Florida snowbirds complain that Spectrum bills them when they‘re out of state

Ohio residents Ralph and Eleanore Parker said they returned to their seasonal home in Largo to find a rude surprise — a cable bill from Spectrum for service when the couple wasn‘t even in Florida.

"They said I owed close to $600," said Ralph Parker, 76. "How can they bill me for service I didn‘t have?"

Four seasonal Tampa Bay families told the in recent days that Spectrum, owned by Charter Communications, started billing them for service before their return to Florida and before they ever called the company to reconnect TVs, phones and Internet.

Once routine, such "seasonable disconnects" have left these snowbird customers with the choice of either paying for service they didn‘t get or having their homes disconnected because their bills are delinquent now that they are actually back in Florida.

Charter spokesman Joe Durkin said the transition from Bright House Networks to Spectrum has not produced any billing bugs that would have impacted snowbirds. He said the company still allows customers to disconnect their service seasonally.

"There are no problems that I am aware of," Durkin said Monday, though he said Spectrum would need to research individual customer complaints to determine if any are valid.

It was two weeks ago when Spectrum acknowledged a billing glitch led the company to charge a $9.99 "wifi activation" fee to many of the customers it inherited from the Bright House acquisition. That admission came after a series of stories quoting Tampa Bay residents who had been Bright House customers for years and did not need to be "reconnected" to anything.

Spectrum officials, after initially denying a widespread problem, finally said they would automatically credit customers for the charge.

The has also reported numerous cases of new Spectrum customers who said their rates were raised under the false premise that they were under a promotional rate from Bright House that was being phased out.

Lynn Stilwell, 56, a New Port Richey nurse who leaves Tampa Bay for long periods to work, said Spectrum reconnected her service in December from a seasonal disconnect at a time she was still out of state. She said the company refused to remedy the problem, so Stilwell paid her bill rather than lose service now that she is back in Florida.

"I was told, ‘It is what it is. We know you want a different answer. But that‘s the way it is,‘ " Stilwell said. "Nobody knows what‘s going on there. They don‘t know what happened. Spectrum‘s employees don‘t know the right answer to tell you. They‘ve got such a mess they just decided not to give anybody their money back."

Wendy Gill, 69, a Canadian resident who owns a seasonal home in Clearwater, said she returned to Florida on Jan. 22 and discovered Spectrum charged her for the three previous months. She had a past due balance of $457.

After complaining, she said, the company told her that she had called in May to reconnect service in November. Spectrum told her it would knock $300 off Gill‘s bill but nonetheless demanded the remaining $157.

"Why would I call in May to turn it on in November?" Gill said. "That doesn‘t even make sense. I‘ve never been in Florida in November in my life."

She said her neighbor and Gill‘s sister-in-law also were charged for months they had disconnected their service.

Lee Longchamp, 85, a seasonal Ruskin resident, said he returned to Florida from his home in Connecticut and called Spectrum on Nov. 26 to have his service turned back on.

But he said his service had already been turned on for two months.

"I thought they‘d just straighten this out and they would say, ‘Sure. You‘ve been a good customer. You‘ve been with us 11 years.‘ But I couldn‘t get any of them to do anything about it," Longchamp said, noting Spectrum eventually offered a partial credit of $80.

Still angry, he told Spectrum he wanted to end his service anyway.

"What was most galling," Longchamp said, "was that they said I couldn‘t disconnect my service while I had an unpaid balance."