The US Senate called for an investigative report and will hold hearings on cable and satellite TV customer service and billing practices. The report will be released at the hearings.

Execs from Time Warner, Charter, AT&T, Dish Network, and Comcast are expected to testify. They’re likely to get blasted.

Horror Stories Abound (Here are a Dozen)

The horror stories that have surfaced just in the past couple of years have been many. Customers have been documenting their cases, recording customer service reps, and showing off examples of truly bad service. Stories like these certainly haven’t helped the industry’s image:

Dann Furia’s 25 calls over 6 months to get to resolved when he was charged $360 in “unreturned equipment fees” for equipment he not only returned, but recorded himself returning it and had a receipt signed by a rep showing he had returned it.

Lisa Johnston, who called to cancel her account because she moving and was told “no problem.” Turned out it was a problem. Two years later when they tried to collect on 2 years of unpaid service.

Tim Davis got a bill for $82 after told he wouldn’t be charged and couldn’t get it taken off his bill until he produced a recording he made of the rep proving his claim.

Ryan Block shared a recording of his interaction with customer service when he called to cancel. It took 30 minutes and he had to ask to cancel his service dozens of times.

Aaron Spain, who was put on hold for three hours, then told the department he was calling had already closed.

Lisa Brown opened her bill to find that her name had been changed to “Asshole Brown” after she called to drop service. Julie Swano had her name change to “Whore” and Carolina Heredia to “Dummy.” Mary Bauer’s bills showed up with “Super Bitch” stamped on them. All had called to complain or cancel services.

Betty told that when she called to cancel her cable service, she found out the service was in her husband’s name. Her husband had died. She was told only he could cancel the service. She eventually had to bring in a death certificate to prove he was dead.

The guy who needed internet service for his job and was told it would cost $60,000 to install — despite the fact that the cable company showed he had service at that location before buying the house and still shows it on the map or when he types in the address for service. He eventually sold his house because he couldn’t get the service.

And finally, the woman who claims the cable installer hung the cable too low, resulting in $8,000 worth of damage.

After all of the negative publicity, much of it “organic” on-line comments that went viral (like those above), Comcast — the nation’s largest cable company — publicly acknowledged poor customer service. In 2015, it agreed to hire 5,000 more techs and customer service reps to make things better.

Senator Clair McCaskill of Missouri has been critical of the industry for quite some time. It’s not the first time she’s called for an investigation. Senator Rob Portman of Ohio will lead the panel.

“For more than a year, we have conducted a bipartisan investigation of the largest cable and satellite TV companies. We believe our hearing will be a big step forward for consumers, allowing them to understand how their TV providers really work and make informed decisions about their video service.” — Joint Statement from Senators Portman and McCaskill.

Senators McCaskill & Portman
“Consumers in every corner of the country share common experiences about fending for themselves against customer service and billing practices by TV providers that are at best confusing, and at worst deceptive.” — Joint Statment from Senators Portman and McCaskill.

Customer Satisfaction Scores among worst ever recorded

The University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business publishes its quarterly American Customer Satisfaction Index. It highlights who Americans think do the best job of satisfying its customers and who does the worst. Time Warner scored the lowest score of all time with a 56/100 in 2014. In 2015, the score dropped to 51/100, tied with another cable company, Mediacom. While the scores have edge up for both, they remain among the lowest rated companies of any kind in the nation.

The average cable/satellite company got a score of 65/100. Comcast, Suddenlink, Charter, Cox Cable, Time Warner, Mediacom all scored below the average.  Verizon Fios scored the best — if you can call it that — with a 70/100 in 2016.

“High prices, poor reliability, and declining customer service are to blame for low customer satisfaction with pay TV services. The cost of subscription TV has been rising 6% per year on average — four times the rate of inflation. “ — University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business American Customer Satisfaction Index

Cable Systems are Virtual Monopolies

It doesn’t help that there’s little competition for cable systems. Cable systems have near or total monopolies in most communities. If you’re in one cable companies footprint, you can’t get service from a competing cable company. While you can use a satellite company, Dish or DirecTV, you may not be able to get high speed internet through them… which likely takes you right back to the cable provider.

1,000 Horror Stories

When the website Gizmodo asked its readers to share cable horror stories, they received more than 1,000 responses.

Hearings Set for June 23rd

The Senate hearings are scheduled for June 23rd. They’ll also be looking at practices that prevent alternative forms of delivery, including companies facing difficulties attempting to create “innovative new television delivery models.”