|Workers respond to customer calls at the Time Warner Cable call center in Milwaukee. Charter Communications, which bought Time Warner, now has about 90% of the traditional cable business in the state. Credit: Sam Caravana|
By Journal Sentinel of the
"Now that it dominates Wisconsin's cable television market, Charter Communications faces its next challenge: winning customer satisfaction where, often, it's been lacking.
"Charter, with the recent acquisition of Time Warner Cable, now has about 90% of the traditional cable business in Wisconsin — a figure that's disturbing to consumer advocates who say the lack of competition in the cable industry fuels poor customer service and high rates.
"'People are kind of stuck with what they have, and I mean really stuck,' said Linda Sherry, director of national priorities at Consumer Action, a San Francisco-based advocacy group.
"Stamford, Conn.-based Charter, now that it owns Time Warner Cable, is moving into Milwaukee and other markets under the brand name Spectrum.
"The changes aren't noticeable yet, but they're starting this year and will take place over the next 18 months.
"'In the coming months, you will hear more from us as it relates to network, product and service improvements,' Charter CEO Tom Rutledge said in a recent letter to Time Warner Cable customers.
"The changes will include an all-digital network with faster internet speeds, no modem lease fee and a plethora of television channels under various bundle plans, according to Charter.
"Yet critics of the Time Warner Cable acquisition say consumers will likely remain skeptical as they've never seen much competition in the paid television marketplace, and this won't help on that front.
"'We are not big on mergers, and we especially think that mergers in the cable industry can be a real problem for consumers because it just shrinks the available vendors down to usually one in an area,' Sherry said.
"In the 2015 American Customer Satisfaction Index, Charter and Time Warner Cable had comparable scores — of 57 and 58, respectively — of a possible 100 points for internet service. Charter scored 63 for subscription television, while Time Warner Cable's score was 51.
"Charter says it's attracting more customers and keeping customers longer, yet it acknowledges the industry's critics.
"'Cable companies talk about improving service a lot because there's a lot of improving to do,' said Charter spokesman Justin Venech.
"The company says it's bringing more than 10,000 outsourced customer service jobs back to the United States.
"Combined, Charter and Time Warner Cable have about 90,000 employees nationwide and 3,900 in Wisconsin, including customer service centers and offices in Milwaukee, Appleton and Fond du Lac.
"Charter says it plans to add about 20,000 jobs nationally as it expands into new markets and adds subscribers.
"'I don't know how many of those would be in Milwaukee, but I can tell you that we are looking at adding jobs across the company,' Venech said.
"Over time, the Time Warner Cable name will be replaced by Spectrum.
"Some industry experts say the Time Warner and Charter duo won't need as many employees as the separate companies had in areas such as customer service, billing and marketing.
"Watch for what happens to the customer service centers in Wisconsin a year from now, said Barry Orton, a recently retired telecommunications professor at University of Wisconsin-Madison.
"It's unlikely that Charter will keep all of those jobs, Orton said.
"Charter says it will use fewer outside contractors for home service calls. It says customer bills will be easier to decipher, and there will be fewer fees.
"For now, Time Warner Cable customers can keep their television and internet services and pricing.
"'If a customer likes what they are receiving today, and how they are receiving it, we aren't going to force them into a new package,' Venech said.
"Charter television customers will still be required to lease the "set-top" box from the company.
"Consumer advocates say the lease fees amount to a huge profit center for cable companies, at the expense of customers who have no choice in the matter.
"'You will be renting that same old box for years. I remember once, when I moved to Washington, D.C., I was given a box that had cockroaches in it,' Sherry said.
"Time Warner Cable customers could get better television reception and more channels under the Charter digital network that's coming their way.
The company's reputation in Wisconsin isn't terrible compared with some other cable providers over the years, according to Orton.
"'Charter has been reasonably good in Madison in the last year or two. There have been very few outages, and the company has been reasonably responsive to them,' he said.
"As it settles into Milwaukee and other new markets, Charter says it will launch community service initiatives such as a program that helps people with home repairs, weather stripping and smoke detectors.
"The company has pledged to improve 25,000 homes nationwide by 2020.
"Charter says it will offer a $14.99-per-month internet plan for low-income families and seniors who receive Supplemental Security Income.
"Also, the company says it will extend broadband service to some areas that currently are not served or have slower broadband speeds.
"Skeptics say there's not much recourse for consumers or regulators if Charter doesn't fulfill its obligations under the Time Warner Cable acquisition.
"'If you are counting on the FCC and the federal government, I wish you a lot of luck,' Orton said.
"AT&T's U-verse television service is an alternative to cable in Milwaukee and other cities, but not in every neighborhood. Increasingly, AT&T is placing more emphasis on its DirecTV satellite service.
"'We are leading our video marketing approach with DirecTV,' said AT&T spokeswoman Samara Sodos.
"One competitive threat to cable providers is the trend of 'cord cutting,' where customers drops their cable subscription in favor of video streaming services such as Netflix or Hulu.
"That's the new normal for adults ages 18 to 34, according to a report from Horowitz Research. Millennials spend 54% of their TV viewing time streaming programs over the internet, according to Horowitz.
"The trend is 'absolutely growing and growing,' Sherry said, partly from more on-demand video that is tailored to individual interests and schedules.
"She added, 'We have all joked about the 300 channels on cable, and you only watch five. I think most people could find video streaming choices that give them what they want to watch.'"
Read more: http://www.jsonline.com/business/charter-says-changes-coming-for-time-warner-cable-customers-b99746159z1-383533321.html
We'll see, we'll see...