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Rogers Ripoffs: Company Sells Internet Service to Customers Without Computers

Phillip Dampier January 15, 2018 Canada, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't, Rogers, Video 1 Comment

A special investigation by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation found Rogers’ call center employees engaging in high pressure sales tactics, pushing customers to buy products and services they do not need.

In emails and interviews with Go Public, a CBC consumer investigations unit that seeks to hold corporate and government powers accountable, more than a dozen Rogers workers report they’re under “extreme pressure” to hit sales targets or risk termination.

“You’re supposed to look at a customer’s account and sell them cable, home phone, home security, a credit card — whatever is missing,” says an employee who currently works at a large Rogers’ call center in Ottawa and has asked CBC to conceal his identity to avoid retribution in his workplace.

Employees report they are constantly under stress to meet sales quotas, which are not eased even an employee is out sick. Employees know Rogers will terminate call center workers that do not sell enough products to customers, which has created an atmosphere where some desperate workers sign up customers for services they do not understand or cannot use to keep their jobs.

One employee told the CBC he will sign up seniors for internet service, and inform them a technician will come to their home  “to install a modem for their TV,” despite the fact modems are used with internet service, not cable television.

“We’re giving internet service to customers who actually do not have a computer,” he says.

The alleged corrupt business practices begin with the first job interview, where ex-employee Jessica Robinson was asked just how strongly committed she was to sell Rogers’ services.

CBC relied on several whistleblowers that are or were employees at Rogers Communications call centers. (Image courtesy of: Christian Patry/CBC)

“When I had my interview … they actually asked me ‘If an elderly lady calls in to cancel her sports package on her TV because her husband just died, are you going to convince her to keep it and add more?'” says Robinson.

Robinson echoed many other employees who told CBC they were expected to sell on every call, no matter the reason. If a customer calls to cancel service or report a service problem, before they get help, they will get a sales pitch.

To keep customers buying, representatives sometimes wrongly claim buying more products will result in a lower bill because of bundling discounts.

“Even customers who have home phone service, I say, ‘How about I add a second line for your home phone and I’ll give you a discount for your other product?’ Which makes no sense,” a representative said.

What the call center workers often don’t tell customers is they are also sneaking other items on to customer bills. The biggest are installation and activation fees for the services being pitched, which often run $25-50.

Customers are sure to call back 1-2 months later when a much higher-than-expected bill arrives, and those call center workers are trained to handle that as well.

That is what happened with Sheldon Nider in 2017 when the 72-year old resident of Richmond, B.C., called to upgrade his phone and inquire about adding a 25% corporate discount he was entitled to receive. After 90 minutes on the phone, a Rogers representative told him he did qualify and also sold him a phone for his granddaughter. The following month, a 17-page bill arrived in the mail. Nider’s bill unexpectedly jumped $135 a month and, just as bad, he did not get the corporate discount he originally called about.

“I think it’s a bait and switch because they bait you with a discount, then switch it and don’t give it to you. It’s as simple as that,” Nider told CBC.

Rogers later admitted in an email message to Nider the sales agent “misinformed” him, but that was all they were willing to do. When Go Public later contacted Rogers, the company grudgingly offered a $360 credit to address other issues, but still refuses to provide the corporate discount or end the expensive term contract he is now stuck with for the next few years. When Nider now calls for an explanation about other mysterious charges on his bill, the representatives seem empathetic, but don’t deliver customer satisfaction.

“They teach us how to be empathetic. To say things like ‘I understand how frustrating that must be,'” Robinson says about customers calling in to complain. “I’m like, why? We’re the ones screwing them over.”

Customers and workers are both left stressed about the insistent sales tactics. Customers don’t appreciate having to fight their way through a sales pitch to get their concerns addressed and employees are constantly worried they will be terminated because many customers either don’t want or cannot afford to add anything else to their bill.

Rogers employees claim their managers are well aware of these tactics and are also the source of much of the pressure. Despite a responsibility to monitor and manage ethical business practices on behalf of Rogers, managers are also rewarded for achieving sales quotas and bend over backwards to protect the most aggressive and unethical employees by avoiding monitoring their calls or questioning their sales.

Rogers sells cable TV, home phone, internet, cell phones, home security and other services. Its banking subsidiary even offers its own credit card.

“Managers know these reps are unethical,” says James Woodward, who worked in a Rogers call center two years ago. “So they try not to listen to those calls.”

Woodward told CBC managers don’t care what you sell as much as what you didn’t.

“I would get five cellphone activations in a day and sell a bunch of cable products, and then my manager would say, ‘No credit card?’ It was always what I didn’t do.”

When a customer calls to drop services or cancel altogether, there is a good chance that call will be dropped, because reducing your bill or closing your account will count against the employee’s sales targets.

“That’s why most customers have to call in three, four, five times to get a problem resolved,” says the employee working at Rogers’ Ottawa call center. “This is normal.”

At the end of each month, employees who fail to meet their targets can be forced to take “performance improvement” courses. If sales numbers still do not improve, they are likely to be terminated.

A Rogers spokesperson told the CBC the company’s sales targets are “achievable” and employees can be terminated for a number of reasons other than missing sales expectations. But Rogers’ Paula Lash added, “While we do not believe the concerns raised represent our values or sales practices, we take them very seriously and we will work with our team to respond to these concerns.”

An Ottawa-based public advocacy group, the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) now wants the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to open a public inquiry on the matter. PIAC’s executive director John Lawford says the CBC report exposes a loophole in Canadian regulations, which do not currently cover industry sales practices.

Lawford says these sales tactics, and other similar incidents involving other large Canadian phone and cable companies, appear to directly target seniors, grieving spouses, and the visually impaired community.

“It’s completely appropriate for the CRTC to say, ‘We’re going to set out rules,'” adds Lawford. “I think it’d be quite eye-opening to have an open, public consultation at the CRTC about sales practices of big telecom companies.”

The former and current employees at Rogers who communicated with the CBC about the sales practices offered their own suggestion: “Stop increasing our targets. Stop pressuring us to try to make a sale on every call. And remove these [performance improvement] plans to get you fired.”

CBC-TV’s “The National” reports on Rogers Communications’ pushy sales tactics that sell customers services they don’t want or need. (4:09)

Starry Brings $50 Fixed Wireless Internet to Boston, Washington, and Los Angeles

Residents of a handful of multi-dwelling apartments and condos in Boston, Washington, and Los Angeles will be able to kick the phone and cable company out of their units and switch to a fixed wireless provider offering 200 Mbps internet access for $50 a month.

Starry Wireless, from the man who brought you Aereo, the now defunct streaming service that used to offer local over the air stations but was sued out of existence, has spent more than a year testing its millimeter wave wireless technology in Cambridge, Mass. apartment buildings and is ready to expand.

A company promotional video explains Starry’s internet service. (1:53)

Starry is considered a startup, but is relying on budget-conscious pre-existing technology to deliver point-to-multipoint wireless internet service over a limited area. Using pre-standard 5G technology that relies on unlicensed millimeter wave spectrum, Starry’s service is provided from antennas mounted on multi-story buildings.

Because the technology isn’t revolutionary, Starry can utilize equipment already for sale in the marketplace. Some commercial fixed-wireless services already exist using a similar approach, and Google itself is developing a wireless gigabit internet service that is likely to eventually overtake its limited fiber rollouts.

Starry currently offers one plan – 200/200 Mbps with no data caps or contracts for $50 a month. The company claims it can deliver gigabit service using the same technology, but has chosen not to offer it at this time.

Reviews in the Boston area give the service high marks for performance, even in bad weather that was expected to create some problems for the line-of-sight technology. But the service also has its skeptics who believe the technology’s downsides limit its scale.

The biggest con to millimeter wave internet is that its range is extremely limited. Starry is only expected to serve multi-dwelling units in dense urban areas, where its mounted rooftop antennas can reach enough customers to cover the company’s costs. Neither Google or Starry have targeted their services to residential customers living in single home neighborhoods. Starry also must find receptive landlords willing to offer or lease space for its antenna equipment and tolerate mounted equipment, as needed.

Starry’s technology approach offers a concentrated signal with extensive bandwidth available to customers. Because its reach is so limited, each antenna will reach a smaller number of customers, making it unlikely the company will oversell its wireless capacity. Starry’s decision to not get into the gigabit business yet may be a way of ensuring it has enough capacity to deliver the speeds it advertises to customers before speeding things up.

Customers are strongly encouraged by the company to use its included Starry Station, a triangular Wi-Fi hub with a built-in Android-powered touchscreen controller to manage in-home Wi-Fi. This device normally retails for around $300, so bundling it with internet service makes it a good deal. But the device gets mixed reviews. Some criticized it as over-engineered and unstable. Many reviewers complained about poor Wi-Fi coverage and randomly dropped wireless signals. Others complained it tends to lock up, which may be the result of overheating. Many noticed the unit generates a lot of heat, presumably from its built-in power supply and Android touchscreen interface. It requires a noticeably loud built-in fan, which runs continuously, to manage cooling duty.

The Starry Station did not get great reviews for its performance or the amazing amount of heat it generates. (2 minutes)

Despite the expansion into Los Angeles and Washington, Starry can still be considered a beta level service and availability will remain spotty for some time. During 2018, Starry expects to begin limited service in: New York, Cleveland, Chicago, Houston, Dallas, Denver, Seattle, Detroit, Atlanta, Indianapolis, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Miami and Minneapolis.

Frontier Communications’ Broken Promises to Mountain Counties of North Carolina

Frontier Communications customers in the mountainous western counties of North Carolina have run out of patience waiting for web pages to load and upgrades to arrive, despite repeated promises from the phone company that its aging copper-wire DSL service would improve over time.

Stop the Cap! readers in the region pointed us to a special investigative report by WLOS-TV, Asheville’s ABC affiliate, which reports Frontier service is so bad, speeds under 1 Mbps are common. The station saw examples of Frontier unable to supply even modest speeds of just 3 Mbps.

“I’d rather stab myself than rely on Frontier’s fake internet access,” says our reader Darrell, who lives near Brasstown. “The only thing high-speed at Frontier is how fast they hang up on you when you call to complain.”

Frontier sold him “up to 10 Mbps” speed and instead struggles to deliver 1 Mbps, despite repeated service calls and promises of improvements.

“They keep telling us the federal government has to come up with money to help upgrade the area, and I keep wondering why a private company needs our tax dollars to build a network they will profit from for years,” Dan said. “If they cannot do the job, maybe the town should because they at least answer to us.”

Aiden Davis, who lives near Asheville, said he’d rather have the government give money to the cable company to extend broadband to his home, which is located about 1/4th a mile away from the nearest cable connection.

“At least the cable company can give me speeds DSL never will,” he told us.

Reporters at WLOS visited Murphy, N.C., a community of 1,600 people in Cherokee — the westernmost county of the state.

Craig Marble escaped Washington, D.C. to live in the picturesque community nestled in the mountains. But his efforts to telecommute to his IT employer are frustrated by Frontier’s DSL service, which is supposed to provide up to 3 Mbps to Marble and his neighbors. But Frontier delivers far less than it advertises.

Western North Carolina

“It’s just a comedy of errors except that it’s not funny. It takes five minutes to load a single webpage,” Marble said. “This should be 3.0, not .3 [Mbps],” Marble said while showing reporters various speed tests for his service, resulting in .3 and .5, and .6 Mbps at various times throughout the morning and afternoon.

More than 50 similar complaints have been filed with the North Carolina Attorney General, some about internet speed, others about service, outages, and billing problems.

“If there are companies out there making representations to consumers that they can not back up and we hear from consumers, we will absolutely take action on their behalf,” Attorney General Josh Stein told the station. “If we determine that Frontier is not complying with the law, we’ll hold them accountable, but there’s a lot of work we still need to do.”

But residents contend Stein does not seem to be in a hurry to chase down Frontier, and may not have the resources to follow through even if he wanted. After the Democrat won the North Carolina Attorney General race and took office in 2017, the Republican-controlled legislature slashed $10 million from his budget, forcing layoffs of dozens of staff attorneys and limiting his office’s ability to act.

Stein told the TV station he wrote to Frontier about internet speed issues in North Carolina, but hasn’t received a response.

Frontier responded to WLOS with a statement, reading in part:

“Copper-based internet service is difficult to represent consistently as it is subject to distance limitations. That is why it is sold as offering ‘up to’ a specified speed. Not all customers will have the same DSL service.”

But some customers report speeds are consistently better at times when most people are unlikely to be online, suggesting Frontier may be overselling its DSL service — forcing too many customers to share a limited bandwidth connection.

“When it is 2:30 in the morning, we always have the best speeds,” Davis reported. “They always drop as soon as the kids get home from school and keep dropping into the evening. During recent winter storms, speeds dropped to the point where the internet was unusable.”

Attorney General Joel Stein

“It’s not a technical problem, it’s a ‘reluctance to spend money to fix it’ problem,” he added.

Frontier frequently responds to speed complaints with press releases touting recent internet service improvements made possible through the federal government’s Connect America Fund, without always disclosing many of these projects pay to extend internet access into areas where it did not exist before, not improve service for customers that already have it.

Frontier’s willingness to spend its own money on broadband improvements is often challenged by Wall Street’s demands for a dividend payout to shareholders, sending a significant portion of Frontier’s incoming revenue to investors. The company has reduced its dividend during difficult times to invest in limited upgrades. But critics claim Frontier’s devotion to a robust upgrade program comes second to shareholders and depends mostly on federal government handouts.

“The company struggles to spend $14.4 million on upgrades through 2020, but had no problem spending more than $10 billion to buyout Verizon in Florida, California, and Texas,” complained Darrell. “When you ask them specific questions, you learn that upgrade spending is window dressing that won’t address their speed problems across this part of the state.”

Marble tells WLOS that seems to be his impression as well, noting Frontier representatives didn’t give him much hope.

“They said — several of them said, ‘There are no plans for upgrades in your area, period’,” Marble said.

The TV station sent Frontier a detailed questionnaire, to which the company responded, taking care to disclaim some of the upgrade benefits many of Frontier’s own press releases seem to imply:

Question: How many customers does Frontier service in the following counties: Buncombe, Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Henderson, Jackson, Macon, Madison, Mitchell, McDowell, Polk, Rutherford, Swain, Transylvania, Yancey? Answer: I’m not familiar enough with cities in counties etc. We have customers in the following towns: Andrews, Bryson City, Buncombe, Cashiers, Cherokee, Cullowhee, Fontana, Franklin, Garden City, Glenwood, Hayesville, Highlands, Madison, McDowell, Mitchell, Murphy, Robbinsville, Suit, Sylva, Weaverville and Yancey. Of those we serve, some are only telephone customers, some internet only customers and still others both phone and internet customers. While we do not provide market specific customer counts in any of our operating areas for competitive reasons, it is fair to say that our customer count in the areas I referenced is in the tens of thousands.

Question: How is Frontier using the Connect America Funds in western North Carolina? What’s being done to upgrade or add service? How is the money being spent? Answer: Frontier is installing fiber into network support buildings or units in western North Carolina to enable more capacity over our existing copper network.

Question: How many new customers has Frontier been able to provide service to, as a result of Connect America funds? Are the funds being used more for acquiring new customers or is it more upgrading service for existing customers and in that case, what have the service improvements been like? Answer: It starts with upgrading the network to provide a minimum of 10 Mbps service identified as CAF households to meet the requirements of the CAF Fund as established by the FCC. Customers along the path of these improvements, both existing and those who are currently not customers, can take advantage of new broadband upgrades though not necessarily at the 10 Mbps threshold. However, it is not designed to extend the network to different operating areas.

Question: How much funding has Frontier received in Connect America funds for upgrades to broadband service in those western North Carolina counties? Answer: As of 2016, Frontier began receiving approximately $3.6 million a year from the CAF to expand and upgrade the company’s network to more than 11,000 locations in North Carolina by the end of 2020, to include areas in western NC. In total, Frontier has accepted the FCC’s CAF II offer of over $330 million annually across 29 states during the six-year program, and must meet annual benchmarks for each state beginning in 2017 for passing a specified percentage of designated households.

Question: In which counties has Frontier received funds and is using them to improve or add service? Answer: We have previously used CAF II funds in Macon, Clay, Jackson and Swain counties.

Question: What projects/upgrades have been completed to date, since Frontier started receiving Connect America funds? Answer: In addition to the counties referenced above, representative counties in this latest round in 2017 included households in Cashiers, Cherokee, Franklin and Hayesville. By the of this phase of CAF II funding the intention is to have touched all of the counties we serve in Western NC, barring anything unexpected.

Question: Has Frontier over-promised service in areas in any of the above mentioned counties? If service has been over-promised, what problems is that creating and what is the remedy for solving that problem? Answer: I’m not sure what this question is asking. I would say that copper-based internet service is difficult to represent consistently as it is subject to distance limitations. That is why it is sold as offering “up to” a specified speed. However, CAF funding should have a positive impact on the end user experience.

Question: What is the best way customers who feel they’re being underserved or not getting the service that they’ve paid for can reach out to report a problem? Answer: They should call 1-800-921-8101.

Question: Has the state of North Carolina, through the state’s Attorney General office or Consumer Protection Division reached out to Frontier over service issues, failing to deliver on service promises made by the company and if so, what’s been the response back to the state? Answer: We receive individual customer complaints from these agencies, usually revolving around availability of service or insufficient internet speeds. Our marketing for internet service and our terms of service recognize that some customers may not have the same experience as others, largely because of the distance limitations of DSL service or congestion in the network. We are attempting to address both of these issues through a combination of normal capital budgets and the additional CAF II funding.

Question: What are some of the issues Frontier runs into in expanding or improving broadband service or internet access and speed issues in western North Carolina? Answer: Mostly there are geographic challenges. However, customer density is also a challenge, or lack thereof. Balancing the significant cost of expanding broadband availability in rural areas versus the potential return on that investment is always a challenge. However, we are grateful for the Connect America Fund to help spur some of that investment and know that those customers who have been impacted by the expanded capacity appreciate the service.

Question: Anything you would like to add about the Connect America funds? Answer: We are fortunate to be a participant in the CAF funding process and grateful to the FCC for making it possible. Our hope is that customers in Western NC will have better internet connectivity experiences as we move along toward the culmination of this funding in 2020.

If you live in North Carolina and want to file a complaint about your internet service with the Attorney General’s Office click here.

WLOS-TV in Asheville, N.C. aired this special investigative report about Frontier Communications’ performance problems in western North Carolina. (5:03)

Service Problems Plague Frontier Customers in West Virginia as Company Seeks Voluntary Layoffs

Phillip Dampier January 3, 2018 Consumer News, Frontier, Rural Broadband, Video 1 Comment

An undisclosed number of Frontier Communications customers in West Virginia were without phone service during the Christmas-New Year’s Day holidays because of copper thefts and slow repair crews that did not begin repairs for up to two weeks after the outages were reported.

Hardest hit was Mingo County, where multiple copper wire thefts caused significant service outages starting Dec. 20 in Matewan, Delbarton, and Varney. Many customers were without phone service over the Christmas holiday, and some are still without service two weeks later. One of them is Arlene Gartin at the two-month old Mudders restaurant, which depends on pickup and delivery orders.

“This has devastated us,” Gartin told WSAZ-TV. “Seventy-five percent of our business was our delivery and without the calls I’m hanging on by threads.”

In Iaeger in McDowell County, residents on Coonbranch Mountain report their Frontier phone and internet services have been out of service for two weeks. Carl Shrader told WVVA-TV that service went out on Dec. 23 and remained so throughout Christmas and New Year’s Day.

Mingo County, W.V., on the Kentucky border.

“We had a windstorm come through, and up here where the church is, at the top of my driveway, it blew the power line and the telephone line down,” said Shrader. “If you get a fire around your house, and the phone lines is down, how can you notify the fire department? If you have a burglar coming in on you, how can you phone and say, ‘9-1-1, I need help! There’s a burglar here.’ You can’t!”

Cell service in this part of West Virginia is spotty, making landline service very important for many West Virginia residents who live and work around the state’s notorious mountainous terrain.

Customers affected by service outages report long hold times calling Frontier and very little information or updates about outages. Many residents report Frontier’s outages are frequent and often take a long time to fix. Some have been told Frontier’s repair crews are short-staffed and busy elsewhere.

That comes as a surprise to officials at the Communications Workers of America who confirmed Frontier announced a “voluntary” reduction in force program on Dec. 20, seeking employees willing to accept a buyout offer. If enough workers do not take Frontier up on their offer, more than 50 Bluefield-based employees and about 30 in Ashburn, Va., are at risk of being laid off.

WSAZ-TV in Huntington, W.V. reports a significant number of residents in Mingo County have been without Frontier telephone and internet service because of copper wire thefts for the last two weeks. (1:49)

WVVA-TV in Bluefield/Beckley, W.V. reports some residents waited two weeks for Frontier repair crews to show up after a windstorm. (1:49)

T-Mobile’s 2017 Christmas Cartoon Calls Out AT&T, Verizon for “Blizzard of BS”

Phillip Dampier December 21, 2017 Competition, T-Mobile, Video 3 Comments

T-Mobile CEO John Legere antagonizes AT&T and Verizon once again in his 2017 Christmas cartoon. Calling Verizon and AT&T’s business practices “bulls**t” in a two-minute cartoon featuring himself, an elf, reindeer and a snowman, Legere recounts how he took out the “misers” AT&T and Verizon that snowed customers with a “blizzard of BS.” Sprint goes unmentioned, which could be a good or bad thing depending on your perspective and its current relevance in the wireless marketplace. (2:11)

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