Time Warner's Cable Modem Fiasco

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) - I'm thinking that this could turn out to be a giant nightmare for Time Warner Cable ( TWC) high-speed Internet customers.

Last week the company informed its Internet service subscribers, via post cards, that it would begin charging $4 a month for company-provided cable modems which had previously been free. Or, customers could buy their own new cable modems for $100 to $150. Time Warner warned that it would begin charging the new fee on Oct. 15.

So, I got one of the Motorola modems on the list. It arrived yesterday but I had to wait until this afternoon to install it when no one was using an Internet connection. I followed the instructions on Time Warner's Web site. Unplug the old modem. Install the new modem. Then I called Time Warner's Customer Support phone line to register the new hardware. That last step is where the fun began.

First up: dealing with the automated operator. After 5 interactive minutes I was transferred to Lina (that's what it sounded like when she spoke into her headset). She's one of Time Warner's national advisers. I told her exactly what I wanted to do. She listened attentively and took down a lot of information. She then gave me a "case number" and told me to hold on to speak with someone on the Time Warner Provisioning Team.

After a minute or so I was speaking with Monica, who called herself a Customer Service agent. She began asking me to repeat all my information again, but I insisted that she could find all of that by searching the case number from Lina. After a minute or two (we all had to wait for Lina to exit the file) Monica had all the info she needed and began typing in a new computer file.

In a minute or so she was done. She gave me a confirmation number (different from the case number) and told me that I'll get a return call when they were ready. It turns out it will take as much as three days for a technician to make the change.

"But wait!" I exclaimed. "Your postcard had me go to your Web site, where I followed the instructions - installed the new modem - and called you to turn it on." Monica's response: "Put back the old modem".

Listen, I get it. Time Warner is making a lot of customers do the same thing in a very short period of time. And the poor guy at some keyboard, somewhere, who has to type in the codes for our new modems, is probably swamped. But, Time Warner should have thought about that before instituting two weeks' notice.

It also would have been nice if they had thought ahead to giver callers an automated option to get to the right department without having to be put through the ringer.

But, as it turns out, the people I spoke with felt bad about the three day wait. They left a message for me saying they decided to provision my new modem right then and there. It took me close to an hour to get them back on the phone. But, true to their word, they had me up and running within five minutes.

Interestingly, I can report that the new Motorola model SB6141 modem is actually slightly faster than the old one. In my not-so-scientific tests using Windows, Mac, Android and iOS devices, the new modem is 10% faster handling downloads and nearly 20% faster with uploads. A nice surprise.

Finally, I went to the big Time Warner store on Manhattan's Upper West Side to return the old modem as per the company's instructions. The line was out the door. I was told there was a one hour wait to "get a number and wait some more." I'll try to brave that storm later this week.

--Written by Gary Krakow in New York.

>To submit a news tip, send an email to: tips@thestreet.com.

Gary Krakow is TheStreet's senior technology correspondent.

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