The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

July 1, 2008

Cable system fails to deliver promised prize to local winner

By Jean Cole

On the Friday before Father’s Day, Chris Lewis was standing in the kitchen of her Limestone County home when her 15-year-old daughter rushed downstairs shrieking, “Mama! Mama! We won the big-screen TV!”

A few days earlier, Whitney had entered an online Father’s Day promotion by Charter Communications in which, according to the Web page, participants could win “a Giant HDTV” for “The World’s Greatest Dad – Yours!”

Participants had to describe why they thought their fathers should win the TV.

“Whitney wrote that her dad gets up every morning and works hard and comes home and works in the yard,” said Chris, who proofed her daughter’s entry. “She didn’t say he was a superhero – just someone who does what he is supposed to do. Maybe that was why she won – because she told it like it is.”

Mike Lewis, Whitney’s dad, works at First Choice Printing in Decatur, where he binds books and makes deliveries.

Charter’s Web page stated that one lucky dad would receive the grand prize – a 65-inch LCD, high-definition, flat-panel television as well as free Charter HD service and the Charter bundle, which includes Internet, cable television and telephone service. Paying the tax on the television seemed to be the only hitch. The Web page also states that four finalists would receive free Charter HD service and the Charter bundle for one year. It was June 13 when Whitney bolted into the kitchen of their Blackburn Road home to share the news with her mother. Whitney, who will be in 10th grade at Clements High School this year, had just spoken with Jeff Hatcher of Charter’s marketing offices in Alabama and Georgia. Hatcher had told Whitney he liked her entry best and that her dad had won the TV. He also spoke with Chris and told her he needed Mike’s W-9 (an IRS form used by a company to request your taxpayer identification number) and Chris’ e-mail address.

Later that day, Hatcher sent the following e-mail message to Chris confirming the win:

“CONGRATULATIONS!

“It was great to speak with you and Whitney today. I’m sure this is going to make for a great Father’s Day gift. I’ve attached the documents that we spoke of and will need to have these filled out and returned so that we can present Mr. Lewis with his prize. Also, if you can think of a couple of days/times next week that would be good for us to come out and deliver the TV, I will get with my team to verify and we’ll get your Hi-Def set up! … Thanks for entering Charter’s Father’s Day Promotion!”

After unsuccessfully trying to fax the W-9, Chris mailed it to Hatcher on June 16. She called June 20 to see if the form had arrived and was told it had not. She called again Monday and reached Hatcher on his cellular telephone.

“When I asked if he had gotten the form, he said he hadn’t gone through his mail yet. He asked if Misty Wade, his associate, had called me,” she said. “Then he started talking about the TV and said something about someone in Georgia and that the expense was too much and that they wanted to give me a 19-inch instead but that he was working on getting me a 42-inch. He said he would call his boss and call me back.”

By Thursday, Chris still had not heard from Hatcher or his office regarding the television.

“I was so disappointed, mainly for Whitney because she had been so excited,” Chris said. “Mike was angry because when I told Whitney, she cried because her dad wasn’t going to get the big TV. Now, I am getting angry because it’s just the principle of it.”

She feared Charter was going to renege on its promise.

Hatcher did not return telephone calls for comment Thursday. A message on his answering machine said he would be out of the office until June 19 but would be checking his messages. He referred questions to Misty Wade, who also did not return a call for comment Thursday.

On Friday, Wade left a message at the Lewis home stating that Jeff had asked her to send the television overnight so it would arrive Saturday. Wade confirmed to The News Courier that the TV had been sent overnight Friday but said it was smaller than the 65-inch that was promised in the online promotion.

“I don’t know how large it is,” Wade said. “It’s as long as my arm. Jeff just asked me to send it overnight. So, they should get it tomorrow. You will have to talk to Jeff.”

Saturday and Monday passed but no TV arrived.

On Tuesday, Federal Express delivered a box from Charter large enough to hold a 19-inch television. Chris refused to sign for it, so the package was returned.

“It’s an insult,” Chris said. “We already have a 40-inch TV, so we really don’t need a 19-inch. Mainly, they shouldn’t be allowed to promise whatever they like and not follow through.”