Charter Communications continues to collect a non-existent franchise fee from its customers in unincorporated Platte County, according to a report given to the Platte County Commissioners this week.
At the Monday, July 17 administrative session, Platte County auditor Kevin Robinson told commissioners he had received a response confirming collection of the franchise fees from Charter’s lawyers regarding his audit report issued in late May. In that report, Robinson said about $100,000 in franchise fees had been mistakenly sent to Platte County this year.
On June 6, the commission approved a resolution redirecting the funds back to Charter to be refunded to customers, and report findings were sent to the Missouri Attorney General.
Charter attorneys told Robinson that they would continue to collect the franchise fees until they received an official confirmation from the county that it has no franchise fee. Robinson drafted a letter to Charter, stating “Platte County has never imposed or collected a franchise fee,” which will be sent on to Charter this week.
In the audit report, Robinson wrote that in February the county received an unexpected $47,626.98 check from Charter, which operates its cable service under the name Spectrum, labeled as a franchise fee payment. After investigation, while the Platte County Commission could under state statute impose a franchise fee of up to 5 percent on video services, it had never done so.
Another check from Spectrum, this time for $47,477.87, arrived in May.
Charter Communications acquired Time Warner Cable in May 2016 and phased in its own billing under the Spectrum brand by late last year. According to paperwork Time Warner filed with the Missouri Public Service Commission in 2012, the provider reported it was charging a 5 percent franchise fee in unincorporated Platte County.
Customers could have been wrongfully charged this franchise fee for years. This was what prompted Robinson to send the audit results to the prosecutor, although as of press time the state attorney general had not confirmed an investigation.
Based on the funds received over the last six months from Spectrum, Time Warner could have collected $650,000 to 800,000 since 2012 from its customers in unincorporated Platte County. Those funds were never remitted to the county, and their location is unknown.
Robinson said in his discussions with Platte County attorneys, the matter could become a class action suit to recover prior collections.
The county has the legal ability to audit service providers operating in its jurisdiction, and Robinson has notified Time Warner of this intent to audit. Time Warner isn’t the only video service provider in the hot seat, as an investigation also showed that PowerComm Broadband had also filed Public Service Commission paperwork listing a 5 percent franchise fee in Platte County.
PowerComm has indicated it will amend its paperwork to remove the county franchise fee.
Time Warner and PowerComm remain under scrutiny, with an additional audit forthcoming later this year to discover how much was potentially collected in franchise fees by each provider.