A year ago this month, I was elected to serve you in Congress. I didn’t know it at the time, but the position comes with lots of new names. Some of those new names are — you guessed it — not so nice. But there is one I can’t help but relish: “The Cable Guy.”
Some Washington lobbyist shouted it out to me in the halls shortly after I introduced my first bill, the “Transparency for Cable Consumers Act” (H.R. 1555). My bill would provide much-needed oversight of cable and internet providers, like Charter Spectrum.
Under the bill, if a cable or internet company is fined by a state Public Service Commission — like New York fined Spectrum at my urging — the company would be required to do a lot of things it really doesn’t want to do, but should.
So how much House support has my common sense bill to hold a powerful corporation just a bit more accountable to customers garnered?
You guessed again — very little.
In fact, there is one — just one — fellow member of the House supporting my plan to hold Spectrum’s feet to the fire. And my bill now sits in the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. Right where Spectrum — and some of their favorite members of Congress — want it.
This is unacceptable. And I am going to fight.
Well, Spectrum just raised our rates again, adding insult to injury. And let me tell you something, they are laughing all the way to the bank. Quite literally.
Wall Street shares of Charter Communications climbed about 14 percent higher last month thanks, in part, to a “boost from higher prices.”
According to industry reports, third-quarter earnings revealed an increase in customers by about 300,000, a rapid add of broadband subscribers and a loss of cable viewers. Company CEO Tom Rutledge celebrated the revenue strategy as “working.”
Of course, you make money when you raise our rates, again and again, Tom.
Look, it’s no secret. Spectrum Charter hates me. But what’s more offending, really, is that they think I’ll be quiet.
So, today, I am all but shouting-out my plan to hold Spectrum accountable in upcoming federal budget negotiations, where I will work to insert language Spectrum will have to fight like a dog to remove.
What does the ”language” do and why should Spectrum be worried? Well, it demands that no later than 180 days after passage of the federal budget the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) must submit to Congress a report that does three things:
1) Details actions to protect consumers from predatory actions by cable and internet companies, which includes debt collection methods.
2) Asks the FCC itself to propose appropriate regulatory consequences for cable or internet companies fined by a state public service commission like Spectrum was.
3) Establishes a working group to investigate the rising rates we all continue to see in this industry.
Moreover, I would like to see the Federal Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) be a part of this working group because we’ll need their cooperation to fully promote and enforce new rules or actions, especially as it concerns predatory actions.
For example, constituents have reported to me Spectrum’s ties to a debt collection company called Credit Management, LP. Spectrum allegedly uses the Plano, Texas, company — whose leadership team is tethered to the cable industry — to collect debts often unrelated to standard nonpayment, and instead tied to Spectrum “equipment.” I urge anyone being harassed by Credit Management, LP, on behalf of Spectrum, to call my office.
But the duping doesn’t stop there, and it extends beyond New York.
Investigative reporters in Portland, Maine, just detailed how a quiet change in Spectrum policy means “in some cases, you’ll keep paying, even if you cancel.”
I am looking into this situation, as well. But the point is that our local misgivings with Spectrum are a federal problem.
Look, there is a lot of agreement when it comes to demanding the government get out of the way, but when it comes to mega-companies, their millionaire and billionaire CEOs, and the collective undermining of the American consumer, the feds need to deploy cops on the beat.
The legislative branch, of which I am included, is one partner in the fight but we need the administration to empower its agencies and regulators to come down hard on Spectrum when they take advantage of us. Right now, I do not see it happening.
Instead, I see industry smiling ear-to-ear while it courts — and “pays” — members of Congress to do its bidding.
Well, let me be the first to reiterate: this “cable guy” will not quit until Spectrum blinks, and takes its hand out of your pocket.
Rep. Anthony Brindisi, D-Utica, represents the 22nd US Congressional District.