5 On Your Side

TV, phone, Internet companies' prices can be 'deceptive,' AG says

Posted February 3, 2014
Updated February 4, 2014

— Thousands of North Carolina residents have complained to authorities in recent years that their TV, phone and Internet providers quoted them one price and then charged another – in some cases, more than double.

WRAL's 5 On Your Side has heard from many unsatisfied customers, including Betty Mazor, who says DirecTV promised her a package price of $72.99 per month, but charged her much more.

In the past three years, the North Carolina Attorney General's office has received more than 2,700 complaints about phone, Internet and TV companies. Many of those complaints allege pricing problems with Time Warner Cable, DirecTV, AT&T U-verse and Dish network.

WRAL's 5 On Your Side spoke with several company representatives who said customers were simply confused about their bills. While that may play a role in some of the problems, it does not represent all of them.

Mazor, of Littleton, says she spoke with a DirecTV employee last fall who promised her the $72.99-per-month price, plus tax and surcharge, which she thought was a great deal.

“Yeah, until the first bill came. Then things weren’t so fun anymore,” she said.

Her first bill came last October and was $93 – $20 more than she was promised on the phone. November’s bill was even higher at $97. Then, December’s bill came in at $184 – more than double the price she says she was promised.

Mazor says she initially thought the overcharges were honest mistakes, but later changed her mind after talking with several DirecTV representatives and their supervisors. She took extensive notes during her many conversations with the company and questioned the representatives about why she was not getting the promised price.

“(A supervisor) flat out told me, she said that they have no record of how much I’m to pay a month, and I said, ‘Well, how do you bill me?’” Mazor recalled. “I said, ‘Go back to the day when I first ordered the system in September … How much does it say my monthly bill is? What are you charging me for that package?’ She said, ‘We don’t know. We don’t keep notes like that.’”

After numerous conversations, Mazor says, she finally asked DirecTV to cancel her service, but the company told her she would have to pay a $250 cancellation fee.

After 5 On Your Side got involved, Mazor got a call from DirecTV's Office of the President. She says the representative admitted the recording of her initial conversation confirmed the $72.99 price, but the representative said the company could not honor it.

DirecTV would only tell 5 On Your Side that they "reviewed the call" and "there was clearly some miscommunication.” The spokesperson said the company will waive Mazor's $250 cancellation fee.

“They’ve got to be stopped from taking advantage of their customers like this,” Mazor said.

David deSerres, of Raleigh, says he had a similar problem. He ordered basic cable and Internet from Time Warner Cable. The bills for September and October came in as promised at $69.60, but his bill quickly skyrocketed.

"In November, they say my current monthly services are $140.64,” he said. “Where they’re coming up with all these numbers, I have no idea, but I’m not going to just sit here and let these guys run over me and harass me daily like they’ve been doing.”

Time Warner Cable eventually came up with a monthly rate of $91.92 for deSerres – $22 more than the quoted price, which the company now says it can't offer.

“I think it’s bait and switch,” deSerres said. “I think they're taking advantage of people.”

Time Warner refused to discuss any specific complaints on the record, even when customers gave permission. However, the company released a statement, saying that customers should call if they have questions about pricing.

"Our representatives can explain how their choice of upgrades and additional equipment, as well as government franchise fees, will affect their bill  – and help them find the right package for their interests and budget," Time Warner said in a statement.

Based on the general comments the company emailed and what 5 On Your Side knows about deSerres’ case, it appears Time Warner mistakenly gave him a discounted "bulk" price that they now won't honor.

The state Attorney General’s office suggests customers take several steps to protect themselves.

"We urge consumers to try and get email confirmation of an offer,” Attorney General Roy Cooper said. “If they're not willing to put it in writing then that's a potential problem, and perhaps that's something that we need to look at under the law.”

A Time Warner Cable spokesman insists customers do get written confirmation, but many customers told 5 On Your Side that they did not.

Another thing customers can do is visit the company’s website to find out exactly what's included in the different packages and choose a level of service before signing up.

“If you’re advertising one thing, and if you’re telling consumers one thing and actually doing another, then it can be an unfair and deceptive trade practice," Cooper said.

While on the phone with the representative, get specifics on extra charges for equipment, taxes and fees. Then, regularly check for promotions, especially when your agreement is up, and negotiate with the retention department.

“Use the power of their dollar with these companies to say, ‘Hey, I’m going to go somewhere else,’” Cooper said.

When all else fails, file a written complaint with the Attorney General’s office.

“One of the problems, I think, in this industry is that the packages are too complicated,” Cooper said. “A company ought to do what it says it’s going to do.”

"They need to know that the consumer is what's got them in business, and the consumer is what can taken them out of business," Mazor added.

As people watch TV through online devices and switch to other services for movies and other content, experts say it will impact how the big providers have to do business.

One example is Netflix. The Internet video service added another 2.3 million U.S. subscribers to burnish its status as one of the world's most popular entertainment outlets, according to fourth-quarter numbers released in January.

Netflix ended December with 33.4 million U.S. subscribers who stream video over high-speed Internet connections, up from 31.1 million in September. The company picked up another 1.74 million subscribers outside the U.S. to end last year with 10.9 million international customers.


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  • bluecharger Feb 7, 2014

    I switched from DISH two years ago because of a huge drawn-out runaround about upgrading my service with them after upgrading all my tvs to HD. I tried 5 different digital antennas and about wore out my welcome at Best Buy over returning them all for constant digitalization of the picture I could pull in. Kudos to BB, though, for taking every one of them back. Having had AT@T forever as my phone provider and eventually internet, the only useful telemarketer call I ever received came from AT@T offering UVerse service and I jumped. While I've had to call them out a couple times about creeping packages and costs, my main concern with them is they don't seem to have a good handle yet on trouble-shooting their service when things go wrong. Their crews nearly lived at my house the first couple months after installation (which is invasive) and almost every time some problem can't be fixed with the reset features a tech visit has been required. Improvement is needed, but I like their service.

  • ncplumber Feb 5, 2014

    I have Dish Net, no complaints after 2 years. Left DirectTv prior to that after ten years when they flat out stole $1300 from my bank account (got that back BTW.TY Coastal Federal Credit Union, YOU ROCK!!). Now, as for Time Crooked As I've Ever seen Warner......there's not enough room in this comment section to describe my HORRIBLE experience with them... I've had Roadrunner with them for about ten years with little problem. Last October I asked TWC about cable TV pricing....only pricing, ordered NOTHING... November's bill showed an amount owed for the pricing I had received. Mind you, no tech came to our home, no DVR's were installed, etc.... They were quite insistent that I did in fact have TV service with them... Anyway, I just pay em for the Roadrunner now hoping and praying that another player comes down out street at some point. Byebye TWC the very day that happens!

  • sllenterprises Feb 4, 2014

    That's why I love Dish Network, I've had them for over 4 years and my bill has never changed! I can check my account online and it shows my package plan price, my dvr service price, my monthly service plan price (which came in handy when my hard drive broke after 2 years), and I've never had any extra fees! But yeah, once a company overcharges you and says we don't know what special you're talking about, it's time to leave them because that means they don't even know what you have and that's ridiculous!

  • carbonlib23 Feb 4, 2014

    ALWAYS record your call with ANY telco service……in NC, only ONE party has to know that the call is being recorded…….they also inadvertently give you PERMISSION to record the call when they say "this call may be recorded for quality assurances"……….i recorded several calls with AT&T as well as Time Warner…….when you call back to complain about their SYSTEMATIC overfilling, they're shocked when you play back the conversation with them……always recap all the details of the agreement, as well as the name of the agent, time of day and date.

    Roy Cooper needs to stop telling the PEOPLE to protect themselves, and get down to the business of protecting the people…..

  • Momsy Feb 4, 2014

    We too dropped cable. Got an antennae, netflix and amazon prime. Haven't missed the extra channels at all. I tried to get better rates to stay with TWC (I miss watching local hockey is all - listen to it now instead) but they wouldn't deal. I was disappointed after being a loyal customer for over 15 years. You would think they would try to keep customers. It sounds like everyone is dumping TWC for TV channels. Maybe they ought to rethink some options.

  • ddeserres Feb 4, 2014

    It's my personal mission to challenge that which is unethical, immoral, or against the norms established by our leadership and legislative entities. Duty, Honor, Country was instilled in me as a young soldier in the United States Army. I've been doing this for over 32 years now, and sometimes it has cost me everything that I've owned due to retribution and retaliation by the corporation. A former employer did the unthinkable when they trampled my and my co-workers civil rights in 2007 and I stood up for myself and them as I was trained to do as an Army Sergeant and EEO NCO. I have many medals and awards to prove it. Anyone interested in reading about me, my life, and my life experiences can do so by performing an internet search for David deSerres on Google. Keywords daviddeserreslifestory ; david deserres.

    God Bless America and Currahee!


  • Phyxius1 Feb 4, 2014

    I love all the references to Netflix as a good service to save money. Did they not take their all in once service of online viewing and DVD rental at one fee and then split that into two separate services with the same fee for each? Seems like the same thing people are complaining about TWC, Dish and the others for doing. I used to use Netflix all the time till they did that and then quit using them.

  • sweetlyght Feb 4, 2014

    View quoted thread

    They actually do. It's the channels we love so much that actually cause all the trouble. It's the Networks that continue to work over large television providers, constantly asking for more money each time their contracts are up. It's the Network that takes a show you've happlily watched on a channel you're paying for, and moves it to a brand new channel you're not while streaming for you to call your television provider and demand the new channel. Then they charge the providers money for the new channel that has almost NO content. They play us against them. They have to give us the content we want, they have to pay them for that content, and networks play us against them. Netflix and hulu remove the network bug, so we pay and receive selected content from the shows themselves. Naturally it's cheaper.

  • disgusted2010 Feb 4, 2014

    Prices are about as deceptive as Cooper.

  • renaissancemon Feb 4, 2014

    More deceptive than the election tally that says the AG won with 100% of the vote like Saddam Hussein once claimed for himself?