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Let's Get Reimbursed!

Time Warner Customers of the World Unite!

by ALFREDO LOPEZ

Are you a Time-Warner Internet customer? Have you ever experienced an outage? Have you called the company for a reimbursement? Most people would probably answer “no” to that last question. In fact, most company customers don’t realize that these companies aren’t required to reimburse and, in Time Warner’s case, they usually don’t. You have to call them.

Maybe it’s time to make this sensitive movement for Time Warner a bit more sensitive.

This is already a sensitive time for the Cable and Internet giant because, holding hands with its fellow giant Comcast, the company is asking the Federal Communications Commission to approve what amounts to a merger of the two companies which would give the resulting offspring virtually complete control of cable and high-speed Internet service across this country. Comcast is already the biggest provider of such services in the U.S.; Time Warner is the second largest.

Since they have worked (Adam Smith would have said conspired) for several years to divvy up territory and avoid over-lap and competition, their combination would blanket most of this country’s major (and many smaller) markets. The very goal of the regulations that forced them to split up service areas is now being turned on its head by this proposal. Given recent FCC rulings on issues like Net Neutrality riding the wave of corporate cannibalism that has deeply affected the Internet, opposition to this corporate hip-joining has been fierce and nationwide.

So Time-Warner’s recent Internet outages are causing a bit of embarassment and spreading the concern activists have long had to lots of “regular” customers.

This past week Time-Warner’s service went down for a significant amount of time, ranging from an hour to nearly a half-day in New York, California, Ohio, North Carolina and Texas, and affecting millions of customers. The company explained belatedly that this was a cable problem during “routine maintenance”. Two weeks earlier, the service went down in particular locations for as long as 10 hours. Predictably there was a massive outcry from customers on social media and such spasms of collective complaint are becoming more frequent.

This is the kind of spottiness that Comcast customers routinely complain about. In fact, these two firms suffer from some of the lowest customer satisfaction and confidence ratings in any of the utility and service industries.

That’s critical because this is the Internet. Everyone understands that things are going to go down sometimes and, in truth, Time Warner’s outages are only a small fraction of its on-line time. But for people who use the Internet, the issue isn’t that there are outages, it’s whether they are warned about them in advance or at least told about them promptly so they can take mesures to compensate for the outage.

If you know service is out, you plan your work (or whatever you do on the Internet) accordingly. You can use an alternative connection (if you have a cell phone hot-spot, for example) or you just go do something else. But if it’s not clear what is happening and you’re not sure it’s not your equipment or your computer, you could waste lots of agonized time trying to figure that out. Those who are not tech-savvy may be lost and anxious for hours.

Ironically, this past week, the FCC leveled a $1.1-million fine against Time Warner for not advising customers and regulators efficiently and in a timely way during a 2013 outage.

It appears that the company hasn’t learned its lesson.

But there’s an issue that may not be immediately apparent: where does that fine money go? Not to the customers but right into the Treasury Department’s fines fund, as if its was the government that suffered through the outage. And what compensation do the customers get for their lost service? None! Well…not automatically at least.

Instead, you need to call and file a complaint which will then result in a slight drop in that month’s bill. You have the legal right to call at any time — there’s no deadline for seeking recompense — as long as you tell the customer service person the correct dates of the outage. Under the FCC regulations, they must do the reimbursement.

It’s stunning that, given all the outstanding and powerful campaigns against the merger, no one has organized a campaign for reimbursement for service outages. These guys don’t give you what you’re paying for and we aren’t organizing to make sure they do. So…let’s get started.

You can call the Time Warner customer service number at 1 (800) 892-2253 and ask that you be reimbursed for the August 27 outage. You’ll probably be bounced around a bit but someone will finally speak with you and ask for your service type and area. Then they will reimburse you; they have to.

Some service reps will say something like “we’re already making that adjustment in customers’ bills”. That’s what they told me. I countered that I have never noticed an adjustment in any Time Warner bill for a service outage so why should I believe they were doing it automatically now? The rep insisted that the adjustments are there. “It’s hard to read bills for the average person,” she explained. I didn’t have the heart to continue the exchange but I now know the small adjustment will be there. A good plan would be to have a copy of your bill in hand, including the date of the outage, when you call, and then you can demand to be shown on the bill where any adjustment can be seen.

To be sure, this isn’t the solution to the merger madness, nor should it be the central strategy. Those protests and other actions by activist groups deserve our continuing support and involvement. But it’s something you can do from home in a few minutes and, while it won’t make your on-line life more stable, it might give you a small bit of satisfaction. And if enough of us do it, to both Time-Warner and to Comcast, it could be yet another jab in the ribs of the arrogant, over-blown body this monopoly has become.

Alfredo Lopez writes about technology issues for This Can’t Be Happening!