Portman-Led Investigation Exposes Cable TV Companies Over-Billing Consumers in Ohio

WASHINGTON, DC — U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) today released an investigative report along with Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) through his Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations which reveals that two cable companies — including Time Warner Cable, the biggest cable TV provider in Ohio — have consistently failed to provide refunds to customers whom they knew they overcharged.

“Every business has an obligation to treat its customers with respect.  Our joint report outlines troubling findings about the practices of two cable companies, including Time Warner Cable, that have consistently failed to provide refunds to customers whom they know they have overcharged, including thousands of people in Ohio.  During the course of the Subcommittee’s investigation, we discovered something I found hard to believe:  Time Warner Cable and another company, Charter, made no effort to trace overcharges they identified and provide refunds to customers.  Instead of correcting their mistake by refunding the overcharges, their practice has been to just pocket the money.  In my view, that is a rip-off of Ohio consumers.  It is wrong, and it’s unacceptable.

“I am pleased that some corrective action has begun but in the case of Time Warner Cable it is not enough, and I will be asking them to do more to make Ohio consumers whole.  All consumers should be fully refunded their money, whether they were overcharged for three months or three years.”

NOTE: The full investigative report can be found here.  The Subcommittee reviewed thousands of documents, and interviewed countless witnesses, to learn more about the consumer practices of five of the largest pay-TV providers: Comcast, Charter, Time Warner Cable, Dish Network, and DirecTV.  Together, these companies serve more than half of all American households, and nearly three-fourths of those that pay for television programming.  What the Subcommittee found was the following:

·         During the time period examined by the Subcommittee, Time Warner Cable and Charter Communications—who have just recently merged with each other—made no effort to trace equipment overcharges they identified and provide refunds to customers.  Instead, their practice has been to just pocket the past overcharges.

·         Time Warner Cable—the largest cable company in of Ohio—had a particularly shoddy method of dealing with equipment overcharges.  Time Warner Cable estimates that it overbilled customers $640,000 in just the first four months of this year nationwide.  It overbilled consumers nationwide by about $2 million a year for the past six years.

·         During just the first five months of 2016, Time Warner Cable overbilled up to 11,000 customers in Ohio—and those overcharges totaled $108,000.  Time Warner Cable further estimates that, throughout last year alone, it overbilled 40,000 Ohio customers with overcharges of more than $430,000.

·         When Time Warner Cable discovered the overcharges, it only dealt with the problem prospectively.  It took erroneous charges off customers’ bills going forward, but did not provide any backward-looking refunds and did not even provide notice to customers so they could investigate the problem themselves.  They just kept the money.  

·         As a result of this investigation, Charter and Time Warner Cable have taken some initial steps to improve their practices.  Time Warner performs a monthly audit to find overcharges.  Going forward, the company will provide an automatic one-month credit to all customers for each piece of overbilled equipment or service, and it will provide notice to overbilled customers so they can determine whether to request a credit or refund.  But that does not make customers whole.  Time Warner Cable has not yet committed to do anything for the 40,000 Ohio customers, for example, who were overcharged last year.