News

L.A. Sues TWC for Service Lapses

6/06/2008 8:00 PM Eastern

Stating that Time Warner Cable must be held accountable for “illegally deceiving and ripping off its subscribers,” Los Angeles city attorney Rocky Delgadillo said his office filed a civil suit on June 5 to punish the cable operator for service lapses in late 2006 and early 2007.

In the lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, the criminal and special litigation branch of Delgadillo's office asserts that the cable company is guilty of deceptive business practices and false advertising.

The suit is linked to the problems the operator had as it assumed control of the area's former Adelphia Communications systems, as well as systems swapped with Comcast, its partner in the Adelphia purchase.

Time Warner Cable now controls most of the cable homes in the city of Los Angeles, except for a Cox Communications franchise area in the harbor-San Pedro area and in Malibu, where Charter Communications serves about 100 homes.

Time Warner's takeover necessitated an e-mail migration by customers from Adelphia and Comcast domains to those of Time Warner; channel-lineup changes; billing adjustments (especially among Adelphia customers, where poor database management had allowed some customers to pay discounted rates years after promotional offers had expired); and other customer-facing changes.

But the lawsuit noted that Time Warner's advertising asserted that consumers would not be inconvenienced. Instead, consumers suffered long outages, weren't able to reach live operators and were billed for service they didn't receive or had cancelled, according to the city official.

During that period, the city recorded 1,997 complaint calls, compared to 984 complaints in the same period the previous two years.

Time Warner Cable rushed to hire more personnel and had been operating without public outcry for at least 14 months prior to the filing.

Delgadillo is a longtime critic of cable. In 2003, he pursued then-bankrupt Adelphia Communications for $5 million in consumer rebates and a rate rollback to 2002 prices. Adelphia's management appealed the order to the Federal Communications Commission, but was rebuffed. The company ultimately paid up, with rebates to some 200,000 city customers.

At the time of the transition, the city had a contract with Time Warner Cable requiring it to answer all calls in 30 seconds or less and to begin repairs, once notified of a problem, within 24 hours 90% of the time. Time Warner was out of compliance with those standards for about six months.

Los Angeles no longer regulates the Time Warner system; in 2007, the California Legislature approved a shift in control to the Public Utilities Commission. Time Warner applied for regulation by that agency in January.

This is not the only lawsuit pending regarding the service lapses. A potential class-action lawsuit, filed Nov. 22, 2006, has been amended twice, according to attorney Alexander Rufus-Isaacs.

Time Warner Cable has filed a challenge to the latest version, asserting its arguments are insufficient. Arguments in that motion are scheduled in Los Angeles Superior Court on July 1.