Everyone knows the old adage "You get what you pay for." Sadly, that may not be the case if you are poor, have bad credit, or ever made a late payment. You may be paying for customer service, as an intrinsic part of your bill, but you won't be getting the same service that other customers get.
The cable industry is already infamous for its dismal customer service. However, that didn't stop Thomas Might, the CEO of Cable One, from bragging recently about providing even worse service to selected customers: the poor. Speaking at the J.P. Morgan Global Technology, Media and Telecom Conference last month, Might revealed that his company targets customers by their FICO credit scores. If their scores are low, customer service representatives are instructed to offer only minimal assistance.
Cable One considers people with low scores — which can result from late payment, unemployment, a bounced check, or even erroneous credit reporting — to be "hollow value" customers. That means they are not likely to purchase additional products and services from the company (also known as "upselling"); for example, premium movie channel packages or higher speed internet connections. As such, the "hollow" customers don't merit help with problems and issues because it is an expense, rather than a potential increase in profit, for the company.
Of course, such customers are paying for customer service. That's a baked-in cost and obligation included in the monthly bill; there is no separate charge for customer service, unlike some companies, such as Microsoft, which explicitly require one to purchase phone support. Nevertheless, Cable One feels it can deny expected assistance to its marginal customers — usually poor and often minorities — and get away with it.
And it probably can get away with it. I haven't seen a Cable One service agreement but I assume it contains a mandatory arbitration clause (as virtually all corporate products and services do now). That means the only recourse for aggrieved customers is through the company's own rigged and biased arbitration system, as I wrote about in my three-part series on forced arbitration a few of months ago. Such clauses forbid customers from participating in class action lawsuits, leaving each person to individually navigate a costly system that rarely yields satisfaction and does nothing to deter ongoing corporate abuses.
Although only Cable One has been caught perpetrating this insulting behavior toward its less fortunate customers so far, we can assume that others are already doing the same thing or planning to do so. Any time that we've seen a rip-off that wasn't clearly illegal, it wasn't long before competitors implemented it as well. It's only because CEO Might couldn't keep himself from smugly seeking the approbation of his corporate peers that we even know of the scam in this particular instance.
Telecom companies are fighting tooth-and-nail a proposed rule change by the FCC to apply "Section 222" to them. That would make it illegal for them to collect personal data to sell to other parties or to use that data for any purpose other than establishing service. Beyond the obvious first part — where companies can make money by selling your private information — it's now clear why they oppose the second part as well: they can use your own personal info to discriminate against you in the quality of service they provide.
At this point, with no FCC regulation in effect and the courts closed off to aggrieved customers, telecom companies can openly mimic Lily Tomlin's character, Ernestine, the condescending and spiteful telephone operator:
We're the phone [cable/internet] company. We don't care; we don't have to.
Broadband Privacy Can Prevent Discrimination, The Case of Cable One and FICO Scores (Wet Machine)
CableOne Brags It Provides Worse Service to Bad Credit Customers (DSL Reports)
Cable One using FICO scores to qualify video customers, Might says (FierceCable)