State: Time Warner Cable Defrauded Customers By Advertising Internet Speeds It Couldn’t Provide

Image courtesy of Photo Nut 2011

Back in 2015, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman launched a statewide effort to measure residents’ broadband speeds to see if they were getting the “blazing fast” internet access that the service providers advertised. Today, Schneiderman announced his office is suing New York City’s biggest broadband provider for not only failing to live up to its promises, but for allegedly knowing that many customers couldn’t possibly see the speeds that TWC promised.

“For years, Time Warner Cable promised New York families ‘blazing fast’ and ‘super reliable’ service,” said Schneiderman in a press event announcing the lawsuit. The reality, claims the AG, is that TWC’s service was “neither fast nor reliable.”

According to the complaint [PDF] filed today in a New York state court, Time Warner Cable engaged in a deliberate scheme to defraud customers.

The state claims that TWC deliberately neglected its network and didn’t provide upgraded equipment to customers, meaning many broadband subscribers were unable to see the speeds the company marketed to them.

The lawsuit cites an internal company presentation from June 2013, where TWC staff acknowledged that 75% of the modems associated with the 20 Mbps broadband plan could not actually deliver that speed. And yet, that memo notes that this outdated hardware was “still being deployed due to budget restraints,” and “no communications have been sent to the existing customer base” to tell them they should swap out their modems for compliant devices.

At the time, according to the complaint, this presentation recommended against recycling these modems to new customers and for swapping them out with new devices.

In fact, the company even convinced the FCC to not include data from these older modems in its annual report of broadband speeds, based on the promise that they would be replaced.

However, the state contends that only select TWC customers who had volunteered for the FCC’s study received new modems and “VIP treatment,” while the rest of the company’s customer base continued to use antiquated equipment.

Meanwhile, notes the lawsuit, TWC made a sales push in New York City, encouraging customers to upgrade to faster — and more expensive — tiers of service, but “without ever checking whether the modems it leased to subscribers were capable of actually supporting their new speed plans.”

The issue is still a problem in some parts of TWC’s market, says the state, which found that — as of Feb. 2016 — there were still 185,000 TWC customers in New York with deficient modems.

The state also took issue with TWC’s marketing of its WiFi routers, claiming they could not deliver the in-home speeds that the company touted.

In 2014, a TWC Vice President noted that the company-supplied routers were not going to provide the high-speed access promised to the company’s more expensive service tiers, telling his colleagues that “we are going to experience a mismatch between what we sell the customer and what they actually measure on their laptop/tablet/etc.”

“The allegations confirm what millions of New Yorkers have long suspected: Spectrum-Time Warner Cable has been ripping you off,” said Schneiderman, claiming that even after the merger with Charter, “Spectrum-Time Warner Cable continues to offer Internet speeds that we found they cannot reliably deliver.”

In a statement to Consumerist, a rep for Charter says the company is “disappointed” that Schneiderman is suing over broadband speeds that were measured before Charter acquired TWC.

“Charter made significant commitments to New York state as part of our merger with Time Warner Cable in areas of network investment, broadband deployment and offerings, customer service and jobs,” claims the company. “In addition, Charter was among the highest rated broadband providers in the 2016 FCC Broadband Report. Charter has already made substantial investments in the interest of upgrading the Time Warner Cable systems and delivering the best possible experience to customers. We will continue to invest in our business and deliver the highest quality services to our customers while we defend against these allegations involving Time Warner Cable practices.”

Last summer, while the state was still reviewing the data it had collected, internet advocate and special adviser to the AG’s office Tim Wu told Charter that the numbers were “troubling,” and that it looked like TWC had “been failing to take adequate or necessary steps to keep pace with the demand of [their] consumers.”

“It appears that TWC has been advertising its WiFi in ways that defy the technology’s technical capabilities,” wrote Wu at the time, “and has been provisioning some of its customers with equipment that simply cannot achieve the higher bandwidths the company has sold to them.”