Lara Bartelds has no beef with a broadband company charging customers a one-time activation fee for brand-new service.
But what happens when Spectrum is the new guy on the block and connects its network to the thousands of Tampa Bay customers the company inherited last year when it acquired Bright House Networks?
In Bartelds' case, she still got charged a new customer wifi activation fee.
Spectrum's response Wednesday: Oops, our bad.
Bartelds, 41, a Feather Sound resident in Clearwater, noticed a one-time "wifi activation" fee on her December Spectrum bill and twice called customer service demanding an explanation. She said Spectrum told her this was the charge customers must pay after its parent company, Charter Communications, bought Bright House last May.
Spectrum said the charge was a mistake, not policy, and waived the fee for Bartelds. But four additional Spectrum customers contacted the Tampa Bay Times after it posted a story about Bartelds saying they, too, were charged a wifi-connection charge on their December bills. All said they first signed up for Bright House Internet service years ago and their accounts were assumed by Spectrum.
"I didn't connect with them, they connected to me," said Bartelds, who works as a software technical analyst. "It wasn't my option to go from Bright House to Spectrum. It was their choice to buy Bright House. We're being penalized for their buyout."
Max Perez said he and his mother, Rosa Perez, 82, both of Tampa, saw the wifi-connection fee on their separate bills in December.
"My mom's on Social Security and every dollar counts," Perez said. "Spectrum said its computer system would not allow them to waive the fee. So I gave my mom $10 and said, 'Here, mom. Just pay it.' "
Tammy Sassin, a commercial real estate broker from Lutz, said she, too, was charged a $9.99 wifi fee in December, though she first signed up for Bright House Internet more than a decade ago.
"Mistake?" Sassin said. "No, no, no."
Though the Bright House acquisition was finalized last May, Charter did not begin rolling out its Spectrum brand locally until November, which might account for why such a charge has only recently appeared on bills.
Spectrum spokesman Joe Durkin said the fee should not apply to customers the company inherited from Bright House who already had Internet service. He said Spectrum is reviewing cases the Times has brought to its attention to see if the charges were appropriate.
Durkin said the company was investigating the issue but thought any mistaken billings would have been very limited.
"As you know, we've said from the beginning that Bright House legacy customers aren't going to see any change in their service or price package," Durkin said. "We have over a million customers in the Bay area, so this doesn't look like a widespread issue."
Frontier Communications, which acquired Verizon's TV, Internet and landline phone business last year, said it does not charge the customers it inherited any connection fee. Frontier spokeswoman Brigid Smith defended her company's rival, saying she was skeptical it was Spectrum policy to charge any such fee to existing customers.
"We don't want to push (Spectrum) under the bus," Smith said.
Bartelds, however, said she remains skeptical that Spectrum wasn't trying to sneak a charge by her.
"Their customer-service representatives were dismissive of me," she said. "A lot of people don't notice these kinds of charges. I think Spectrum was hoping we're just not paying attention to our bills."
Contact reporter William R. Levesque at [email protected] Follow @Times_Levesque.