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L.A. targets glitches at cable firm

A planned suit alleges poor service by Time Warner violated its franchise deal.

June 05, 2008|Andrew Blankstein | Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles city attorney's office plans to sue Time Warner Cable Inc. today, alleging that the company caused "major havoc and distress" when it became the No. 1 pay TV provider in Southern California two years ago.

City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo said Wednesday that Time Warner violated state law by making false and misleading statements to subscribers. The 25-page lawsuit, a copy of which was reviewed by The Times, claims the company violated its franchise agreement with the city by having subscribers spend hours on hold with customer service representatives and allowing excessive repair work delays.

"Hundreds of thousands of Los Angeles residents were ripped off," Delgadillo said in a statement. "Time Warner must be held accountable for its promises."

City prosecutors said the suit would be filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

Time Warner Cable representatives had no immediate comment.

The New York-based company could face civil penalties of tens of millions of dollars.

Delgadillo's office has taken corporate interests to court several times, suing local hospitals on allegations that they dumped indigent patients in downtown Los Angeles and accusing Anthem Blue Cross of scheming to cancel health insurance for people diagnosed with serious and expensive medical conditions.

Time Warner became the major cable TV provider in the area when it joined with Comcast Corp. in 2006 to buy out bankrupt Adelphia Communications Corp. Time Warner and Comcast then swapped franchises so each would dominate markets in different U.S. regions.

The combination was difficult because Time Warner Cable had to upgrade the old Adelphia and Comcast systems and merge them with its own. Nearly 500,000 subscribers in the city were affected.

In the suit, which focuses on service from the fall of 2006 to the spring of 2007, city prosecutors cite brochures and television advertisements that they say gave the false impression that pricing for cable and Internet services would stay the same.

The suit says the company failed to live up to its part of the franchise cable agreement requiring that a company answer subscribers' calls within 30 seconds and begin repairs of service interruptions within 24 hours of notification in 90% of its calls for service. The suit claims that no more than 60% of customer service calls were answered in time.

Service also was sub-par, the suit says, quoting a brochure saying that if a customer needed a service appointment, technicians would "fix the problem fast." Instead, technicians failed to show up on time to appointments to fix outages, the suit says.

Cable and Internet service "was so intermittent and inferior in quality that it was not much better than no service at all," the suit says.

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andrew.blankstein@latimes.com

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