Time Warner Cable's Contractual Loophole Allows It To Tell Local Politicians It Has Received Zero Complaints

from the which-is-the-least-likely-thing-to-ever-have-happened dept

How plausible is it for a company that routinely ranks at the bottom of customer satisfaction surveys to claim it has had "no complaints?" Time Warner Cable did exactly that on its way to extending its franchise agreement with Keene, New Hampshire through 2023. Broadband Reports has the details:

Last month in Keene, New Hampshire, the Keene City Council was voting on whether to add a second local channel (which would give the city more revenue) through Time Warner Cable. In exchange, Time Warner Cable wanted to extend the franchise agreement with the city for an additional five years, or the year 2023. While the rest of the council agreed to give Time Warner Cable the extension, one Councilor had a bit of an issue with the way that Time Warner Cable was running their business.

Even though the Council voted 4-1 in favor of the second channel, Councilor Terry M. Clark expressed his disappointment with Time Warner Cable on their refusal to adhere to the original franchise agreement signed with the city years back that forces Time Warner Cable to tell the City Council about any complaints that they receive from customers:

"They reported back that they had no complaints," Clark said at last week’s meeting. "I asked, ‘Why?’ They said because they weren't required to write them down."
Yes, that last part is true. TWC's franchise agreement contains some language that allows it to whitewash its horrible track record. Bill Neilson at Broadband Reports spoke with the objecting council member, who forwarded him the no-problems-here contractual clause.
Except as limited by federal law or FCC regulations concerning privacy, Franchisee shall maintain a record of all such complaints and such records shall be available at Franchisee's local offices for at least two years for inspection by the Franchising Authority as it may from time to time request, during regular business hours and upon reasonable notice. Nothing herein shall be deemed to require Franchisee to maintain records of oral complaints, which can be handled to the customer's satisfaction in the course of the initial conversation in which the complaint is made or does not require technical field response. Upon request, the Franchisee shall provide to the Franchising Authority an accounting of the number and nature of such complaints.
Oral complaints apparently don't need to be recorded for posterity if they are handled with a single phone call, or if a technician is never sent out. The key here would seem to be "to the customer's satisfaction," but it appears TWC isn't going to let itself get bogged down by discussions about whether or not the end user was actually satisfied. Presumably, "handled in a single phone call" is still valid (and unrecordable) even if the person is bounced from useless rep to useless rep for hours or simply spends an unimaginable amount of time on hold. As long as someone on TWC's end can put a check in the "resolved" box at the end of the conversation (and keep technicians from leaving the building), the complaint is off the record.

If the person calls back, presumably a new record is opened for that single call and, again, dismissed once the problem is "resolved." This is cooking the books on low heat and since TWC is the custodian of the records, there's little anyone can do to point out where complaints are being vanished into the ether.

Councilman Clark strongly feels TWC just isn't being honest.
"It's my contention that most call-in complaints are not resolved in the course of the initial conversation and that they are required to account for the nature of all complaints," said Councilor Terry M. Clark.
But if only one council member is going to ask questions, it's highly unlikely TWC will suddenly become a model of corporate responsibility. Until there's danger of it losing the contract, it's not going to live up to even the most basic level of accountability. This is the other danger of cableco monopolies and duopolies: even cities themselves have no leverage against the only game in town.

It takes a humongous amount of chutzpah to claim you've had no complaints, when all of the following is on the record (gathered by Broadband Reports):
This statement by TWC is the company daring the city council to call bullshit on its claims. But the city won't. The funds the city collects from every TWC subscriber (much of which goes to support local TV channels) won't be easy to replace, especially if an incumbent cable company poisons the well before leaving town. TWC has a good thing going and has fought the council every step of the way to ensure its profit margins stay intact.
Time Warner offered an adapter box for free through Dec. 18, after which customers had to purchase the adapter from the cable company. The box will also come with a monthly $1 fee beginning Jan. 1, 2015.

Clark convinced his fellow councilors to ask Time Warner to consider waiving the $39.99 installation fee for subscribers who couldn’t install the adapter themselves, but the company refused.

“There are many other things that we’ve asked of Time Warner,” Clark said last week. “They’re not willing to give rate payers anything unless it’s required by law, and even if it is required by law, it has to be pushing and shoving before they’ll acquiesce to that. I don’t think they deserve (a contract extension).”
Clark has been outvoted and TWC has another nine years to continue fighting city hall and tossing complaints in the trash. Does anyone (other than Comcast) think merging it with another cable company with an equally horrendous customer service record will really improve things?


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

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    Berenerd (profile), Apr 22nd, 2014 @ 5:57am

    Ahem...

    "that on its way to extending its franchise agreement with Keene City, VT through 2023."

    Its Keene NH not Keene City VT :) I grew up around them parts!

     

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      Mike Masnick (profile), Apr 22nd, 2014 @ 10:23am

      Re: Ahem...

      Its Keene NH not Keene City VT :) I grew up around them parts!


      We've sent Cushing for remedial geography classes... Sorry. And fixed. :)

       

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 22nd, 2014 @ 6:24am

    has anyone bothered to try to find out what the other council members received from TWC as kick-back for giving another contract to them? considering that TWC does absolutely nothing for customers without charging and, from the info in this story, almost zilch in customer service, the council must have gotten something out of the deal.

     

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 22nd, 2014 @ 6:34am

    T

     

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  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 22nd, 2014 @ 6:36am

    the article states that Karl Bode wrote it but the author is someone else on the other site.

    Did he write it somewhere else?

     

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      Mike Masnick (profile), Apr 22nd, 2014 @ 10:26am

      Re:

      the article states that Karl Bode wrote it but the author is someone else on the other site.


      Considering how often people assume Cushing is me, perhaps he's just now projecting the same feelings over towards BBR... Fixed.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 22nd, 2014 @ 6:43am

    They must have defined customer satisfaction as the customer ending the call.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Apr 22nd, 2014 @ 8:08am

      Re:

      Customer calls in...

      2 hours pass...

      customer states they are very irate...and have had enough of the childish games and demand proper service

      CSR states they are not being childish

      customer gets so frustrated with losing 2+ hours of life just to watch TV...and hangs up

      CSR says ... "I'll show him for calling me childish" and refuses to write down that customer was upset.

       

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        ltlw0lf (profile), Apr 22nd, 2014 @ 3:38pm

        Re: Re:

        customer states they are very irate

        I wonder if they have an irate flag like AT&T land-line had. When I was a customer, I knew that I had the flag set for me, because whenever I'd call, I'd immediately get a supervisor (who would even be worse at handling me.) They couldn't seem to understand why I was so upset with them, but every time I called it was to complain about my modem line (which failed to meet the voice standards FCC had required for the company,) and would constantly try to up-sell me to their "business/modem" lines while ignoring the fact that I couldn't even get decent voice calls (I made it a point to call them using the phone line I was having problems with, so when they would tell me that there was nothing wrong with the line after telling me I was breaking up and they couldn't hear me very well with all the static, but they never seemed to catch on.)

        If they have an irate flag, they had to have recorded something that would clue an auditor in to a problem.

         

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 22nd, 2014 @ 7:06am

    When it comes to their Internet service I've had few problems with TWC (but they do charge way too much). We've had issues with AT&T though. Yes, we've had (and sometimes do have) issues with TWC cable service before though but the biggest problems we've had is their billing and the fact that they always try to sneak in price hikes on you for whatever reasons. The lack of competition makes the prices way too high for what we get.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Apr 22nd, 2014 @ 7:07am

      Re:

      and lets not forget that all they give us are commercials.

       

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      PRMan, Apr 23rd, 2014 @ 9:24am

      Re:

      I agree. The only problem I've had is the high price. Other than that, TWC has been great to me, even solving things quickly over the phone when my new router didn't work.

       

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    Chris-Mouse (profile), Apr 22nd, 2014 @ 7:30am

    Of course they haven't gotten any complaints

    People have known for a long time that complaining to Time Warner is a waste of time.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 22nd, 2014 @ 8:11am

    once Aereo wins...the cable TV providers are doomed...

    hopefully, other companies will spring up and offer the same exact Letter of the Law service that Aereo provides. customers will churn. and as long as those companies dont get too greedy, the people will win.

    Or, if enough dumb asses stop paying / cancel service for a service that isn't working, but that is far too complicated.

     

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    sorrykb (profile), Apr 22nd, 2014 @ 9:07am

    "and" vs "or"

    As long as someone on TWC's end can put a check in the "resolved" box at the end of the conversation (and keep technicians from leaving the building), the complaint is off the record.

    Actually, it's even worse. The policy says the complaint does not have to be recorded if it's handled "to the customer's satisfaction" or doesn't require a visit from a technician.

    So... it doesn't matter if the customer isn't satisfied. The customer could be screaming in frustration, but as long as TW doesn't send a technician to deal with it, they can continue to say they have no complaints.

     

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    ComputerAddict (profile), Apr 22nd, 2014 @ 9:51am

    "They reported back that they had no complaints," Clark said at last week’s meeting. "I asked, ‘Why?’ They said because they weren't required to write them down."

    There is a logical fallacy... The can't claim they have "had no complaints" they can say they "have no record of a complaint" but they can not say a complaint was not made. Even if it was resolved within a single call a Complaint was made (and then "resolved").

     

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    Anonymous Anonymous Coward, Apr 22nd, 2014 @ 1:08pm

    Unique Technique?

    TWC says we are using the Double Facepalm (TM) hiding behind our hands technique. We would patent it, but there is much too much prior art. If we did apply, the claim would be "If we don't write it down, there is no complaint, either on or off a computer."

    See? Nothing to hide.

     

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    JBDragon, Apr 22nd, 2014 @ 2:36pm

    So a big Kickback with another Local Channel to continue with the Monopoly with a crappy cable company!!!

    Why are most all of these City Councils so backwards thinking??? All for these Local Monopolies!!! Here's a idea a few other FORWARD thinking city's did. They created their own Service!!! Their own TV and Internet service which offered much better service at a lower cost, and I'm sure in the end the City was making more money. If you want 2 Local TV channels you can do it yourself!!! You sure as hell don't need to make another deal with the Devil!!!

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 24th, 2014 @ 8:34am

    Keene resident here

    The most arrogant aspect of this entire spectacle came when TWC, in the midst of these discussions, took the local-access channel off of the reqular service and replaced it with a 'Get your TV picture back' screen and directions to contact TWC to buy/lease one of their set-top boxes in order to regain the channel. I can only guess that now we will have not one but *two* crippled local-access channels proclaiming the 'buy a box' message.

     

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    Mike, May 5th, 2014 @ 12:57pm

    Clueless support

    I recently moved and had an issue with internet connectivity through TWC. I took 6 hours on the phone, and almost as many reps, to determine that it wasn't their fault.

    Too many people answering their phones don't know what's going on, and don't know who does.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 23rd, 2014 @ 7:22am

    I wonder what would happen if a say councilman mailed a certified letter of complaint about the records retention policy and they failed to produce it when requested?

     

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