Time Warner Cable customer service Columbus Ohio

Senate investigation: Time Warner Cable, Charter failed to refund overcharges

Time Warner Cable and its new owner, Charter Communications, have consistently failed to provide refunds to customers who the cable companies knew were being overcharged, according to a six-year U.S. Senate investigation.

The companies say they're working to make amends.

The investigation found that "Time Warner Cable and another company, Charter, made no effort to trace overcharges they identified and provide refunds to customers, " said Sen. Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican, in a statement. He is chairman of the Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.

Portman charged that their practice has been to pocket the money rather than correct their mistakes, something that he called wrong and unacceptable.

The subcommittee's probe reviewed how five companies — Charter Communications, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, DirecTV and Dish — identify and correct overcharges caused by company billing errors. Charter and Time Warner were the only two companies to not handle overcharges properly.

The investigation revealed that during the first five months of 2016, Time Warner Cable — the largest cable company in Ohio — overbilled as many as 11, 000 customers in Ohio. Those overcharges totaled $108, 000.

Time Warner Cable itself estimated that in 2015 it overbilled 40, 000 Ohio customers for more than $430, 000.

“We found that customers are being charged a host of fees that are not included in advertised pricing, some of which are for programming that used to be included in a customer’s video package, " said Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, who led the investigation.

"We also found that — just as many customers have long believed — some of these fees, like the HD and DVR service fees, aren’t a true reflection of the cost to the company of the service, but rather are based on the revenue goals of the company and the price a customer is willing to stomach.”

Last month, Charter bought Time Warner Cable in a deal that will make Charter the dominant cable carrier in Ohio, where Time Warner Cable has 2.13 million customers.

Charter has had problems with overcharging and refunds, according to the report. Until August 2015, the company did not conduct audits to reconcile its billing records with equipment records, the probe found. That means overcharged customers had to spot the problem and contact Charter to have hope of a refund.

Charter executives testified before the Senate subcommittee Thursday that an audit of set-top box charges over the past nine months found them to be 99 percent accurate. But the company intends to improve on that performance, said Kathleen Mayo, executive vice president for customer operations.

"We are proud of the progress we have made, but our work — my work — is not done, " Mayo said. "We will continue to work to improve and show our customers, across the entire Charter footprint, that we are committed to providing the best possible experience."

Charter plans to give customers a credit covering overcharges levied over one year, and it will give its Time Warner Cable customers who have joined Charter through the recent sale a one-month credit because Time Warner Cable is now looking at the problem and offering refunds or credits.

The Senate's investigation found that other companies in the industry do far better.

Comcast and DirecTV provide automatic refunds or credits to customers who have been overcharged by the companies' billing systems. Dish’s billing system is designed to prevent these types of overcharges.

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