The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

New York state’s top cop says this cable company misleads consumers about its Internet speeds

(Mark Lennihan/AP)
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The ink is barely dry on Charter's massive acquisition of Time Warner Cable — a deal that just formed the nation's second-largest cable company — but New York's attorney general is wasting no time pressing the firm on customer complaints about their Internet service.

Thousands of Time Warner Cable's customers have written in to the attorney general's office saying they aren't getting the download speeds they paid for as part of an ongoing investigation by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman into Internet providers' advertised speeds, according to a spokesman. And on Wednesday, Schneiderman sent a letter to Charter calling for the cable company to "clean up Time Warner Cable's act" in the wake of the acquisition.

Calling TWC's performance "abysmal" compared with other Internet providers, the letter sent by Schneiderman's office to Charter says TWC's customers have been subjected to slow-loading movies and websites while online video games stutter and lag.

"In advertisement after advertisement, Time Warner Cable promised a 'blazing fast,' 'super-reliable' Internet connection," the letter reads. "Yet it appears that the company has been failing to take adequate or necessary steps to keep pace with the demand of Time Warner Cable customers. …"

"What we have seen in our investigation so far suggests that Time Warner Cable has earned the miserable reputation it enjoys among consumers," the letter reads. "Overcoming this history will require more than a name change; it will require a fundamental revolution in how Time Warner Cable does business and treats its customers." (As a result of this year's acquisition, Time Warner Cable, Charter and Bright House Networks will be collectively called "Spectrum.")

The letter also claims that Time Warner Cable has effectively misled some of its customers by giving them network equipment that can't reach customers' promised speeds and by "advertising its WiFi in ways that defy the technology’s technical capabilities."

Leading Schneiderman's probe into advertised Internet speeds is Tim Wu, the former Columbia University law professor who coined the term "net neutrality" and in 2014 ran for lieutenant governor of New York. Wu's platform took aim at large, incumbent businesses such as those in the telecom and cable industries.

Time Warner Cable has previously said that the tests designed to evaluate its network are flawed and don't represent reality. Other research by the Federal Communications Commission has found that roughly 3 out of 4 TWC customers consistently get within 95 percent of the maximum speed they pay for. About 1 in 10 customers receive below 80 percent of the speeds they're promised.

An earlier letter from Schneiderman's office also called out TWC over other concerns related to its Internet service. Last fall, the state attorney general asked the company for details relating to decisions it had made at the point of interconnection, or the parts of TWC's network that connect to the parts of the Internet it doesn't control. Schneiderman's office said it was concerned about slowdowns at this portion of TWC's network, which consumers rarely interact with, that risked degrading their Internet experience, and demanded the company answer questions on the issue.

To address similar concerns and to ensure interconnection complaints wouldn't derail the TWC acquisition, Charter promised regulators that it would not try to block, slow or otherwise make life difficult for websites trying to send their content through its network. Now that TWC is a part of Charter, it too will be covered by that commitment.

"Charter has made significant investments in our core infrastructure which has enabled us to offer high-value products backed by a high-quality service organization throughout our footprint," said Charter in a statement. "As we progress with the integration of Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks, we will continue to do the same."

Asked Wednesday whether Charter's vows were enough to mollify Schneiderman's previous concerns, a spokesman for Schneiderman declined to comment, saying the letter to Charter would speak for itself.