Tag: "customer service"

Posted January 28, 2012 by Christopher Mitchell

Chattanooga's community owned EPB Fiber Network continues to get positive reviews from subscribers in the local paper. And Comcast's customers continue to complain. The Times Free Press Chattanoogan presents a tale of two providers.

The longer letter details the frustration in dealing with Comcast following the failure of their on-demand service. After Comcast didn't resolve the problem over the course of several phone calls, the subscriber was told she would have to pay $30 for a Comcast technician to come to their house, even if the problem was entirely caused by Comcast's network and/or equipment.

The second letter, from Leah, notes that she too suffered at the hands of Comcast's customer service but became EPB customers after a long absence from their home due to damage from the tornadoes of 2011. When they returned home, they went with the community network rather than Comcast.

This is how she reflects on her experience with EPB:

We have had one instance where we needed to contact customer service, and the problem was fixed quickly and easily by the most polite customer service rep I’ve ever dealt with.

Comcast came by recently to offer us a “substantial savings” if we’d make the switch back to them. My question was, why now? I was a customer for years and treated poorly as rates increased exponentially. Now the offer the discount? No thanks.

For the $5 extra per month that we pay for EPB, we receive better features, prompt and polite customer service, and an all around trouble free experience. Thanks EPB!

Posted October 22, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

Comcast has once again distinguished itself as an extraordinary company - not only do Americans trust it less than any other company on the list, it occupies the two bottom positions.  Big shocker that communities want better local service with their own networks.  

Accoding to the 2011 Temkin Trust Ratings, which looks at the level of trust that consumers have in 143 large U.S. companies in a total of 12 industries, only eight companies earned "very strong" ratings while 26 earned "very weak" ratings.

Comcast was the worst. But it is in the company we would expect - Time Warner Cable and Charter are close to the bottom also.

Posted March 30, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

Cedar Falls Utilities, an incredibly successful publicly owned cable network in Iowa, is upgrading to FTTH.  In these videos, they explain some basics of their system.  The final video interviews some subscribers.  

Their web site has more information, including a fact sheet and price sheet - they have decided to continue offering asymmetrical connections, unlike most of the modern community fiber networks.

Posted March 29, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

Minnesota Public Radio, as part of its Ground Level Broadband Coverage has profiled WindomNet with a piece called "Who should build the next generation of high-speed networks?"

Dan Olsen, who runs the municipal broadband service in Windom, was just about to leave work for the night when he got a call. The muckety-mucks at Fortune Transportation, a trucking company on the outskirts of town, were considering shuttering their office and leaving the area.

"They said, Dan, you need to get your butt out here now," Olsen recalls. "I got there and they said, 'You need to build fiber out here. What would it take for you to do it?'"

Fortune, which employs 47 people in the town of 4,600, two and a half hours southwest of the Twin Cities, relies on plenty of high-tech gadgetry. Broadband Internet access figures into how the company bids for jobs, communicates with road-bound truckers, controls the temperatures in its refrigerated trucks and remotely views its office in Roswell, New Mexico. Fortune even uses the Internet to monitor where and to what extent drivers fill their gas tanks in order to save money.

Yet, when it was time to upgrade company systems three years ago, Fortune's private provider couldn't offer sufficient speeds.

That's where Windomnet came in. Though Fortune was a mile outside the municipal provider's service area, "We jumped through the hoops and made it happen," recalls Olsen. "The council said, "Do it and we'll figure out how to pay for it.' We got a plow and a local crew. We had it built in 30 days."

I have thought about this story frequently when I hear claims that publicly owned networks are failures. For years, lobbyists for cable and phone companies have told everyone in the state what a failure WindomNet has been - they crow about debt service exceeding revenue while ignoring the fact that all networks -- public and private -- take many years of losses before they break even because nearly all the costs of the network are paid upfront.

Toward the end of the article (which should be read in its entirely rather than in the snippets I repost here), Dan puts the matter in context:

Dan Olsen retorts that Windomnet was never designed to make money; one...

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Posted February 4, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

We've been raving about Chattanooga' FTTH network and smart-grid for quite some time now, but others are just learning about it. Chattanooga's Electric Power Board serves some 170,000 households and businesses across 600 sq miles. Though we have mostly focused on the triple-play benefits of the network

Chattanooga had been named one of the 2011 Top 21 Intelligent Communities of the year previously, but more recently made the cut to a Top 7 Intelligent Community. Time will tell if is awarded the Intelligent Community of the year.

Green Tech Media covered the completion of the network pass and activation of electric grid smart switches at the end of 2010.

[A]ll of its 170,000 electricity customers could benefit from the infrastructure. The network will serve as the conduit for 80 billion data points on electricity use per year that could help the utility run more efficiently, reduce outages, and give customers more control over their monthly electricity expenses.

“Chattanooga is the epicenter of energy technology,” said Harold DePriest, president and CEO of EPB. “One of our biggest jobs is to exploit this technology for the benefit of our community.”

With power outages previously taking a $100 million/year bite out of private businesses served by EPB, the new FTTH network will enable a much smarter network that will radically decrease those outages and thereby make businesses more productive. By mid 2012, businesses will see a 40% decrease outage time. Over time, as EPB's grid grows ever "smarter," those losses will likely decrease further while also providing energy users (residential and business) more opportunities to manage their power consumption.

For those who only associate the smart-grid with enabling time-of-use pricing (paying more electricity during periods of high demand), there are other important, if hidden benefits:

S&C Electric is supplying EPB with the switches’ pulse-closing technology, which injects a low-energy current pulse into an electric line to determine if a fault has cleared. This saves the utility money by reducing wear and tear on substation...
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Posted January 19, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

Just how does the largest citywide community fiber network in the country deal with the thousands of people that want to subscribe? It is a daunting task, but the Times Free Press has an answer: a carefully scripted process.

Chattanooga's Electric Power Board (EPB) largely contracts with a company for the labor to do the installs:

Adesta is responsible for 80 percent of EPB's fiber-to-the-home installations, according to Lansford, project manager for Adesta. EPB itself performs the remaining 20 percent, as well as trouble calls.

Beginning in June 2009, Adesta ramped up from a one-man office to more than 120 locally hired technicians, and now performs an average of 500 installations per week, or about 100 every day, he said.

At the end of October, when the article was written, Adesta had hired some 123 technicians - more than twice as many as they originally expected to need. Perhaps the largest advantage of contracting with a company like Adesta for connecting subscribers is the company's ability to quickly hire more technicians as demand increases. Civil service rules for hiring can hamper hiring when all installs are done in-house. EPB directly employes some thirty installers.

Chattanooga closely supervises the training and quality of work from the contracted technicians. Perhaps the biggest downside to hiring outside contractors for this work is the potential for technicians not being invested in the satisfaction of the customer or rushing from install to install to maximize their income. In Chattanooga, they expect technicians to do two installs per day to avoid encouraging shortcuts.

In talking with an employee of another muni fiber network, he was amazed at the efficiency of Chattanooga's backoffice processes. The Times Free Press was also impressed:

From a control room in EPB, Abed manages every call that goes out, and knows the location of EPB and Adesta trucks at all times. A computer assigns work based on efficiency, and trouble calls are automatically routed to the nearest available unit.

Even in Chattanooga, which has had more of a smooth roll-out than most, getting into apartment buildings (MDU) is difficult:

In addition to servicing homes and businesses, EPB and Adesta have begun rolling out service to apartments as...

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Posted January 17, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

Though we in the U.S. often praise the policies in Europe that have given them faster speeds, lower prices, and actual choices in the market, the reality is that some of their companies have just as bad customer service as what we have to deal with from massive incumbent providers. This video features an incredible prank, forcing an offending company to deal with terrible customer service. Subtitles translate the audio into English.

Posted January 5, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

Though it is rarely, if ever, the top motivation for a community to build its own broadband network, the idea of local customer service that is actually responsive to the community ranks usually among the top 5 motivations. We love the idea of a "strangle effect" -- coined by folks at Wilson's Greenlight in North Carolina. If something goes wrong, you can find someone nearby to strangle.

Compare that to these three stories.

First - a coworker of mine had to return a Comcast set-top box after cutting back on services. When he drove to the Comcast storefront, the outside drop box was full of gear, so he stepped inside to a room packed with Comcastic homicidal folks who had waited too long for attention from the overworked counter folk. He asked to just drop his box but they said he would have to take a number and wait... so he could set his Comcast box on the counter because no one had emptied the box outside where it should have been placed.

Another Comcast story comes to us from the Consumerist: where Comcast tries to repossess a cable modem is does not own.

Finally, David Pogue recently recounted the story of Qwest demanding that a customer call a specific phone number to report that his phone was not working. Rachel, the person who experienced the terrible service, writes:

Do you suppose all communications giants are like this? “We are abjectly sorry and have instructed our employees to grovel at your feet, but we are simply unable help you, value you though we do. Yes, we’re helpless. You know, we’re only a giant corporation. You can’t really expect us to help you, can you? We’re sure you understand. Please visit our Web site again to order more products!” Is it truly impossible to debug a VoIP modem problem via e-mail for some technical or philosophical reason?

Yes, Rachel, those massive communications giant are all like that. They have no obligation to any community they serve and while they employ good people who may genuinely want to help, they are structured to benefit shareholders, not subscribers.

A lesson for community broadband networks: focus on providing great customer service and making sure the community knows it.

...

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Posted November 21, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

One of the key differences between community owned networks and those driven by profit is customer service. Community-driven providers spend more and create more jobs in the community to ensure subscribers' needs are met. The massive private companies instead choose to outsource the jobs to call centers (sometimes in the U.S., sometimes outside) in order to cut costs (and jobs - see the report from the Media and Democracy Coalition).

We've seen a few examples of the big carrier approach in this arena - as when Cablevision billed apartment residents $500 after a fire for the DVR that was consumed in the blaze... stay classy, Cablevision.

Another difference between community networks and the big carriers is that big carriers see little reason to upgrade their anemic networks to ensure communities remain competitive in the digital age. As Free Press has long documented [pdf] big companies like AT&T have been investing less in recent years as the U.S. has continued falling in international broadband rankings.

Up here in Minnesota, Qwest has invested in FTTN - what they call fiber-to-the-node. We call it Fiber-to-the-Nowhere. For those who happen to live very close to the node, they get slightly faster DSL speeds that are still vastly asymmetrical. Meanwhile, Qwest has branded this modest improvement for some as "fiber-optic fast" and "heavy duty (HD)" Internet, misleading customers into thinking they are actually going to get faster speeds than Comcast's DOCSIS 3.

Much as I hate to praise the middling DOCSIS 3 upgrade, it certainly offers a better experience than any real results we have seen with Qwest. But as we carefully documented in this report, community networks offer more for less.

Two friends recently moved to Qwest. One, J, was convinced by a Qwest salesperson that Qwest would be much faster so he signed up for a 20Mbps down package. Fortunately, he didn't cancel the cable immediately because he was back on it quickly - he says Qwest dropped out 4 times in...

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Posted November 12, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

Spanish Fork, a well-regarded community broadband network, is now offering triple-play services on its hfc network. Previously, the town was offering broadband and television but recently added telephone after feeling the time was right.

From the article:

John Bowcut, director of Information Systems for Spanish Fork, said 15 percent of homes signed up when told telephone service was available over the cable. The network only used door hangers to advertise at first because it intended to have a slow rollout. Then the service was promoted in the city newsletter.

SFCN's phone rollout was slow for a reason. Small neighborhoods were notified one at a time, which allowed the network to handle the load. Bowcut said they didn't want to open sign-ups citywide and then have to tell people their connection date was three months out. He said the most people had to wait this way was 10 days.

Initially about 1,500 homes signed up for phone service, out of 5,534 homes in Spanish Fork.

The new telephone service runs an economical $14.95 with a variety of features. 75% of the town takes at least one service from the network, perhaps because of the great customer service:

Perrins was a beta tester for the system. He thought going through that process was awesome. They fixed every problem quickly and fine-tuned the network. "It was fun because the employees were so excited and eager to find and fix the problems."

Prior to the telephone rollout, only some 60% of the community took a service from the network, as explained in this article

About 60 percent of Spanish Fork residents already subscribe to SFCN's cable TV and high-speed Internet. The customer appeal of the city-run communications utility is that Spanish Fork provides both the infrastructure and the service -- a practice that was actually outlawed by the Utah Legislature in 2004, though Spanish Fork was grandfathered in.

This means SFCN can cut out any middle-man service provider, which amounts to about $2 million in savings each year, Mayor Wayne Andersen said.

"I think it was a sad day when the state Legislature put the kibosh on that sort of thing," Andersen...

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