Yeah, Charter and Time Warner Cable are still overcharging. Who thought they weren’t?

Yesterday, the Senate dropped its report on the cable and satellite industry and let’s be honest folks, it did not look good for Charter and Time Warner Cable. While DIRECTV, DISH, and surprisingly Comcast skated on the report, even getting compliments from the committee on how they handle overcharging, the report concluded that together Time Warner Cable and Charter charged their customers $13 million in unnecessary fees and overcharges, and relied on customers to call before issuing refunds.

I’m not even going to ask how much it cost the Senate committee to find that out, because I’m afraid of the answer.

No wonder people hate cable companies. Not only can they not get bills straight, but they rely on you to audit your bill every month, comparing your charges with the list of available channels and services, checking taxes, and if you find something, sitting on hold with them until they answer, and then fighting for every penny. On the other hand, DIRECTV and DISH both use complicated systems to find overcharges before they happen and stop them.

The report, found here on the Senate’s web page (of course the Senate has a web page) is pretty cruel to Charter and Time Warner Cable to the extent that you have to wonder why the FCC approved the merger of these two titans of industry. It’s hard to imagine that two companies with such systemic problems could combine to make one company that doesn’t. These are companies that don’t want to be treated like utilities (which, I get that) and yet they can’t act like responsible businesses.

I read the entire Senate report and my opinion is that while the number sounds really high, it isn’t. It boils down to an average of under one dollar per subscriber per year. The problem isn’t the raw number, it’s what happens when someone is really being overcharged and tries to get that fixed. It’s that pattern of denial and confusion that makes it so hard to get these charges reversed. It’s quite a bit harder to legislate good customer service, which is why everyone’s focused on the dollar amounts.

There hasn’t been any significant press coverage of the pay-TV industry’s reaction as a whole, although it seems to me that DIRECTV and DISH have nothing to complain about here. Maybe Charter and TWC just feel like people couldn’t think any less of them so why worry?

Does anyone else remember this comedy sketch? Lily Tomlin did this recurring character on several shows for about a decade:

I know the quality is bad, but it was the best I could find.

The point is that people have been complaining about the service providers to their homes for a very, very long time. I guarantee that shortly after telephone service was run to the first city in the country, someone complained. And most likely the phone company deserved it, and they probably didn’t do anything to fix the problem. (I say this knowing that AT&T’s ancestor company was that company and that DIRECTV is now part of AT&T.) But my point is that the industry has always been slow to change and you see these kind of things all the time. It doesn’t mean they can’t do better — because obviously AT&T/DIRECTV does do better — but my point is that the Senate investigation just uncovered something that we all knew already. People hate the cable company. Why was it necessary to waste taxpayer money discovering that?