WOW Cable’s TV and internet services are better than decent. Their prices are fair. However, their billing policies are absolutely atrocious. That is, they SUCK. Like those of many other corporate behemoths, their billing practices create an undue burden on working folks. This must change.
I signed up for WOW (Wide Open West) cable a year ago, because I was fed up with Comcast’s constant price increases and other monopolistic behavior. The installation of my new WOW cable and internet service went well. Since I hate sending checks to any vendor on a monthly basis, and absolutely refuse to pay utility bills in person, I signed up for their automatic payment (auto-pay) option, and submitted a form with information that would allow WOW to withdraw the monthly payments from my checking account. Pretty standard stuff. I’ve done this for years with practically every vendor I deal with.
A few weeks after signing up, I get a notice from WOW indicating that my service was being disconnected due to the fact that my automatic payment didn’t go through. Confused, I called customer service to see what had happened, and I called my bank to see why they might have refused the charge from WOW. My bank said that they had not been presented any charge from WOW. The folks at WOW simply said that the payment was refused by my bank, and that I would no longer be able to use my bank account for auto-pay. My bank account auto-pay option was ended, not for a month, or 6 months, or until the matter was resolved, but INDEFINITELY! I was incensed. I reasoned that someone, either I or someone at WOW, had simply mistyped my bank account info. I felt that the right thing for WOW to do, especially with a new customer, would be to verify the info submitted and try again, and I expressed this to the WOW customer service rep (CSR) I spoke to. The CSR indicated that no, WOW’s policy was to refuse automatic payments from a checking account if a payment did not go through. The CSR said that I could do autopay from a credit card account instead. I don’t like to do auto-pay from a credit card account, because if the credit card is lost or expires, the credit card info given to the vendor is no longer valid, and this usually results in a failed payment. On the other hand I’ve had the same checking account for the past 30 years, and auto-pay from that account has never failed.
I was livid, but to keep my life simple, I decided to play along. I gave WOW my VISA card info to use for auto-pay. My service was restored, and everything seemed to be okay – for a while.
This past June, VISA noticed some suspicious activity on my credit card account. This kind of thing often happens when one is traveling and hence using the card in a new location, or when the card is used for certain online transactions. VISA temporarily suspended payments until they could verify with me that no fraud was happening on my account. Once I assured them that the charges they saw were valid, they resumed payments. WELL, in the meantime, as luck would have it, WOW had submitted their monthly bill to my VISA account, and the payment was refused. WOW sent me an email threatening to disconnect my account for nonpayment. I called WOW and told the CSR what had happened with my credit card account, and authorized them to manually take a payment from that account right then and there. They did, and of course the payment went through.
Now here is the kicker: unbeknownst to me, WOW’s onerous billing policy kicked in once again, and WOW terminated my option to make automatic payments of any kind! They didn’t notify me of this, so two months after making a successful manual payment from my credit card account, I get a phone message from WOW indicating that my account is past due and that my services will be terminated! WOW had not even tried to bill my credit card account for the ensuing two months, because they had terminated the credit card auto-pay option for my account, forever. WOW, indeed.
Now I was really mad, and ready to cuss someone out. I was even considering, heaven forbid, going back to Comcast! I called WOW, and after more than 30 minutes on hold, spoke to a CSR. He spent several minutes investigating, and said that my only options for bill payment were to send a check, or to pay my bill in person at one of their offices. I will not repeat here what I said to him at that point. I was not about to go back to the last-century practice of mailing checks to pay bills, and I certainly wasn’t going to go and stand in a line of unfortunate souls and late-payers. I insisted to the CSR that he simply take the payment from the credit card account already on file, and that he escalate the matter to get around this ridiculous policy. After several more minutes of hold time, he came back on the line and indicated that he would bill my credit card, and would escalate the matter of terminating my auto-pay option. A small, possibly temporary victory.
I am sure that I will not in the future be making manual payments to WOW. They will either make an exception in my case or I will be gone. What they will likely NOT do is change their ridiculous policy. Why? The answer is simple — because this onerous policy results in a lot more money in their coffers.
Why this policy is bad news
This is an example of one of those policies I absolutely hate — one that takes advantage of everyday working folks by piling hidden fees on their backs. I believe that WOW wants to discourage auto-pay, because they know that if people have to send in checks or stand in line to pay their bills, then more people will be late-payers, and they will be able to pile on more fees. Kind of like the banks that rejoice in piling exorbitant overdraft fees on unsuspecting debit card holders. This sort of thing doesn’t have a sustained effect on people like me, who have the means to deal with these corporate shenanigans. On the other hand, these kinds of policies are a huge and potentially life-changing burden on people who live close to the margin, for whom fees and penalties take food out of the mouths of their children.
Free advice for WOW
The current WOW billing practices are abhorrent and unacceptable. Let me suggest an alternative that is fair and entirely workable:
- If a new customer gives you account information for auto-pay that seems incorrect, contact the customer by phone or email and give them a chance to correct the information. If the customer is not able to provide the correct information within a reasonable period of time, start the clock on service termination and withdraw the auto-pay option.
- If an automatic payment from an existing customer in good standing fails, notify the customer and offer them the opportunity to correct the situation. If the customer fails to make the correction within a reasonable period of time, start the clock on service termination and withdraw the auto-pay option.
As I said at the top, WOW is a more than decent cable/internet service. But, whoever is responsible for their billing practices should be fired. WOW, for your own sake, and for the sake of your customers, change these ridiculous policies now.