When Charter bought up Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks in 2016, customers who suddenly found themselves paying Charter bills knew they were in for a few big changes. One of those was an inevitable price increase, which for some customers began even before the merger was formally approved or completed. But even though you might expect your cable bill to creep inexorably upward, you probably don’t expect it to happen in the middle of the afternoon with a sudden channel blackout.
The Lexington Herald-Leader talked to several customers in the Lexington, KY, area who were basically blindsided by their surprise Charter price hikes.
It’s no surprise that Charter is raising rates in the former Time Warner Cable footprint. Late last year, the company had to admit in a quarterly earnings update that one-time TWC customers were canceling service with Charter largely due to price increases.
However, at the time Charter CEO Thomas Rutledge doubled down on the need to shift prices up. He called the “legacy pricing” for TWC customers “misplaced,” and said the company needed to move them “in the right direction.”
The way Charter is going about it, however, is somewhat surprising. You would think that they’d be taking the traditional route of simply sending you a higher bill next month for your continued service — but you’d be wrong.
Instead, Charter is keeping some customers’ prices where they are… and cutting service to match. Without notice. In the middle of the day.
One customer the Herald-Leader featured was in the middle of watching a show when suddenly his screen went dark. He picked up his remote and changed the channel to find that several other channels from his lineup were also suddenly missing, replaced with a message that said they were no longer a part of his package.
“I thought, ‘What the hell? I just paid the cable bill,’” he told the Herald-Leader. So he called up Charter to find out what was going on.
When he reached a representative, they told him that he wasn’t paying enough for the standard cable package, anymore. If he wanted his channels back, he’d have to start paying $139 every month instead of $103 — an increase of nearly 35%. Oh and P.S., he’d need to pay $24 for a tech to come out and replace his cable box — the one that had been working perfectly well until the moment Charter decided it shouldn’t.
“It was bull crap,” the customer told the paper. “They don’t give us any notice, they just spring it on us in the middle of the month. And then they tell us we’re getting an ‘upgrade.’ This isn’t an upgrade, it’s the same channels we already had!”
The Herald-Leader spoke with other area customers who had the same problem. One lost her service while she was in the middle of watching a March Madness game this spring, and was told that keeping her existing package would cost an extra $45 per month. She cancelled her service instead.
Even a city councilwoman in Lexington got hit, the Herald-Leader reports: Charter told her she’d need to pay an extra $21.50 a month to maintain her service. She tried to cut the landline phone service from her package instead, but was told that cutting her triple-play bundle would make it even more expensive.
“It’s frustrating to the Nth degree. People are calling our offices daily about this,” the city councilwoman said. And Charter is completely not open to negotiation, she added: “With Spectrum, everything falls on deaf ears.”
To Charter, this is “repackaging.” All those Lexington-area customs whose rates suddenly jumped up at once are part of “a recent sweep” of former TWC customer accounts that Charter is bringing in line. And it’s not just Kentucky being affected.
Syracuse.com reports that customers in New York are seeing huge price increases when their own existing TWC promotional packages expire. One editor for the site saw his own bill go up by 31%, from $122 to $159, the site reports.
Meanwhile, Charter has been promising customers in North Carolina that it won’t cut them off mid-show like it did to their fellow customers in Kentucky. Not, mind you, because Charter realized it’s wrong to do so. Rather, because the technology in North Carolina has already been more recently upgraded and therefore “this situation affecting a small number of customers in Lexington, Kentucky has no relevance for our customers in the Carolinas,” as a Charter spokesman told the Raleigh News & Observer.