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Frontier’s Merry Xmas: You Used Too Much Internet, Now Pay $99.99 a Month or Lose It

Phillip Dampier December 13, 2010 Competition, Data Caps, Frontier, Rural Broadband 16 Comments

Frontier Communications is trying to enforce an Internet Overcharging scheme it deleted from its Acceptable Use Policy months earlier, telling customers the company generously extended them an allowance “well above our usual 5GB monthly limit,” but using 100GB per month is “just too much.”

Customers in suburban Sacramento are the latest recipients of letters some are calling “extortion,” giving them seven days to call the company with a promise to cut back or move up to “the next price tier,” priced at $99.99 per month.

Ironically, some of Frontier’s customers receiving the letter say it’s the company’s own fault — they’ve been watching Frontier’s heavily promoted online video website, ‘my fitv.’

“You may not be aware that your specific usage has consistently exceeded 100GB over a 30-day period.  This is excessive for residential usage and more represents the amount of bandwidth usage of a typical business,” the letter says.  “If you wish to maintain your current pricing plan, you may work with us to reduce your Internet usage.  Another option is to move to the next price tier of $99.99 per month, which reflects your current average monthly usage.”

The letter adds if the customer does not make a decision, the company will terminate the account in 20 days.  No word if the customer is on the hook for an early termination fee amounting to more than $100 in most cases.

Frontier customers in Elk Grove, Calif., started receiving "you use too much" letters at the beginning of December (click to enlarge)The customer who received the letter, who lives in Elk Grove and wishes to remain anonymous, was highly annoyed.  He sent Stop the Cap! a screenshot of Frontier’s new “Flexnet/Account Editor,” poorly documented on Frontier’s own website, which shows over the last three months, he only broke the invisible 100GB Frontier barrier once, by just 38GB.  For that, Frontier wants to more than double his monthly Internet rate for its DSL service.

The monthly usage limit was news to him… and us… and everyone else.

A well-placed source at Frontier tells Stop the Cap! the company is making the rules up as it goes.

“There is no set plan here — Frontier’s corporate office is testing the waters in different communities to see what kind of response they get,” our source says. “We have been quietly collecting usage statistics on our customers for a year now, and here and there we are chasing those outliers using far above the norm in order to keep our costs as low as possible.”

Our source adds the company wants to keep bad publicity to a minimum, so these kinds of Overcharging schemes are not publicized, and unless customers make a federal case out of it, most will simply reduce usage to avoid the overlimit rates.

“They absolutely do not want a big political stink over this, because it creates headaches and leaves customers with a negative impression about the company and that usually means a disconnect order will follow, usually taking all of their business somewhere else.  That’s why we usually are strictest in places where the customer has nowhere else to go.”

Our reader was perplexed by the letter, the policy, and his options, especially since Frontier does not disclose either a usage limit or a $99.99 plan on their website.

“The [representative] from Frontier told me that the monthly usage limit is 5GB. I told him this is not enough for checking e-mail and surfing the web and reading news.” our reader writes. “He did not answer [when I challenged him about this].”

But no worries, the representative told the Elk Grove customer. If he exceeded 100GB of usage again, he’d automatically be billed the $99.99 rate — no decision needed.

Our reader adds when he signed up, nobody told him about a monthly limit, and there is none disclosed on the website.  Stop the Cap! fought to remove Frontier’s 5GB usage limit from its Acceptable Use Policy for more than a year, finally succeeding earlier this year.  But now it appears Frontier wants to enforce limits anyway, with no disclosure and little recourse for customers who don’t have access to a competing provider.

Before our reader started watching online video, he used about 16GB per month just web browsing, checking e-mail, and downloading the usual software updates.

Didn’t that put him over Frontier’s invisible 5GB cap already?

“The representative told me if I kept it under 50GB a month, I’d be safe,” our reader writes.

So is the usage cap 50 or 100GB per month?

Our customer exceeded Frontier's arbitrary, unpublished usage cap just once in the last three months (click to enlarge)

Stop the Cap! called Frontier customer service three times this morning as a potential new customer.  The responses we received:

  • “There is no usage cap I am aware of.”
  • “We don’t limit your Internet service.”
  • “I don’t understand what you mean when you say limit?  We don’t censor websites.”

Sandy, who also contacted Stop the Cap! also received a letter, and ironically blames Frontier for the usage.

Frontier's own video website was responsible for one customer using "too much" Frontier Internet service.

“I received a warning letter from Frontier for using too much Internet, but get this — all of the growth in my usage came after the company started promoting its new online video website, which my family has fallen in love with,” Sandy writes. “We hooked up a video box on our television, something Frontier helped us with, and we’ve been streaming my fitv a lot.”

“That is extortion plain and simple and is illegal under California state law, especially because the representative told us we’d be charged $99.99 the moment we went over the limit again, and we are on a two-year ‘price protection agreement’ Frontier says locks in our price, which is a lie,” Sandy says.

Her next call was to the California State Attorney General.  Sandy was told the office has already received more than a dozen complaints from Frontier customers in the Sacramento area alleging violations of California contract law.

Jeff, a Broadband Reports reader, also received a letter from Frontier and was told the company was getting plenty of pushback from angry customers.

“The tech guy said they just started metering and have been getting a ton of calls regarding the letters being sent out. He then asked if I got the 100GB or the 250GB letter, as apparently the 250GB warning letters were more severe stating to pay up or get cut off.  The 100GB letter stated they’d work with you to help ease usage or recommended a business plan. They said the “work with you to help with usage” was new and just added if you call within 7 days or else get cut off after 20 days.”

Jeff’s response to all this?

“Comcast is looking better every day now.”

So far, Frontier has not imposed its usage cap on its ex-Verizon FiOS customers.

“Putting a 5, 100, or even 250GB cap on a fiber optic connection would just be plain greed,” says our reader Ajai. “But of course, Frontier needs as much cash as possible to pay out those high dividends to shareholders that often exceed the company’s earnings.  There is nothing to like about this company, period.”

Frontier’s letters sound suspiciously similar to the enforcement letters sent to some of their customers in Mound, Minn. Those letters stopped after Stop the Cap! distributed copies to a wider national audience.  Our source at Frontier says the company doesn’t appreciate our help one bit.

“The higher ups on the corporate level despise your website, but they also pretend to dismiss you as an angry blogger that nobody reads,” our source says.  “I get a laugh out of that whenever I get another memo from the executive office basically delivering talking points to counter your arguments, so they very much do care what you and your readers say and apparently read Stop the Cap! regularly.”

For our source, it’s all “so stupid.”

“Trust me, a lot of guys who deal with customers every day want nothing to do with their usage caps which do nothing but infuriate customers,” he says. “They wonder why people are disconnecting Frontier landlines and taking their Internet business elsewhere — it’s policies exactly like these combined with pretty low speed DSL service which makes our customers easy pickings for our competitors.”

But not every customer has a choice.

“Where we own the broadband market, it’s too bad for customers — either ration your use, pay us double, or go without.  It is as simple as that.”

Currently there are 16 comments on this Article:

  1. Smith6612 says:

    Well, considering this article mentions that Frontier executives are apparently reading articles on this site, I hope they are reading the comments as I’d like to be the first to say my DSL line with Frontier will be gone the moment I find out they have begun capping in my area. $45 a month is enough for 3Mbps/384kbps DSL, I can get a 10Mbps/1Mbps Cable connection for that price, probably a little less. Cable company did plenty of upgrades and node splits to be able to tackle the load. I’ll also get others who I know use the Internet for enjoyment and are consuming a couple hundred GB’s a month to get Cable as well. Won’t take very long at all to get them to move over. Considering I perform computer repair services for people in my area as a hobby, that adds a good amount of leverage when they ask me about these kinds of things (and I get a lot of these types of questions). The Internet is my form of entertainment during my downtime, and it’s also an educational tool for me; I don’t deal with the nonsense on TV these days, so I don’t have it, and I do have POTS service but it’s only used when needed. I just want to use the Internet without having to worry about anything else such as caps. I’ve got enough to take care of as it is.

    Going on the speed thing as well, Frontier hasn’t boosted speeds in my area since they installed DSL in the area (and I was one of the first customers). Of course, back then their Max package basically was on par with the Cable Company’s Max package. Talking to the friendly techs in the area always resulted in an answer saying they’ve been doing upgrades, but nothing that would constitute giving higher speeds. Here comes Cable, and despite the $2-3 price hike in the past few years, speeds have basically tripled for the Standard package, and the Max package is basically 17x faster and only double the price. So really, to sum things up while I have been tempted to get Cable for some time now, I’ve been sticking with Frontier not because I’m on a contract (Haven’t been in one for a few years now) but because of the support I’ve been given. I can deal with the speed for the short while as I have relatives who always are glad to lend me their FiOS connections at 35Mbps or greater, but caps, forget it. DSL will be gotten rid of promptly.

  2. Sam says:

    If Frontier execs are actually reading these articles (and comments), I would just like to mention:

    **You are completely out of touch with reality**

    I can’t wait until the day you bleed customers and have to ditch your overage plans to gain customers back. I, personally, have assisted two customers with monthly plans exceeding $100/month disconnect your service and switch to Comcast, including our household. My church is up next to be disconnected – 4 landlines, 17 extensions, and internet – all moving over to Comcast. Why? It’s a better deal, and with business practices like these, nobody needs you around.

    Get in touch with your customers, stop treating your employees like trash, and actually do something so I don’t cringe when I hear the name Frontier.

  3. Andrew says:

    I am going to begin a campaign to get my friends and family to drop frontier. I’m convinced that the company is evil. Word spreads fast!

  4. Loons In June! says:

    “So really, to sum things up while I have been tempted to get Cable for some time now, I’ve been sticking with Frontier not because I’m on a contract (Haven’t been in one for a few years now) but because of the support I’ve been given.”

    TWC provides pretty good support as noted by Phil who I believe has already dumped Frontier.

    • I have been a loyal Time Warner customer since before there was a Time Warner Cable (anyone remember ‘Wait until you see… GRC!’ and People’s Cable before that?)

      I have had generally excellent service from the company and the local techs and employees are outstanding. All of my issues with TWC are on the corporate/management level when they do boneheaded things and stop listening to customers.

      I tried Frontier DSL last spring for about a week and promptly disconnected it, primarily because it could only manage 3.1Mbps in my area, which is hardly rural.

      Frontier’s local techs and employees are also generally good and I have had very few phone service problems. But so long as Frontier wants to be el-cheapo and rely on dead-end DSL in a market like Rochester, and implement overcharging schemes, I won’t have their broadband in my house.

      Unless your neighborhood is terribly oversold, TWC can easily beat Frontier’s speeds and offers a better value as well. When all of the taxes, modem rental fee, and other fees were added up, Frontier’s DSL cost me more than my Road Runner account. TWC doesn’t stick you on a contract here in Rochester, either.

      If TWC listens to customers and keeps caps and other schemes away, I will remain with them.

  5. mmarkov says:

    I don’t think the limits are 50-100 gigs. Here’s my usage stats for this billing cycle and it looks like it’s 20 gigs a monthly cycle according to flexnet (unless my math is horribly wrong). Last month it was 100 gigs.

    This is in Elk Grove, CA

    Usage/Current Billing Cycle 1.26 GB

    Current Cycle Start Date: 12/15/2010
    Current Cycle End Date: 1/14/2011
    Days Remaining in Current Cycle: 29
    % Used: 6.28%
    Upstream Usage (in GB): 0.44
    Downstream Usage (in GB): 0.82

    Luckily I have just a few months left on my contract and surewest offers a buyout that will cover the rest of the costs.

  6. mmarkov says:

    I finally had enough and ordered surewest, they’ll cover my early termination fee as well. I’m canceling all my services

    Screw you frontier. Enjoy your bandwidth

  7. Benjamin says:

    I’m currently reviewing options right now. Unfortunately I live in Palo Cedro, Ca which has very limited options. I can either try Clearwire (which works terribly in my area and is known for throttling their speeds when congested) or Hughsnet Satellite internet, which is overpriced in its own right. I think their might be another locally owned company in the area, but other than that I am SOL.

    None of the big boys are available where I live, which supports the statement in this article that they target areas with no options.

    This simply sucks. I need high speed internet to help start my business, which will largely involve uploading and downloading multimedia, (which is hard enough to do on a 1.5 connection) but to increase the cost is absolute insanity.

    I will fight this any way I have to. (if anyone has any suggestions let me know)

    • Michelle says:

      I’m in Palo Cedro too & have just received my first letter. This can’t be legal. I have been with frontier for 7years and have never been told there are caps. I think we need to start a class action lawsuit.

      • We are working on a campaign for Elk Grove-area residents to raise a coordinated stink about this. Welcome to Stop the Cap!, a website that was created when Frontier first unveiled a 5GB monthly usage cap in the summer of 2008. We’ve managed to beat them back on several occasions and hope to do so again.

        Please let us know (if you have not already) if:

        a) your area is served by Comcast.
        b) your area is served by Surewest.
        c) is served by both.

        Also, what kind of usage are you showing at the moment?

        Your best next step besides checking in with Stop the Cap! regularly is to get the media involved. The more attention we can bring to the situation, the easier it is to get this company to back down.

    • Benjamin says:

      I submitted a copy of this story with a scanned copy of the letter to [email protected]

      I am going to do the same to the record searchlight when I figure out who the best person to send to is.

      I urge everyone in my area (Palo Cedro, CA or any area really) to mail/email/call whomever necessary to get coverage for this thing. If they insist on changing their policy mid-contract then I will make sure that at least everybody knows about it.

      • Benjamin says:

        My dad raised hell with a customer service rep today. He got him to push back the disconnect-or-pay date to february 15th by speaking to a supervisor. A far cry from getting them to retract the letter, but it goes to show that when you use logic with these people you can get something out of them.

        Now to get the word out. If bad publicity is what they want, then here we go. I have been working in marketing for my company for about a year and a half now, and have been researching different distribution methods for sharing information and it might be time to turn up the heat.

        It looks like there are efforts being made in Elk Grove, but where I live (Palo Cedro, CA) is a couple of hundred miles north of there. With relatively no other options here (other than satellite) we are a perfect target for them to price hike.

        I’m not going down without a fight.

  8. mmarkov says:

    My letter said they would raise my rates to $250 a month in Elk Grove. Nice that they are staying consistent.

    I forwarded the links to the Elk Grove Citizen and The Sacramento Bee

    I also got a happy holiday email from Frontier. It took a bit of restraint to reply without getting myself in legal trouble.

  9. Michelle says:

    I added a bandwidth monitor on my computer to see how much we are using. I show that so far we have used 1 gb toal (up and down). I checked Frontiers Flexnet and it says we have used 15 GB total with 76% of montly total used. Does this mean we actually only are allowed to use 20GB of bandwidth? I don’t understand. I think this whole thing is a lie to try to push people into paying for the next tier @ 99.00 per month. Is anyone else checking their monitoring process?

    • Mike Markov says:

      I have been rarely using my internet and I’m at 5.5 gigs of the 20 “allowed”. In 8 days I’m getting surewest installed. Better deal all the way around and I get to cancel all my frontier accounts.

      I think you are right about the forcing the issue of paying, by chance do you have TV service with them too? I just have phone and internet.

  10. Mr. Brown says:

    I am an Elk Grove resident and a Frontier DSL internet customer. I received the same letter from Frontier about exceeding the 100gb of bandwidth within a 30 day period. It said that I must reduce the amount of uses or bump my account up to the next tier of service, a $99/mo business account. I called the number on the letter to talk to a customer service representative so that they would not disconnect me for not responding within 20 days. I asked him if there is a maximum bandwidth cap. He told me that there is no cap, but that their terms of service says that they can disconnect you if you are exceeding reasonable usage and that Frontier will determine what is reasonable usage. The representative could not help me any further so he connected me with his supervisor. The supervisor said that Frontier sent this letter out to about 1,000 customers in Elk Grove and that most of the customers who have called after receiving the letter have not questioned them and said they they will reduce their usage. He also said that there is no longer any $99/mo plan, the only option is to reduce usage. He said they sent the letters out to the costumers who are using more than a reasonable about of bandwidth telling them to use less internet. Then if they did not, Frontier will send another letter saying that if they use more than a reasonable amount that they will charge the customer for anything over. He went on to say that Frontier had to remove the statement about the previous 5gb bandwidth cap in their terms and conditions and that for legal reasons they are not going to tell us what the new limit is, in case they have to change it again in the future. I tried to get him to admit that there is a cap and to tell me what that limit was, but he would not. He would only say that I would be okay if I did not go over 100gb/mo and that if I do, to expect to receive another letter with the new terms that would allow them to charge my account for excess bandwidth.

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