Happiness is a Warm TV

While WRAL and AT&T continue to spar, customers fight with AT&T over discounts

It’s been more than three weeks since Capitol Broadcasting Company pulled WRAL and WRAZ Fox 50 from the AT&T U-verse lineup. With no signs of a resolution in sight, frustrated TV viewers are demanding discounts from AT&T, taking advantage of free over-the-air antennas from CBC and exploring other cable or cord-cutting options.

One of the biggest frustrations for AT&T customers seems to be the question of discounts. In the days immediately following the outage, AT&T customers called the company and were able to get credits for the missing NBC and Fox channels.

On the social media site Nextdoor, people reported credits of $5, $10, even $25. But by 10 days into the dispute, the company seemed less inclined to issue credits. Posts on Nextdoor indicated that only small credits of around $10 were being offered, or that customers had to “beg” or threaten to cancel to get any discount at all. Some customers were told flat-out, “no discounts.”

According to AT&T statements, customers are charged $5.60 per month to receive local NBC, CBS, ABC and Fox affiliates. AT&T pays “carriage fees” to each local affiliate to be able to carry their channels, and that is what the current dispute with Capitol Broadcasting is about – the amount that AT&T should have to pay them.

Josh Gelinas, a public relations manager for AT&T, has said the company does not share information regarding the number of customers they have in a given market.

Meredith Monday of Raleigh was told by a representative in AT&T’s retention department that the company cannot provide discounts even though it is aware that competitors such as Spectrum are offering deals to lure customers away.

“Normally they have great customer service,” Monday said of AT&T. “But it sounded like she was reading from a sheet. She just kept saying, ‘I understand. I understand.’ I said, ‘We’ve been customers for a long time, so you’re OK if I switch to Spectrum?’ She said, ‘I understand if that’s what you feel like you need to do.’ 

Monday, who does contract negotiations for a living, was surprised she couldn’t get a discount. “I was pretty bummed out. It was a blow to my ego that I couldn’t get a discount or something, especially when I saw all these other people online getting discounts.”

And she said people promised credits should check to make sure they actually get them.

Monday did call Spectrum, who offered her the same pricing plan she gets with AT&T, plus threw in some free premium movie channels. Monday and her husband decided not to switch, though, because they were more interested in getting a lower price than free channels. “Spectrum didn’t make it worth our while, and it’s just a hassle.”

Monday also missed out on the free HD antennas given to AT&T customers by Capitol Broadcasting earlier this week because her family is out of town.

When asked about the company’s discount policies, AT&T’s Gelinas offered no specifics, but said the company will “continue to work with our customers to meet their specific needs.”

“This is about Capitol pulling down its stations to attain its own financial goals at our customers’ expense,” he said. “We want Capitol’s stations to return to all U-verse customers’ lineups, and all we need is Capitol’s permission. Until Capitol offers that, we will continue to work with our customers to meet their specific needs. Already this year, there have been more than 150 station blackouts in over 100 cities across the entire television industry, causing nearly 20 million American homes at least some temporary disruption. We share our own customers’ frustration and will continue to work to prevent these disputes from occurring as often as we can.”

Steve Hammel, vice president and general manager at WRAL, said Capitol Broadcasting gave away thousands of free HD antennas made by Mohu, a Raleigh company, at PNC Arena this week. He said some viewers complained about AT&T.

“We heard quite a number of people talking either about switching providers, cutting the cord or getting conflicting information from AT&T regarding rebates,” Hammel said. “Some said they were offered $10 while others gave other numbers up to $75. We continue to apologize to our viewers who are AT&T U-Verse customers for having them in the middle of this ongoing dispute.”

Brooke Cain: 919-829-4579, @brookecain

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