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New York state commission moves to kick Spectrum out over consumer complaints

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Attorney general’s case on behalf of League of Legends, Netflix customers and others is still ongoing

Urgot, from League of Legends.
Riot Games

In early 2017, the Attorney General of the state of New York filed suit against the internet service provider formerly known as Time Warner Cable in that state. The scathing 87-page complaint alleged that TWC (now commonly known as Spectrum in the New York market) defrauded consumers by providing internet service that was much slower than advertised. Now, a public commission is demanding that the ISP create a plan to turn over its network, effectively kicking the company out.

As a result of the commission’s action, the ISP has 60 days to submit a plan “to ensure an orderly transition to a successor provider(s).”

In 2016, the New York State Public Service Commission approved the merger between Charter Communications and Time Warner, paving the way for Spectrum-branded internet service in that state. In a letter issued on July 27, 2018, it revoked that approval.

“Charter, doing business as Spectrum, has — through word and deed — made clear that it has no intention of providing the public benefits upon which the Commission’s earlier approval was conditioned,” the letter states. “In addition, the Commission directed Commission counsel to bring an enforcement action in State Supreme Court to seek additional penalties for Charter’s past failures and ongoing non-compliance. That enforcement action will be filed today in State Supreme Court in Albany.”

The letter goes on to site several reasons for its action, including:

- The company’s repeated failures to meet deadlines;

- Charter’s attempts to skirt obligations to serve rural communities;

- Unsafe practices in the field;

- Its failure to fully commit to its obligations under the 2016 merger agreement; and

- The company’s purposeful obfuscation of its performance and compliance obligations to the Commission and its customers.

The last item on that list is a reference to a 2017 complaint penned by then-Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman on behalf of thousands of consumers, including those using Netflix streaming services and playing Riot Games’ flagship title, League of Legends. He and his team used customer complaints from thousands of consumers, as well as data from Netflix and Riot, as the basis of the complaint. In it, the attorney general alleges that consumer internet speeds were inversely proportional to the amount customers paid, meaning that higher-tier plans were actually slower than more moderately priced plans.

The complaint alleges that only when customers complained vociferously enough did the ISP boost their individual connections, thereby seeking to avoid more heavy-handed action by the Federal Communications Commission. Meanwhile, said the attorney general, Spectrum actively sought to negotiate higher fees with Netflix, Riot and a backbone service provider to allow their data priority on the network.

Schneiderman’s complaint is still in the courts, and scheduled to go before a judge in early 2019.

The FCC’s recent action to kill net neutrality will likely make these types of issues more commonplace in the market as consumers will be forced to re-evaluate their contracts with local ISPs and then hold them accountable. In a cruel twist, the act of making a complaint at a federal level is no longer free. The FCC voted 3-1 earlier this month to change how it handles consumer complaints. The no-charge, informal process is gone leaving consumers on the hook for the $225 fee to file formal complaints with the watchdog organization.

Update: Reached for comment, Charter Communications issued the following statement.

In the weeks leading up to an election, rhetoric often becomes politically charged. But the fact is that Spectrum has extended the reach of our advanced broadband network to more than 86,000 New York homes and businesses since our merger agreement with the PSC. Our 11,000 diverse and locally based workers, who serve millions of customers in the state every day, remain focused on delivering faster and better broadband to more New Yorkers, as we promised.