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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Cincinnati Class-Action Claims Time Warner Pads Customer Bills: Was 'Price Lock Guarantee' Used To Pick Pockets

Time Warner Gets Sued In Cincinnati
[Editor's Note: A contributor sent this story.  We're passing it along because it is interesting and could impact a lot of people.]
By Harry Callahan
Special to The Daily Bellwether
CINCINNATI (TDB) -- Complaints about cable TV companies jacking their customers are legion -- they are like complaints about the weather.   There are even websites devoted to chronicling battles between the cable giant and its subscribers.  Now there's a proposed class-action lawsuit filed in Cincinnati federal court that's aimed at putting the region's dominant cable TV provider, Time  Warner, on the defensive.  It may even ignite the fury of customers. In the suit, John Williams accuses Time Warner of double-crossing him in its widely promoted "Price Lock Guarantee" program. When the deal was offered in March 2008, he said a customer representative told him that he would get a "guaranteed" or "locked" discounted monthly rate by signing up for cable TV and Internet access services. As the Time Warner website says, "With the Price Lock Guarantee packages where available, you can lock in your monthly rates." It sounded good, so Williams signed up for the two-year program and began paying a base rate of $117.35 a month.  He said he bought the package at the company's store on Highland Avenue in Pleasant Ridge. 

In March 2010, the Price Lock Guarantee automatically renewed, and, sure enough, Time Warner continued to charge Williams the old rate. But before the two years passed, he noticed that his monthly base rate had gone up $7.50, or 6.4 percent. He said the bill contained no explanation for the increase. All he knew was that Time Warner had reneged on its Price Lock Guarantee.

 "By raising the monthly rates of customers enrolled in the Program prior to the expiration of their commitment periods, TWC breaches its contract with its customers and engages in unfair, deceptive, and unconscionable acts in violation of the Ohio Consumer Sales Practices Act," the suit says. Williams' lawsuit also contends:  "Despite TWC's clear, unambiguous, and standardized representations that no rate increases wold be implemented during the two-year price lock for those who enroll in the Programm, TWC routinely raises rates on Program enrollees prior to the expiration of their original two-year commitment period."

So far, Time Warner hasn't responded to the lawsuit.  The court's deadline for its answer is next month.  It will be interesting to see what the communications giant has to say.  Looking at the fine print of the subscriber agreement on its website, Time Warner gives itself the right to change the terms of those agreements. But it does seem to say that takers of the Price Lock Guarantee are spared price hikes.  Perhaps the language is something the court's will have to interpret.  Here's what's on the TWC website:
 "We may change our Customer Agreements by amending the on-line version of the relevant document.  Unless you have entered into an Addendum that ensures a fixed price for a period of time (for instance, a Price Lock Guarantee Addendum), we may also change the prices for our services or the manner in which we charge for them."

  The suit seeks to represent all Time Warner customers nationwide who enrolled in the Price Lock Guarantee program. The suit (case number 11-cv-00647) was filed in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati and will be heard by Judge S. Arthur Spiegel. Williams is represented by the law firms Minnillo & Jenkins and Goldenberg Schneider.

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