Trying to fight City Hall once again, and running into two commercial giants
July 2014 – It all started with a bill from Time Warner, a subsidiary of the Disney/ABC communications monopoly. I looked at a bill which verified the cancellation of my TV cable box. I noticed that I was being charged $55/month for Internet access, despite the fact that I enrolled under the original cost of $14.99, which is still being advertised as the standard rate. I had been paying $14.99 until … when? Probably until I ordered the cable box a couple of years ago. I could only track this year’s bills, and they had been charging me $52.99 for the first three months, then $55.99 a month.
So I called Time Warner to find out why it wasn’t the $14.99 charge for which I was contracted originally. Well, they don’t know. Seems their records don’t go back as far as 2009, when I signed on, but they could go back to 2011 – but not with a breakdown of the charges. Oh, really??? This is hogwash; just a way for the sales rep to avoid admitting I’d been overcharged all that time. I worked in IT for large companies for over twenty years – I know the records are there. All she could muster was that I must have opted to go to the high-speed service somewhere along the line. Enough! I told her to cancel my Internet access, and send me a refund for the $278 I’d paid this year alone in overcharges. Since they wouldn’t admit to overbilling, they said no to the refund (and by the way are threatening to cancel my already cancelled services for non-payment even now). The rep verified that she was cancelling my Internet access and my basic cable service. Whoa, sweetie – my basic cable service is provided through my rent. She had to check with a supervisor, then confirmed that they cannot remove my basic cable; and perhaps that’s what the extra charge was for. I don’t care, little darlin’, just cancel the Internet; reason – false advertising.
That was quick – they disconnected my modem while I was on the phone with them!
Now to find a different method to access the Internet; I get about 150 e-mails a day on five different accounts, and I work online, so this is a necessity. One month later, Time Warner locked up my Roadrunner e-mail accounts, which resulted in a greater hardship, since I now have no alerts nor business mail going in or out. I will have to reach all my contacts and the 300+ WWW accounts to change my e-mail address. Calling customer service, all I got was a request to pay my bill. When I explained I was calling to find out why my e-mail accounts were ‘suspended’, I was given a second number to call; a call to that number gave me billing again, and she gave me a third number to call. At the third number, a man with an accent too thick to understand asked for my credit card number. At that point I gave up.
During the days of Netscape, MSN and AOL portals to the World Wide Web, a company named NetZero popped up. They felt the Internet access should be free. I don’t know how they proposed to achieve that, but the company is still in business. I went to the NetZero Web site, but while all their packages are listed (with prices), there was no explanation of what the wi-fi packages entailed nor how they worked. I couldn’t find a ‘Contact Us” link anywhere. The third time I muddled through the site, a pop up offered a phone call from a representative, of which I took advantage in the hopes of figuring this all out.
A lady named Kim called me. She had a thick Asian accent, and seemed only interested in closing the deal for a top-of-the-line package. She didn’t seem capable of explaining the difference between a “stick” and a portable hot spot. So, still looking at the Web site, I chose the cheapest package I saw, which was a stick.
Five days later the stick arrived. Apparently the stick allowed the computer to which it was attached to access the Internet. That’s OK – I only use one computer at a time. I plugged it into my laptop. My laptop has served me well, and was working great up till then. Lo and behold, I had Internet access. I immediately connected with Norton to install my Internet Protection plan to replace the McAfee that was on the laptop. Upon installation, Norton notified me that there was an infection of boot.codix, a particularly malevolent virus, and Norton could not remove it. I searched the hard drive for this file, but couldn’t find it. I figured the only thing I could do is reboot and hope that Norton would capture it then.
On reboot: missing operating system. No laptop. I had the four Acer recovery CDs made, so I tried to recover my OS. Fortunately I had no data I was afraid of losing and could re-install any applications I needed, so I went ahead and wiped out my hard disk. I was fine – until it asked for CD #5. On reboot: missing operating system. I went on to the Acer Web site and found that there was a built-in recovery set up just like the one my CDs had, so I ran that. On reboot: missing operating system. I finally had to bring it to a computer shop (Computer Connection) and they ran into the same problem. They finally booted up with Windows CDs and found the problem was in the Acer recovery program – a glitch which didn’t let the laptop boot up at all. So I paid $81 to have them fix what Acer should never have released.
While I was fussing over the Acer, I contacted Net Zero within 24 hours of receiving the stick; I wanted to return the stick and get my money back. There was no way I would take the chance of putting that stick in my tower. I got Kim again, and she proceeded to tell me that my contract was locked and I would need to pay an early cancellation fee; I asked to speak to her supervisor. He, in clearer English, informed me that I was obligated to the early termination fee; and the stick could not have carried a virus. I tried to explain to him that, as a computer consultant for over 20 years, I knew the laptop was clean and working well until I inserted the stick, and the only thing I did after its insertion and connection to the Internet was to download and install Norton Internet Protection, so if the virus was not hard-wired in the stick, then it was on their Web site, which the stick connected with to install the portal. Denied.
I checked my bank account – Net Zero had deducted $39.44 for an activation fee on 6/30, They then charged $22.16 on 7/3 – monthly usage charges, I assume. On 7/15, they did credit $14.77, upon receiving the stick back, but it cost me $5.00 for postage to do so. Including the Acer repairs, this lesson in incompetency cost me $132.83 – not a mean amount for someone living on Social Security!
The saga isn’t quite over. I contacted Verizon; I have used Verizon since the 90s, with a cell phone, regularly changing my plan – adding my mother, daughter, granddaughter, removing the same three people; adding a home phone; changing coverage. The Web site has a lot more information on what the devices and plans offer; there is also a contact phone number, where over the years I have always found very helpful representatives who find the best plan for my needs. The best thing I could find is a portable wi-fi hot spot. And this one comes with a 30-day trial period with no fee for cancellation. It definitely has the security that public hot spots do not, and allows me to use the hot spot for travel as well as home use. The drawback (and it is a serious one, in my opinion) is that the access is not unlimited; I’ve used 12 GB of data down/uploads and the month isn’t even over; I’m paying $80 a month for the first 10 GB and $10/GB for any overage. And this is without up/downloading videos or pictures! This is a harsh reality for anyone who is used to unlimited cable access. Hopefully this limitation will be changed in the near future; the ‘broadband’ isn’t very broad and the loads are slow. I’ve learned to work e-mail offline, limit Facebook loads, even cancel unwanted e-mails. Since it is a local hot spot, the amount of up/downloading should not be a factor. Unless I don’t understand how this works, which is possible, I admit.
Yes, I am ranting. But there is another reason for publishing this article. Other people need to know the pitfalls to watch for, as monopolies and confusing billing become rampant. These companies depend on no one being able to understand what they are paying for. The companies are becoming big enough to ignore customer needs and wants. Customers are paying more and more while the companies off-shore the customer service so that it’s cheap and totally ineffective. I dare them to publicly expose their profit margins.
PS: 8/27/2014 update. The harassing e-mails have stopped, and the calls are slowing down. Got a voice message stating that they received my letter and want to discuss it. The number they gave me went straight to billing (and now the total “due” is $116.16). When I explained to the billing agent that I wrote a letter and was told to call about the dispute, he politely put me on hold. In about 5 minutes I was transferred to customer service and still on hold. Half an hour later they disconnected the call.
PS: 8/11/14 — After being on hold for 45 minutes I finally got through to Time Warner; they have cut off all my services and locked up my e-mail accounts and are still calling daily for their balance (on threat of cancelling my accounts). I wanted it recorded that I consider this harassment since the amount is under dispute and apparently they have not read my letter to billing explaining why they owe me a refund.
PS, 9/29/16 – Time Warner has placed a charge of $116.16 on my credit rating, and I am still getting regular calls about paying the bill. Finally, this spring, I told the caller that the bill was in dispute. She told me to send a copy of the dispute, but I lost the address. Still, no more calls.
PS, 12/31/16 — Time Warner is now trying to settle for $52 and change. Of course, if I don’t settle they will be forced to stop my services. Hmmm … can I live with such a loss of absolutely nothing? I ignore them. Give it up, guys. When I mention to someone that I “fired” Time Warner I always get a knowing look and a little cheer.
lions44 from Auburn, WA
Sorry to hear about your battles. I hear it so much. Whenever I hear them talk about “customer service,” I laugh. Sharing everywhere. Important topic. Thx. 9/29/30
Bonnie-Jean Rohner from Webster, New York: Author 9/30/16
hopefully more people will find an outlet to share their own experiences – it’s the only avenue the ordinary citizen has to finding solutions and letting the corporations know we are not amused – or stupid.