The day before we left New York City (August 29, 2005) was, as you might imagine, a little crazy. In addition to picking up the minivan and driving around doing last-minute errands - including some time at the Department of Motor Vehicles, of all places - we had to drive back to the apartment on a regular basis. Buster was on a high dose of Prednisone at the time and had to go out every couple of hours.

That same day, we returned our cable TV and internet equipment to Time Warner Cable. Thus begins the saga - one that ended only yesterday.

The office where we brought the equipment was a tiny, over-crowded room. You would have thought it was a little mom-and-pop operation, not an office of one of the world's largest media conglomerates. The wait seemed interminable, and it was difficult to have patience on such a busy day. We considered driving downtown to their main office, but were warned the wait there might be just as bad, and NYC traffic being what it is, we'd be that much further away from Buster. We even considered returning the equipment by mail, but that option seemed even more time-consuming, and potentially disastrous.

Finally we split up. With slightly more patience for noisy, crowded spaces, I continued to wait, while Allan got a few more things done with the van, and checked on B.

Eventually our number was called and we were able to return the equipment.

We were owed money, both for a deposit, and for the service we had paid for but would not be using. The representative said her computer would not accept a Canadian address. She wrote our new address on a post-it note and stuck it on her copy of the receipt. I thought, what are the odds of that making it through the system? None or none?

In the weeks and months that followed, every once in a while, I would notice "TW refund" in my Outlook task list, and remember that we never received a cheque. I'd summon the fortitude to call, go through the entire sales menu (the system no longer recognized me as a customer, so I had to start from scratch each time), only to be told that refund cheques take four to six months to process, and that I should keep waiting. Four to six months?? Why would it take that long for Time Warner Cable to process a refund cheque? (Answer: it wouldn't.)

Then I would forget about this for months at a time. Then I'd remember and call again. And get the same response.

In early July, on a getting-things-done jag, I determined it was time to get the damn cheque. At this point, obviously, there could be no excuse.

I called, went through the entire menu. At first the representative told me there was no record of my ever having been a customer. On my further insistence, she somehow found our old records, which of course said no money was owed to us. (Patience, Laura, patience.) Finally she said she would refer this to the finance department, who would then contact me.

Was there any way I could contact the finance eepartment myself, to follow up? No. Was there any way I could call directly next time? No. Could she at least give me a case number, so when I called to follow up, I wouldn't have to re-tell the whole story? No.

When weeks passed and, predictably, we never heard from the elusive finance department, I recruited Allan, as I thought I might seriously lose it on the phone. More menus, more hold time, more representatives telling us we were never customers. Same outcome: the finance department, who cannot be contacted, but who will contact us.

I realized I had let this go on too long, and I needed another course of action. From the Time Warner website, I got their mailing address for disputes - only paper mail, no phone number, no email address - along with the addresses of the two New York State agencies that oversee consumer issues with cable companies. Thank goddess for these agencies, the product of consumer advocacy and activist legislators.

I wrote a letter, and cc'd both agencies.

I heard nothing from Time Warner. Both agencies - the State of New York Public Service Commission and the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications - contacted me within the week.

The Public Service Commission told me it is illegal for Time Warner to require a deposit for cable equipment. They were forced to stop the practice several years ago, but long-time customers were never informed of that, nor issued a refund. Reps from both agencies assured me that, along with an explanation and a cheque, we were due interest, beginning at the date our service was discontinued.

A few days later, guess who called?

The oily, officious, ass-kissing Time Warner representative didn't help at all. He only fanned the flames with his now-just-calm-down-we-can-work-this-out attitude.

Weeks passed. Still no cheque.

The agencies emailed, telling us that Time Warner says they cannot send money out of the country. We could either have the cheque sent to our old address (why would we want that?) or give them a local address. Our friend NN was kind enough to accept a cheque on our behalf. We gave them her address on July 24.

Yesterday, August 15, 2006, I received this email from NN: "The Eagle has landed."

* * * *

If Time Warner simply "forgets" to refund former customers' deposits, and customers must be relentlessly persistent to get their deposits back, think of how much money the company can pocket.

I know several of you choose not to have cable, and that's great if it works for you, but it doesn't work for us, both for high-speed internet and for out-of-town baseball. What's more, that's not a solution to a company's responsibilities to its customers.

I know everyone around here complains about Rogers, and I'm sure they have very good reason. (Ted Rogers, for one thing.) However, my own experience with Rogers has been stellar compared to Time Warner. I know it's a tiny sample size, and maybe I've just been lucky, but whenever I need anything from Rogers - cable, internet and cell phone - they are quick, efficient and polite; I get what I called for, very quickly. On the other hand, this saga comes as no surprise to any New Yorkers reading this blog.

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