October 6, 2013

Time Warner Cable’s reputation tarnished

A virtual monopoly in much of Maine has enabled the cable TV provider to get away with poor customer service, surveys suggest.

By Ray Routhier rrouthier@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

Today's poll: Time Warner

Have you had good customer service from Time Warner?

Yes

No

View Results

click image to enlarge

Tim Ryan of Lisbon sits in front of his television with Dish Network service last month. Ryan canceled his Time Warner TV service in favor of the DISH network after eight years as a Time Warner customer. He said price increases and rigid customer service representatives – who shut his service off after he missed his bill deadline by a day – convinced him to drop the cable provider.

Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Related headlines

While the company has recently implemented or announced new initiatives to improve its image among customers, some experts wonder if it’s too little, too late.

COMPLAINTS AND RESPONSES

History, deregulation and cost have effectively prevented head-to-head cable TV competition in Maine, even though it is allowed under federal law. (See accompanying story on cable history).

The company’s image as a corporate giant with little regard for customers has been enhanced recently by a couple of widely reported events.

In August, Time Warner raised its modem rental fees from $3.95 to $5.99 a month, just one year after the company had stopped a long-standing policy of providing the modems for free. Also in August, Time Warner engaged in a contract dispute with CBS, resulting in the blackout of CBS-owned cable channels, including Showtime, to Time Warner customers for about a month.

Such blackouts on Time Warner and other cable systems are a sore spot with customers who don’t like the fact they’re being deprived of something they contracted to buy.

“With any unregulated business, you do get a lot of complaints because the company is under very few obligations to customers,” said Wayne Jortner, senior counsel in the state’s Public Advocate’s Office. “It seems the (cable) customers who do best are the ones who drop the service and then come back for a better price.”

But Time Warner says it does care about its customers, and has “millions of satisfied customers” to counter the reports of complaints and dissatisfaction, said Joli Plucknette-Farmen, Time Warner’s public relations manager for the Northeast.

Plucknette-Farmen said that in the past year or so, Time Warner has made improvements to products and service. Specifically, she said the company has expanded the way people can reach it to include social media channels, and this year in Maine, it has started offering one-hour appointment windows instead of telling customers a service person would come between 8 a.m. and noon, for instance.

The company is also offering self-installation kits for tech-savvy customers who would rather install equipment themselves than wait for a company technician. Earlier in September, the company was getting ready to add 30 customer service representatives in its Portland office.

Those additions may have come too late for Ann Colbourn of Cape Elizabeth. She said she recently spent about 90 minutes on hold over two nights while trying to cancel service at her home while it’s being renovated. She finally gave up and decided to go to the office in person, but she wasn’t happy about it.

“When I’ve been on the phone with them, I get completely conflicting information from different people. I got disconnected twice, and then someone put me into an automated line,” said Colbourn, 49. “When I spend this kind of money ($150 a month) and they treat me like this, it’s very frustrating.”

Plucknette-Farmen said Time Warner is trying to give customers their money’s worth by adding HD channels and new networks, and by offering packages with fewer TV channels. It’s a common complaint from cable viewers that they pay for a lot of channels they never watch, since they can only buy channels in packages, not a la carte.

Plucknette-Farmen said the company now offers a lower-priced 20-channel package with local channels and some popular cable channels. But when asked how much the package costs, Plucknette-Farmen would not answer, saying that the prices vary based on whether a customer is getting a promotional price or a the “retail price.”

She said people can find the promotional price by going on the Time Warner Cable website and typing in their ZIP code (it’s $19.99 per month for 12 months in South Portland right now). But she would not give the “retail” price, explaining that “the majority” of Time Warner customers have promotional prices at any given time, and those prices vary depending on a range of factors.

(Continued on page 3)

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Today's poll: Time Warner

Have you had good customer service from Time Warner?

Yes

No

View Results