Should Cable, Internet Companies Be Required To Let You Cancel Service Online?

Image courtesy of Sybren Stüvel

Just about any pay-TV or Internet service provider (often one in the same) lets new customers sign up online. You can do the whole process — check your address for availability (even if the company’s database is dreadfully wrong), pick a service tier, schedule an installation appointment, and even have your credit history checked — all without talking to a single human being. But if you need to cancel that same service, you likely have to spend quite a long time talking to someone on the phone, explaining that you simply don’t want to give their company any more money.

A recently introduced piece of legislation in California, AB 2867, is hoping to compel cable companies and ISPs to offer the option of one-click cancelation on their websites.

The bill’s sponsor, Assemblyman Mike Gatto from Los Angeles, argues that “if you are able to sign up for a service online, you should also be able to cancel it the same way.”

And that’s exactly what the bill’s language currently states:
“If a cable or Internet service provider enables an individual to subscribe to its services through an Internet Web site, it shall also enable all of its customers to cancel their subscriptions through the Internet Web site.”

The bill has the support of Ryan Block, who famously recorded a needy Comcast retention employee demanding that Ryan explain his reason for canceling service. A call that Comcast admitted was “embarrassing” and “painful,” even though the employee was doing “what we trained him to do.”

“Two years ago my wife and I called to cancel our service, and as is usually the case, that call was pretty unpleasant,” said Block in a statement about the California bill, which he believes “would finally allow most customers to be able to cancel their service online, without having to talk to someone whose job is specifically to prevent you from canceling.”

While Los Angeles was spared having to go through a merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable and the customer service nightmare that would have resulted from that marriage, TWC — the predominant provider in the area — is nearing a merger with Charter, meaning there will inevitably be hiccups as the two companies consolidate staffs, hardware, and customers.

This particular bill, if passed, would only require this change in California, but as we’ve seen in other cases — most recently the Vermont GMO-labeling rules — it’s sometimes easier for national companies to just make a blanket countrywide policy change instead of customizing a product for just one state.