BBB Releases Charter Cable Complaints

Charter claims new program will resolve complaints with satisfactory outcomes

04/20/2007 - Cable television provider Charter Communications touts a proud history of customer service, but that record is now falling under scrutiny with the release of a Better Business Bureau (BBB) tally of area resident complaints against Charter.

Customers are complaining that the firm has missed appointments, often numerous times; sent them to collection agencies in error; provided improper billing; refused to let them speak with a supervisor or kept them on hold during phone calls for long periods of time.

According to Michelle Corey of the Eastern Missouri and Southern Illinois BBB, in the past 36 months the bureau has received more than 2,000 complaints and reports against Charter. More than 1,300 of which were received since Jan. 1, 2006.

"Typically, only about 6 percent of dissatisfied customers will actually take the time to make a complaint to BBB," said Corey. "So this gives you some idea of the volume of unhappy customers that are out there when it comes to Charter Communications."

Charter Communications provides communications and entertainment technology services to consumers throughout the country and is one of the largest cable service providers. The cable firm has numerous offices nationally, but its headquarters is in Town & Country in St. Louis County.

The consumer complaints come at a bad time for Charter. Its franchise agreements are up for renewal in the coming months with area cities from Shrewsbury to Fenton. Area cities have logged resident complaints about service, as well as cable rate hikes, which have gone up almost 95 percent since 1995.

In addition, Charter is facing future competition from a tough telecommunications giant in AT&T. Better known for its telephone operations, AT&T is now asking cities to approve installation and service agreements for a variety of multi-channel television services.

"Area cities are not in a position to do much with complaints about the cable company that come to them, even if they do approve the franchise agreements," said Corey, in reference to complaints made to cities about Charter. "It may be that they opt to bring in competition as a way to get better results for consumers."

Variety Of Complaints

According to the BBB, a Kirkwood woman said that due to poor service, she went to Charter's office to cancel service and return her equipment. She said she was told her balance was 30 cents, but not to worry about it, because she was told, "I don't think Charter bills anyone for under $1."

However, three weeks later she received a bill for $127.20, marked "seriously past due." She said Charter told her it would resolve the matter. Two weeks later she said she received a bill†for $144.16 from a collection agency. Charter has since corrected her bill, she said.

In another complaint to the BBB, a resident said she signed up for Charter's Triple Play high-speed Internet, phone service and digital cable and was told that upon installation, she would owe $162.99. She said her first bill included additional fees and an installation charge.

When she complained, Charter said that they did not offer a Triple Play package. She later was told the charges had been removed, but they weren't. After she filed a complaint with the BBB, Charter admitted that there had been a billing error and agreed to provide a refund.

Charter Responds

In response to the BBB media advisory on consumer unhappiness with Charter, company officials issued a statement this week about a new program involving "centers for excellence," which will work to resolve customer complaints more quickly and with satisfactory outcomes.

"We have been aware that there are some problems," said Sharifah Williams, public relations manager for the local Charter office. "We have been working with the BBB for six months and we were surprised by their media release on this.

"Our own records show a 33 percent decline in complaints since October 1996," said Williams. "We can always do better, and we are working to address all consumer issues."

Corey with BBB remains skeptical and said Charter Communications has made promises about addressing consumer complaints in the past.

"The BBB has been in ongoing contact with Charter about these complaints," said Corey. "We are always asking about how they plan to address consumer unhappiness.

"We really haven't seen results," added Corey. "They've indicated that they will make changes in the response system. They've said they will be following up with customers to get satisfaction reports. They've said they will be working with their collections to correct billing mistakes.

"While they've agreed to make these changes six months ago, the BBB has not seen a decrease in the complaints," noted Corey. "In fact, we've seen the complaints increase. We are getting hundreds of phone call complaints about Charter."

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