08/11/2013 03:25 pm ET Updated Oct 11, 2013

Time Warner Cable Tone Deaf to Customers During Media Blackout

It's always amazing to me to observe the relationship between purveyors of services and the customers purchasing those services in situations like the ongoing Time Warner Cable/CBS blackout. We who pay the bills watch as the PR wranglers do their best to take our pulse with placebo surveys, leave perky messages on customer service numbers, and point fingers (anywhere but inward) as they assuage with oily promises that "we're doing everything we can... it's the other side that's intransigent and unwilling."

Uh huh.

Look, as a Los Angeles customer of Time Warner Cable, I know well the storied, and not very pretty, customer service history of this media behemoth. When I moved to my current location I was forced to give up our coveted Verizon FIOS because they simply "did not go there" (there being a hilly neighborhood near the beach), but every suggestion from nearby neighbors was, "DON'T get Time Warner... they suck." I vaguely remembered having TWC at some point in the past but the blur of teeth-gritting problems with almost every media company pre-empted my ability to pull them from the pack. And since I was overwhelmed with moving and too lazy to parcel out my media needs between the various other companies available (Direct TV and Dish the only other options), I bit the bullet and contracted with TWC for cable, internet and phone. Throwing in for a couple of premium channels and three boxes, our monthly bill is almost $200. Not cheap, but we needed what we got and Showtime and HBO are essential for anyone who doesn't want to pay $25 a person for a night at the movies!

The set-up was rough going -- our service fellow ended up cutting a neighbor's wires for ALL his media services -- the roll-out of purchased items was a bit of a mess (somehow Showtime didn't show up as ordered) and the Internet is -- still to this day -- less stellar than promised, but it was all 'good enough.' So despite any curiosity about Dish, or suggestions to "try Direct TV... they're better!!" we stuck with TWC. Stockholm Syndrome, anyone?

Then came the blackout. When I first heard the threats, I thought, "Naw! They can't possibly do that!" But "do that" they did and since whatever day this idiocy started, we have been without our beloved Showtime, no CBS, The Movie Channel, or various other media services we PAY FOR. And, as we're all aware by this point, it's all "the other guy's fault."

Here's my take: I don't care whose fault it is. When two multi-billion dollar companies get into a hissy fit about money, then take their punitive actions out AGAINST THEIR CUSTOMERS, they are severely tone deaf to the principles of the marketplace. Customers don't like to be the vessels for vitriol between parties who exist in a vaunted state of wealthy corporate cluelessness.

You know what else they don't like? Pure stupidity. In a colossal blunder of epic proportion, Time Warner Cable sent out their bills for the upcoming month with not only NO ADJUSTMENT for the unavailable paid services of the previous billing cycle, but NO ADJUSTMENT FOR THE UPCOMING CYCLE. In other words, I not only didn't get a reimbursement for the money I already paid for Showtime and my basic package that are being blacked out, I'm being fully billed for those services for the month that hasn't even started yet. As the black-out continues!

Could Time Warner Cable be more tone deaf?

I had called the TWC phone line over a week ago to get some information on just how they intended to adjust our bills for the services not being rendered, and a recorded message assured me I "would be credited" for the blackout items on my next bill. When my "next bill" came today with no such adjustment, I forced my way through the recordings to get to a real person, a chirpy operator who, in the face of my clenched jaw, did her best to find balance between scripted service and just getting the job done. But when she started parroting the party line that "Time Warner Cable will offer reimbursements on your next bill," (meaning, the bill for Sept. to Oct.), I think my mandible snapped.

"Are you kidding me?" I almost-hollered. "So, not only haven't I gotten a reimbursement for the bill I already paid that covered blackout dates, I'm expected to pay the full amount for next month and just presume I'll be reimbursed at some distant point in the future? DO YOU REALLY THINK THAT'S THE BEST WAY TO HANDLE THIS??!" I followed this outburst with a calmer acknowledgement that I realized none of this was her fault, but when I asked to speak to someone with more authority, she assured me she was, indeed, qualified to adjust my bill.

And then she didn't. She wouldn't. Said she couldn't. But promised it would get taken care of sometime in, say, September.

Unbelievable. I told her thanks, but I hoped to be with another service by then. And, yeah, I'm pretty sure that threat is going to keep corporate big-wig and TWC CEO, Glenn Britt, up nights, right?

But guess what? No other cable companies operate in my neck of the woods. The true wound of monopoly. I'll finally be looking at DISH or Direct TV but I think, as Slate writer Michael Calabrese so aptly put it, Time For Congress to Rescue the Hostages.


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