In what has become the longest-running April Fools’ Day joke on record, the merry band of pranksters at Time Warner Cable marked their 25th straight April Fools’ as they maintained the charade that they are a fully functioning and generally competent cable company. Formed by a merger in 1990, Time Warner Cable has spent the last quarter of a century punking unsuspecting customers by presenting itself as a legitimate provider of cable services and, beginning in 1996, high-speed internet.
On Wednesday, Time Warner Cable CEO Robert Marcus praised his 51,000 employees during a Board of Directors meeting for “perpetuating the most elaborate and profitable ruse in American history.” As he spoke, the company’s stock price hovered around an all-time high of $150 per share, even as customer satisfaction neared all-time lows. “What we’re seeing,” Marcus told the board, “is that our competition has been gradually moving toward our model of pseudoservice in an effort lower costs, and this is lowering customer expectations across the industry as a whole.”
Marcus noted that with Americans coming to expect less from their cable and internet providers, Time Warner Cable has room to grow even more unreliable. He said the company should be able to provide what he called “hilariously shitty service like you read about” while still retaining a sizable pool of subscribers who either have no other choice, or alternatives that are almost as bad.
“My apartment building only has Time Warner Cable,” grumbled 27-year-old Shonda Liesman of New York’s Upper East Side. Speaking via Skype that was intermittently interrupted by service disruption in her “high-speed” internet connection, Liesman found the decades-old gag to be no laughing matter.
“Like, I know they’re not a real cable company,” she explained. “I know some haven’t figured it out, though I have, but is it that unreasonable to expect the same quality of service they get in Sudan? That’s all I’m asking for, is Sudan-level service and I’ll be ok.”
Another Time Warner Cable customer complained about the company’s digital TV. “Without a doubt,” said 34-year-old Ron Francisco of New Rochelle, N.Y., “They have the worst user interface I’ve seen since Duck Hunt for the original Nintendo, which I guess makes sense considering that was big when the company was formed.”
While customer grievances have so far manifested in phone calls to unsympathetic and vulgar customer service representatives, as well as the frequent unfavorable Yelp review, subscribers’ patience may be wearing thin. Last month, a Nebraska woman took time off from work to be home during a scheduled cable installation with a Time Warner Cable technician who never showed up. During a subsequent phone call to customer service, she threatened to blow up the company.
When asked to comment on these and other criticisms, Marcus dismissed the complaints. “Those are coming from people who have absolutely no sense of humor and just don’t appreciate what we’re trying to do,” he said.” Or I should say, trying not to do.”
Meanwhile, the Federal Communications Commission announced that it was pushing back to later this year its decision on the proposed $45 billion merger between Time Warner Cable and Comcast. In a statement, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said that the five-member panel would like more time to review, “as we consider this historic merger of the nation’s two largest nonexistent media giants.”