Time Warner/Spectrum in hot water for “Ripping You Off”

New York Attorney General lays it out there with his statement “The allegations in today’s lawsuit confirm what millions of New Yorkers have long suspected — Spectrum-Time Warner Cable has been ripping you off.”

The AG goes on to say that Spectrum-TWC conducted a “systematic scheme to defraud and mislead subscribers to its internet service by promising to deliver internet service that it knew it could not and would not deliver.”

If you are interested in all the details, you can read the filing online.  Otherwise – here is a quick summary.

In the suit, the N.Y. AG highlighted three false representations;

  1. Deficient Equipment – TW/Charter leased older generation modems that were not “capable if supporting the service levels paid for.”
  2. Congested Network – TWC/Charter failed to allocate sufficient bandwidth to subscribers
  3. Limitation of Wireless – TWC/Charter misled subscribers by “assuring them they could achieve the same Internet speeds through wireless connections as with wires connections despite knowing that accessing the Internet using wireless routers would sharply reduce the Internet speeds subscribers would experience”

While most of the suit is focused on Internet usage that I personally couldn’t care a bit about; ex: YouTube, Netflix and League of Legends, we have seen our business customers impacted by poor performance and not getting what they paid for.

The suit alleges that even for subscribers who had the proper modem Spectrum-TWC’s network didn’t have the proper resources to reliably deliver the speeds advertises.  It boils down to something called a “service group” – a group of subscribers who share the “last mile” of bandwidth.  Spectrum-TWC’s own engineers determined that the offered speeds should not be any more than 50% of the total bandwidth available in a service group so as to allow for increased utilization during peak hours.

Instead of using this 50% threshold recommended by its own engineers or adding more capacity they subscribed their services at 80% which thus limiting the bandwidth available to their higher tier subscribers (200-300Mbps) to only a half of their promised speeds.

Now, I feel very confident that Spectrum-TWC’s isn’t the only ISP out there oversubscribing their services like this – in fact, it is oversubscription that makes Internet affordable at the costs we see today.

It’s like a gym membership – you can buy all the equipment yourself or get a membership knowing that you have fractional ownership and sometimes the place will be packed.  If it is packed everytime you show up then there is a serious issue that needs to be addressed.  But the visual of walking into your gym and never being able to find a spot is a lot easier to notice than unseen packets flowing through cables.

We’ve experienced this ourselves with customers and always warn customers who consider Spectrum-TWC that even their business class service is best effort, ex: there are no guarantees to the speeds.  You simply can’t buy dedicated Internet access at the hundred of megabit speeds for $100 / month – least not yet!  Unfortunately, it took us a lot of prodding and digging to get the ‘best effort’ answer from Spectrum-TWC and I suspect they will use this as their chief defense (although knowingly giving someone a modem that can’t achieve the speeds they purchased would seem to be well below the best effort threshold.

Here is what we often see, things will be fine for months, sometimes years, then a customer begins to see issues of throughput – we hound TWC/Charter for a while, they do the obligatory ‘swap out your modem’ routine, we continue to complain and highlight the issues with graphs from our monitoring package until the problem ‘magically’ goes away, i.e. TWC/Charter allocates more resources to a particular service group.

The NY AG conducted speed tests to verify that;

Now, in TWT/Charter’s defense, I wrote a piece recently about speed tests and how they don’t tell you the whole story.  Check out this article before you put too much trust in the speed tests above.