How To Get Justice Against a Cable Company: Step-By-Step

Published on December 8, 2020

How many times have you heard someone in your life complaining about their cable company?

Even worse, how many times have you been the one complaining about a cable provider?

Complaints about cable companies might sound like cliches. But cable providers aren’t like the DMV or the post office — services that draw a lot of consumer ire but ultimately tend to be doing their best to get their jobs done. On the contrary, cable companies have actually been caught engaging in a lot of shady behaviors that fully justify their customers’ complaints.

But what if you want to take your dispute with your cable company further than your watercooler chat? What do you do if you have a legitimate complaint about your cable company that you need resolved? Where do you go if you need help getting justice against a cable company that’s gone beyond just providing an unpleasant customer service experience — but has actually wronged you?

These are questions that a lot of consumers have, and we’re here to help. In this article, we’ll discuss some of the common reasons people might want to seek justice against their cable companies. Then, we’ll explain, step-by-step, how to file a complaint against a cable company, and point you toward some resources that will be on your side if you need help getting justice. 

Why Do So Many People Have Complaints About Their Cable Companies?

Let’s start at the beginning: Why do so many people complain about cable companies? And, more importantly, are people complaining about just annoyances, or actual injustices?

The American Consumer Satisfaction Index surveys consumers and scores industries based on how well they provide satisfactory services at fair prices. Consistently, year after year, the cable TV industry ranks lowest out of the dozens of industries the ACSI tracks.

Graph of American Consumer Satisfaction Index Scores for the Cable TV Industry

In 2020, the cable industry has scored 64 out of 100 points on the ACSI index, which is actually a 3.2 percent increase over last year. But the industry still has the lowest score in the ACSI rankings, reflecting more dissatisfied customers than ISPs, cell phone providers, online news media, and many other industries that consumers love to complain about. Additionally, this year is the first time since 2016 that the cable industry saw an increase in its ACSI ranking.

ACSI rankings aren’t even the worst evidence against the cable industry, though.

News reports reveal that some of what cable companies have been up to goes beyond just bad customer service. For example,

These are just some examples of how cable companies have done shady (or even outright illegal) things to their customers. In all these cases (and any others like them), the customers deserve justice. But it can be difficult to figure out how to get it.

How to File a Complaint Against a Cable Company

The exact process for filing a complaint might vary from one cable company to the next. For more detailed advice about taking on a specific company, visit our consumer guides.

But no matter what cable company your dispute is with, there are certain steps you can take to file and escalate your complaint. Here’s what you need to know.

Step 1: Contact the Cable Company

For anyone who’s suffered through an unproductive customer service call, this probably won’t be welcome news. But any time you have a complaint against a company, before taking it to any outside agencies, you need to try to resolve it with the company itself. This is important, because if you end up escalating your complaint to the FTC, FCC, or a local franchising authority, they’ll expect that you’ve already tried to resolve your dispute with the company directly.

Some best practices to keep in mind here: Try to address the complaint with your cable company in writing, whenever possible. Email is a great option for this. This ensures that you have a record of exactly what’s said by both parties, and you have proof that you attempted to resolve the complaint directly with the cable company, as well as proof of why that didn’t work.

If you’ve tried this and your cable company was unable or unwilling to help you reach a resolution, it’s time for step two.

Step 2: Find the Right Regulatory Agency

If your cable company is unable or unwilling to help you, you can escalate your complaint to a regulatory agency. However, finding the right one can be a challenge.

Cable companies are overseen by a number of entities: The Federal Communications Commission, the Federal Trade Commission, public utility commissions, and local franchising authorities are the ones that are likely to be most relevant to any dispute you might have. Here’s where this gets complicated: Each of them has different jurisdiction and can only help with certain issues.

Here’s who you should contact, depending on your complaint.

Where to File a Complaint against Your Cable Company

Local Franchising Authorities

Local franchising authorities are government organizations that regulate cable TV service at a municipal, county, or other local level. You can usually find the name of your local franchising authority on your cable bill. If not, you can contact your cable company or your local town or city hall to request that information.

Local franchising authorities can help you with these issues:

  • Rates for basic service and equipment, and service charges related to basic cable.
  • Rates for cable service tiers, particularly if rates for your cable service have been increased within the past 90 days.
  • Customer service problems, like availability of customer service representatives, office hours, timeliness of service visits, and outages.
  • Franchise fees.
  • Signal quality.
  • Use of public or informational channels that are required as part of your cable company’s franchise agreement.

Public Utility Commissions

In some states, public utility commissions oversee certain issues related to cable or satellite TV services.

To find out more about your state’s public utility commission, check the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners. If your state has one, PUCs can help you with these issues:

  • Rates and programming for stand-alone satellite TV services.
  • Rates and programming for stand-alone cable TV services (not including basic tier plans).
  • Installation of cable or satellite TV services that are not bundled with other services.
  • Burial of phone or cable TV wires.

Federal Communications Commission

The FCC is a department of the federal government that exists to regulate businesses and prevent them from taking advantage of or unfairly treating consumers.

There are a number of ways you can contact the FCC if you have a complaint about a cable company that falls under its jurisdiction. You can visit the FCC Complaint Center to file your complaint online or get the right information to mail it, or you can call 1-888-225-5322 for information and general questions. 

The FCC can help with these kinds of complaints:

  • Equal Opportunity Employment complaints.
  • Signal leakage that might affect other spectrum users.
  • Cable companies that violate rules about home cable wiring.
  • Cable companies that violate commercial limits during kids’ programming.
  • Indecency or obscenity on a cable TV program.

Federal Trade Commission

And finally, the right entity to receive your complaint might be the FTC, which is another department of the federal government. It has similar goals to the FCC, but oversees different things. 

Also similarly to the FCC, you have a few options for contacting the FTC about your complaint. You can use an online complaint portal, or you can reach the agency by phone at 1-877-FTC-HELP. 

Here are some of the types of complaints that would fall under the jurisdiction of the FTC:

  • False advertising.
  • Deceptive business practices.
  • Scams.
  • Problems with debt collection.

What to Expect After Filing a Complaint Against a Cable Company

After filing a complaint with any of the entities listed above, you might be wondering what comes next. The answer, unfortunately, is that it depends.

Regulatory agencies, particularly at the federal level, will typically investigate a company if they receive complaints about it. If they find that the company did, in fact, do something wrong, they may impose fines or other punishments. But typically, a federal agency like the FTC or the FCC won’t help you get a refund, get charges reversed, or get justice in any other, similar way. For that, you have other resources.

How to Get Justice Against a Cable Company

If resolving your dispute means getting a refund, a zero balance, other compensation, or some other form of justice, you might feel like you have a long, uphill road to climb.

Most cable companies have clauses built into their contracts that say you can’t sue them, unless it’s in small claims court. But what you can do is take advantage of consumer arbitration.

Arbitration works a little bit like small claims: You’ll send a legal demand to your cable company, and then collect any evidence you have and present it to an independent third party, or arbitrator. The arbitrator will hear both sides of the dispute and make a legally binding decision.

But even that might sound overwhelming. And if you’ve never been through the process of arbitration before, we don’t blame you if you feel intimidated by the paperwork, the process, or just the thought of taking on a big company with major legal resources.

So let us help. FairShake can file your legal demand on your behalf, and let your cable company know you have help and your complaint is serious. Then, using a combination of automation and one-on-one guidance, we can help you through the paperwork and every step. Simply put, we put the power back in consumers’ hands where it belongs. Ready to see how FairShake can help you get your fair shake against your cable company? Start a claim today.

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