Tag: "customer service"

Posted June 7, 2018 by lgonzalez

National ISPs with millions of customers are some of the most hated companies in the U.S. Poor customer service, contract tricks, and a refusal to upgrade services are only a few of the common complaints from subscribers who are often trapped due to lack of competition. Frontier Communications is proudly carrying on that tradition of deficiency in Minnesota. In fact, the company’s excellence at skullduggery has drawn the attention of the state’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC), which launched an investigation into the service quality of Frontier this spring.

So Much Going On Here

While many of us are used to some level of poor service when it comes to the big ISPs, Frontier in Minnesota accumulated so many complaints, the PUC felt they had no choice but to take action. According to Phil Dampier from Stop the Cap!, the Commission received 439 complaints and negative comments in a five-week period in early 2018. Some but not all, of the types of issues that subscribers described included:

  • Lack of telephone service for up to a week at a time.
  • Poor quality telephone service, including missed calls and noise on phone lines.
  • Subscribers charged for services they’re not receiving.
  • Service visits that accomplish nothing but for which customers are still charged.
  • Missed service appointments and long delays in getting repairs scheduled.
  • Mistaken disconnections, service additions customers did not ask for, and service errors.
  • Contract issues that include penalties for early termination, even if the subscriber told Frontier they did not want a long term contract.
  • Auto-renew contracts that customers were never told about.
  • Threats to customers’ credit if they don’t pay bills, even when there is a dispute regarding the charges.
  • Customer service promises of discounts not being applied, penalties on disputed bill totals, and checks sent to Frontier but not credited to subscribers’ accounts.

The PUC wanted to hold public hearings to seek out other information from subscribers and those who had previous dealings with Frontier. In order to limit the public spectacle, Frontier and CenturyLink filed comments arguing that the PUC had no authority to review Frontier’...

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Posted April 10, 2018 by lgonzalez

Deploying, maintaining, and operating a wireless network is easy, right? You just put up your equipment, sign up subscribers, and start raking in the dough, right? Not even close, says Travis Carter, one of the co-founders of US Internet and our guest for episode 301 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. He should know -- he's deployed both wireless and fiber networks in Minneapolis.

In this episode, we get an update on US Internet’s progress on its fiber deployment. Travis also compares what it’s like to own, maintain, and operate each type of network. There are pros and cons of each and each is better suited for different environments and situations.

Travis and Christopher also talk about some of the marketing approaches that US Internet use after being in business for several years and determining what works in the Minneapolis market. He describes how a local company can compete against the big national ISPs by giving subscribers a good product, maintaining good customer service, and keeping an eye on long-term goals.

Learn more about US Internet in episode 194 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. 

This show is 34 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

Read the transcript for this show here.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.

Posted March 1, 2018 by htrostle

In rural northeast Oklahoma, the city of Sallisaw, Oklahoma, built a high-speed fiber network to their residents and then expanded Internet access their rural neighbors with fixed wireless. Sallisaw’s Internet department, DiamondNet, now serves about 2,600 customers in northeastern Oklahoma.

To learn how the city does all of this, I sat down with Keith Skelton and Robin Haggard in the City Manager’s Office in the heart of the small town in late November 2017. Residents of the city have had high-speed Internet service over a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network for more than a decade, but city officials have not rested on their laurels. They jumped at the chance to bring connectivity to their rural neighbors.

We learned about the network’s history in 2014, when Christopher spoke with Skelton and Telecommunications Superintendent Danny Keith, for episode 114 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. He described how much of the community relied on dial-up before Sallisaw invested in DiamondNet. The network began serving the community in the early 2000s. For more on the history of DiamondNet, including the challenges they overcame as a small community, check out the podcast.

Connecting Rural Neighbors

Across the country, many fixed wireless providers have attempted to bring high-speed Internet service to rural communities. Some have found success, while others have struggled. In 2015, a small fixed wireless provider decided to get out of the business in Oklahoma. The company donated the tower to Sallisaw, which took on the challenge of providing rural connectivity.

The main goal was to improve the service for the rural areas around the city of Sallisaw, Marble City and Brushy Lake Park, about 8 miles from Sallisaw. This wireless provider is the only Internet service available other than satellite Internes access, which has unreliable coverage in the woody and rocky terrain. Data caps and expensive overage charges make satellite one of the least...

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Posted February 8, 2018 by lgonzalez

In a series of decisions, Loveland, Colorado’s City Council voted earlier this week to take the next step toward developing a municipal broadband network. In addition to allocating funds to develop a business plan, city leadership established an advisory board, accepted task force recommendations, and voted to amended current code to allow the electric utility to handle communications activities.

No Public Vote

The council addressed whether or not to ask voters to approve efforts to establish a municipal broadband network, even though the issue was not part of the agenda. City staff drafted an amendment during the meeting to require a vote, but after prolonged discussion City Council members voted 5-4 against including it.

Last fall, the city of Fort Collins needed to bring the issue before voters in order to amend their charter so community leaders could move forward with a municipal network. After spending more than $900,000 through a bogus citizens group to try to stop the measure, Comcast was unable to persuade Fort Collins to defeat it. Nevertheless, most of Loveland’s council members don’t want a repeat of the expensive hassle in Fort Collins.

Councilman John Fogle said that, prior to the Fort Collins election, he supported the idea of a vote on the issue, but he feels different now. "It's not an even playing field when incumbent industries will spend $900,000 at the drop of the hat to perpetuate ... a monopoly," he said at the February 6th Council meeting.

Other council members who voiced opposition to a vote said that they’ve heard from constituents since 2015, when the city voted to opt out of the state’s restrictive SB 152. Since then, residents have contacted them to express their support to move the project forward. "I'm tired of being beaten," said Councilor Rich Ball, "...

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Posted February 7, 2018 by lgonzalez

In an attempt to negatively influence public opinion, the incumbent cable ISP in West Plains, Missouri, was recently caught masquerading behind a phony citizens group. A real group of locals who support the community’s efforts discovered the astroturf connection and, with no way to deny their involvement, Fidelity Communications tried to rationalize away their subversive tactics to poison the project.

The Needs Of West Plains

About a year ago, we connected with City Administrator Tom Stehn, who described the situation in the south central town of about 12,000 people. Stehn told the story of how in 2015, the city decided to connect its municipal facilities with fiber and how, when word got out about the project, people in the business community approached the city. Even though local businesses could get cable Internet access, rates were up to three times higher than similar services in urban areas. There were also reliability issues that interfered with local commerce.

West Plains had also experienced significant job losses in recent years when several employers left town or closed shop. The city considered a fiber network an economic development tool and a way to keep the local hospital and MSU campus connected with high-quality connectivity. Stehn told Christopher that when new businesses considered moving to West Plains, one of the five questions they always asked was, “What kind of Internet access do you have?” It made good sense to expand the original plan to offer local businesses access to the publicly owned network.

West Plains was offering symmetrical connections to local businesses early in 2017 and had even started offering gigabit service.

The Pilot And The Incumbent

fidelity-web-logo.png The city’s effort to bring better connectivity to a wide range of businesses and residents included a pilot project in West Plains’s Southern Hills district. In the fall of 2017, the city offered gigabit Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) connectivity to approximately 80 businesses and 14 residences as a way to work out potential issues and refine their services.

Around the same time, incumbent...

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Posted December 19, 2017 by lgonzalez

FCC Chairman Alit Pai and Republican Commissioners earned big lumps of coal for holiday gifts this year when they shredded network neutrality protections on December 14th. They also raised interest in publicly owned Internet network infrastructure. Existing publicly owned networks are reaffirming their commitment to network neutrality, including EPB Fiber Optics in Chattanooga.

Online Q & A

In order to reassure their subscribers and help clarify their policy, EPB held a live session via the utility’s Facebook page on December 15th. To start off the conversation, CEO David Wade explained that nothing will change for EPB customers, regardless of the FCC decision. “For EPB fiber optics customers, [this ruling] means nothing,” Wade said. “We’re committed to having an open Internet.”

In an effort to better educate the community, EPB also asked legal counsel David DiBiase, marketing manager Beth Johnson, and Vice President of Marketing J.Ed. Marston to participate in the conversation and answer questions from viewers.

Customer Care Pledge

EPB has embraced network neutrality principles in its Customer Care Pledge, a simple and straight forward list of commitments to subscribers:

The best possible service delivered with the utmost respect. That's always been our commitment to our customers — and it always will be.

  • Internet Privacy - We never sell your web site browsing information or online content
  • Open Internet (Net Neutrality) — Every home and business customer can send web content through EPB's network at the same fast speed without having to pay extra
  • Fair and Equal Internet — EPB doesn't play favorites when it comes to online traffic, so businesses of all sizes have a level playing field for delivering new and innovative options for customers. That's good for customers and good for creating new jobs
  • Internet without data caps or speed throttling
  • Free residential installation and no contracts
  • No hidden fees or surprise billing
  • Neighborly customer service, 24/7/365 to serve you

Shortly after the FCC decision to repeal the policy, Wade...

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Posted December 6, 2017 by lgonzalez

We're continuing the interviews Christopher conducted while at the November Broadband Communities Economic Development Conference in Atlanta; this week, he's talking with Stephen Barraclough, General Manager for Burlington Telecom (BT) in Vermont. Stephen has worked diligently to reinvigorate and preserve the publicly owned network that, regardless of troubles, has been popular with subscribers.

Christopher and Stephen had their conversation prior to the November 27th Burlington City Council meeting when Councilors voted to sell the asset to Schurz Communications and ZRF Partners. The vote came after a long and arduous process that dragged on the community. Details of the agreement were still being negotiated when we published this podcast. Read more about the history of BT here.

Stephen and Christopher talk about what it was like when Stephen took the helm of the network. At the time, there were financial difficulties caused by a prior Mayor’s administration, but the community had come to rely on the fiber optic network and wanted to do what they could to preserve it.

Stephen describes the problems he faced and how they went about restoring the network step by step. He notes that saving BT was a team effort that involved industry colleagues, employees at BT, the city’s leadership, and the community as a whole. Central to their rebirth was self-reflection as an organization and taking control to set themselves apart from the competition. Christopher and Stephen also talk about other issues, such as BT’s low-income program, customer service, and the effort to retain a public interest philosophy under the expectation of privatization. Stephen sees only opportunity for BT and its subscribers as the community moves forward.

This show is 23 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

Read the transcript for this show here.

You can...

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Posted November 13, 2017 by Staff

This is the transcript for Episode 277 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Luis Reyes from Kit Carson Electric Cooperative joins the show to explain how electric cooperatives are solving the digital divide in rural America. Listen to this episode here.

Luis Reyes: People trust co-ops. They trust Electric co-ops. They've been - been around since the mid 30s. I think there was a lot of faith that we could pull this off and make it as reliable as we made the electric system.

Lisa Gonzalez: You're listening to episode 277 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. Rural New Mexico has some of the most scenic landscape in the U.S. It also presents some of the most difficult challenges in getting its widely dispersed population connected with high quality connectivity. The Kit Carson Electric Cooperative it's changing the situation in the north central area of the state. For several years now they've been connecting people in the region with fiber to the home improving connectivity for residents, businesses, and local entities. This week we hear more about the project from Luis Reyes CEO of Kit Carson who gives us a history of the project and how high quality Internet access is benefiting the region. Now, here's Christopher and Luis.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance up in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Today I'm speaking with Luis Reyes the CEO of Kit Carson Electric Cooperative. Welcome to the show, Luis.

Luis Reyes: Thanks Chris. I'm happy to talk to you.

Christopher Mitchell: Well I'm excited to talk to you as well. We've we've been covering a lot of the electric cooperatives getting into fiber networks. You've been doing this longer than many. We've interviewed a few others but I think this is incredibly important for rural America. Maybe start by telling us a little bit about Kit Carson. Where are you located and what's the geography around your area?

Luis Reyes: So Chris, Kit Carson is located in north central New Mexico. So Taos being the center of our system. We sit right in the...

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Posted November 1, 2017 by christopher

The Kit Carson Electric Cooperative serves rural north central New Mexico and has been an early investor in a fiber-optic network that has brought high quality Internet service to a state largely stuck with 90's era DSL from incumbent CenturyLink. 

Luis Reyes, CEO of Kit Carson, joins us for episode 277 to discuss how the utility is ensuring its members all have high-quality Internet access available and some of the lessons they have learned in building the network. They have seen population growth and a rise in small businesses, especially people who can work from home. 

One of they key lessons is how to manage sign-ups. They have a significant waiting list, from a combination of greater demand than expected and the challenges of managing the home install process. 

Finally, we talk about how Kit Carson is working with another local cooperative to expand that high-quality access in New Mexico.

Read the transcript for this episode here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

This show is 28 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.

Posted April 3, 2017 by lgonzalez

“Monopoly” may be a fun family night activity, but if you live in a place where you have little or no choice for Internet access, it’s not fun and it’s not a game.

According to FCC data, most families don’t have a choice in Internet access providers, especially providers they like. Nevertheless, the biggest companies keep reporting increasing revenues every year. People aren’t happy with the service they’re receiving, but companies like AT&T and Comcast continue to thrive. What’s going on?

In a recent State Scoop piece, Christopher wrote: 

[T]he market is not providing a check to AT&T or Comcast power. They are effectively monopolies — and as we just saw — can translate their market power into political power to wipe out regulations they find annoying.

At the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, where we work to support local economies, this broken market is a major problem. Cable monopolies are bad for local businesses, which become less competitive from paying too much for unreliable Internet access. Communities cannot thrive without high quality Internet access today. 

We created this infographic to present the evidence showing that the market is broken. This resource also discusses why creating more competition in the current market is such a challenge. An effective way to overcome this broken market, however, is to consider what hundreds of local communities are already doing - investing in publicly owned Internet infrastructure. Our infographic offers a few examples of different models, each chosen to suit the communities they serve.

Get a larger version of the infographic here

market-broken-infographic-small-2.png

Get a larger version of the infographic here.

Kudos to intern Kate Svitavsky who created the infographic.

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