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Senate Report Accuses Charter, TWC of ‘Ripping Off’ Consumers via Overcharging

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Edward GatelyA U.S. Senate investigative report shows that Time Warner Cable and Charter Communications have consistently failed to provide refunds to customers they knew were being overcharged for service.

According to the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, between January and April 2016, Time Warner overbilled customers nationally by an estimated $639,948. The subcommittee projects that, in 2016, Time Warner will overbill customers nationally by nearly $1.92 million.

Charter has not yet completed the underlying work necessary to determine how much it has overbilled customers, according to the report. But it has informed the subcommittee that it overbilled customers by at least $442,691 per month.{ad}

As part of its investigation of cable and satellite television companies, the subcommittee reviewed how five giants – Charter, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, DirecTV, and Dish – identify and correct overcharges caused by company billing errors. The report was released this week.

In contrast to Time Warner and Charter, Comcast and DirecTV provide automatic refunds or credits to customers who have been overcharged by their billing systems, while Dish’s billing system is designed to prevent overcharges from occurring in the first place.

Sen. Rob Portman (D-Ohio)Throughout the time period examined by the subcommittee, Time Warner Cable and Charter made no effort to trace equipment overcharges to their origin unless customers specifically asked them to, and did not provide notice or refunds to customers, according to the report.

Charter recently completed its acquisitions of Time Warner and Bright House Networks. At a subcommittee hearing Thursday, Kathleen Mayo, Charter’s executive vice president of customer operations, said the acquisition will allow the company to hire an additional 20,000 employees, many of whom will work in customer service.

Charter also released the following statement regarding the report:

“Since 2012, we have invested $7 billion in network improvements and added more than 7,000 jobs resulting in growing and longer customer relationships. An audit of our set-top box charges over the last nine months found them to be over 99 percent accurate. To move us closer to 100 percent accuracy and permanently resolve this issue, we have installed new controls to ensure discrepancies are caught and eliminated on a daily basis. Charter customers who were incorrectly charged for set-top boxes are being notified and given a 12-month credit for these fees.”

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) chairs the subcommittee and led the investigation.

“Instead of correcting their (Charter and TWC) mistake by refunding the overcharges, their practice has been to …

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… just pocket the money,” he said. “In my view, that is a rip-off of Ohio consumers. It is wrong, and it’s unacceptable.”

When Time Warner discovered the overcharges, it only “dealt with the problem prospectively,” according to the report. It took erroneous charges off customers’ bills going forward, but did not provide any retroactive refunds and did not provide notice to customers so they could investigate the problem themselves, according to the report.

Time Warner and Charter generally have granted refunds or credits only upon customer request, according to the report.

As a result of this investigation, Charter and TWC have taken some initial steps to improve their practices, the report said. Time Warner Cable performs a monthly audit to find overcharges, and going forward, it will provide an automatic one-month credit to all customers for each piece of overbilled equipment or service, and will provide notice to overbilled customers so they can determine whether to request a credit or refund.


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