of storm that any equipment damaged or lost would not be charged to the customers. Also, that amount doesn’t fit any of our equipment. It’s really a shame, since we’ve been trying to help people.

Kelly
Guest
Kelly

You have some nerve. I am the Kelly quoted in the story above. I asked the author not to reveal my last name to protect my privacy. Are the Birmingham newspapers lying too? I am not the only one dealing with this. I wrote down exactly what Charter told me word for word when I called to cancel my service. That amount is my final bill with them, and it covers the cost of the box minus the credit I had coming to me when I canceled my service. I am relieved Charter changed their policy and now I am… Read more »

Joseph W
Guest
Joseph W

As a charter employee, you might check with your public relations department before trying to approach such a sensitive topic. They should be the official word of the company. You risk your livelihood by attempting to speak on behalf of your company. With that said, while I admire your attempt to defend your employer, your tone could be a lot more professional in regards to this matter. One employee in a company is all it takes for the entire company to get a black eye, and in this case the person Kelly dealt obviously disregarded, or never knew about the… Read more »

Craig C
Member
Craig C

I work for Charter. I’ll say whatever I want to whoever I want, whenever I want. (as long as I’m anonymous 🙂 ) I’m actually writing this from work, while in After Call, on my laptop, in between torrenting movies and snorting lines of Adderal off my desk. I don’t even have to worry about my supervisor who is over in the sales area right now, trying to get a date or a sexual harassment lawsuit, whichever comes first. ALL OF YOU ARE SO ANNOYING – whining your house got blown away booooo hooo. Same people that wanted a full… Read more »

Abdel Irada
Guest

I don’t believe you for a second. Your post is entirely too consistent with the behavior of paid corporate “personas” who try their best to defuse well-merited public outrage by posing as something they aren’t. This phenomenon is becoming a disturbing commonplace. More and more, every article I see that rebukes a corporate or governmental entity, reports on economic injustice, discusses sensitive issues of industrial pollution and the environment or advocates either higher taxes or more regulation of business is followed by comments in which such professional trolls are well represented. Readers beware: Astroturfing is far more sophisticated than you… Read more »

Mynx
Guest
Mynx

that really disturbed me so i did some research on it… http://www.wsfa.com/Global/story.asp?S=14672228 an excerpt: A statement from Charter Communications comments about the storm crisis and its response. “The tenacity of the April 27 tornados in Alabama came unexpectedly for us all. Charter customers throughout the state have suffered tremendous personal loss and property damage as a result of the storm. Throughout this difficult time, Charter has stood by our customers – and the state of Alabama – as we all work towards recovery,” said Kristina Hill, Senior Director of Communications. Charter donated $50,000 to the American Red Cross in Alabama… Read more »

Nym
Guest
Nym

Their real customers are their shareholders, everyone else is just a sheep.

wp[pdf
Guest
wp[pdf

boof! we all fall down

Dylan T Hill
Guest

Good Morning, We would like to provide some additional feedback from our local Alabama market in regards to the situation: “Alabamans take care of our own. In the hours following the storms, Charter’s Alabama team was focused on the devastation that was left and ensuring the safety of our employees as they immediately began the job of restoring communication services to customers. Our disaster plan was in place and everyone was focused on taking care of very basic human needs. Unfortunately, some time elapsed before our Care agents got word to adapt our equipment policy, as we have in the… Read more »

Mike
Guest
Mike

Submitted this to the Consumerist and it just got posted on the front page. Nice to know it was fixed even before they got involved, but pretty sickening that it actually took a media outcry for them to act like human beings. I really really really hate Charter.

Nighthawke
Guest
Nighthawke

Disconnects between the various departments are frequently to blame for these kind of incidents and gaffes. Someone needs to break those walls down and get some TALKING going on between those departments, especially the line animals that are usually the first ones to catch hell for the lag in policy changes.

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