Tag: "customer service"

Posted November 6, 2018 by lgonzalez

Halloween is less than a week away, but our horrifying tale of customer service terror is quickly turning into science fiction in which we are caught in an never-ending loop bending time and space. Time for a quick update.

As a refresher, our Halloween story relayed the difficulties ILSR has had in recent months with CenturyLink, which provides Internet access and VoIP service to our Minneapolis office. When we received a new phone for a new employee, there was no AC power cord in the box. After running on a human hamster wheel for months, one of our Co-directors, John Farrell, who had been shuffled from department to department at the ISP in search of a cord had been told that he could continue to try to get one from the company or just buy one on Amazon.

It didn’t take long for CenturyLink to reach out to us, once we shared our story via Twitter, telling us that they were “saddened” by our negative experience with the phone power cable and letting us know that, if we would reach out to them, they’d be happy to help.

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Anxious to get the conversation out of the public sphere, CenturyLink employees managing the Twitter account requested we direct message them, which we did.

It didn't take long for the nightmare to start all over again as we were looped into an endless version of "Groundhog Day," repeating ourselves and once again being passed from one customer service representative to the next. We've blocked out their names, because we realize that it isn't their fault that the behemoth that they work for is too massive to work efficiently. Over the course of several days, we interacted with several different people, each not completely aware of what the other had been up to in order to tend to our issue.

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After sharing the DMs displaying the endless cycle with our Twitter followers, CenturyLink once again asked us put a lid on the conversation. We yielded, but they would not accept our surrender.

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As of this writing...

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Posted October 31, 2018 by lgonzalez

Ghastly ghouls, horrific monsters, and vile flesh-eating creatures roam the earth this night of Halloween, but none evince the evil that has of late entered the halls of ILSR. One of our own has faced the torture of an entity bent on pushing him over the precipice of human endurance, twisting his psyche with the torment of nonsense, and claiming his head for their own.

On past Halloweens we’ve written fun, spooky content about scary telecom monsters and frightening tricks; this year we relay the haunting, dramatic tale of John Farrell and The Legend of CenturyLink Hell

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The Hamster Wheel of Phone Cord Purgatory

Unlike Icabod Crane of gothic New England lore, John's head has stayed firmly attached at the neck, but recent encounters with the office Internet service provider have lead him to that dark place where so many others have accidentally strayed - into the no man's land of customer service decapitation.

It all began with a new phone for the office. John, newly appointed Co-Director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and the head of the Democratic Energy Initiative, had ordered phones from ILSR’s Internet access provider in the past. CenturyLink, which provides VoIP, had provided the physical phones before with no issue, but this time there was no power adapter included in the package. Thinking the oversight would be easily remedied was John's first mistake ... and the first step on his journey into hell.

John reached out to the sales associate who he had worked with when ILSR switched from Comcast to CenturyLink’s fiber service. He explained that the new phone ILSR received didn’t include a power adapter and asked them to order one. To John's surprise and dismay, the sales associate told John that they couldn’t order a solo adapter and referred John to the Mac Desk at CenturyLink. He reached out to the sales people at the Mac Desk, but the answer he received was cold comfort that stirred an uneasy feeling in his bowels.

The Mac Desk sales team responded curtly. Ordering a solitary power adapter was not an option. It was not available in his admin portal, you see, and they could only place "bundled orders." John's head swimmed. In order to facilitate his request (and push him off on some one else), the Mac Desk...

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Posted September 14, 2018 by lgonzalez

People in Wyoming, Minnesota, gathered together on September 12th to bend the ear of officials from the state’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC). Ann Treacy from the Blandin Foundation attended the meeting and recorded most of the conversation from the 100 or so frustrated and fed-up folks. The meeting was one of five organized by the PUC after a record number of complaints by incumbent telephone and Internet access provider Frontier.

A Shared Reality

It’s safe to say that “frustration” was the star of the night, as everyone who spoke mentioned how it had consumed their experience with Internet access from Frontier. People who spoke at the meeting included those who worked from home, business owners, parents with families whose kids needed Internet access for homework, and retired folks who just wanted to enjoy a quiet evening streaming a movie.

Most of the people who spoke at the meeting said that they needed to run mobile hotspots or had given up on Frontier’s DSL service and now rely solely on hot spots to avoid the frustration of dealing with terrible service. Several people at the meeting don’t have the option of mobile hotspots because there’s no cell coverage where they live.

In addition to horribly unreliable connectivity, where the only consistency is dropped service, people expressed anger about overpaying for Internet access that was down far too often — even for weeks at a time. When they were able to get online, many people who spoke at the meeting reports horrifically slow speeds and feel they are being “ripped off” because they never reach the “up to” speed that they pay for each month. Once woman has documented her line’s performance and the fastest download speed she has reached is .96 Megabits per second (Mbps); the slowest is .05 Mbps. This same person has had limited success in cajoling Frontier to temporarily lower her bill since 2012.

...

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Posted September 3, 2018 by lgonzalez

The city of Solon, Ohio, has their eyes on Hudson, their neighbor about 10 miles to the south. Both communities have a population of around 23,000 but Hudson businesses have access to the publicly owned fiber network and community leaders are considering expanding the service to residents. In order to explore the idea further, Solon city leaders have decided to fund a feasibility study.

Steady Stream of Complaints

At a recent meeting of the Solon City Council Finance Committee, the city’s Director of Information Technology Jim Gibbs presented his memo outlining why he believes now is the time to issue a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a feasibility study.

People and businesses in Solon are not happy about their current choices, and they let Gibbs know about it:

I receive a steady stream of complaints and requests for help from Residents and Businesses to get access to better Internet Service Providers, and what I believe is the most telling of the need for this project is, most people are not complaining about cost. Most are complaining about the very poor level of service they are being forced to endure by the largest players in this space, AT&T and Spectrum. 

While many subscribers focus their complaints on rates, hidden fees, and baffling billing, it's no surprise that Soloners don't like the options they have to choose from or find issues with reliability. Residents and businesses located in places where a publicly owned network is an option, often cite better customer service as the catalyst for switching from incumbent ISPs. Municipal network subscribers have the luxury of obtaining service from a provider centered in their community, rather than from a company with headquarters located several states away. Paying the bill or addessing concerns can be done in an effective, face-to-face manner.

Looking for Options and Possibilities

As part of the study, the city wants a needs assessments for both commercial and residential sectors along with cost estimates for a citywide Fiber-to-the-Premise (FTTP) deployment. Solon has existing fiber, which they ...

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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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