On May 18, 2016, Charter/Spectrum bought Time Warner Cable, making it the second largest broadband and cable company in the United States. The purchase came after the US Justice Department announced the settlement of a civil antitrust lawsuit filed to block the merger. As part of the settlement, conditions were imposed on Charter to ensure that following the merger, Charter would not use its immense size and leverage to the detriment of consumers and other businesses. The Justice Department was rightfully concerned that because of its size, Charter would be able to impose itself on anyone with whom they did business. In fact, the Justice Department was prophetic. Municipalities, consumers, broadcasters and others have felt the brunt of this heavy handed treatment because Charter has become too big to care.
Charter is 2000 times larger than Northwest Broadcasting and has been exerting their size and leverage in the present retransmission consent dispute. Rather than negotiating in good faith like all other parties would do and what the law requires, Charter has taken a “take it or leave it” approach. On February 2nd Charter refused the day to day extension they requested and with 10 minutes notice, took our stations off their cable system. Charter then went on a full scale offensive to create economic harm to Northwest in an effort to force us to accept their offer while refusing to negotiate. While Charter tries to convince their customers that Northwest is the bad actor in all of this, Charter’s recent 10K filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission tells a different story. Charter wrote, “To the extent that we are unable to reach agreement with certain programmers on terms that we believe are reasonable, we have been, and may be in the future forced to remove such programming channels from our line-up, which may result in a loss of customers”. This was all part of their plan. Charter believes that they should dictate the terms to broadcasters and not have to negotiate with them and if in Charter’s sole discretion they cannot achieve terms that they unilaterally believe are reasonable, then Charter will do whatever it feels necessary to achieve their desired result.
We have learned that it is no different for numerous municipalities which have been forced to sue Charter to collect the fees that are contractually owed to them. Most disputes are settled because Charter uses their army of lawyers to outspend the municipalities forcing the municipality to settle on Charter’s terms, regardless of their contractual obligations. It’s no different for their customers who have told us that Charter recently raised the broadcast surcharge fee in spite of the fact that the programs they want to watch are unavailable because Charter removed the programming. Many have asked for refunds only to be told no. What is the customer to do, sue Charter?
Does any of this sound like a company that is using their size and leverage responsibly? Maybe the Justice Department should take another look.
Brian W. Brady, President/CEO
Northwest Broadcasting, LP
We have heard from thousands of Spectrum subscribers over the past few weeks. Many are frustrated but most are downright angry. Some have made the decision to leave Spectrum, as this outage was the last straw from an ongoing brittle relationship. Customers are tired and have finally come to the conclusion that Spectrum is just too big to care.
Because of the propaganda that Spectrum spews, we have felt your frustration and anger as well. Unfortunately, the way Spectrum built the website most people only get one side of the story. The robo-emails are sent to us are from an unmonitored “no-reply@charter” account so there is no way for Northwest to respond and tell the other side of the story. When we are fortunate enough to get a chance to communicate one-on-one with you, it becomes clear that Spectrum is using you as a pawn to pressure Northwest, similar to the terms Spectrum presents to you when purchasing or changing your plan. That message is take it or leave it.
A common theme in most of your communications is why can’t the two of you sit down and solve this? Well, the reason is that Spectrum pulled the channels down, walked away from the negotiation and wouldn’t communicate with us. When you hear that, most say, that’s just stupid. We agree. So recently I reached out to Spectrum to see if we could find some common ground in an effort to resolve this. After two conversations, it became abundantly clear to me that they had no desire to negotiate or felt any urgency to bring back our programming. While they tell the public they want to get this resolved, my conversations with them reflect something far different.
When a company demonstrates that they don’t care about their customers, it is difficult to get their attention. An extremely small number of you have been successful in getting discounts for the disruption they have caused. In reality, you have a contract with them that says they will deliver the stations you are paying for. It is very simple, if you are not getting what you pay for, you are contractually entitled to a refund.
I have been told by viewers that some are getting refunds, while others are being denied those same refunds. I have also been told that some viewers are getting a nickel a day and others have been refunded $33. How is that fair to you as their customer?
As I have discussed, Charter was brought before a congressional hearing relating to an investigation on overcharging its customer base. Charter is being sued by the States of New York and California for selling (promising) internet speeds they are not delivering and violating the “no-call” policy. You don’t have to look any further than the Better Business Bureau to understand this is common practice for Spectrum. Until the States or your local government forces them to do the right thing, they will act upon their self interest first and continue to act in total disregard toward their customers.
Again, I apologize that you are in the middle of what should have been a private business negotiation. I would encourage each of you to email Tom Rutledge, the CEO of Spectrum, and share your frustration and anger with him about how you are being treated.
His email address is Tom.Rutledge@chartercom.com and his phone number is (203) 905-7999.
Brian Brady, CEO Northwest Broadcasting, Inc.
Tom Rutledge, CEO of Spectrum continues on his quest to deny his customers the programming they want and are paying for. This past weekend many of you missed the Daytona 500. A race that to many of you is bigger than the Super Bowl. Why is he doing this you ask? Because he can. While you have choices in video you have no choice in broadband and that monopolistic power is what allows him to not care about what his customers want. He continues to refuse you a refund for the programming you have paid for but have not received from Spectrum. Even more, he hasn’t even bothered to respond to your emails. When you do get any response it’s the same propaganda they have been looping on your television screen. Their strategy is simple, if they lie long enough and call Northwest a liar then sooner or later you will believe their lies.
Many of you have told us that Spectrum is sending you the response below when you’ve contacted them. In an effort to set the record straight please see their email below from their Video Support Supervisor. Highlighted in yellow are Northwest’s responses to the fabrications you are being sent. At the end of the day what you want is a resolution to this. Please understand Northwest tried to avoid this by offering Spectrum extensions so all of this could have been avoided while we privately worked through this negotiation without disruption to you. Unfortunately, Spectrum made the cold, calculated decision that they just don’t care about their subscribers and they believed that their public relations machine could convince you that they are innocent in all of this.
Based on the hundreds of you I have talked to and communicated with via email, Spectrum made a serious miscalculation. This should be no surprise to many of you because Spectrum has a history of this kind of behavior. The Better Business Bureau states on their web site that Spectrum has a pattern of complaints alleging poor customer service, billing errors and misleading advertising, https://www.bbb.org/stlouis/business-reviews/cable-tv/charter-spectrum-in-saint-louis-mo-110075917. It also says consumers reported receiving no notice about rate hikes and slow internet speeds. There is also an outline of the lawsuit filed against Spectrum, February 2017, by the New York attorney general which alleged Spectrum lied about internet speeds. It also outlines a settlement with the Missouri AG alleging Spectrum violated state and federal No-Call and telemarketing laws. Spectrum was also brought before congress in June of 2016, to discuss, “Customer Service and Billing Practices in the Cable and Satellite Television Industry” https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CHRG-114shrg21423/html/CHRG-114shrg21423.html. What came out in that hearing was that Spectrum was overbilling some of its customers and had to provide refunds to those overbilled.
Based on their history of customer deception do you really believe what they are telling you now? When you look at the BBB report about poor customer service and billing abuses along with the lawsuits brought by the Attorney general of several states, the only logical conclusion is that Spectrum just doesn’t care about their customers and unless Spectrum is forced by law or Congress they will continue to operate like the monopoly they have become.
Regardless if Tom Rutledge answers you or not please continue to tell him how you feel about the way he is treating you. You are their customer and you have to hold them accountable. So take the time to review your bill and report them to your State Attorney General when they over bill you or when they sell you internet speeds that are slower than what you bought. Tell your mayor or other local, state and federal representatives because Spectrum has to be held accountable for its actions. While they have been given a virtual broadband monopoly in your town, it does not give them the right to treat you unfairly and not give you what you have paid for. I have heard your complaints about Spectrum and the way they are treating you; now is your time to gather your friends, fire up your social media and go viral. You can reach Tom Rutledge at: firstname.lastname@example.org 203-905-7999
I am sorry you are all in the middle of what should have been a private negotiation without disruption to you.
Brian W. Brady
Northwest Broadcasting, Inc.
Spectrum’s response to your communications with them. Highlighted areas are Northwest’s response:
1. It is against Federal Law for us to continue to carry their stations without their consent, which they refused to give us. They refused our request to leave the channels on while both sides negotiated. We had no choice. Spectrum is correct they need Northwest’s consent. The truth is, Northwest did not refuse Spectrum’s request, Northwest gave Spectrum consent so that this current disruption could have been avoided. To be clear, Spectrum refused the extension offered by Northwest. Spectrum then pulled the stations down with 10 minutes notice and proceeded to accuse Northwest of pulling the stations down.
2. The week before the channels were pulled, Northwest Broadcasting was demanding more than a 140% increase for the same services as previously provided. They wanted us to pay nearly double what we pay any other broadcast station across the 40+ states we serve for the same service. Northwest didn’t demand anything, this was a negotiation until Spectrum refused to negotiate and pulled the stations down causing their subscribers to miss the programming Spectrum is charging them for. This should have remained a private negotiation without disruption to you. Unfortunately Spectrum chose to use their subscribers as pawns making them collateral damage in Spectrum’s quest to gain leverage on Northwest.
While we’re making progress, the year over year increase is still ridiculously high. The rising cost of programming is the single greatest factor in higher cable prices, and we are fighting hard to hold the line on programming rates imposed on us by groups like Northwest Broadcasting. There is no progress being made because Spectrum has not had any communication with Northwest since they pulled the stations down denying you the programming you are paying them for.
3. We offered a fair proposal, with fee increases that are well above the rate of inflation for the same programming. They refused it. This is a negotiation and how a negotiation works is that both sides put proposals on the table each party thinks is fair and then both parties work to find common ground to reach an agreement. Spectrum is so used to telling their customers, take it or leave it, they have forgotten how the process is supposed to work. Spectrum likes to say Northwest refused their offer but in fact Northwest did not refuse their offer Northwest countered Spectrum’s offer and offered to extend the agreement to avoid the current disruption you are experiencing now.
4. Lastly, to be clear, this is a Northwest Broadcasting tactic that has been repeated over and over again. They’ve pulled their channels from DirecTV, DISH, Cable One, Verizon and Frontier over the recent years. Here is one example Spectrum has negotiated deals with more than 100 broadcast stations in the last 12 months with no disputes. While we’re not surprised, we are very disappointed in their decisions. Northwest has never denied being in tough negotiations over the years. Many of those were about things other than rates. The fact remains Northwest has completed 20 plus deals with various video providers over the last year and Spectrum was offered similar rates and terms as all the others. What makes Spectrum different, they stopped negotiating and pulled the stations down, weaponized their subscribers and launched a campaign to convince their Subscribers that it was Northwest who caused this. They are not telling the truth just like they don’t tell you the truth when you call Spectrum’s customer service department and ask for a refund or why Spectrum took away programming they put into a different tier they want to charge you more for or the multitude of other lies Spectrum has told that many of you have mentioned in your emails!!
Our negotiations are about one thing; reaching an agreement that is fair to our customers by keeping rates down. Spectrum’s words “fair to our customers” ring hollow based on how you all know you’ve been treated by Spectrum. Based on your experience with them do you think they have been treating you fair when they change your programming package without notice or when they raise your rates also without notice. Are they fair when their promotion price expires and they double your fees? Are they fair when they refuse to refund you for programming you are being charged for but not getting? Are they fair when your internet speeds are less than what they promise? Is it fair that Tom Rutledge pays himself a 98 million dollar bonus while his employees have to go on strike to get a pay raise? Fair is not a concept that Spectrum understands or adheres to when it come to their customers or their business partners.
We hope to be able to return this programming soon. Hope is not a strategy and if we are to reach an agreement Spectrum is going to have to re-engage in a good faith negotiation.
Thank you for your patience.
Tom Garcia | Spectrum Video Support Supervisor
First let me apologize again to all the Spectrum customers who have been affected by Spectrum’s abrupt termination of any negotiations with Northwest. This should have remained a private issue between two companies without Spectrum using their unsuspecting subscribers as pawns to gain leverage on Northwest. For the record when Northwest offered Spectrum a second extension on February 2nd, their response was, “We are taking your stations down in the next ten minutes” and they hung up the phone and we have not heard from them since.
While we wait, many of you have missed the Super Bowl, News and other entertainment programming. Their call centers tell people that we are in current negotiations. This is another fabrication in an effort to keep you from cancelling or refusing to give you a refund. Now, their unbridled corporate arrogance, that same arrogance that started all of this, is about to deny many of you the opportunity to watch the Winter Olympics, Daytona 500 and March Madness after that.
Their strategy is to continue calling Northwest names and posting additional stories about our past retrans negotiations to their “northwestfairdeal” web site in an effort to make you think that somehow Northwest is the “bad guy”. Truth is they created this disruption because they just don’t care about you. We found out yesterday that they purchased the domain name for the “northwestfairdeal” web site on January 18th which happened to be the same time they told Northwest they would not counter Northwest’s proposal to them and then disappeared for two weeks. This was a set up and Spectrum’s subscribers were just collateral damage.
While many may believe their propaganda, a large majority of you don’t. The way they are treating Northwest is the same way they are treating you as customers. Because of their size they don’t care about their subscribers or business partners. They are the bully on the block who thinks their subscribers are nothing more than an ATM machine from which they can extract money at a moment’s notice or with no notice at all, as I’m learning.
When Tom Rutledge made what appears to be a premeditated decision to take down Northwest’s stations he knew or should have known that he was in violation of his own Annual Customer Notification Policy which is filed at the Federal Communications Commission, a copy which is on Spectrum’s web site https://www.spectrum.com/policies/annual-notice.html. In the section titled, Programming, it states, Spectrum will provides notice to its customers at least thirty (30) days in advance of the deletion of any programming service, channel assignment changes or rate increases. Clearly that’s not the case here.
In spite of what Spectrum’s customer service people are telling you, you have a right to a refund. While this is not going to bring back the programming you have missed or will want to watch this weekend or beyond you should not be paying for something Spectrum is not delivering to you. Each and every one of you should demand that you get a refund for every day that you are not getting the programming you are paying for.
The City of Yuma, Arizona has put Spectrum on notice that it is seeking damages for every day that Spectrum blacks out local channels and is demanding that Spectrum credits Yuma subscribers for dropping the channels without notice. If you don’t get the full refund you deserve, ask the Mayor’s office in your town for help, as the Spectrum subscribers did in Yuma. If that doesn’t work send an email to the FCC and your Congressman. I am heading to Washington, DC next week armed with your stories of how Spectrum treats you. There are 450,000 homes that are affected. If enough of you speak up, they will listen.
In the meantime continue to email or call Tom Rutledge and express your dissatisfaction with how he is treating you. It is highly unlikely he will take the time to respond but maybe he’ll have one of “his people” get back to you. I am sorry that Tom has put you all in the middle of a negotiation that should have remained private and without disruption to you. email@example.com 203-905-7999
President and CEO
Northwest Broadcasting, Inc
First let me apologize to all Spectrum customers that have been affected by our negotiation with Spectrum. We are broadcasters first and foremost and are proud of that. We broadcast 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days per year. And the best part of that is it’s free if you choose to watch it over the air. However, cable companies like Spectrum must pay for our copy righted material which they in turn sell to you.
For the most part these negotiations are private matters that companies work through without involving or disrupting subscribers. We have been in this business for close to thirty years and in that time, we have been involved in lots of these negotiations. If you look at our past you will find that we have been in this situation before and in some of those cases we were the ones who withheld our consent. What we found in every one of those cases was that cable subscribers don’t know who to trust. Both sides fire up their public relation machines and point fingers at each other expecting the subscriber to take sides. Well the fact is the subscriber doesn’t want to take sides and they don’t want to be in the middle. What they want is to watch TV without the drama they currently find themselves in the middle of.
As I said, people don’t know who to trust. In this case all I can do as the President and CEO of Northwest Broadcasting is give you the facts as they unfolded, answer the allegations they are making against my company and then let you be the judge of what you think the truth is. In June of last year our COO traveled to New York to meet with Spectrum’s representative. Our expectation was to begin the negotiation so that it could be completed well before the January 31 expiration. While there were a few conversation and exchanges of proposals it was a slow process. Two weeks before the contract was to expire we were told by their representative that they would not counter our recent proposal and that if we wanted to give them another number they would tell us if they would agree to it.
We have negotiated lots of agreements with many companies over the years and the translation of that statement is, we are done negotiating. We tend to believe the words people say so we focused on other deals expecting that eventually we would hear back from them. Indeed, we did, on the 31st of January, the day the contract was to expire. They called and asked why we hadn’t responded to their proposal. Since we knew that we had given Spectrum the last written proposal we asked, “what proposal”? Their representative claimed to have made a verbal proposal. For the record that’s a conversation not a proposal. When challenged about the accuracy of a statement, he responded, “You’re right I made that up”. These negotiations are hard enough without people making things up.
In an effort to get to some resolution we did something we never do. We gave them a new proposal knowing we were actually negotiating against ourselves. We then offered them an extension until Friday at 5pm in order for us to work together so as to avoid any disruption. Friday afternoon with the new deadline looming they sent us a counter offer that was going to need work. Knowing it was going to take more time we offered another extension through 5 pm Saturday and said let’s roll up our sleeves and get this figured out. Their response was they wanted to extend until Monday so their subscribers could watch the Super Bowl before they took the stations down. Perplexed by what they had said we repeated our offer to extend until Saturday at five and if we didn’t come to an agreement we would deal with another extension at that time. Their next response was, “we are taking your station down in the next ten minutes” and they hung up the phone. We haven’t heard from them since.
If their words weren’t enough, what happened next was a clear indication that they had made a calculated decision to take the stations down sacrificing their unsuspecting subscribers as pawns in an effort to use them as leverage in our negotiation. We were caught completely off guard as we scrambled to let our managers and employees know what had just happened. Our phones and email lit up as they were not just using their subscriber as pawns they had actually weaponized them. I had thousands of emails hit my server with a subscriber’s name and a <firstname.lastname@example.org> address. I talked to their subscribers who told me that there was a web site directing them to call Northwest with my name, number and email address on it. The channel the station would have been on had instructions to “take action now and let Northwest know you want a fair deal!” Call Northwest Broadcasting today at 517-347-4141 or go to a web site they created and enter your information which then generated a robo-email.
We answered calls from Spectrum’s subscribers late into the evening and responded to emails that were directly from subscribers and not robo-emails. We answered emails explaining that we had offered and extension and they refused it. As is usually the case, people were suspect and when they called Spectrum’s call center they were told Northwest instructed Spectrum to take our stations down. How do you defend yourself when a multi-billion-dollar company lies and then has the audacity to call you a liar? The only way I know how is to continue to shed light on the truth. So, I continued to speak with as many subscribers as possible and answered their email. We also posted a message to our web pages to refute what they were saying about us.
This wasn’t some low-level manager who was freelancing a decision to sacrifice subscribers, it had to go right to the top. My speculation is that Tom Rutledge the President and CEO of Spectrum made the decision. It is troubling that a company of that size and scale could be so cold and calculating that they would sacrifice the loss of subscribers in smaller communities around the country. People in Yuma, AZ, Crescent City, CA and Jackson, WY couldn’t see the Super Bowl while he was most likely sitting in a luxury box in Minneapolis enjoying the game. These same people will not be able to see the Winter Olympics while he will also likely be in South Korea enjoying yet another sporting event he chose to withhold from his subscribers. Places like Binghamton and Syracuse, NY, Medford, OR, Spokane and Yakima WA, are also without local news, sports and entertainment programming.
Why is this happening people ask? Because Tom Rutledge the President and CEO of the second largest cable company on the planet doesn’t care about and has no respect for you. He only cares that he can use you as one more weapon in negotiating with our company while you continue to pay for the substandard service most of you have described to me. Tom’s recent 98-million-dollar bonus dwarfs the total size of our company. Their propaganda says they just want a fair deal. Spectrum is a publicly traded company and has a market value of 109 billion dollars. One share of their stock cost 391 dollars. I’m sure that is more than the majority of Tom’s subscriber’s monthly car payments. I’m confident if Tom can run a 109-billion-dollar company he is competent enough to negotiate a fair deal with our company without your assistance.
For what you are paying Spectrum you shouldn’t be asked to do Tom’s job. Think about it, he takes away the programming you want to watch, expects to you to pay your bill and offers no refund for what he has taken from you and then weaponizes you to do his dirty work. Frankly, if he doesn’t want to purchase our programming then he should just be honest and say that then all of you can make the choice that works best for you.
I have no doubt that when his public relations team sees this they will craft a response that will try to counter everything I have told you. In the end you’ll decide for yourselves what to do and who to believe. I ask that you remember one thing, you are their customer so at the end of the day this is really between you and Spectrum. This morning a subscriber called and asked if we were negotiating right now? When questioned about where she heard that, she replied Spectrum’s call center. Another in a long line of inaccurate statements meant to confuse and keep you from cancelling their service so you can switch to a provider which will allow you to watch the Olympics and all the other programming Tom is denying you.
So, I encourage you to write an email or make a call to Tom and share with him your thoughts on what he’s done. Share with him your general dissatisfaction with his company. That same dissatisfaction represented in your posts on Spectrum’s Facebook page. Tell him you don’t want to pay nearly 4 dollars for a channel guide that every other cable company has as part of their service. Tell him that you don’t ever want Spectrum to disrespect you again by using you as a weapon in his smear campaign against another company. Tell him that if he won’t do his job and get you the programming you’re paying for that you will go to his competitor. His email address is: email@example.com 203-905-7999
I’m sure you will hear back from his public relations team with some more inaccurate rhetoric, please send me an email and let me know. I promise I will do my best to personally answer you. #DoYourJobTom
President and CEO
Northwest Broadcasting, Inc
If you are a Charter/Spectrum customer affected by their company removing our channels from their line-up without notice to you or us on Friday, this message is for you.
The facts are, Charter/Spectrum refused to negotiate with our company, pulled our stations off their systems, turned on their corporate public relations machine, and began spreading lies about our company. You can choose to believe whoever or whatever you want, but take a moment to contemplate the source.
Spectrum states they want a “fair deal” and they are fighting for you. That’s interesting coming from a company that charges nearly $4 for a channel guide that every other provider on the planet includes in their package, and they recently raised their rates unannounced and their customers whom we’re speaking to repeatedly tell us how horrible their service is.
Trying to keep the cost down is what they are saying-really? They recently paid their CEO Tom Rutledge a $98,500,000 bonus (yes $98.5 million) to stay on the job until 2021, while last year their employees went on strike trying to get a raise.
Spectrum has no respect for their customers because they are using you and the rest of their subscribers as pawns hoping you will assist them in negotiating with Northwest. The fact is, our company has recently completed more than twenty-five deals with cable providers and one satellite provider. Our company offered the same rates and terms to Spectrum, but they decided they would instead use you and their other subscribers to assist in their negotiation with us.
Charter/Spectrum removed our stations abruptly Friday afternoon with the flip of a switch. We are confident they can turn it back on in the same way. Our company is available 24/7 to resolve this matter.
For the record, Spectrum should give you a refund because you are now paying for something they have taken away from you. Email their CEO and tell him it his job to get a deal done with Northwest, not yours. And, that you want the channels back today.
Tom Rutledge, CEO email address: Tom.Rutledge@chartercom.com.
President and CEO
Northwest Broadcasting, Inc.