BANGOR, Maine — Some Time Warner cable subscribers in Maine are upset with the cable and Internet provider for its decision to begin charging customers a monthly fee to lease modems, which until now were included in the monthly service charges.
“I called Time Warner to let them know I was displeased they were doing this, considering how much we’re paying already,” said Mary Cady of Orono, a retired administrative assistant for the University of Maine’s dean of libraries and an Army reservist. “They sent us a postcard back along saying they were charging us. Seriously? You’re going to charge for that?”
The fee is causing a furor in other states as well. Two class action lawsuits have been filed in New York and New Jersey that allege the charging of a “modem lease fee” of $3.95 a month is not in line with the company’s own customer agreements and violates consumer fraud laws in New York and New Jersey.
Time Warner Cable spokesman Andrew Russell declined to address the allegations included in the class actions, saying, “We do not comment on any potential or current legal proceedings. The same is true for customer data and information.”
But Russell did address questions regarding reasons behind the introduction of the fee, which he said is one that many other Internet providers have already been charging.
“There is a cost to maintain and manage the equipment that provides all customers with the best Internet service possible. Time Warner Cable wants our customers to have the best experience with our services,” he said. “The monthly lease fee charge will allow us to continually service the equipment and further enhance our Internet services.”
The lawyers leading the class actions are looking to attract plaintiffs from all affected states, including Maine. The company has more than 15 million customers in 29 states, according to the press release announcing the suits.
Richard Roth, one of the lawyers, told the Bangor Daily News it appears Time Warner Cable customers in Maine will join the class actions. “We will be signing up Maine plaintiffs, as several have contacted us,” he said, though he declined to release names.
He said it was too early to tell how many plaintiffs might join the class actions.
The suits seek injunctions to stop Time Warner Cable, the country’s second largest cable provider, from billing customers to lease its modems, which would generate an estimated $40 million a month for the company and push the company’s annual revenue above the $20 billion mark, according to the press release.
“It’s a massive hi-tech consumer fraud accomplished by low-tech methods,” Steven L. Wittels, the lead lawyer for the class actions, said in a statement. “Send customers confusing notice of the fee in a junk mail postcard they’ll throw in the garbage, sock them with a $500 million … a year rate hike, then announce on your website that customer satisfaction is your number one priority. That’s some way to deliver satisfaction.”
In the meantime, there are other alternatives for Time Warner Cable customers, who were notified in those postcards that they could choose to purchase their own modem at retail stores and not be subject to the monthly fee.
That’s exactly what Cady, who bought one at a local Walmart, has done already.
“It cost me $60 and I figure it’ll pay for itself within a year,” said Cady, who has three adult children all now living away. “It irritates me when I call them and it goes to a message saying, ‘Thank you for choosing Time Warner.’ We don’t have a choice. You have whatever cable system your town chooses to provide service.”
While checking into other alternatives, Cady said she discovered she does have a choice, of sorts.
“We’ve been Time Warner customers since they first came to Orono, but I’m actually thinking about going with satellite or another service,” she said. “FairPoint has an arrangement with DirecTV for TV and Internet service.”