Charter Sends a Bad Signal to Customers

Stock down, service very down.

Charter Communications is rated as one of the fastest Internet service providers in the country. It is also the fourth largest cable operator in the United States with more than 4.7 million customers. However, Consumer Reports in February 2008 cites that Charter is the “worst among the largest service providers for bundled television, internet, and phone service.” Charter has also ranked very low in the publication’s television, internet and phone ratings. In San Luis Obispo County, Charter customers overwhelmingly agree.

Razor Online spoke with several current and former Charter subscribers in the San Luis Obispo area. Only 8% of those who spoke with us expressed that Charter was satisfactory and had few to no problems with their service. Others reported issues ranging from unresolved “tiling” (breaking up of the image) on their television sets to intermittent signal noise (infrequent consistency of signal) to no service at all, yet Charter continues to send the bill or dispatch technicians who are unable to resolve the issues.

E-mails from Charter customers provide a detailed look into Charter operations:

“[Charter] told me that they were going to resolve my issues soon, but I kept experiencing them over and over again! It’s making me pull my hair out!” wrote an exasperated Charter customer. Her story was similar to others we’ve heard: the nodes are faulty and customers are unable to experience consistent service. In San Luis Obispo County, Charter Communications has antiquated and defective nodes. Nodes are used by cable providers as an access point that services certain blocks of neighborhoods. The more users on a node, the less bandwidth will be available to customers. San Luis Obispo County has fewer nodes than most cities in the country. With the general population of broadband users growing annually, the nodes become oversubscribed and the cable provider must “split” the node in order to restore signal speeds. This effectively speeds up Internet service and reduces signal noise for customers. However, Charter has been averse to splitting these nodes in portions of the county and hasn’t caught up with overdue repair.

As a result, customers have experienced various issues — the most common of them being signal disruption or complete outage of Internet service. Though Charter is rated one of the fastest Internet service providers in the country, the cable provider has been consistently inconsistent with “uptime” (the time the connection holds). Speed tests, conducted in the San Luis Obispo area, show that customers are able to upload and download at considerably fast speed, but the lack of consistency to maintain such a connection belies its benefits. Service technicians are quick to replace — and often “upgrade” — modems and wireless routers for customers, but connections remain unstable. When customers continued to complain about their Internet, they were met with some resistance and disrespect from the company’s technicians.

“The last tech who came [to my residence] was so rude and so crass that I don’t want to call for help,” wrote a customer, William Johnston, on Citysearch. “Unfortunately, Charter has [a] monopoly of the Internet in SLO, so things won’t ever change,” he concluded in his April 7, 2012 review of the service provider.

Despite having more than 10 service calls — which Charter had asked him to pay for — one customer received an “as-is” letter from the San Luis Obispo office, explaining that his connection to the Internet could not be improved and that they would not send any more technicians to his residence. Shortly after receiving the letter, the customer received a bill for Internet service that he was completely unable to use: $80 for that month. The customer has since filed a Better Business Bureau complaint and has contacted legal representation.

Those who claimed they had little to no problems with Charter Communications believed that problems pertained to faulty equipment or incompetent technicians. Not so, said customers who stated that they had their modems/routers replaced by the technician, but problems persisted. In most cases, the culprit was a damaged or overused node or a problematic broadband amplifier: both types of hardware regulate cable access to multiple homes. Only Charter is able to resolve issues involving nodes and amplifiers.

Customers have also experienced issues with what’s called “tiling.” Specifically, tiling occurs when the television is interrupted with random pixelation. This is video taken from one Charter customer, which shows tiling in progress:

“I contacted Charter twice so far, and they sent reset commands to my box. My box reset, but the tiling still persists. They insist they need to send a technician out, but reading what other people have to say, I have a feeling they can’t do much,” wrote the uploader of the video on December 2009. There are several YouTube videos showing customers who recorded issues with tiling. Each person indicated that Charter Communications was unable to help them resolve the issues. Some have already canceled their subscriptions with Charter to use services with fewer features, such as AT&T.

Customers also take issue with the lack of customer service. Aside from different technicians coming to their property and offering differing explanations for the problems they’re experiencing, customers are repeatedly subjected and confined to appointments that may or may not happen. Each San Luis Obispo County customer that spoke to Razor Online indicated that they’ve had at least one appointment involving a technician that didn’t show up at all. Most of the technicians, who are called to the property, are subcontractors who reportedly don’t communicate with the senior technicians that are more knowledgeable of problems in the household or in the general area.

A former technician working for one of Charter Communications’ subcontractors mentioned — on the social bookmarking site Reddit — his experiences. “The company I worked for was shady and would not pay me for the work that I had performed (I was paid by the job). Installations were at the sole discretion of the signal level at the install location. I would constantly have to cancel or reschedule an install due to low signal levels. This meant that I would not get paid. I was responsible to fuel the truck, and this was during the summer of 2007 when gas prices were, well, about what they are now,” wrote user juan_pablo.

“I was the face of Charter,” he wrote. “I felt each and every customer’s pain as I was forced to tell them that I couldn’t complete their install due to situations beyond my control.”

The employee says he personally uses Charter for Internet service, “but only because there are no other options for a comparable speed.” Like many others who Razor Online spoke with, he said that if another service provider were to offer competition, he would “jump ship in a heartbeat.” Many grudgingly continue to pay for services, even though their service is not fully functional.

For all the problems that Charter has, subscribers have high regard for a few technicians that currently serve the company.

The local office for Charter Communications has not replied to Razor Online e-mails and calls regarding their service. Instead, Razor Online was redirected to their national call centers — some being in Canada, India, Columbia, Mexico, Malaysia and Philippines. No service technician wanted to speak on the record about the problems that Charter subscribers are experiencing. Customers have tried speaking to the general manager of Charter Communications in San Luis Obispo, but appointments were either postponed or canceled on short notice.

There is a strong consensus among current and former Charter Communications subscribers that the cable provider is a fundamentally flawed operation. As a Charter customer myself, I’ve had to make over 12 service calls to my house with little progress or progress that’s quickly superseded by a larger problem. I’ve filed two Better Business Bureau complaints and a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) complaint before being transferred to Corporate Escalations. This problem inspired me to research if others had similar problems — and they did. I didn’t expect that there would be so many dissatisfied customers.

Commercials for the cable provider can be seen everywhere. The company has launched millions of dollars in ad buys for popular television shows and sports events. The commercials advertise their “bundle,” which includes television, Internet and phone service for a rate that’s supposedly lower than purchasing those services individually. None of the recent commercials advertise how reliable their service is or how great their customer service is. Omitting those “selling points” may be the only honest thing this company has ever done, but reliability and customer service are the cornerstones of any successful business. If Charter cannot provide such features, why should customers be forced to pay for service that has no guarantee of getting fixed?

If problems aren’t resolved with Charter, contact the local Better Business Bureau and file a complaint with the FCC. Hold them accountable.

— Aaron Ochs