New York AG Sues Charter For Slow Broadband Speeds, Says Company 'Ripping Off' Users With Substandard Service

from the the-George-Carlin-definition-of-customer-service dept

For some time now, New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman has been taking broadband companies to task for advertising broadband speeds they consistently fail to deliver. Last year, Schneiderman's office brought in Tim Wu, Columbia professor and the man who coined the term net neutrality, to help dig into the data. With Wu as the AG's "senior lawyer and special adviser," Schneiderman sent letters to NYC area broadband incumbents Verizon, Cablevision and Time Warner Cable -- questioning whether they actually deliver the speeds they advertise.

This morning, Schneiderman made his findings clear via a lawsuit against Charter Communications, which accuses the cable giant of "defrauding" millions of customers by advertising broadband speeds it's incapable of delivering. According to the AG's compiled data and full complaint (pdf), Charter routinely and consistently advertised "fast, reliable connections" that were anything but:

"The suit alleges that subscribers’ wired internet speeds for the premium plan (100, 200, and 300 Mbps) were up to 70 percent slower than promised; WiFi speeds were even slower, with some subscribers getting speeds that were more than 80 percent slower than what they had paid for. As alleged in the complaint, Spectrum-TWC charged New Yorkers as much as $109.99 per month for premium plans could not achieve speeds promised in their slower plans.

The complaint also alleges that Charter (now branded as Spectrum) and Time Warner Cable (recently acquired in Charter's recent $79 billion megamerger) knew full well they were shortchanging customers and lagging in necessary upgrades, and they just didn't give much of a damn:

"The AG’s investigation also found that Spectrum-TWC executives knew that the company’s hardware and network were incapable of achieving the speeds promised to subscribers, but nevertheless continued to make false representations about speed and reliability. The investigation further revealed that while Spectrum-TWC earned billions of dollars in profits from selling its high-margin Internet service to millions of New York subscribers, it repeatedly declined to make capital investments necessary to improve its network or provide subscribers with the necessary hardware."

It's worth noting that government data fairly consistently shows that ISPs usually deliver advertised speeds. Back in 2011, the FCC began recruiting volunteers who use custom-firmware embedded routers to provide real-world broadband connection performance data. Initially, the FCC found that many ISPs didn't deliver advertised speeds. But as the agency increasingly named and shamed the worst offenders, many ISPs began over-provisioning their broadband tiers -- effectively giving users more bandwidth than was advertised. The program was a relative success, but it's not likely to be continued under the new, more industry cozy FCC.

That said, the volume of traffic generated by New York City residents requires a little extra effort; effort that tends to not materialize when companies face limited competition. In New York, Charter acquired Time Warner Cable, whose biggest competitor was Verizon -- a company that has little to no interest in even being in the fixed-line broadband market, and has taken repeated heat from New York City officials for failing to uniformly upgrade the company's fiber network (taking subsidies and tax breaks then failing to do much with them has been Verizon's MO for a generation).

To be clear, Schneiderman drawing attention to Charter's failure is generally a good thing. That said, failures to track how subsidies are spent, failures to hold ISPs accountable for failed promises, the relentless thirst for consolidation, and the negative repercussions of blindly approving telecom megamergers -- are all ignored by most regulators (and Schneiderman) pretty much on a weekly basis. So when someone like this comes sweeping in late in the game to protect consumers, you should probably ask why they aren't doing more, more consistently, to protect telecom customers before the bill arrives.

With the priority in the telecom sector being megamergers, buying protectionist state laws and extracting ever-more money for the same relatively dismal service, it's not particularly surprising that the companies offer poor service at high prices, with some of the worst customer service in any industry in America. And with a Trump-era FCC preparing to let these companies dictate telecom policy for the forseeable future, and Wall Street gushing over the idea of a possible Verizon-Charter supermerger, you'd have to use some pretty creative mathematics to suggest this scenario gets better anytime soon, belated NY AG lawsuit or not.


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  • identicon
    SamKnowsUser, 1 Feb 2017 @ 12:46pm

    The ISPs mostly just bumped the sam-knows users speeds

    I paid for 20MbS, got 24Mb/S while everyone else can only get 12Mb/S with my 20Mb/S grandfathered in.

    CenturyLink VDSL2+ for $24.99 a month.

    Not great, but better than MediaScumm's product.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    TasMot (profile), 1 Feb 2017 @ 12:58pm

    OK, let me get this straight, a state AG filing a headline getting lawsuit. That means there is an election coming soon and the taxpayers are going to pay for the AG name recognition to get the AG elected to something. What did I miss?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Vidiot (profile), 1 Feb 2017 @ 2:17pm

      Re:

      You'd think he could more easily generate some ink by simply bringing Verizon to court over the repeated contract violations... failure to install fiber, failure even to replace copper wiped out by Sandy, and so on...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 1 Feb 2017 @ 3:00pm

        Re: Re:

        Except that the contracts themselves have all sorts of loopholes that Verizon has made ample use of to meet the technical letter of the contract if not the spirit.

        It says things like how many people they have to reach, but it very carefully defines what it means for a person to be "reached".

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      DannyB (profile), 2 Feb 2017 @ 5:52am

      Re:

      That is the attorney general's way of getting a headline. Filing a lawsuit.

      A legislator's way of getting a headline is to redefine broadband so that the lower speeds now qualify and proclaim how many more people now have broadband.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Feb 2017 @ 3:21pm

    Hey, you get to be a successful politician by making a change in some problem that affects a lot of people. In New York, organized crime is always one of the hot issues: and ... hey, some people don't have drug peddlers or prostitutes on their doorstep, and some people don't get mugged by panhandlers, and some people don't get assaulted by union goons, but EVERYONE gets mugged by the cable/internet ogilarchs.

    And there may be more unethical companies in the tech world--there are full-page biographies of both Gates and Ellison in the dictionary under "tech racketeering". But there are no tech companies that gauge more civilians, more ostentatiously, than the cable/internet ogilarchs and their monthly billing increases of "guaranteed" rates.

    You might think there's lots of bri--uh, campaign-contribution funds in pandering to the e-Godfathers. But the truth is, companies that actually compete to provide goods and services people actually want are among the most active users of communications; they know how much harm is caused, and they are learning to support politicians that solve THEIR problems.

    This is a win-win-win strategy. I'm just surprised it has taken so long for someone to latch onto it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Feb 2017 @ 4:21pm

    The market is self regulating they said
    No need for government interference here as there is plenty of competition in this marketplace they said.

    We have been putting up with bullshit for decades, why change anything now? Lets incorporate more bullshit into our everyday lives by anointing our new benevolent overlord to the high throne king who does not wear any clothing - ewwww, please no pictures of that.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Loki, 2 Feb 2017 @ 5:02am

    Since the government clearly has no real intention of actually fixing the problem, this is, in essence, just a kickback demand.

    "We gave you billions, now we want our cut."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    DOlz, 2 Feb 2017 @ 5:29am

    Turn things around

    These are big profitable companies with the resources to make these upgrades without help. If we’re going to b̶r̶i̶b̶e̶ give them incentives to do their job, lets turn things around. They only get the subsidies and tax breaks after the work is completed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 2 Feb 2017 @ 11:56am

    really? really? really..

    It has taken WHO this long to track and test this???

    You could wonder around a city and PLUG a tester in and test INSIDE and OUTSIDE the house..
    Give me a week a month, and DONE..

    You could even Setup a site from State or COUNTY they would run tests on any system...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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