Suit Targets Charter Over Slow Broadband Speeds in Former TWC New York Systems

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman has lobbed a lawsuit at Charter Communications and its subsidiary, Spectrum Management Holdings, over claims that cable systems formerly operated by Time Warner Cable in New York under-delivered on promised Internet speeds.

The suit alleges that Spectrum-TWC conducted “a deliberate scheme to defraud and mislead New Yorkers by promising internet service that they knew they could not deliver.”

The complaint claims that since at least January 2012 Spectrum-TWC’s marketing promised subscribers they’d get a “fast, reliable connection” and points to a 16-month investigation by the AG’s office that subs “were getting dramatically short-changed on both speed and reliability,” holding that those on certain premium plans (100 Mbps, 200 Mbps and 300 Mbps) were up to 70% slower than promised, and WiFi speeds were more than 80% slower than what was advertised.

Charter countered that the allegations stem from before the consummation of the TWC merger (the merger was completed in May 2016), that it has been investing and upgrading the former TWC systems there and that it would defend against the allegations. Charter’s full statement is as follows:

“We are disappointed that the NY Attorney General chose to file this lawsuit regarding Time Warner Cable’s broadband speed advertisements that occurred prior to Charter’s merger.  Charter made significant commitments to NY State as part of our merger with Time Warner Cable in areas of network investment, broadband deployment and offerings, customer service and jobs.  In addition, Charter was among the highest rated broadband providers in the 2016 FCC Broadband Report.  Charter has already made substantial investments in the interest of upgrading the Time Warner Cable systems and delivering the best possible experience to customers.  We will continue to invest in our business and deliver the highest quality services to our customers while we defend against these allegations involving Time Warner Cable practices."

The AG’s announcement holds that damages and restitution tied to the suite “could be worth upwards of hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Among the claims, the suit alleges that Spectrum-TWC leased “deficient cable modems” – including older single-channel DOCSIS 1.0 and DOCSIS 2.0 models -- to more than 900,000 subs in New York that could not deliver advertised speeds.  

The full contents of the complaint (PDF), filed Jan. 31 in state Supreme Court, can be accessed here.

“The allegations in today’s lawsuit confirm what millions of New Yorkers have long suspected -- Spectrum-Time Warner Cable has been ripping you off,” Schneiderman said, in a statement.“Today’s action seeks to bring much-needed relief to the millions of New Yorkers we allege have been getting cheated by Spectrum-Time Warner Cable for far too long. Even now, Spectrum-Time Warner Cable continues to offer Internet speeds that we found they cannot reliably deliver.”

The announcement noted that Columbia University law professor Tim Wu served as a consultant to the Office of the Attorney General in connection with the lawsuit against Spectrum-TWC.

The public-interest group Public Knowledge also weighed in, via a statement from senior counsel John Bergmayer: “Public Knowledge is glad to see the New York Attorney General protecting broadband users. Consumers deserve to get the speeds they’re paying for. In uncompetitive markets like consumer broadband, it's too easy for companies to offer customers a substandard service, year after year, including tricking them into upgrades that are never delivered. As Attorney General Schneiderman stated, your cable company ‘has been ripping you off.’ "