Congress Takes On Cable Companies For Overcharging

Some of the top members of Congress are calling out the cable and satellite TV industries after the publication of a blistering new report finding that tens of thousands of Americans are being overcharged for their service by these companies. The report was published Thursday by Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.).

During a hearing on the hill, senators grilled cable company executives from Charter, Time Warner Cable, Comcast, AT&T-owned DirecTV, and Dish about their customer service and billing problems. The companies have been accused of issuing erroneous charges over and above the already high prices of cable TV.

The most egregious offenders appear to be Charter Communications and its new subsidiary Time Warner Cable. A US Senate investigation found that the two companies have been overcharging customers at least $7.2 million per year for equipment and service. Nationwide, Time Warner Cable over-billed customers an estimated $639,948 between January and April of this year, for a yearly total of $1,919,844. Charter over-billed customers by at least $442,691 per month, which works out to at least $5,312,292 per year. Estimated overcharges were determined by comparing billing records with records showing the equipment and service customers actually received.

The time period examined by the subcommittee covered six-and-a-half-years. According to the report, during that time “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.” The subcommittee also found that “”Time Warner Cable and Charter did not automatically refund or credit customers for equipment overcharges they discovered.”

Charter is now the second biggest cable company due to its acquisition of Time Warner Cable. Charter said that it makes mistakes on 0.6 percent of its bills, or for about 63,000 cable boxes. Time Warner Cable reported mistakes on only 0.07 percent of its television bills and 0.03 percent of its Internet bills.

Charter and Time Warner Cable have agreed to conduct regular audits as a result of the Senate investigation. Charter agreed to the implementation of systemic controls to prevent future equipment overcharges. Charter has also promised to give customers a one-year credit for any equipment overcharges found.

Time Warner Cable will now perform monthly audits to find overcharges and provide one-month credits to overcharged customers automatically. However, the company will not investigate when the overcharges began nor will it automatically provide a full refund for the entire amount of the overcharges unless customers bring specific concerns to the company’s attention.