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Spectrum Telemarketer: “Are You Busy?” Answer “Yes” and You Are Signed Up for Service

Residents in upstate New York are finding Spectrum bills in their mailbox for services they didn’t order and don’t want, after telling Spectrum telemarketers they were too busy to talk.

Three residents in Tupper Lake have been in touch with the village mayor, complaining they were enrolled in a $30-per-month Spectrum streaming TV service without their knowledge or consent.

Mayor Paul Maroun says recent robocalls from the cable operator were responsible for the surprise bills.

“It was a robocall that said, ‘Are you busy at the moment?'” Maroun said. “Once you said ‘yes,’ they record the ‘yes’ and they bill it.”

Maroun said he believes one or more Spectrum telemarketers are ordering new services for consumers using recorded customer responses to a different question as consent to start service. Within a month, bills start arriving in the mailboxes of consumers. Even worse, some consumers do not immediately realize they are being billed for new services they did not authorize because they chose electronic billing and autopay, which automatically pays the bill without customer intervention each month.

The problem was serious enough to be a topic of discussion by the village board, reports the Adirondack Daily Enterprise:

One alleged victim of the call is retired village electric department superintendent Marc Staves, who returned to the village board for a meeting on Wednesday as a civilian to tell the board about his experience and to warn others.

Staves said he caught the additional charge on the first month it landed on his bill. He said he is not sure how it happened because he does not remember taking a call. Staves said Spectrum told him a robocall was placed, but he said his phone records show he never answered it.

“That’s kind of underhanded,” Staves said when he learned how the call works at the village board meeting.

He has automatic payments set up on his account, but still checks the amount.

“It’s always good to keep track of your automatic deductions,” Staves said.

He was told the company would refund his money, but said after a week it still hadn’t. When he called again he said he was told the $30 charge would be taken off his next month’s bill.

“I was okay at that point until I hung up the phone and thought about it,” Staves said. “It’s really no different than me going into your wallet, taking $30 out of your wallet and telling you I’m going to work it off next month.”

He said he is “not satisfied” with the resolution Spectrum offered him, saying it is being done in a “roundabout way.”

Maroun told Staves he has received two other calls from villagers about the same problem, both for $30-per-month charges. He said those people have gotten their money back.

Mayor Maroun

Spectrum spokesperson Lara Pritchard said this was the first time she heard of this complaint and suggested third party scammers might be “spoofing” customers.

“If an offer doesn’t sound right, customers can ask the representative on the phone to validate they are an employee by looking up their account number,” Pritchard wrote in an email. “Spectrum representatives will always have an account number. Then call Spectrum (at their customer service number on your bill) and ask if there is any such person working there.”

But since consumers are being billed for the unauthorized service(s) on their Spectrum bill, the telemarketers must have a business relationship with the cable operator. It could be a third party marketing company hired by Spectrum to sell service. A bonus or commission is likely payable for each successful sale, which could be an incentive for a dishonest employee to game the system.

Stop the Cap! recommends not answering Spectrum’s telemarketing calls or just hang up immediately. Be sure to verify your bill through the My Spectrum app or website and report any unauthorized charges immediately. Consumers can also file complaints with your state Attorney General’s office. Fabien Levy, a spokesman for New York’s Attorney General told the newspaper while the office has received a number of complaints about Spectrum, none were related to this issue. That could change if consumers report these kinds of scams.

Spectrum Salesperson Lies to Customers About the Competition: “We Bought Them”

Phillip Dampier January 21, 2020 Charter Spectrum, Competition, Consumer News, Video No Comments

This Spectrum door-to-door salesperson tells a Bath, N.Y. customer the cable company bought the competition.

A Spectrum door-to-door sales representative has a new trick up his sleeve to win back customers who switched to a competitor: lie and tell them Spectrum bought out the competition and sooner or later customers will once again be dealing with the cable company.

Spectrum Rep: “To get you guys back on board with our service, we’re going to lock your price in for two years.”

A Bath, N.Y., customer of Empire Access, a competing fiber to the home provider offering service in the Southern Tier of New York: “I’m not interested.”

Spectrum Rep: “We just bought Empire, you know, so sooner or later you’re going to be with us.”

Customer: “So you’re going to raise up your rates?”

Spectrum Rep: “No, we’re just going to get everybody switched over, so whenever you’re ready. The official switchover is in March, so sooner or later you’ll be on board with us or you’ll be on satellite for internet. Right now we’re offering you a deal to get on board early.”

The “deal” was $50 a month for 100 Mbps internet, which is hardly a deal at all considering new Spectrum customers in competitive service areas can often sign up for 400 Mbps service for $29.99 a month for two years. More importantly, the salesperson openly lied to make a sale.

Empire Access marketing director Bob VanDelinder says Empire Access did not sell to Spectrum and has no plans to sell itself to anyone.

“Our company is locally owned and operated, and deeply rooted in the communities we serve,” VanDelinder said. “We can keep our customers based on our service, our price. We’re very competitive and play fair. We think that’s extremely important to play fair and keep it a level playing field and be honest to our customers.”

The customer captured most of the conversation on his Ring video doorbell and shared it with Empire Access. At least one other Empire Access customer said he experienced a similar encounter with the deceptive salesperson.

“The content of the video is not accurate and we’re investigating these apparent comments by the sales representative,” responds a Spectrum spokesperson.

Spectrum typically contracts out its door-to-door marketing to third party companies, with employees typically earning a commission or bonus based on each successful sign-up.

Empire Access is requesting customers who have experienced similar misleading claims to contact the company at: 1-800-338-3300.

Spectrum representative lies about the competition.

WENY-TV in Elmira, N.Y. reports on a Spectrum door-to-door salesperson using dirty tricks to try and fool customers to switch back to the cable operator. (2:32)

N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo Vetoes Public Rural Broadband Feasibility Study as the Unserved Struggle On

No service.

Despite New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s $500 million, 2015 Broadband for All initiative which guaranteed broadband service for anyone  that wanted home internet access, five years later rural broadband gaps continue to plague the state.

A bill that would set aside funds to complete a feasibility study to launch a state owned broadband provider of last resort was quietly vetoed by Cuomo at the end of 2019. Assembly member Aileen Gunther (D-Monticello) sponsored the bill after hearing scores of complaints about terrible or non-existent internet access from constituents in her district, which covers the parts of the rural Catskills region north of the Pennsylvania border.

Gunther complained that despite the governor’s broadband initiative, private phone and cable companies were still ignoring rural customers, leaving them with slow DSL service or no internet access at all. Gunther’s bill was a first step in potentially allowing the state to step in and provide service to New Yorkers unable to get broadband from any private provider.

New York has spent over $500 million on its Broadband for All program and made Charter Spectrum an integral part of its broadband expansion plans in return for approval of its 2016 acquisition of Time Warner Cable. But a growing number of the governor’s critics claim the program has failed to deliver on its mandate, stranding thousands of New Yorkers without internet service and tens of thousands more with just one option — unpopular satellite internet access.

Gunther

Gunther was upset to learn that New York was prepared to hand over more than a half billion dollars to large private telecom companies including Frontier Communications and Verizon while not being willing to spend a penny to fund projects to reach New Yorkers for-profit companies could not be dragged kicking and screaming to service.

“We’re all spending millions and millions of dollars on privately owned internet service providers,” said Gunther. “In return for promises, a lot of our communities do not have access to the internet, or if they do have access to the internet, it’s slow and these companies are not, I think, fulfilling the promises made.”

The rural broadband problem is not resolved in the Finger Lakes or Southern Tier regions of New York either. This week, Yates County announced it was joining an effort by Schuyler, Steuben, and Tioga counties, and the Southern Tier Network, to complete a broadband feasibility study to improve internet access in the four counties. Fujitsu Broadband will manage the study and hopes to have results by June. The study will target the pervasive problem of inadequate broadband service in the region, which includes crucial tourist, winery, and agricultural businesses vital to New York’s rural economy.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announcing rural broadband initiatives in New York in 2015.

Gov. Cuomo has called such initiatives “well-intentioned” but was non committal about contributing more state funds to construct new networks or underwrite further expansion of existing ones. New York is about to begin its annual hard-fought budget negotiations in hopes of completing the state budget by April. Finding funding for such projects will probably require a powerful political advocate able to wrestle funding for further broadband improvements.

Even after spending $500 million, New York’s rural broadband problem has not been resolved. That offers insight into the merits of other state broadband programs, which often limit annual broadband expansion funding to under $30 million annually.

Those still without service are likely in high-cost service areas, where each customer could cost over $20,000 to reach. New York’s Broadband for All program relied on a reverse auction that required private companies to bid to service each unserved address. No wireline provider bid on any high-cost service areas, leaving Hughes Satellite as a subsidized satellite provider of last resort. But inadequate broadband mapping left scores of rural New Yorkers behind without even the option of subsidized satellite internet access.

Spectrum Raising Price & Speed Of Legacy ‘Everyday Low Price’ Internet

Time Warner Cable used to sell $14.99/mo slow speed internet. Spectrum agreed to grandfather the program for existing enrolled customers.

Charter Spectrum is raising both the speed and price of its legacy Everyday Low Price Internet package (ELP), formerly sold by Time Warner Cable.

Customers grandfathered on an existing Time Warner Cable ELP plan will see the following changes, reported by several of our readers, likely already in effect in some areas:

  • NY/NJ Customers: Speeds increased from 3/1 Mbps to 20/2 Mbps. Price increasing from $14.99/mo to $19.99/mo.
  • Other States: Speed increase to 20/2 Mbps. Customers will be notified of a $3 rate hike, bringing the new price to $27.99/mo.

A modem rental fee may also apply in most states, unless you use your own cable modem. Outside of New York and New Jersey, most legacy ELP customers have already experienced several gradual rate increases on this plan, which was originally sold nationwide for $14.99/mo. The first rate increase took most customers to $19.99/mo, followed by a rate increase last fall to $24.99/mo. Now Charter Spectrum has notified customers of another $3/mo rate hike, bringing the monthly rate to $27.99.

Stop the Cap! fought for and won a special concession for New York State residents as a consequence of the approval of the Time Warner Cable-Charter Communications merger. We requested the New York State Public Service Commission make the continued availability of price fixed ELP service a condition of the 2016 merger approval. The PSC agreed with us and made continued availability of the $14.99 service for at least three years part of the deal. That deal condition recently expired and Charter Spectrum is ready to raise the price of the service in New York and New Jersey, but also dramatically boost its download speed. New York and New Jersey residents will continue getting a substantial discount off the price Charter Spectrum charges elsewhere, at least for now.

Huge Optimum Outage, No Refunds, and Callers Learn Customer Service is “Disconnected”

Phillip Dampier September 10, 2019 Altice USA, Consumer News No Comments

No customer service for you.

“The number you have dialed has been disconnected or is no longer in service. Please check the number and dial again.”

When Altice USA/Optimum customers discovered their TV and internet service stopped working Friday night in parts of New Jersey, New York and Connecticut, many called the customer service number printed on their monthly bill and discovered it was “disconnected or no longer in service.”

Outraged customers took to Twitter to express their displeasure.

“Since you shut off your Customer Service line, we all deserve a hefty credit to our accounts. ‘We’re always here to answer your questions.’ NO clearly you’re not, otherwise we’d be able to call you when there’s a sudden outage across multiple cities & no one knows why,” Nathalie Levey tweeted in frustration.

With the widespread outage affecting at least tens of thousands of customers across three states, some found other phone numbers to reach out to Optimum, but those lucky enough to get through were left languishing on hold “for hours,” according to the Connecticut Post. More than a few decided calling 911 was a better idea, much to the consternation of local police departments across the northeast that asked them to stop.

For some reason, Optimum phone service still worked for some, but not others. But it proved useless for reaching the cable company, with a recorded message asking callers to try again later. But calls placed from mobile phones or landlines still managed to get through, sometimes.

…when it works

It was an outage made to frustrate, in part because shortly after Altice acquired Optimum from Cablevision in 2016 as part of a $17.7 billion dollar acquisition, Altice promptly closed down Optimum’s call centers in Shelton and Stratford, Conn., employing nearly 600 workers.

An Altice spokesperson curtly described the outage as “power related” and left it at that, refusing to indicate if customers would be given a bill credit for the outage.

“We still don’t know, because you can’t reach these people on the phone at all and the people at the local cable store tell you that you have to call in, so they are also useless,” complained Sally Davis, an Optimum customer near Litchfield.

There may be another way to ask for a refund, but there is no proof it will actually result in a future bill credit:

The company maintains a general website where customers can request bill credits as noted by Hal Levy, chairman of a regional cable TV advisory council that keeps tabs on carriers and the quality of services they provide. The website on Monday directed customers to telephone, online chat and Twitter for follow-up on requests for bill credits.

“In past instances of widespread outages when the company was owned by Cablevison, automatic bill credits were issued to subscribers,” Levy wrote in an email to Hearst Connecticut Media.

The newspaper notes the outage hit just two weeks after Altice USA tacked $5 onto the rate for Connecticut customers who subscribe to its “Premier” TV package, raising the monthly charge to $110 on par with the rate for a “Gold” plan the company discontinued, while transitioning those subscribers to “Premier” status.

“Who are they kidding?,” Davis told Stop the Cap! “Optimum treats its customers to ‘PoS status.’ I wish we had FiOS.”

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