Time Warner Subscribers Sue
Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading
In a sign of growing consumer discontent over service outages resulting from the takeover of Adelphia Communications , former Adelphia and Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) subscribers are suing Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) in Los Angeles as it grapples with system integration issues.
Beverly Hills law firm Glassman, Browning & Saltsman Inc. lodged the potential class-action lawsuit against Time Warner on behalf of one of the unhappy subscribers last week. The complaint, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court just before Thanksgiving, charges that the nation's second largest MSO suffered numerous service breakdowns, broke pledges to its new subscribers, and didn't offer rebates or credits for cable outages after beginning the process of integrating the old Adelphia and Comcast systems last month.
"This widespread disruption made a mockery of [Time Warner's] promises that these cable services would not be interrupted as a result of the migration, and that they would provide plaintiffs with high-quality customer service," the suit alleges. Among other things, the complaint charges the MSO with breach of contract, franchise violations, fraud and deceit, and negligent misrepresentation.
The suit seeks damages, attorneys' fees, interest payments, and other compensation for the aggrieved subscribers.
The plaintiffs are also seeking class-action status, which would allow the suit to cover potentially all of the 1.6 million new Time Warner customers in the Los Angeles area.
Time Warner Cable, which previously had only 350,000 cable subscribers in that market, inherited 1.1 million customers as part of its Adelphia buyout and another 500,000 through a related system swap with Comcast. As a result, its cable market share has jumped from a mere 15 percent to a commanding 75 percent.
The legal action comes after weeks of complaints by former Adelphia and Comcast subscribers that Time Warner has been bungling the massive switchover from the two other companies' operations. Customers have griped about losing broadband service for days on end, getting their emails blocked, experiencing unwanted changes in their TV channel lineups, and suffering long waits for customer service and tech support.
"We appear to have hit a raw nerve," says Alexander Rufus-Isaacs, a partner at Glassman, Browning & Saltsman. "Consumers have been driven around the bend."
Rufus-Isaacs says he filed the suit in response to initial complaints from "half a dozen" cable subscribers and local press reports about the outages. Contending that Time Warner's actions "seemed a particularly outrageous violation" of law, Rufus-Isaacs says he has since heard from more than 20 other subscribers.
"We have been deluged with people calling in and emailing in," he says. "I dare say we'll be adding these additional people."
Citing the company's long-standing policy, a Time Warner Cable spokesman declined comment on the suit and said he couldn't estimate the extent of the problems. The complaint has not yet been served against the MSO.
Time Warner is not the only MSO to run into pesky service problems while trying to integrate Adelphia's operations into its own. As reported last month, Comcast has encountered plenty of headaches converting Adelphia systems in such Northeastern markets as Pittsburgh and Burlington, Vt.
But the Los Angeles situation is a particularly problematic one for Time Warner, as it's struggling to integrate a huge mish-mash of 16 cable headends, 69 cable hubs, and 30,000 miles of plant spread over a sprawling five-county area.
Time Warner is also trying to pull together three large cable systems with more than 100 different TV channel lineups, eight different set-top box models, four different cable modem models, three different billing systems, and three different video-on-demand (VOD) platforms. So it's not terribly surprising that it's experiencing so many technical glitches in L.A.
At the same time that it's working on the Los Angeles market, Time Warner is integrating large Adelphia and Comcast systems in Buffalo, N.Y.; Cleveland; and Dallas. But the L.A. operations still dwarf all of those.
— Alan Breznick, Site Editor, Cable Digital News