Cable Company Ripping Off Houston

Amy Davis, Investigative Reporter for Click2 and local channel 2, reports that Wave Vision, a Houston cable company, is not up to the task in the Lone Star State. According to Davis, the cable company may soon lose its license in Houston.

But the story won't end there because the state of Texas has preempted most local authority to protect consumers and the City's interests. Franchises like this one were grandfathered in when AT&T pushed its statewide franchising legislation that made the state responsible for enacting the franchises that allow video providers to put their cables in the rights-of-way and offer services to residents. And that law does not allow the state to refuse franchises to deadbeat corporations.

As long as a company fills out the form, the state must grant a franchise and the City has to abide by it. This leaves the City with only one option - taking the company to court. And that means more legal expenses. But when Houston wins the case, and it almost certainly will, it is not clear that they will be able to collect because the company will likely declare bankruptcy and the City will be just one of several with unpaid debts.

This is what happens when AT&T writes the legislation that takes power away from communities and puts it in the state or federal levels. State and federal government is not as responsive to citizens as local and is not equipped (nor authorized in many circumstances) to protect the public interest.

Now for the background on just how bad company is, another reminder of why communities must have the authority to build their own networks rather than being stuck with companies like this.

Customers have complained to the local Better Business Bureau 90 times and 61 of those complaints have gone unanswered, driving the BBB rating to an F for Wave Vision. (And those are just the complaints the BBB knows about!)

According to Amy Davis, however, customer complaints have not put Wave Vision in this precarious position. The company owes the City of Houston $809,789.91 in unpaid rights of way fees. Customers continue to pay those fees as part of their monthly bill, but the money is not finding its way to the city. From the article:

"They've refused to work with us, and they've essentially forced us to the step which we are now which is to take unprecedented action and recommend that their franchise be revoked," explained Chris Newport of the City of Houston Regulatory Services.

Unfortunately, revoking the grandfathered Houston franchise won't change anything as long as the company has a franchise for all of Texas.

This is not the first time Wave Vision has mistreated customers by taking advantage of their position. Cindy George from the Houston Advocate Blog reported also on limited choice and unannounced changes in pricing plans from Wave Vision. Apparently, several apartment and condo complexes in the city signed exclusivity agreements with TVMax years ago. Wave Vision has systematically reduced service and options, while increasing prices. Residents have no choice - Wave Vision carries on the monopoly in those properties.

George also reports that:

Wave Vision

In 2005, TVMax sought an injunction to stop the Greenbriar Chateau apartments from using another cable provider, but dropped the suit 3½ months later. Filings indicated that the service provider had been in an exclusive contract with the complex since 1993.

Last year, Network Supply Services filed a breach of contract suit against Wavevision for allegedly failing to pay for nearly $43,000 worth of communications equipment and services. The dispute was settled last month.

A temp agency also sued for breach of contract in 2011, accusing TVMax/Wavevision of failing to pay $108,613.96 due for temporary employees. A judge signed a default judgment in November after the cable company didn’t respond to the lawsuit.

Davis was alerted to the most recent problem when a viewer emailed her about his experience with Wave Vision:

Customer Dan Herrick e-mailed consumer expert Amy Davis to let her know he signed up with Wave Vision for $119 a month. He said his bill increased every month after that until he was paying $212 just for basic cable.

Davis called Wave Vision; but no one returned her call. The City of Houston says the company has been avoiding its calls too.

You can watch the video report here.