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Spectrum raises cost for many Florida seasonal residents turning off service

Snowbirds who want seasonal service for Internet, TV or phone service from Charter Spectrum will face a monthly charge could cost many far more to keep their service. [Associated Press file photo]
Snowbirds who want seasonal service for Internet, TV or phone service from Charter Spectrum will face a monthly charge could cost many far more to keep their service. [Associated Press file photo]
Published Mar. 22, 2017

Snowbird Linda Sutton said it was galling enough when she noticed that Spectrum had mistakenly turned on her TV and Internet service a week early when she came down to Tampa from Pennsylvania in January.

That cost her an extra $40 that she said Spectrum refused to waive no matter how much she protested.

Then earlier this month, she got a card in the mail advertising Spectrum's "seasonal plan" for Florida snowbirds, which boasted, "Keep your services and save." She read the fine print.

"I knew right away their plan was going to get a lot of snowbirds really mad," said Sutton, 67.

Turns out Spectrum's seasonal resident plan for Florida snowbirds who are here half the year could cost nearly three times what they were paying before. The cost goes up for those staying longer, down for those who head back north earlier.

The bottom line: Snowbirds should expect to pay more unless they're in Florida about two months or less.

Previous coverage: Florida snowbirds complain that Spectrum bills them when they're out of state

Spectrum's parent company, Charter Communications, bought Bright House last year in a $71 billion deal.

Spectrum has been informing customers of its seasonal plan through advertising cards mailed to seasonal residents in the last month. Spectrum inherited more than a million Bright House customers, though it is unclear how many of those are snowbirds.

"I was really shocked when I found out," said Sutton, who usually spends about six months in Florida and will see her seasonal rate nearly triple to about $60 a year for Internet and TV service. "This is really going to affect a lot of seniors."

Canadian snowbird Bob Bovaird, 78, who is staying in Brooksville, said he spends about half the year in Florida and will see his seasonal rate nearly triple to about $90 for TV, Internet and phone service.

"I have absolutely no intention of paying them," said Bovaird, noting he would rather cancel his service.

Spectrum spokesman Joe Durkin said the company's seasonal plan offering "a low monthly price" is a good deal for customers and he noted it allows them to retain some "important functionality," such as the ability to keep using email, desktop security, access to voice mail and access to wifi hot spots.

"Seasonal customers pay this fee for only the months that they are not here, and do not require the full function of Spectrum services," Durkin said in a written statement. "While not here, seasonal customers would still have access to important functions."

Spectrum charges customers in its seasonal plan $4.99 for each service — Internet, TV or phone — or $14.97 if a customer has all three. The catch is that the fee is charged each month they are outside Florida. Bright House charged a one-time fee of $11.34 per service, or $34 for all three.

By paying the fee while they are up north, a snowbird can keep their equipment and not have to pay any special assessment when they resume service upon their return. If they cancel their account and sign up for service again when they return to Florida, they would lose phone numbers, email addresses, videos and then have to pay activation costs as if they are brand-new customers.

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It's been a bumpy few months for former Bright House customers since Charter rolled out its Spectrum brand in Tampa Bay in November.

Previous coverage: Customers: Spectrum breaks promise it won't raise rates

Many Spectrum's seasonal residents have already been complaining that the broadband company had turned on their Florida service early, in some cases months before residents returned to Tampa Bay, according to interviews. More than two dozen snowbirds told the Tampa Bay Times that their service was resumed even though they had not yet called Spectrum to turn it on. That has resulted, they said, in hundreds of dollars of additional charges.

Spectrum said last month that it was unaware of any such problem. Asked about it again this week, Durkin declined to directly address whether seasonal residents are experiencing problems.

"Spectrum works with individual customers if they have a question about the timing of their seasonal account status," he said.

And many of the company's customers have faced price hikes for their service despite Spectrum's pledge when it acquired Bright House not to raise rates. But Spectrum maintains it has not done so, instead noting to customers their Bright House "promotional rates" are ending.

"You'd think they're going to put themselves out of business getting all these customers mad," said Dave Mattingly, an Ohio snowbird living in St. Petersburg. "They're just driving their customers away."

Contact William R. Levesque at levesque@tampabay.com. Follow @Times_Levesque.