Guy Sues Time Warner Cable For Deceptive Acts & False Advertising Over Bogus Promotional Rates, Hidden Fees
from the transparently-non-transparent dept
For many, many years, plenty of people have complained about hidden fees and bogus promotional rates offered by various broadband companies. It appears that Jeremy Zielinski has had enough. He’s actually sued Time Warner Cable in NY for “deceptive acts and practices” and “false advertising.” Specifically, he signed up for Time Warner Cable at a promotional $34.99/month package, only to discover his first bill was for $94.45. The $34.99 had magically morphed into $39.99 plus a $5.99 “internet modem lease” fee and a $47.99 installation fee — all of which he insists were never mentioned anywhere in the original offer. The modem lease and install fees are fairly common these days — and it’s ridiculous but they’re the kinds of things that people should absolutely clarify before signing up for new internet service. The wrong promotional fee, though, seems really questionable. Zielinski then had a rather typical customer service experience with a big broadband player:
On or about the next day, Plaintiff called the defendant’s customer service number
to complain about the overbilling. Plaintiff specifically informed TWC that the prices and
services billed for were neither advertised, explained, nor agreed to. After waiting on hold for
some time, a representative claimed that the $34.99 was a “promotional price” that should not
have been on the website anymore and that the “modem lease” fee and installation fee were
“standard” and could not be taken off. Inexplicably, the representative nevertheless agreed to
remove the $47.99 “Internet, Install fee” from the bill.
A few calls later, TWC promised to lower the price to the advertised $34.99, but did not (of course). After many more complaints, TWC did temporarily lower his bill to $19.99 (plus the “modem lease fee”).
Zielinski also notes some other practices that he suggests are unfair or deceptive, such as leasing certain modems that the company insists will not work on its system if you buy them (thus pressuring people into the lease fee):
Another page on TWC’s site, taken down at an unknown point in the last few
months, contained a list of which modems TWC will “approve” if owned by a consumer and
which modems TWC will “lease” to consumers. The list of modems which are compatible with
its services is substantially larger than the “approved” list. Many modems which TWC falsely
claims “will not work” because they are not on the “approved” list are the very same ones that
TWC “leases” to consumers and charges them non-advertised fees for. Exhibit H.
For some modems, the only distinction between whether consumers can use it to
receive TWC services is whether TWC or the consumer owns the modem. If the consumer owns
it, TWC will not allow the consumer to use it, but if TWC owns it?and can charge the consumer
a monthly “modem lease” fee for it?the modem is perfectly acceptable to TWC. There is no
legitimate technological reason for this distinction.
Many of the modems which TWC falsely claims “will not work” with its services
are substantially cheaper than the ones on the “approved” list. TWC’s false statements about
which modems are compatible with its services, and its refusal to “approve” consumer-owned
modems which are actually compatible with its network, have no legitimate technological
justification, and are intended to deter consumers from purchasing compatible modems and to
coerce them into paying exorbitant and unnecessary “modem lease” fees.
He also claims that Time Warner Cable sold him a speed upgrade, which was never actually delivered, though the company continued to bill him for it.
Despite TWC’s email, Plaintiff observed that his upload and download speeds did
not seem to have improved in any noticeable way. He began conducting a series of speed tests
and discovered that his upstream and downstream speeds were the same as they were before the
upgrade, even though he was now being charged $10 per month more for TWC services.
Plaintiff then contacted TWC customer service using its online chat portal and
spoke with several representatives attempting to resolve the problem.
The first representative revealed after checking Plaintiff’s account that the modem
TWC had previously provided was not compatible with the higher speeds. According to that
representative, in order to receive the services advertised, Plaintiff would have to travel at his
own expense to the local TWC office and swap out the modem for a newer one.
The second representative proposed the preposterous solution of giving Plaintiff a
one-day credit for the services TWC was apparently incapable of providing, then canceling the
upgrade and going back to the lower speeds.
When Plaintiff requested to speak to a third representative, that person initially
said the first representative was wrong and that the modem was compatible with a “Turbo”
Internet access line, then after a speed test showed the same sub-advertised performance it had a
few minutes before, changed his mind and said the modem was not compatible.
One interesting note in all of this: early on, Zielinski made the decision to pro-actively opt-out of TWC’s mandatory arbitration clause, which most customers just accept, and which would significantly limit the ability of most users to go to court. Here’s one of the exhibits in his lawsuit filing: