updated 6/5/2008 8:02:31 PM ET 2008-06-06T00:02:31

Time Warner Cable Inc. was accused Thursday of lying to Los Angeles subscribers and providing shoddy customer service in a lawsuit that seeks potentially tens of millions of dollars in fines against the city's main provider of cable television.

"The company has broken multiple laws, and harmed countless Los Angeles consumers," City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo said in a statement. The suit was filed as a civil law enforcement action and names the people of California as plaintiffs.

The 25-page court filing accuses Time Warner Cable and its parent, Time Warner Inc., of fraudulent acts and business practices. It asks the Superior Court to permanently bar the company from engaging in "unlawful, unfair and fraudulent business acts and practices and deceptive advertising."

The suit also seeks $2,500 in penalties for each violation — and that would be doubled to $5,000 for each violation involving a senior citizen or disabled person, city attorney's spokesman Nick Velasquez said.

The total fine being sought would "conservatively" be in the tens of millions of dollars, he said.

The suit covers the period from August 2006 to the spring of 2007, after Time Warner acquired about a 95 percent share of the city's cable television and cable Internet service. The company and Comcast Corp. purchased bankrupt Adelphia Communications in 2006. Time Warner then swapped cable systems with Comcast. The deals added 480,000 subscribers to the 120,000 Time Warner already had and made it the dominant provider in Southern California.

But the takeover also prompted a slew of complaints from customers who claimed they got bad service or were billed for services they did not receive.

Time Warner Cable disagrees that it "misled customers in any way," spokesman Alex Dudley said from New York. The company had startup service problems, but they have eased, he added.

"Our initial customer services issues are well-documented and we have worked incredibly hard to turn those around," he said. "We're now at the point where we receive fewer customer service calls per month with our nearly 2 million subscribers than we did before the transaction."

The company now has an estimated 1.9 million customers in Los Angeles, Ventura, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

The suit contends Time Warner created ads and brochures guaranteeing that customer prices would not be increased but instead removed some channels, such as Animal Planet and Turner Classic Movies, from its basic subscription package, effectively forcing subscribers to pay more if they wanted to receive the same channels.

The company also billed subscribers for service "that was so intermittent and inferior in quality that it was not much better than no service at all," the suit claimed.

In addition, Time Warner violated city standards by keeping consumers waiting hours for telephone help and even then some representatives were "unknowledgeable and rude," the suit contended.

Time Warner also violated the city's 24-hour limit for repairing reported problems, according to the suit, which claims technicians "consistently" arrived late or failed to show at all.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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