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

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?

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