Charter Communications is in hot water with New York's Attorney General over Internet speeds.
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Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on Wednesday sued Charter — the nation's second-largest Internet service provider — and its subsidiary Spectrum (formerly known as Time Warner Cable) on charges of "systematically and knowingly" promising customers in the state Internet speeds it knew it could not deliver. The suit seeks to compensate affected customers for "five years of broken promises," which could total "hundreds of millions of dollars" in restitution and damages.
Spectrum-TWC's marketing since January 2012 has promised subscribers a "fast, reliable connection" from anywhere in their home, but a 16-month investigation by the AG's office found that was not always the case, and customers have been "dramatically short-changed," according to a news release.
Based on its investigation, which included a review of the company's internal corporate communications along with hundreds of thousands of speed tests, Schneiderman's office found that wired Internet speeds for the company's premium plan were up to 70 percent slower than promised. Wi-Fi speeds were even worse, in some cases 80 percent slower than what a customer paid for.
In a statement, Charter Communications said it's "disappointed" by the lawsuit, adding that it covers claims TWC made prior to its merger with Charter in 2016.
"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," the company said. "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."
In 2015, Schneiderman opened an investigation into Verizon, Cablevision, and TWC, asking each for copies of disclosures made to customers and details about speed tests. He later launched an online form that allows consumers to see whether their advertised speeds are accurate.
In June 2016, Schneiderman's office urged Charter to make Time Warner Cable's Internet service less "abysmal." In a letter to Charter CEO Tom Rutledge at the time, Tim Wu, senior enforcement counsel and special advisor to Schneiderman, called on the ISP to do more than rebrand as it integrated with TWC.
Today, Schneiderman's office said Spectrum-TWC executives knew "bottlenecks" in their network would cause regular slowdowns, lag time, and buffering but their marketing promised seamless video streams and online gameplay.
"These executives traded on the fact that most subscribers had a limited choice of Internet service providers and that the technical complexity of deducing the problems would make it difficult for subscribers to pin the blame on the company," the announcement reads.
Spectrum-TWC has around 2.5 million subscribers across New York State. In a statement, Schneiderman said the lawsuit confirms what many of them already suspected.
"Spectrum-Time Warner Cable has been ripping you off," Schneiderman said. "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."