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COMMENTARY

Discount Diva: As customers complain and others cut cord, Spectrum gets reprieve

At least once a month, I get a phone call from a Spectrum customer who is at her wit’s end. The upset emails come much more frequently.

But the most recent phone call really broke my heart.

It came from Judy Zack, a self-described “semi-handicapped” Kaisertown resident, whose cable bill had just increased from $109.88 per month to $130.91 per month.

She was barely making the payment as things were, but the new price would likely break her.

Years ago, when she was a busy teacher, she could have easily done without cable altogether. But, alone now and homebound, the movies she watches are her life’s great pleasure. That pleasure is now moving out of reach.

“When I was younger, I could do anything. At 76, what can I do? Straighten up the house?” she said, in tears.

Zack doesn’t have the priciest package. In fact, she doesn’t even want most of the channels she gets, since a third of them are “cartoons and rock ’n’ roll,” she said. But Spectrum doesn’t allow customers to choose channels a la carte, and if she switches to the cheaper package, she’ll lose the stations she does watch.

Consumers are cutting the cord in droves, jumping ship for more user-friendly streaming services that offer more customization and better value. But people like Zack, who don’t have internet or the ability to convert to a different method, are stuck.

Her complaints echo many others I’ve heard: Customer service is bad, she said. So is her equipment, despite increased rental costs and other fees. The bill keeps going up, with no increase in value. Her options, and the answers to questions she has about her account, seem to change depending on which Spectrum representative she gets on the line.

Usually, if you’re not happy with a product, you can switch to a competitor. That’s not the case for Zack and many others. The only other cable option, Verizon Fios, is unavailable in many places across Western New York.

Spectrum is in hot water with New York State regulators right now over its internet service. The state’s Public Service Commission started trying to kick Spectrum out of the state in July for failing to adequately expand its broadband internet availability. The state attorney general also charged Spectrum with advertising internet speeds it knew it could not deliver, and charging customers for internet speeds that were much slower than what customers received.

But Spectrum recently bought more time with the state. Charter Communications, which was told to find another company to run its internet, phone and TV systems in New York, was supposed to have submitted a six-month exit plan with the state by Monday. But, following “productive talks” to find a solution with Spectrum, the state has given Charter an extension until Oct. 9.

Spectrum haters might see that as a curse, but it could be a blessing.

Without Spectrum, Western New York’s next sole cable option might be Comcast – one of the most hated companies in the country. And just remember, you didn’t think you could hate anything more than Time Warner Cable.

You asked, we answered: What happens to New York State Spectrum customers?

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