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Time Warner Cable Internet outage fuels opposition to merger

Television IndustryMedia IndustryMergers, Acquisitions and TakeoversTime Warner Cable Inc.Comcast CorporationFederal Communications CommissionEric Garcetti
Time Warner Cable's massive Internet outage fuels calls for the government to block merger with Comcast
Time Warner Cable earlier this week agreed to pay a $1.1 million fine for outage reporting problems
Millions of homes across the country lost Internet service after Time Warner Cable outage early Wednesday

Time Warner Cable's nationwide outage early Wednesday -- which left millions of homes across the country without Internet service -- is fueling opposition to the company's proposed merger with Comcast Corp.

Overnight maintenance on the backbone of Time Warner Cable's Internet network prompted the outage, which hit customers in California, New York, North Carolina, Ohio and Texas.

The company said the problem occurred at 1:30 a.m. Pacific time during routine network maintenance.

"An issue with our Internet backbone created disruption with our Internet and On Demand services," Time Warner Cable said in a statement.  By 3 a.m. Pacific time, much of the problem had been resolved.

"Services should be restored for all customers; our apologies for the interruption," Time Warner Cable said on Twitter at about 7:50 a.m. Pacific time. "If you're still having issues, please let us know."

Metropolitan Los Angeles was affected in the outage, Time Warner Cable confirmed.  The company routinely does its maintenance overnight to minimize any potential problems for consumers.

The outage came at an awkward time for the company and Comcast Corp., which is seeking federal approval of its $45-billion takeover of Time Warner Cable.

Opponents have urged the Federal Communications Commission to block the deal, saying Comcast already is too big and that both companies suffer from chronic complaints about lousy customer service.

"This is just another challenge that Time Warner and Comcast face in overcoming a customer environment that is fraught with frustration and misery," Steve Beck, founder of the management consulting firm CG42, said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.

"People are questioning whether this merger will be good for consumers," Beck said.

A customer survey earlier this summer by Beck's firm found that Comcast and Time Warner Cable had the highest levels of "brand vulnerability," due to customer service complaints.  The group found higher levels of frustration for cable companies than even customers of banks and financial institutions reported in 2011 in the aftermath of the financial crisis, Beck said.

"Service interruptions happen -- the world is an imperfect place," Beck said. "But it really comes down to how these companies handle the problem and resolve their customer's complaints."

Earlier this week, Time Warner Cable agreed to pay a $1.1 million fine to the FCC for failing to promptly report service outages to the government. As part of the resolution, Time Warner Cable agreed to a three-year compliance program. 

On Wednesday morning, the DownDetector site showed the hot spots in regions of the country, including New York, Ohio and North Carolina, that had experienced the outage.

People took to social media to vent.

"This perfectly captures the horribleness of Time Warner Cable," a Rochester, N.Y., man wrote on Facebook on Wednesday morning.

Both Time Warner Cable and Comcast routinely rank at the bottom of customer service rankings.  Comcast declined Wednesday to comment on Time Warner Cable's Internet service outage.

Consumer activists and some media companies, including Dish Network, Netflix and the WeatherNation TV channel, have asked the FCC to prevent the merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable. 

Some have argued that Internet service increasingly is critical to people's everyday lives, and that the government should more closely regulate the industry. 

In a letter Monday, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti encouraged the FCC to take a close look at the issue of customer service during its review of the Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger.

"There is a real risk that this transaction will lead to worse customer service," Garcetti wrote. "Some commenters have suggested that the commission should demand improvements in consumer ratings as a condition of the merger."

The mayor added it would likely be difficult to enforce such a provision. However, any approval of Comcast's takeover should "come with a requirement that the company provide adequate services to consumers," Garcetti said.

Monday was the deadline for individuals and groups to lodge comments about the merger with the FCC.

Twitter: @MegJamesLAT

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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Television IndustryMedia IndustryMergers, Acquisitions and TakeoversTime Warner Cable Inc.Comcast CorporationFederal Communications CommissionEric Garcetti
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