Wednesday, April 8, 2009

A Civil Conversation With Time Warner Cable

This evening I called Time Warner Cable's customer service number to talk with them about their company's plan to implement usage caps and my resolve to cancel 10+ years of service should that happen.

After bypassing the annoying menu system, I reached a service representative who introduced himself as Gordon. I began by saying, “Good evening Gordon, how are you tonight?” I think this caught him off-guard a little and his reply sounded somewhat disarmed.

I introduced myself and told him I was calling to find out more about the proposed usage caps I'd been hearing about. Intentionally my tone was kept calm, soft, and my language civil. He asked if I had read the open letter written by their Chief Operating Officer Landel Hobbs. I had. I informed him that I worked as a software developer, have a fairly complex home network set-up and am quite savvy regarding things computerish. I also mentioned that I have been a customer with Time Warner for over 10 years and overall have been very happy with the quality of the cable service itself. Next I expressed my concern at the concept of capping data usage as it does not reduce the possibility of a slow network if everyone is using it at once, even within their limits.

Our conversation went back and forth from me trying to explain bandwidth versus data using my water glass analogy and him repeating with some regularity how times have changed and the usage cap has nothing to do with speed. As a matter of fact he was happy to remind me that along with the caps there would be speed improvements. I guess it didn't occur to him that with more speed I can simply hit my caps faster.

I could tell at times he was flustered with my cool and technical questions and responses. I wasn't about to buy into his talking points I've seen so frequently that attempt to distract from the issue at hand:

  • The Internet market is shifting, people are consuming so much data these days and TWC has to change their pricing structure to keep pace with it
  • Everyone will be implementing these caps soon
  • Frontier tried implementing a much lower cap last year [at which point I reminded him that it was not implemented due to customer backlash and exodus from their services -- he didn't respond to my comment directly but continued talking]
  • Most customers will actually save money with this plan
  • It doesn't make sense that people who only check their email should pay as much as someone who downloads movies all the time [again, at this point I interjected and suggested that people pay for the access speed so when they want to use it they can; if price were a factor they would be using DSL or dial-up]
  • This is just a test of a new way to bill [this was kind of a slip-up on his part I think]

I attempted to ferret from him the exact problem Time Warner is attempting to address with these caps, but he just repeated the line about the Internet changing and Time Warner's business needs to change with it, etc.

The conversation continued for about 22 minutes and in the end I simply explained to him politely that he should make a note on my account that I will be canceling my service with Time Warner if they insist on putting these caps in place even for only a test. I told him if the test concludes and they remove the caps then I’d come back, but as long as there is any provider with an unlimited usage plan, that company will get my money for Internet access.

He was very cordial, if not somewhat flustered, and the conversation ended with a “Have a good night.”

I encourage everyone who opposes these caps to have a civil conversation with the customer service center of Time Warner. These are people who get dumped on all the time for the decisions of their bosses and higher. You're much more likely to be taken seriously and your viewpoints appreciated if you're not yelling in their face and casting obscenities at them.

Additionally, the decision to cancel one or more services now to show you're serious is of course up to you, but I prefer to provide a warning and be ready to follow through with action if the caps actually arrive.

One interesting thing to note from the conversation is that he very clearly repeated that the so-called "gas gauge" will not be available until September and the three month grace period will begin at that time. This essentially means by December 31st, 2009 we will either have caps or we won't.

I also encourage the use of DD-WRT or Tomato as open source router firmware that you can install (with some moderate risk of damage if done improperly) that will enable a bandwidth monitor that you can access without actually using any external bandwidth to read it. I have DD-WRT and it provides a built-in WAN and LAN usage monitor per month broken down by day. Other software includes MRTG which requires an SNMP-enabled router[1] but provides more bandwidth details on a web page hosted on the machine on which it runs.

[1] DD-WRT has SNMP support even if your router doesn't support it with the pre-installed firmware. SNMP support for Tomato is not default, but there are articles on how to get SNMP with Tomato

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