Spectrum says a mistaken fee added to a Clearwater woman's Internet bill is not necessarily evidence of a wider problem. But the cable company may want to ask its own customers about that.
An additional 13 Spectrum customers have contacted the Tampa Bay Times after it first published an article online Wednesday with the story of a Clearwater woman who said she was billed for a $9.99 "wifi activation" fee. She was charged despite having long had wifi and Internet service for years under Bright House.
Spectrum is the brand of Charter Communications, which acquired Bright House in a deal finalized last May.
Joe Durkin, a Spectrum spokesman, acknowledged that the woman was charged by mistake and waived the fee. But Spectrum did so while maintaining it had no evidence this billing issue affected more customers. He said Wednesday Spectrum is investigating the matter.
Durkin maintained that pose Thursday. So far, Spectrum is declining to explain why other customers are saying the same thing happened to them.
Asked if he could speak generally about what issues might be causing the billing error, Durkin said, "I can't talk in general terms."
Late Thursday, Spectrum sent a statement to the Tampa Bay Times:
"The WiFi Activation Fee is a one-time charge for new Spectrum Internet customers who add WiFi to their account. The fee is waived for Bright House Networks customers who had WiFi as part of their BHN Internet package, and then choose a Spectrum Internet package.
"If we discover that a customer has been charged this fee inadvertently, we will certainly credit their account and apologize for the error."
Some customers are convinced that Spectrum tried to sneak a charge by them.
Cathi Greene of Dunedin said she saw the charge on her December Spectrum bill and called the company to complain. She said the charge was deleted.
"I don't use Spectrum's wifi service," she said. "I have my own router."
John R. Kaleel of Redington Shores said he didn't notice the charge on his bill until the Times story and called Spectrum customer service Thursday to say he would refuse to pay the fee.
"I'll short-pay my bill," Kaleel said. "This is a rip-off."
Marilyn Holl of Oldsmar said she complained about the charge and had it refunded when she called Spectrum after reading the Times story. She said the company never explained to her what happened, nor did it admit to her it was done in error.
"I guess they never admit they are at fault in anything because then we could use that against them," she said.
Max Perez said he and his mother, Rosa Perez, 82, both of Tampa, saw the wifi-connection fee on their separate bills in December. The son said he was told by customer service the wifi connection charge was related to Spectrum modems that have built-in wifi routers.
But when asked by the Times, Spectrum would not address questions about what is causing mistaken billings.
Telecomm analyst Jeff Kagan said the activation charge reflects an industry trend to charge customers for everything possible.
"Some companies tend to charge for every nook and cranny," Kagan said. "Companies that charge these extras typically have unhappy customers. Customers that don't charge them have happier customers. I guess Bright House customers didn't have to worry about that before. But now Spectrum customers are realizing their world has changed."
Contact William R. Levesque at email@example.com. Follow @Times_Levesque.