TBT: The Brutal Truth

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Charter Communications To Lose $13,000 Over $35 Late Fee

Back in the late 1990s when I worked the loading docks of a growing retailer/grocer, a portion of our training consisted of proper customer assistance. Just because we were on the dock doesn't mean we wouldn't be on the sales floor in full view of shoppers. Quite the contrary is true: we'd be on the sales floor periodically throughout our shift if we ever have to assist other departments. So, regardless of the department we worked in, we were all trained in customer service because at any time we were on the sales floor, we could get stopped by shoppers asking where certain items were even if we didn't know exactly where they were, if we carried them, or had any in stock if we did. That training said to be courteous and either escort the customer to the product (even if we could tell them something like, "It's in the middle of aisle 6, second shelf on the left") or escort them to another employee who may know. Saying, "Sorry, it's not my department" was a good way to get repremanded by management and your union steward.

Why was that?

Because the company's training gurus taught us that their own marketing research showed that every single person that walks into the store -- even if they only browsed and purchased nothing during their visit -- was worth over $30,000 a year to them alone. Their logic consisted of this: A typical customer spends an average of $3,000 a year in the store and if they were to walk up to me for assisstance and I responded something like, "Sorry, it's not my department" or "I've got no idea", that customer wouldn't be happy with their shopping experiance and may decide to never return, thus taking their $3,000 a year somewhere else. Since that customer knows at least 10 other people consisting of friends and family, they're going tell them, "Never shop at this place! They're horrible" and suddenly the loss of that one single person's $3,000 a year alone turns into $30,000 because for those 10 people are likely to their $3,000 elsewhere, too. Having worked marketing and research prior to self-employment building and fixing computers, I can honestly say that their logic is right on the money -- never underestimate the power of "word-of-mouth" advertizing because it'll make or break you.

This brings me to Charter Communications, the company we have Digital Cable and Internet service from. Last year, we busted Charter Communications in an unethical business practice known as "cramming/slamming" -- they tried to argue that we were behind one month on our cable bill when in reality we were not. These arguments took place over the course of 3-4 weeks when they ultimately said that if we didn't pay them the $120 past due bill, they'd shut off my service within 72 hours. This forced me to lose one day of work to stay home, locate every returned check and paid Charter bill for the past 6 months, and show up at their local office where I dropped it all right on their sorry laps daring them to call me and my bank liars right to my face. After a good hour of haggling, Charter backed their asses down and said that we were caught up. I demanded they put it in writing stating that I indeed owed them no more money, that it was all misunderstanding on their part, and they grudgingly did so. From there, I promised them (I don't make threats because threats are for the insecure) that if they ever forced me to lose a day of work to come down and jump their asses again, they'd only thing I'd be paying for is the gas it took to return two digitial decoders and a cable modem for their prompt insertion into their asses if they refused to give me a month of free service. After all, losing a day's work is $80-$100 I'll never see.

Fast forward to just a few weeks ago. I had a network problem and had to call their support line, go through their rigamorale, and in the end had to schedule an appointment for a service call. A few moments later, I solve the problem myself (we computer gurus have always said 90% of all computer problems are the fault of the person at the keyboard and, by all means, we gurus aren't immune) and call them back to cancel the service call. The tech I talked to then suggested that I keep the appointment because "your cable modem is returning way too much voltage to us". No problem - I keep the appointment. When the local tech came, I told him exactly what the nationwide tech told me about the cable modem returning to much voltage.

What does this moron do? He removes the coax from the back of the modem, hooks it up to a small machine, and does a line quality test. In other words, he didn't physical test the modem at all -- just the integrity of the drop. The drop was fine because even the nationwide tech was jealous that my Signal-to-Noise ratio (SNR) was in the mid 40s (to which I responded like a braggart, "Yeap, it's slightly better than my sound card!") Naturally, the local tech found no problem (DUH) and I told him he just wasted his time -- the modem was the problem. He glanced at the modem and says, "Oh, that's a top of the line modem!"

Right off the bat, my bullshit alarm is ringing because my 15+ years of computer hardware software experiance says that a Motorola SURFBoard SB4100 is NOT top of the line -- the fucking thing is barely DOCSIS 1.x compliant. It was "top of the line" a few years ago when the fastest connection Charter offered was 1Mb down. Today, Charter's slowest speed package is 3Mb down ... and this modem barely handles it because the DOCSIS 1.x white paper I read at the time suggested that although the technology is capable of supporting a max of 8Mb, expect stability issues as low as 3Mb (alot of other DOCSIS 1.x modems start to overheat and puke after 2.5Mb barrier such as an infamous RCA model). Furthermore, DOCSIS 1.x modems couldn't handle large upsteam bandwidth since it didn't support advancements in digital modulation. So the "top of the line" title at this very moment goes to the DOCSIS 2.x Complaint Motorola SURFBoard 5200 series as DOCSIS 2.0 properly fixes the myriads of kinks the prior 1.x standard was plagued with as well as certifies the maximum theorhetical downstream speed capability to something like 15-30Mb (the fastest Charter offers now is 4Mb is some small areas and Comcast is starting to roll out an 8Mb package now). Obviously, this tech thought I was an idiot but I went along with him because made me sick. The faster he finished up, the faster he'd get out of my sight.

A few days later, we make a $90 payment.

The very next day, a very rude Charter Communications representative calls us and again tries to argue that we owe them $152 for the period of December 21th of last year to January 20th of this year. Mind you, they made this argument that just before Christmas, meaning they're trying to claim that we owe them for services they haven't even rendered yet (January 20th was still a month away). When we told them we just paid them $90, they asked when we'd be able to pay the remaining ballance. We argued the remaining ballance is only $35 and if we can come up with it, they'd would get it but money is tight. It's Winter in Michigan and between energy and gasoline costs, money is stretched as it is. Charter Communications then told us that if they didn't recieve the $35 within 3-5 days, our service would be interrupted. If payment wasn't recieved within so many days after the interuption, our service would be disconnected. In other words, Charter Communications goes from "craming/slamming" us a year ago to graduating to point blank extortion -- extortion because the back of their invoices state that if service is ever interrupted, they reserve the right to add additional fees such as a re-connection fee. This reconnection fee would be to re-enable our DCR boxes. Our service was indeed interrupted a week later when Charter disabled both Digital Cable recievers during the wee hours of the morning. Extended basic still worked as well as my internet service so in order to watch TV, we had to disconnect the DCRs and hook the drops direct to our TVs.

Just 4 hours ago, I get the following birthday present -- a contractor with Charter shows up to disconnect my service entirely, collect the two DCRs, and the cable modem if we didn't pay. I said, "Over $35 fucking dollars?!?" and he looks at his clibboard and says, "My sheet says you owe at least $115 and I've gotta disconnect if I don't get at least $55 from you today." I hit the roof and told him, "Fuckin' slice it then. I'm calling Comcast. Wait there, I'll get your gear." I start to unhook my DCR box and he says, "Man, I'm just doing my job but I probably can take a check for $35." I realize today is Saturday so even if I did call Comcast, the latest they could hook me back up would be the following Wednesday (even if they told me Monday over the phone, knowing Comcast's track record) So, now I gotta dip into the funds meant for another bill. I write his monkey ass a check for $35 and hand over one DCR and consider telling him that if Charter doesn't get bought by Comcast soon, his employment days are numbered anyway because in the end, my $35 deliquency just cost Charter more than $13,000 this year allready in lost revenue.

How come?

Because I've noticed over the past two years that all cable companies offer package deals where in the end, the price is deliberately fixed so that they can collect at least $100-$120 a month per customer. If you just get regular basic (Channel 2 thru 75 or so) and internet service, you pay more a month for the internet service. However, if you sign up for Digital, the internet goes down a few bucks. No matter what, cable providers are trying to market their package deals in a way so that you are paying an average monthly bill (Expanded Basic Or Digital, 0 to 1 Premium, 3MB Internet) of $100-$120. Multiply that by 12 months and that's an estimated $1,300 a year.

Since they've been a pain in my ass for the past year now, I'm done with these crooked, bankrupt, incompetent idiots so there goes their $1,300 from me. Ahhh, but I also know at least 10 other people with Charter and as soon as I'm done posting this entry, I'll be calling them up on the phone telling them that the end of my days sustaining Charter Communications from their inevitible bankruptcy are nigh at hand with the deliberate purpose of getting those 10 friends and family members to dump Charter at the first opportunity they can. And the coup de grace? You're looking at it -- my latest SiteMeter figures suggest that TBT generates roughly 20 hits a day. Of course, that's hits; not site views. Those hits mainly stem from search engines but a hit in a Google search for "Charter Communications" could translate to a pageview for TBT ... and those people might just be Charter customers as well whom may need just one excuse to dump their service, too.

Do the math.

Charter Communications sure as hell isn't.


5 comment(s):

You know, I don't have cable, the Charter is the company in my area, and from time to time, they send out the flyer and I consider .... hmm, maybe I should get cable...

This story tells me: Nope!

Netflix is all I need, thank you.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:20 PM  

I ordered Charter several weeks ago. A rude technician (#7644) proceeded to cut my satellite feed in three places. I only saw one when he was there. When I mentioned it, he ignored me and kept working. Didn't want things to escalate, so I walked away. Then I was outside working around the house and saw where he had repeatedly cut the satellit cable. He also destroyed a satellite outlet in my room that did not carry Charter's cable signal.

After getting the run-around with customer support, I called (866)384-4277 (ethics hotline) and filed a formal report to Charter's corporate governance division.

Since this technician took every opportunity to destroy my property and sabatoge my satellit cable options, I think there is a good chance he does it everywhere. The question should be asked: Was he trained or encouraged to do this by Charter? Whether or not that is the case, he still acted unethically as a representative of Charter Communications.

Now I get to call the satellite company to subscribe. I'm sure they will be very interested to know about Charter's behavior and may be able to confirm other instances.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:13 PM  

Oh yes, Charter is wonderful NOT NOT NOT - If you have them for modem phone, internet & cable, you are always considered late with your bill and hasseled by phone always.

BUT WHEN you have technical difficulties and need help you are subject to their very long confusing directories to follow for the correct helpline and then on hold for very long.

THEN we had an appointment for a technician to come out on Saturday between 8 am and 12 noon. By 5:15 when they still hadn't showed, we call (being on hold for 20 minutes) and they said someone had come out which was a lie because we were home all day waiting for them. Then they said someone would come out in 24 - 48 hours. We still haven't heard from them. We have not been able to order a video on demand for over a year and have reported it several time.

But we have paid many late charges and reconnection fees to them.

We are looking for other service. But don't know who yet.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:13 PM  

Thanks for this feedback, I was considering switching to Charter, but think after all this, I will stay with what I have. Comcast is bad enough, they never come when they say they will, but it sounds like they might be better than Charter.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:48 PM  

Charter sucks, plain and simple. They are a crooked company that over charges every chance they get. What company thinks they can get away with forcing their customers to haggle every 6 months and waste a minimum of 2 hours on the phone just to keep the monthly price where it should be? That would be Charter.

I fired them as providers of my cable over a year ago, but I was stuck with their HighSpeed internet because DSL wasn't available. They wanted to charge me $60/mo for just the internet when I canceled the TV part. I said you guys are crazy, stating that I could get DSL (even though it didn't reach my house) for $29/mo. Only after I said I had enough and that they could screw themselves did the person say they could match the $29/mo. Suddenly he "found" a new special.

Fine I can get my 3MB service for $29/mo. I was ok with that. A week later my speed dropped to 768k and everything was crawling. I immediately called Charter and said something is slowing my internet down. They wanted me to run through the hoops of verifying the network connection is configured properly, reboot into safe mode, and all this crap that the person is reading from their binder. I am a network admin and I know how my PCs are configured, and it was a monumental waste of time to go through this. I told them that and they said they couldn't help me until they went through these steps. I begged to talk with a 2nd or 3rd level tech, they said no way. I hung up, pissed off that I couldn't talk to someone who actually knew something. I ended up calling 2 more times and hung up on them 2 more times. Finally I conceded cause I really wanted my 3MB back and went through the hoops for 2 hours. Guess what? Nothing was wrong. They ended up cutting my 3MB service down to 767k because my rate of $29/mo was for the slower service.

I was flippin out. Unbelievble, crooked theives. I spent another 1.5 hours on the phone explaining that I had been quoted a special rate for the 3MB service. Finally ended up talking to a supervisor or something who restored my 3MB and kept the rate at $29/mo. Fine after monumental amounts of wasted time it was where it should be. What company treats their paying customers like this? That would be Charter.

So it gets better. The following month I get the bill and it says $60 for the month. You have got to be kidding me. They bumped me up to the full price. I called them again furious. They rep said "Well you don't qualify for the $29/mo promotion. You were quoted wrong." I said it was you guys who gave me that price of $29/mo. I said you guys are a bunch of theives. .. crooked company. I said I was going to call the BBB and contact my lawyer etc. Only after all that does they guy say let me check with my Supervisor. Comes back 10 min later and says yes we can give you that rate. Another wasted 2+ hours. Man I hate this company.

Finally a few months ago, TDS started offering WiMax wireless highspeed internet which I was within the range of their tower. WOOHOO!!! Charter you are FIRED!!! I called them today and fired them. Of course the rep was like, so did you have a problem with the service? I said you guys are a bunch of theives. She was taken back by that and immediately stopped trying to convince me to reconsider. Duh. They suck, why would I reconsider.

I still wonder how many old people who have their bill automatically paid (or anyone else for that matter) who don't realize that Charter silently continues to jack up the monthly rate. Suckers. . .

Good bye Charter, hopefully there is class action suit against you for ripping off your customers!!! I'm in.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:35 PM  

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