Time Warner Cable and Charter do not automatically offer refunds or credits to their overcharged customers, according to the results of a US Senate investigation published this week. Comcast, DirecTV, and Dish, meanwhile, do offer refunds or credits for overcharges caused by company billing errors, the study found. Time Warner and Charter billing errors were mostly overcharges for equipment that its customers rent, including set-top boxes and routers. A Senate subcommittee monitored customer accounts for more than six years, and found that the two companies “made no effort to trace equipment overcharges to their origin unless customers specifically asked them to and did not provide notice or refunds to customers.” The subcommittee estimates that TWC has already overbilled customers $639,948 between January and April, and will overbill customers $1,919,844 by the end of 2016. As a result of the investigation, Charter informed the subcommittee that it overbilled customers by at least $442,691 per month. TWC said it corrects overcharges using an often buggy computer program. The company told the investigators that its aim is to correct only 80 percent of billing errors through the program. Last month, it did not correct any because the program crashed. Although overbilling still frequently occurs at Comcast, DirectTV, and Dish, they employ more advanced practices to detect it. In Dish’s case, the company has automatic protections that make it impossible for a customer’s rental equipment to be added or removed without triggering a change in the billing record. As a result of the investigation, TWC offered to provide an automatic one-month credit to all customers for each piece of overbilled equipment or service, while Charter has decided to give its customers a one-year credit for any equipment overcharges.
Six Democratic US senators today criticized Comcast and other TV and broadband providers for charging erroneous fees, such as cable modem rental fees billed to customers who bought their own modems. The senators have written a letter to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler asking the commission to “stop unfair billing practices.” Last year, more than 30 percent of complaints to the FCC about Internet service and 38 percent of complaints about TV service were about billing, wrote Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). The senators described Comcast, the nation’s largest cable and broadband company, as a repeat offender. “We are troubled upon hearing complaints of consumers being charged the modem rental fee after they have returned the rented equipment to Comcast or being charged the rental fee having never rented a modem in the first place,” the senators wrote. “Not only are the majority of customers using automatic payment systems and may not personally authorize every erroneous charge, many consumers report having to call and remedy this problem throughout several billing cycles. In fact, customer help boards found online at Comcast’s Help and Support Forum contain complaints about this exact problem.” Comcast increased its monthly modem rental fee from $8 to $10 (in late 2014) “and makes an estimated $275 to $300 million a quarter from these fees,” the letter said. The problem is made worse by lack of competition, the senators wrote. When contacted by Ars today, a Comcast spokesperson noted that “modems are available to consumers at retail, and rental isn’t required for broadband service.”