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 Hawaii Road Runner Customers : Do you deserve a refund?
There really are 80,000+ just like me - injured by deceptive advertising and billing of illegal taxes & franchise fees

 First time here? See the Quick Site Summary for a 60-second summary of the issues.

In August 2001, Time-Warner dba Oceanic Cable/Sun Cable, through its attorney Beth K. Fujimoto Esq., Watanabe Ing  Kawashima & Komeiji suggested I discontinue my Road Runner service, and they would refund to me all fees that I have paid since September 2000. The offer has expired for me - and only now is there any competitive high-speed service available. You may want to get a 100% refund for the entire time you have been a Hawaii Road Runner customer - ask them if it applies to you. If not, you should file a complaint with the DCCA OCP (see below). You may also want to check back as I add more about suing Oceanic in Hawaii Small Claims Court.

December 3, '02: On November 8, 2002, I filed a Small Claims action in Hawaii's Third Circuit Court against Oceanic Time Warner Cable seeking $998.74. A hearing was held Dec. 3. Oceanic flew over high-priced attorney and former State Bar President John T. Komeiji from Oahu to deny the claim. A trial has been set for January 10, 2003. More info.

November 6 '02: I'm almost ready to file my lawsuit against Oceanic/Time-Warner. I've also been made aware of a complaint filed in September '02 with the State Ethics Commission regarding Clyde Sonobe, Administrator of DCCA-CATV. See the Press Release and Complaint. When Governor-elect Linda Lingle takes office, I hope to see an improvement in our state government and consumer protection....

August 14 '02: Deceptive Advertising: The OCP has declined to take action against Oceanic for past deceptive advertising. OCP has gotten Oceanic to include a disclaimer ("Internet speeds may vary") in all of its advertising for Road Runner service. Because the office of consumer protection will not act to protect consumers in this instance, each consumer must act on their own, and I plan to do exactly that: I will be filing a case in Hawaii courts to recover my damages. Each customer may do the same: I'll be putting more information about this on this website soon.

FRANCHISE FEES: In bills for September '02 service, Oceanic is refunding, as a one-time credit, "previously collected franchise fees on internet service." However, the pattern of deception, and shady accounting on the part of Oceanic continues: Apparently, the amount being credited has nothing to do with how much any particular customer actually paid: the same amount ($26.10) is credited to each Road Runner customer - even if they paid less than $2. in franchise fees. Customers who paid $35 or more in Road Runner franchise fees get $26.10. Customers who are no longer customers get nothing. And, it appears no one gets the interest Oceanic previously told the DCCA and me they were going to pay from holding these fees in escrow. I don't believe the watchdog (DCCA-CATV) is awake:: Hawaii sorely needs a fresh start in government!

April 25, '02:
Franchise Fees - as of April billing for May service, no longer being applied to Road Runner. But, the more I learn about franchise fees, the more confused I get: Read more on Franchise Fees here.

Sales tax on Road Runner and ISPs:  I've never received a written reply to my November '01 inquiry to the Director of the Hawaii State Tax Department asking if Internet Access is subject to Hawaii GET (General Excise Tax). In December, I received a phone call from an analyst at the department who indicated I would get a reply - but probably not until February. It was my understanding that I would receive a reply indicating Internet Access is subject to GET.  On March 26, I wrote a follow-up to the Director. On April 5, the analyst spoke with me again and indicated my inquiry is still under review. The analyst indicated that the State Tax Department isn't sure whether GET applies to [all] Internet Access. Still, Road Runner as well as most local ISPs continue to charge and collect it; many national ISPs continue not to charge it to their Hawaii customers as tax compliance service provider Vertex still indicates Internet Access exempt from GET.

March 14 '02:
The FCC ruled today that Cable Modem Service (Road Runner) is not a Cable Service, and that State Franchise Taxes do not apply to cable modem service. It is my understanding that Oceanic has not responded, other than to request more time, to an early February request for information on its billing and remittance of State Cable Franchise Fees. It is clear the State Cable Franchise Fee billed by Oceanic and its affiliates on Road Runner, AOL, and Earthlink broadband service should not be billed or paid by customers. I am deducting this 5% fee from my payment, and suggest other customers make an inquiry to Kiman Wong, General Manager of Oceanic Internet Services as to whether it is appropriate to deduct this fee from your payment. More...

February 13 '02 update: Complaint of January '01 is still under investigation.
The State Tax Department has indicated to me verbally that they do not consider Internet Access to be exempt from State GET, and may look into those ISP's (like AOL and MSN) that are not and have not been charging GET. The Franchise Tax issue is being handled by the DCCA-CATV division, which, apparently, is taking the position that Oceanic must pay the fee to the state; meanwhile, as far as I know, Oceanic is not paying it to the state while still collecting it from its customers.

November 21 update: New Complaint Filed:
A new complaint seeking refund of State Cable Franchise Fees and GET charged for Road Runner service was filed with the Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs (DCCA). A copy of the complaint is available here. The DCCA (CATV division) is the franchise authority for all cable systems in the state.

November 16 update: More False Advertising:
Big Island customers subscribing to Road Runner since July are being charged more than the advertised price. See this page
.
November 15 update: Time-Warner's Oceanic Cable is no longer the only broadband cable access provider in Hawaii:
service is now being provided by Earthlink and Time-Warner's AOL. Today I sent this letter to DCCA-OCP and Oceanic: now, a 100% refund for Road Runner service looks pretty good...
IT IS NOT TOO LATE TO FILE YOUR COMPLAINT!

November 14-15 update:
Well over a month ago, another Hawaii Road Runner customer asked why are we being charged tax and franchise fees on Internet access? General Manager Kiman Wong promised a response - and it's ridiculous: the fee for "Road Runner Service" isn't for "Internet Access".....  Read more.

October 21, 2001 update:
After this page first appeared in July, a number of other customers have filed complaints with OCP, and Oceanic's response has been to offer a 100% refund: over $2,000 to an Oahu customer that signed up in 1997!

The matter is still under investigation by OCP. There has been no action on my complaint since August pending investigation of new complaints. (It is my understanding that OCP is assigning separate case numbers to each complaint, and requiring Oceanic to respond to each one separately.)

In September, Oceanic's attorney informed me by letter copied to OCP that it considers the case closed, and revealed portions of settlement discussions I had with Ms. Fujimoto in September. I have since revealed that Oceanic's May settlement proposal would have, among other things, provided me with a 100% refund for my Road Runner service without discontinuing the service. The case is not closed in my mind, and it has not been closed by the State of Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs.

January, 2001 - Complaint regarding performance and deceptive advertising:

The facts are really simple: there was a bandwidth shortage, and Oceanic/Hawaii Road Runner not only added more and more customers, they aggressively, and deceptively marketed the service during the shortage. It's not right, and it's not legal. Think of a stadium that holds 10,000 people. They sell 20,000 tickets. Sure, they had contracted to build an expansion, but a shortage of steel has delayed it. They put up 10,000 temporary bleachers. They still tell everyone there's 'no problem', you'll have a 'great view', and keep selling tickets. Now, 50,000 people are in a stadium designed for 10,000. This is exactly what happened if you substitute the broadband service delivered to me and everyone else in Hawaii for the stadium.

If you are or were a Hawaii Road Runner customer at any time during the period of Sep 2000 to present, and if you experienced periods of unsatisfactory performance, I strongly urge you to FILL IN AN OCP COMPLAINT FORM* including an attachment letter similar to the follow - ( send it by fax (808-933-8845) to:

Gene Murayama, Investigator
State of Hawaii Office of Consumer Protection
Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs
345 Kekuanaoa Street #12
Hilo, HI 96720

And state that you are a Road Runner customer that's received less than the advertised service, and ask to be added as a party in RE: Oceanic Cablevision, Inc./Sun Cablevision - Case No. 2001-0403

SEE A SAMPLE LETTER
SEE an ACTUAL LETTER from another customer that's already written
If you send a letter, please let me know & forward a copy to me via e-mail. If you don't mind your letter (without name) made available on this website as a sample, please state that in your e-mail to me.

* - The OCP Complaint Form can be filled out on-line with Acrobat Reader 4.0 or higher. You can then print and fax or mail it along with your letter attachment.

Consumers were not the only ones harmed: Smaller broadband competitors (like Flex.com, Lava.net, Verizon-Hawaii, etc.) some making less (on DSL) in a month than Oceanic spends on advertising in a day, who acted responsibly by not taking on new subscribers when they did not have adequate bandwidth, were harmed as their potential customers took service from Oceanic. Bandwidth may be the single biggest recurring expense in providing Hawaii Road Runner: by having only about 1/4 of what was actually needed, Oceanic effectively got a windfall profit of 75% of bandwidth costs - millions of dollars, while you were getting the bad view. The 10,000 who got in first - before the deceptive and illegal ads - were also harmed: everyone got the 'bad view'.

In January, I filed a complaint with the State of Hawaii, Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs (DCCA) Cable-TV division, alleging, among other other things, deceptive trade practices relating to the provision of high-speed Internet Road Runner services in Hawaii.

In April of this year, the Complaint was referred to the DCCA Office of Consumer Protection (OCP) - because the Cable TV Division does not have the power or authority to regulate Road Runner service, or to address the issues in my complaint. (This issue becomes clear with the second complaint filed November 21, 2001).

On July 20, Hawaii Road Runner submitted its first formal response to my Complaint to DCCA-OCP. A facsimile of the RR response to my complaint is available here.

You will notice that the Road Runner response says that they believe "...that the vast majority of TWE'S Road Runner subscribers in Hawaii, and the Big Island in particular, are very satisfied with the Road Runner service. TWE thus closely listen [sic] to its subscribers' concerns." I know from monitoring Road Runner newsgroups that there are a substantial number of customers who disagree with this statement - but, it does little good to post this disagreement in a newsgroup.

On July 25, I sent a response to RR's reply to DCCA-OCP.
On July 31, Oceanic submitted a response to my July 25 response.
On August 13, I submitted a reply to Oceanic's July 31 response.

31-July-2001:

At 4:30pm July 30, I received notice from Oceanic denying my request to see the unredacted version of their response to my Road Runner Complaint, and was told they do not wish to have any further discussions with me regarding a possible settlement. They have also threatened to take legal action against me if I make any false, misleading and/or defamatory statements regarding Oceanic Cable, Sun Cable and/or the Road Runner service. (The truth is defamatory*. )
  
I also received independent legal advice that because their attorney, Beth Fujimoto, Esq., neglected to have me execute a confidentiality agreement with respect to receiving their previous settlement offer, there is nothing to prevent me from publishing their offer. (They disagree, but I'm sure they're wrong.) My original settlement proposal to the Company would have involved a refund (that could have been over $2 million) distributed to all Hawaii Road Runner customers. The matter is still before the State of Hawaii Office of Consumer Protection. The State Of Hawaii DCCA CATV Division and OCP have both been doing an excellent job. So far, they have not let Oceanic slip out of this, and it is refreshing to see that our State Government is doing such a good job! "Lucky to live Hawaii. Aloha!" (By letter dated July 27 to Oceanic's attorney, the investigator on the case, Gene Murayama, has already told Oceanic: "With respect to the marketing of the Road Runner service, all advertisements should appropriately disclose that actual transmission speeds will vary." Beep Beep.)

 

I retained an attorney for a consultation on the matter. I will not stop fighting for what is right. (If you'd like to know more about how I fight a public interest cause like this, see Before the Commission.) [Update 4-Aug: It is clear to me that Oceanic has no valid legal claim to confidentiality with respect to their May 29 settlement proposal; however, at this time, for other reasons, I will not be putting it on this website.]
 
I  ask anyone who agrees to assist me - by taking action like joining in on the OCP complaint - see above. Or calling Oceanic or their attorneys to see if the refund is available to anyone other than me.

Aloha,
Richard Gamberg

* DEFAMATORY:defined as language, spoken or written, that tends to lower an individual in the esteem of any substantial and respectable group.

Legally, a defamatory remark is not actionable if it is also truthful.


(The pages describing some of the problems prior to the complaint remain at http://modemsite.com/56k/_rrnightmare.htm )

SPECIAL NOTE TO OCEANIC & Sun Cablevision employees and management:
The action I am taking is not personal. I believe that everyone I have dealt with has good intentions, and are good people. For the Big Island, additional bandwidth added in April turned the service "back on".  I am not free to tell everything I know, but if the top management of Oceanic that I have dealt with (I got up to 'Vice-President - New Business Development') and those above I have not dealt with honestly believe they are right and I am wrong, then I honestly believe they don't have or understand all the facts. It doesn't matter if the service is better now - you cannot change what happened, and that is what is at issue. (My use of PingPlotter over extended periods of time indicates that a bandwidth shortage for the Big Island is again an issue. I was led to believe there was a commitment from top management to stop adding new customers if a bandwidth shortage developed again.)

Other interesting reads:

Note - Hawaii had a problem quite different from the mainland - the 'pipes' running between Hawaii and the mainland were full, and it was not until March, 2001 that additional capacity became available. See: Rob Perez's Oct. '00 article on Hawaii's Bandwidth Shortage.

Jan '01 - Class Action Lawsuit Filed Against Verizon - cites DSL performance and service problems.
Feb '01 News - Verizon Halts DSL Sales
- cites capacity issues.
Verizon Sues Covad
- Verizon Press Release charging Covad with falsified DSL trouble reports.

Cable Modem Traffic Jam - IEEE Spectrum Jun '01 feature article
Cross Town Traffic - Internet World Jan. 15 '01 - "All you do is slow me down"
Broadband: Not so Fast! - My Modemsite.com pages on Broadband

FTC Truth in Advertising FAQ - Good: Explains the law in understandable language.

Who's in Charge at Oceanic?
Don Carroll, Chairman -
(HEI people. Scroll down to 2nd article.)
Nate Smith, President (Pacific Business News Feb'01 article. This page has a picture of Smith.)
Roger Ponder - VP New Business Development (Not yet famous on the Internet, but a very nice guy.)
Kiman Wong, General Manager -  Internet Service (Scroll about 1/2 down. Another very nice guy.)
and they all are responsible to Hawaii native, Steve Case.

About me:
Hawaii
has been my home for seven years. I love Hawaii and all the people that live in this special State. I publish Modemsite.com (formerly '56k=v.Unreliable') which, with over a million page-views a month, is one of  the most popular sites on the Internet about 56k modems and Internet connectivity. You'll also find some personal information about me on my 'Hawaii pages'. A really old picture of me is on this Dishdata.com Satellite TV Webpage.

Some of the info I publish:

Modemsite.com - Speed Tests - Check your Internet Throughput
Modemsite.com - Throughput Page
- Checking your throughput in real time
Modemsite.com - Hawaiian Throughput Check -
Really for dial-up modems, but hey, it's Hawaiian!
Modemsite.com - Trouble Beyond the Modem
- How to tell who's to blame for slow speeds
Modemsite.com - Ping Plotter - The best tool to monitor your broadband provider.
Checking Your Surfboard Cable Modem

Checking Your IP Address

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