As Time Warner Cable began its system consolidation in the greater Los Angeles area, it posted a promise on its local Web page: “Let's start with the most important fact: Your service will not be interrupted.”
Those words are now being used against the company in a potential class-action lawsuit, filed Nov. 22 in Los Angeles Superior Court. The suit, filed on behalf of subscriber Toby Miller, asserts that the company's actual performance made a mockery of that promise.
The civil suit accuses the cable operator of breach of contract, fraud and deceit, and negligent misrepresentation, among other allegations.
A portion of Time Warner's high-speed Internet customers suffered outages, which, according to the lawsuit, lasted as long as two weeks, when the operator began changing former Comcast High-Speed Internet customers to the new owner's Road Runner service. Those accounts had to be physically moved from Comcast-owned servers to Time Warner systems.
The lawsuit asserts that the No. 2 U.S. operator failed to devote sufficient resources to ensure that customers' service would not be affected during the changes it is implementing to absorb the operations of Adelphia Communications, which it acquired, as well as the local systems it is taking over as part of a related system swap with Comcast.
One of the plaintiff's attorneys, Alexander Rufus-Issacs, said the problems were exacerbated by consumers' inability to get a live operator on the phone and by an automated answering system that made it as difficult as possible for subscribers to get answers for their problems.
Time Warner Cable did not comment on the suit.
Mark Harrad, senior vice president of communications at the cable company, did note, though, that integrating the Los Angeles cable systems is one of the most complicated operational mergers that has been done anywhere.
Time Warner Cable has gone from 15% of the greater Los Angeles marketplace, representing 350,000 customers, to 75% of the market, serving 1.9 million customers. The new owner inherited three different video-on-demand platforms, three distinct customer service phone and back-office systems, 16 headends and 69 hubs.
The company is trying to harmonize operations, which in the end will provide ease of use to consumers, as well as easier billing and marketing for the company. Time Warner Cable acknowledges the glitches and is fixing them so that they don't recur, he added.
But in the lawsuit, complaintants argue that affected consumers should receive refunds of all their bills, with interest.
Rufus-Isaacs said lawyers are looking for other potential named plaintiffs and are researching the size of the potential class. But language in the suit might limit class consideration to residents of the city of Los Angeles.
The complaint notes that the city's customer service standards mandate that a provider automatically provide credits when a service is out more than 24 hours. Another problem: those standards apply to cable services and federal court rulings have determined that Internet service is not the same as a cable service, and thus is not subject to municipal regulation.
NOT ENOUGH PUBLICITY
The suit notes that Time Warner Cable honors consumer requests for credits for service problems, but asserts the company doesn't publicize that fact, so not all eligible consumers received compensation.
Harrad said the company has provided a variety of compensation, noting that he couldn't offer specifics because of the pending suit.
“Our standard operating procedure is to try to keep our customers and their loyalty by making appropriate amends,” Harrad said.
The suit requests a jury trial, refund of the bills paid during the two months when service was disrupted, plus damages, attorneys' fees and court costs.