Time Warner: A Tornado Destroyed Your House Our Cable Boxes? That'll Be $2,000

Ann Beam’s Wheatland, WI home was destroyed by a tornado earlier this month. Then a snow storm hit and made clean up difficult. To top it off, she opened her Time Warner Cable bill and saw a $2,000 charge for the 5 (9-year-old) cable boxes and remotes that were destroyed in the tornado.

She immediately called the cable company. She said she spoke to two different people, one who said he was a manager, and was told there was nothing the company could do.

“They said I would have to take the bill and turn it in to my insurance company,” Beam said.

She isn’t the only one opening similar bills from TWC. Tornado-ravaged Wheatland is full of destroyed cable boxes. Not knowing what else to do, Beam turned to the media to help her out. That got some results.

“We understand this is an unusual situation,” Celeste Flynn, director of public affairs for Time Warner Cable, told the Kenosha News. “All they will need to do is call and we will take the equipment off their account.”

Cable TV bills with a twist [KenoshaNews]

UPDATE: Alex from Time Warner Cable writes in to confirm that it’s TWC’s policy to waive charges in the event of a disaster.

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  1. emptydarkone says:

    Well, that goes to show that if you don’t talk to the right person at first, nothing gets done. Talk to the media, and shit gets handled.
    I shake my head in amazement at these company people that don’t have an ounce of common sense in their heads. You would think that a CSR that has received several of these calls would escalate the information to higher ups. Take initiative people!

  2. youbastid says:

    You know, I’d be willing to bet that they’re claiming depreciation on all the cable boxes that they lease out. If that’s true, then it’s illegal for them to try to charge full price.

  3. Buran says:

    9-year-old equipment is worth $222 a box? You can get a brand-new TiVo HD for only a little more than that and get the difference back after a while due to the lower monthly fee you’ll pay for the CableCards you need to get service.

    On what planet do these moneygrubbing jerks live?

  4. beavis88 says:

    @Buran: On the planet “New York Stock Exchange”, primarily…

  5. Kenneth says:

    The same me thing happened to TWC customers in New Braunfels, TX after the 2002 Summer floods. I can see TWC’s argument for having your insurance cover it, but I also see the depreciation argument. It sux all around.

  6. Jabes says:

    I love the “All they will need to do is call” line — um, she DID call and nothing happened.

  7. laserjobs says:

    OT: Who the hell needs five cable boxes let alone one?

  8. swalve says:

    Who should be responsible for damage of rented equipment if not the person renting it?

  9. adambadam says:

    @swalve: I agree that there needs to be someone to pay for it, though it should represent and actual cost to the company. Nine year old cable boxes may have cost $400 a piece when they were made nine years ago, though they have next to no value today.

  10. K-Bo says:

    9 year old cable box? my parents have been using the same sub $100 vcr for about 15 years. They haven’t had a cable box since vcrs went cable ready (yes, they still use a tv that is 27 years old and isn’t cable ready, you can’t get accountants to replace anything that “still works fine”)

  11. shadow735 says:

    Well you know it was all her fault because she told the Tornado to take out those cable boxes…

  12. Franklin Comes Alive! says:

    Not to be a jerk, but isn’t this what insurance is for? It sounds as if these are old boxes and not worth much, but what if they were new state-of-the-art boxes? Comcast (or Dish, or DirecTV, or whoever) is supposed to eat the cost of leased equipment when it is destroyed while in the posession of the person leasing it? I think they are will within their rights to try to collect for them, and the proper avenue is to get them paid for as part of your insurance claim.

  13. SadSam says:

    @K-Bo:

    Yay, the t.v. at our house was handed down to me (used to belong to grandpa) right after college and I still have it. I think my t.v. is approaching 25 years old, and it still works fine, but is super heavy.

    I wonder why I need a new t.v. but I understand from people who come to my house that my picture is awful compared to those new fancy tee vees.

  14. foxbat2500 says:

    Time Warner’s PR Department is going to love this!

  15. ecwis says:

    @Franklin Comes Alive!: The whole point of this story is that they are worth next to nothing. I sold one on eBay actually for about 10 dollars and it was a fairly new box, maybe 3 years old. So if all the details in this story were different, then yeah the cable company might have reason to collect the value of the box, not the MSRP 9 years ago.

    If the bill were for 50 dollars or so then it might have been reasonable.

  16. XianZomby says:

    I’ve got a cable modem here, and if it got wrecked and the cable company said it was worth 500 dollars I’d be pissed too — but only becasue I was being lied to. But if they said it was worth 30 dollars, and said “you pay for it, pal” I’d only be pissed for a day or two. That’s why I pay renters insurance.

    If I leased a car and it got wrecked by vandals, or by a storm, then I wouldn’t expect the owner of that car to eat the cost. That’s why I have car insurance.

    So I feel bad that this woman was ruined by a storm. Also that the cable company can’t level with her about the actual cost of that old dusty box — sounds criminal to me those lies they are telling — but that she has to pony up the replacment fee for the box? No. Sounds about right.

  17. Franklin Comes Alive! says:

    @ecwis:

    I’m sure my HD-DVR I’m leasing from Dish is worth a heck of a lot more than $10 (or $50 for that matter). If my house was destroyed by a tornado, I’d expect Dish to bill me for it, and I’d expect my insurance to pay for it.

  18. scoosdad says:

    @Buran: Divide $2000 by 5, not by 9. $400 a box. Even worse than $222.

  19. cascascas says:

    So home insurance covers things which don’t belong to you? That’s news to me. Surely one of the few advantages of leasing equipment and paying the fees month on month is avoiding the liability and risk that goes with ownership?

  20. Charles Duffy says:

    @swalve: Acts of God aren’t the same thing. She didn’t do anything to get her house hit by the tornado, Time Warner didn’t do anything to get their cable boxes hit by the tornado… it just happened.

    I can’t imagine that it’d be that friggin’ expensive for Time Warner to insure those boxes against unintentional damage, and it’d be dramatically better PR.

  21. ecwis says:

    Correct. It’s probably worth between $100 and $250. [cgi.ebay.com]
    [cgi.ebay.com]
    The worst part of this story is that they charged her $2,000 for five 9 year-old cable boxes.

    They didn’t charge her $2,000 for five relatively-new HD-DVR’s.

  22. tk427 says:

    “We understand this is an unusual situation,”

    A tornado in Wisconsin? um, no

    Did they really believe that (probably) half a town of 3,ooo cancelled their service at the same time and they were all planning on pawning their equipment?

  23. jeezous says:

    Guys, your forget the company has to replace the damaged set-top with a NEW full priced set-top which probably costs more than the customers old set-top. Also it doesnt matter if the damage wasn’t the customers fault, they’re still responsible for the items they own in their home. That’s what car & home insurance is for, they’ll pay off the bill.

  24. anneofandover says:

    If she has been paying a monthly leasing fee for nine years for the same five cable boxes and remotes then I’d have to say they must be paid in full. Perhaps she is owed money?

  25. Tacoma would of known ya says:

    @Franklin Comes Alive!: So you shouldn’t dispute a cost as long as insurance is covering the cost? Great, it’s okay for cable companies to scam insurance companies!

  26. Franklin Comes Alive! says:

    In this case… yes, it would be up to the insurance company and the cable company to figure that one out.

  27. humphrmi says:

    My house flooded five years ago. Comcast tried to bill me for the destroyed cable box. I have insurance, and sent the bill to State Farm. They got their lawyers on that shiznit, and pretty soon it went away. Insurance does more than pay money after a disaster.

  28. rioja951 - Why, oh why must I be assigned to the vehicle maintenance when my specialty is demolitions? says:

    @K-Bo: I hear you on that!
    My dear significant other, A.K.A the wife, threw a fit when I bought my HD flat screen for my lounge.
    The Tv room has her OLD sony trinitron from about mid-70′s.
    And yes, she is a professional accountant, a manager in fact for one of the local insurance co.

  29. swalve says:

    @ecwis: How much did you pay for it?

    @Charles Duffy: So who should pay for acts of god?

  30. GearheadGeek says:

    @swalve: His church(es)? ;)

  31. Buran says:

    @Franklin Comes Alive!: Yes, that’s what insurance is for.

    On TW’s part. They own the cable boxes, why aren’t THEY filing a claim with THEIR insurance?

  32. akalish says:

    Talk about manipulative practices. This is something the state’s Attorney General should look into.

  33. jeezous says:

    The cost of the set-top is determined by the replacement of a new set-top. Think about it, the company has to buy a *new* cable box to replace the damaged one.

    How messed up would it be if different customers paid different amounts for leased set-tops based on how old or depreciated it has become? People would start yelling its unfair if one customer paid less than the other because their set-top is 30 days older.

  34. Phipps6505 says:

    @Tacoma: Exactly! And this is why homeowners insurance is so blasted high. Geez, isn’t this the second cable box nightmare we’ve seen – lease a clue cable companies!

  35. KingPsyz says:

    I’m pretty sure I recall it was TWC in the San Diego fires too being douchey until the media got wind of it.

    I could be wrong though.

  36. ColoradoShark says:

    @emptydarkone: To give the CSR a little break, they are probably totally powerless to say anything other than “NO” to just about every request. Blame their bosses.

  37. synergy says:

    TWC is being an asshole, but…

    FIVE cable boxes?? That’s insane. People just don’t talk to each other in their own homes anymore.

  38. glorpy says:

    That’s funny. My cable modem was stolen in Fall of 2007. It was 4 years old. TWC [Rochester] charged me $32 for a new one. And yes, I was told to submit it to my insurance.

  39. toddiot says:

    FIVE CABLE BOXES?!?!

    /Been said, I know

  40. cosby says:

    Mixed feelings about this. Personaly I think they person should be responsible for the boxes. If they have insurance that covers them great.

    On the other hand the price of the boxes is high. A better question would be if the boxes could be reused if they had been turned in working. If so then make her pay for the replacement. If they couldn’t as they are outdated(even if they are 9 years old they still may support everything) then write them off and call it a day.

  41. quagmire0 says:

    @TODDIOT: No, it can’t be said enough: FIVE CABLE BOXES!! FIVE!!

  42. EvilConservative says:

    To start with TWC are douche-bags not to have a standing policy for disasters like this. As was said, they should be carrying insurance so they don’t have this PR nightmare of “piling on” the victims. That said, think about all the affected people who had leased cars in their collapsed garages. You think the leasing company walks away from them? No, they’re expected to have Comprehensive insurance on the car which will pay fair-market value. If their lease values are upside-down, they’ll pay more.

    @jeezous: You don’t understand depreciation. If TWC is depreciating the boxes, they are deriving an on-going tax benefit against the lease revenue. The loss in value of the box is a cost of doing business. They, like anyone else, would be expected to make up the difference in replacement cost. Earlier comments about legality only apply if the company was misrepresenting the value against an existing contract like an insurance policy. They can charge a customer what they want as long as they show the amount they receive over depreciated value as INCOME for tax purposes. Otherwise, they’re messing with the IRS. I doubt, for example, that the service agreement says “reasonable” or “current” value for a lost, stolen or damaged box… probably “replacement cost” if it says anything at all, but there will be tax on the income the payment represents.

  43. forgottenpassword says:

    I’d bet my life the insurance company will either refuse to cover it (because of the outrageous price claims for 9 year old cableboxes) or they will at least bust time warner’s balls over the cost to get it reduced.

    And yeah, CSRs & even supposed “managers” (who knows if it just wasnt a fellow employee claiming to be a manager…. it happens allllll the time) dont care to give people a break because they are often not given that kind of authority & could possibly get fired if they do.

    Gotta go much higher up & if that does nothing, then raise a stink in the media to get some kind of justice.

  44. Greasy Thumb Guzik says:

    @quagmire0:
    @laserjobs:

    No, it can be said too much.
    We don’t know how many people live in the house.
    Sounds like there’s a box in the main room of the house, the kitchen & in three bedrooms.
    @synergy:
    It has nothing to do with people not talking to each other, it has to do with wanting to watch different programs in different rooms, This isn’t the 50′s when everyone watched the same shows on a 21″ B&W TV.

  45. doctor_cos wants you to remain calm says:

    The fee the company charges you if a box is lost or stolen is clearly stated in the charges and fees list that was provided to all customers before they signed on.
    Whether the fees are fair and amicable and reflect any real cost or value has nothing to do with it. This is a FEE. You are not BUYING or REPLACING anything.

    That said, I am pleased to see the company is being forgiving in this circumstance.

  46. mac-phisto says:

    @EvilConservative:

    To start with TWC are douche-bags not to have a standing policy for disasters like this.

    that’s an excellent point. businesses are required to have disaster recovery plans in place for special circumstances like this, but i doubt many (if any) of these plans have extended beyond the responsibilities of the company to restore service.

    it would be wise for companies to revisit their business continuity plans, consider the external impact to their customers, & develop protocol for getting customers back online (& paying) as soon as possible.

  47. almondwine says:

    Why doesn’t Time Warner have insurance on the cable boxes? You’d think they would, given the likelihood that some get stolen.

    More to the point, I think this is one of those situations where people need to inform the director of public affairs at Time Warner Cable that big companies have, you know, software (or some crap like that) that can automatically remove the expense from bills. Without being asked by the customer.

  48. “We understand this is an unusual situation,” Celeste Flynn, director of public affairs for Time Warner Cable, told the Kenosha News. “All they will need to do is call and we will take the equipment off their account.”

    PR is funny. Why didn’t they just do that in the first place?

  49. G0lluM says:

    @jeezous: I understand the point you’re making, but I’m wondering – why must TW supply a “new” cable box?

    After all, if my car is damaged in an automobile accident for which I’m not at fault I don’t get to shout “Hooray!” and tell my insurance company to buy me a brand new car. They give me a check for what they deem the fair market value of the wrecked automobile. A determination in which depreciation plays a major role.

    Is the disconnect between what TW should expect when its boxes are damaged and what I should expect when my car is wrecked a result of the fact that they are a business and I am an individual? Perhaps it is because without cable boxes in the homes of its subscribers TW can not transact business but without my car I can just walk?

  50. vastrightwing says:

    Funny how their contract never tells you how much the equipment costs, only that you have to pay the full replacement cost. That’s a great contract for them. Time Warner v. Comcast. Who can rip off the consumer the most and still get away with it. I still say Comcast is in the lead.
    Personally, I prefer to buy an antenna and get off the air programming.

  51. Myron says:

    @Buran: That was my first thought as well. Are there any lawyers or accountants who can clarify how depreciation factors into liability?

  52. brent_w says:

    Sounds like the cable companies just want to scam some quick cash out of the insurance companies.

    Every company that thinks you can write their charges off to insurance inflates their costs, every last one.

  53. backbroken says:

    People, the real enemy here is the tornado. Let’s not forget that. To hell with tornados.

    Oh. And Comcast. To hell with them too.

  54. BStu says:

    Making their customers (OR their insurance companies) pay full replacement costs strikes me as very questionable. As noted, it must be assumed that they are writing off depreciation on the equipment and one further assumes they’ll probably do the same for the new equipment that they just had purchased for them. That just all seems very sketchy and I wonder if its the sort of thing the IRS might want to pay closer attention to. This could make for quite a scam.

  55. ShariC says:

    This sounds like a classic case of a company milking insurance for all they can get knowing that there’s a deep pocket to pick. It’s the same thing that the health care system does when it charges $8 an aspirin and whatnot. People tend not to fight such charges when insurance covers it but it’s the sort of thing that keeps premiums high.

    The fact that some people say “that’s what insurance is for” and shrug it off goes to show that the public is too indifferent to stop things like charging more than $400 apiece for outdated hardware.

  56. kimsama says:

    @Greasy Thumb Guzik: For real though, I immediately thought, FIVE!?.

    Then again, I grew up in a poor rural area where people would live in trailers but yet have 5 flat screen tvs, 5 cable boxes, 5 surround-sound systems, and probably 5 mortgages. Crazy!

  57. picantel says:

    I remember a little incident with Cox Communications a few years ago. They changed boxes and told us to throw it away. When we moved we suddenly received a $500 bill for a box that was no longer in use and of course we did not have. After I called up they said they would remove it and instead turned it over to a collection agency who prompty reported it on my credit report.
    I disputed with the credit bureaus and the company but they verified and continued to call multiple times a day. They told me they could care less if I disputed or not. I filed a complaint with the Texas attorney general and they ignored the dispute. Armed with this letter I called up and gave them one last chance to remove it and was told ‘if you do not like it then sue us’. I filed a small claims against the collection agency for violations of the FDCPA and FCRA and 1 week later had a check for $1000, an apology, and a deletion from the credit files.

  58. jeezous says:

    @G0lluM: Because that’s all the company can purchase from the manufacturer. Also, your comparing a purchased vehicle versus leased.

    The companies have insurance for their set-tops located in their location, not the customers home.

  59. ELC says:

    I love how they always say “there’s nothing we can do.” Oh really, why is that? Isn’t this YOUR company? Aren’t you setting the rules? Then the response she gets is “call us and we’ll take it off.” Didn’t she try that and get told “there’s nothing we can do”? insanity!

  60. Blueskylaw says:

    @swalve:
    If a person is renting an apartment room and a tornado destroys it, does the tenant have to pay to have the room rebuilt?

  61. HOP says:

    it’s a sorry assed time in this country when the only way some problems can be corrected is by alerting the media….

  62. edavid2 says:

    When our house burned down in the Oklahoma wildfires a couple of years ago we had to pay Cox Cable about $800 for a couple of converter boxes. Luckily we had good insurance so we just payed it. But it still seemed a little pricey…

  63. Toddgr says:

    Come on. It’s a clerical error and they fixed it. Do we really need to give top-billing to a mistake that was already, before this was even posted, corrected (as you can tell by the Time Warner comment in the post). It’d be nice if every company fixed problems like these so quickly.

  64. swalve says:

    @Blueskylaw: With a nickname like that, I’m surprised you think those are similar situations.

  65. antisocial says:

    So she was renting her house, and it got destroyed by God, and she had to pay the landlord for the whole house???

  66. tk427 says:

    @Toddgr:
    It was already fixed because the lady had already turned to the media for help.