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HissyFitWatch: Bell Loses Net Neutrality Case, Threatens to Bury Complaining Consumers In Legal Fees

The first "bricks of paper" arriving from Bell's attorneys in the case of Bell v. Ordinary Canadian consumers

The first legal “bricks of paper” arriving from Bell’s attorneys in the case of Bell v. Ordinary Canadian consumers arrived at the home of Jean-François Mezei of Pointe-Claire, Que.

A Manitoba university student and consumer groups who won their case against Bell’s preferential treatment of its mobile streaming video service are now being threatened with demands they personally cover Bell’s legal expenses as the phone company appeals the ruling in court.

The dispute involves Bell Mobile TV Service — a $5/mo optional add-on that allows Bell’s mobile customers to stream up to 10 hours of video programming, some of it from Bell-owned television networks like CTV, without it counting against the customer’s usage cap. Each additional hour costs $3. The service prices usage based on time, not data usage, which lets Bell stream very high quality video to customers. Competitors like Netflix do not have this option and their customers are billed based on the amount of data consumed, which is around 800 percent higher than what Bell Mobile TV charges.

University of Manitoba graduate student Benjamin Klass filed a complaint with the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) in 2013 accusing Bell of violating Net Neutrality and creating an anti-competitive marketplace for online video. ​Twelve of the 43 channels available on Mobile TV — including CTV, TSN and The Movie Network — are owned by Bell Media, a subsidiary, like Bell Mobility, of the media behemoth BCE.

Klass alleged the practice was a clear violation of Canada’s laws governing broadcasting: “No Canadian carrier shall, in relation to the provision of a telecommunications service or the charging of a rate for it, unjustly discriminate or give an undue or unreasonable preference toward any person, including itself, or subject any person to an undue or unreasonable disadvantage.”

The CRTC agreed with Klass and in late January ruled in favor of Klass’ complaint, giving Bell and Quebec-based Vidéotron (which offers a similar service) until the end of April to close them down in their present form.

BCE, the parent of Bell Mobility, told the CBC it was “shocked” by the CRTC’s ruling, suspecting the complaining groups mislead regulators into thinking Bell favored its own content over others.

“There’s a hint here that the government believes Bell Mobile TV delivers only Bell Media content,” spokesman Jason Laszlo said. “They should know we offer mobile TV content from all of Canada’s leading broadcasters in English and French.”

Bell_Mobility logoLaszlo added Bell-owned content only comprises 20% of Bell Mobile TV programming and that the ruling would deprive more than 1.5 million current Bell Mobile TV subscribers from getting the service after the spring deadline to shut it down.

The CRTC and consumer groups argue that is beside the point.

“At its core, this decision isn’t so much about Bell or Vidéotron,” CRTC chair Jean-Pierre Blais said at a breakfast luncheon in London, Ont., in late January. “It’s about all of us and our ability to access content equally and fairly, in an open market that favours innovation and choice. The CRTC always wants to ensure ­— and this decision supports this goal ­— that Canadians have fair and reasonable access to content. It may be tempting for large vertically integrated companies to offer certain perks to their customers. But when the impetus to innovate steps on the toes of the principle of fair and open access to content, we will intervene.”

Consumer group OpenMedia says Bell’s motivation isn’t to create a level playing field or provide customers with more options for online video. It’s about artificially inflating the cost of accessing services like Netflix and other independent video companies that are innovating away from the traditional pay television package.

“Bell is doing everything in its power to make the Internet more like cable TV,” said OpenMedia campaigns manager Josh Tabish. “They want the power to pick and choose what we see by forcing competing services into a more expensive toll lane online.”

Klass (Image: CBC)

Klass (Image: CBC)

Bell’s legal strategy going forward is an homage to the one American wireless companies used for years to avoid Net Neutrality.

Bell Mobility argues that Bell Mobile TV is a broadcasting service, not a telecommunications service and therefore doesn’t fall under the jurisdiction of the Telecommunications Act.

Since the CRTC was not receptive to that argument, Bell is taking the matter to the Federal Court of Appeal, asking it to overturn the CRTC ruling and grant the company court and legal costs paid for by the Canadian consumers that brought the original complaint.

Jean-François Mezei of Pointe-Claire, Que. is among them and has been the unhappy recipient of several parcels containing “bricks of paper” from FedEx he suspects is just the beginning.

Mezei has been tweeting about ongoing developments in the case, and asked Bell, “how come you have no press release bragging about how Bell Mobility is suing individual citizens who participated in [the CRTC complaint]?”

Klass told CBC News he hasn’t yet made up his mind how to respond to the court filing, but admitted it is unnerving.

“In that regard, it really strikes me as a method of intimidation,” he said. “Right off the bat, it has a chilling effect. It appears that Bell is simply pursuing the argument, that it unsuccessfully made to the CRTC, through the court.”

Bell Canada Customer Called a “Slut” and “Bitch” in E-Mail by Angry Customer Service Representative

Phillip Dampier February 17, 2015 Bell (Canada), Consumer News, HissyFitWatch 1 Comment
Bell customer Leticia Chartier  (Photo: Judith Plamondon, QMI Agency)

Bell customer Leticia Chartier (Photo: Judith Plamondon, QMI Agency)

A Bell Canada customer complaining about a spike in her television and broadband bill from $72 to $105 was called a “slut” and a “bitch” in an email after she didn’t give the representative high marks for the online customer support chat experience.

Leticia Chartier’s new customer promotion apparently expired and her efforts to secure an explanation of her new rate was met by a shrug by Bell’s customer service. The online agent curtly told her to contact a different department. But before terminating the chat, Bell’s representative, identified as Mohamed Boutallaka, suddenly remembered the customer would be invited to score his performance in a survey after the chat window closed.

Chartier told QMI Agency he begged her not to give him a bad grade for his performance.

Chartier responded favorably to his request, or so she thought, scoring his performance “pretty good,” but explaining her rating wasn’t a criticism of the agent’s performance, just his lack of empowerment to help her resolve the issue.

Not good enough.

A few minutes after submitting the survey, the representative dispatched a scathing e-mail to her personal e-mail address on file with Bell.

bell bad“You’re a bitch Leticia and a real slut,” read the e-mail, which Chartier provided to QMI Agency.

Chartier immediately contacted Bell to complain about the email, but she says nobody at the company is taking the matter seriously.

“The supervisor who I spoke to on the phone apologized, but she never called me back to follow-up,” Chartier said.

After some research on Facebook, Chartier was reassured to discover Boutallaka works out of Bell’s call center… in Morocco.

“At least I know he won’t come to my place.”

A Bell Canada spokesman stopped short of promising the agent in question would be disciplined or fired. He only promised an internal investigation would begin over the incident.

Comcast Retaliates: Customers Who Cancel/Downgrade Service Are Called ‘Whore,’ ‘B*tch,’ ‘A**hole,’ and Worse

comcast sucksThat paragon of virtue Comcast is back in the news again with yet another customer service horror story.

After Americans once again rated Comcast one of the most-hated corporation in America, employees are launching the equivalent of a “right back at you” retaliation campaign aimed at departing and downgrading customers with name-calling we cannot print on Stop the Cap!

It all started with Lisa Brown, a volunteer for a missions organization in Spokane, Wash., who told Elliot.org Comcast retaliated against her husband for daring to downsize his Comcast cable package. Brown said her husband’s name Ricardo was changed to “A**hole” on their bill. She tried in vain to get the unauthorized name change corrected, but nobody made things right in the local cable office or in Comcast’s executive customer relations department.

When a reporter called Comcast to confirm the profane name change, alarm bells rang as Comcast realized it had the latest PR Disaster of the Month on its hands.

Steve Kipp, Comcast’s vice president of communications in the Washington State region was shocked, shocked to discover customer service abuse was going on inside Comcast offices. He must not have worked there back in 2005 when the cable company called one woman a “b*tch dog” on her bill.

“We have spoken with our customer and apologized for this completely unacceptable and inappropriate name change,” Kipp told Elliot.org. “We have zero tolerance for this type of disrespectful behavior and are conducting a thorough investigation to determine what happened. We are working with our customer to make this right and will take appropriate steps to prevent this from happening again.”

Comcast eventually refunded back 24 months of cable service to the Brown family.

Screen-Shot-2015-01-28-at-1.38.47-PM

Notice Comcast charges a $9.50 “administrative late fee” on all accounts that are past due more than 10-14 days after the billing due date. Customers who do not clear their earlier balance to zero may be subject to this fee indefinitely with each billing statement.

Zero tolerance lasted about five minutes before more complaints began pouring in from other Comcast customers who have also been on the receiving end of Comcast’s wrath:

  • One customer said a Comcast employee changed his name to the phonetic spelling of the “f word,” unprintable on this website;
  • Julie Swano reported her December 2014 Comcast bill was addressed to “Whore” Julia Swano;
  • Carolina Heredia: “They changed my name to ‘dummy’ on my online account, so that the greeting was ‘Hello, dummy,’” she said.
whore_julia

Notice Comcast customers who want a paper bill pay $5 more each month than those who accept eBills. Comcast customers complain “EcoBill” offers illusory savings, because for many the $5 “credit” was applied to bills that were also $5 higher than before. (Click image to read complaints)

Comcast’s Tom Karinshak, senior vice president of customer service, treated the incidents as some type of computer glitch or honest mistake.

“We’re retraining our teams on the importance of making name changes properly,” Karinshak said. “We’re looking for automated solutions to prevent this from happening in the future.”

“What amazed me then was that I had talked with at least 20 people at Comcast between Dec. 16 and Jan. 6 who could see that my name was ‘whore’ and they did nothing about it,” Swano said.

But once the matter went viral and could influence regulators contemplating Comcast’s buyout of Time Warner Cable, Comcast got serious enough to write about the incident on its blog.

“We have apologized to our customer for this unacceptable situation and addressed it directly with the employee who will no longer be working on behalf of Comcast,” wrote Charlie Herrin, senior vice president of customer experience.

Swano does not believe it is an isolated incident.

“I have no record of any recent contact with Comcast until Dec. 16. So whoever chose to re-name me picked my account out of a hat,” she said. “That says there are probably millions of us out there who Comcast employees have renamed. We need to find all of them.”

The American Customer Satisfaction Index pegged Time Warner Cable as the nation’s most unloved company in 2014, with its Internet service rated 236th out of 236 companies in customer satisfaction, and its TV service rated 235th. Comcast Corp.’s Xfinity Internet service placed 234th out of 236 and its TV service landed at 232 in the list released in May.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CNN Another Comcast customer-service gaffe 2-1-15.flv

CNN talks with the customer Comcast called an “a**hole” on their bill after the family dared to downgrade their cable service. (1:53)

California County Goes to War with Frontier Communications; Calls Company Officials ‘Liars’

Phillip Dampier January 7, 2015 Frontier, HissyFitWatch, Public Policy & Gov't 4 Comments
Greenville, Calif. is in Plumas County.

Greenville, Calif. is in Plumas County.

Frustrated officials in Plumas County, Calif. are at the end of their patience with local phone company Frontier Communications.

“You’re lying to me,” Supervisor Kevin Goss (District 2) told representatives from Frontier Communications in the latest heated exchange.

Goss and other community leaders are upset because Frontier is the company most likely to make or break the county’s beautification efforts by placing utility cables underground in Greenville.

County officials are certain they notified Frontier of their intent to transition to underground service throughout Greenville, with the full support of the area’s other utility, Pacific Gas & Electric.

But Frontier officials are now claiming they can’t find the paperwork and are unwilling to invest in the project. If Frontier will not join PG&E, the utility poles will stay in the ground and the project will be canceled.

“We did search all of our records and didn’t uncover any documentation,” said Charlie Born, the manager of government and external affairs for Frontier.

The project had been on the county’s public agenda since 2008.

Plumas_seal“It’s never going to pencil; it’s whether the company will do what’s right,” argued Board chairman Jon Kennedy.

It was the second heated meeting between Goss and Frontier’s representatives.

Frontier claims it was never notified about the extent of the project, despite sending a letter to county officials dated Oct. 1, 2014 where it acknowledged the project and indicated it was willing to talk, as long as “Frontier is not responsible for any costs.”

In November, Goss testily responded to Frontier’s sudden intransigence to cover its share of the underground project, despite being a part of a joint planning process underway for nearly seven years.

“Basically you don’t have any money?” Goss asked two Frontier representatives during a public hearing in front of the Board of Supervisors on Nov. 4.

Born complained the county was asking Frontier to pay $275,000.

“With 10 working lines, that’s about $27,000 per line,” said Born. “This chunk of money is a hard pill to swallow. We choose to put our money into improving services.”

In November, Goss publicly pondered Frontier’s refusal to invest in the project while finding plenty of money — $10 million — to spend on a high-profile campaign with its satellite partner DISH Network that claimed would “invigorate rural communities.”

The Plumas County News noted Frontier’s America’s Best Communities is a multistage, three-year contest that provides $4 million in seed money and other support to assist communities as they develop growth and revitalization plans. The top three communities will receive a total of $6 million in prize money.

Goss read from a statement written by Frontier CEO Maggie Wilderotter introducing the contest.

“Frontier is committed to the small cities and towns we serve, and one of the best ways to demonstrate that is through our new America’s Best Communities prize competition,” read Goss. “I don’t think she’s very committed when the rug is getting pulled out from under us in our small town. It’s frustrating to me; absolutely frustrating.”

The county is now hoping the California Public Utility Commission will intervene, but that has not happened yet, leaving the project in limbo.

“We’ve had no feedback from the California PUC in regard to our concerns with Frontier not financing,” said Public Works director Bob Perreault. “PG&E is in a holding situation and is supportive of the county.”

Fiber Games: AT&T (Slightly) Backtracks on Fiber Suspension After Embarrassed by FCC

HissyfitwatchAT&T CEO Randall Stephenson’s public hissy fit against the Obama Administration’s sudden backbone on Net Neutrality may complicate AT&T’s plans to win approval of its merger with DirecTV. forcing AT&T to retract threats to suspend fiber buildouts if the administration moves forward with its efforts to ban Internet fast lanes.

Hours after Stephenson told investors AT&T wouldn’t continue with plans to bring U-verse with GigaPower fiber broadband to more cities as long as Net Neutrality was on the agenda, the FCC requested clarification about exactly what AT&T and its CEO was planning. More importantly, it noted responses would become part of the record in its consideration of AT&T’s proposed acquisition of the satellite television provider. The regulator could not send a clearer message that Stephenson’s statements could affect the company’s $48.5 billion merger deal.

AT&T responded – four days after the FCC’s deadline – in a three-page letter with a heavily redacted attachment that basically told the Commission it misunderstood AT&T’s true intentions:

The premise of the Commission’s November 14 Letter is incorrect. AT&T is not limiting our FTTP deployment to 2 million homes. To the contrary, AT&T still plans to complete the major initiative we announced in April to expand our ultra-fast GigaPower fiber network in 25 major metropolitan areas nationwide, including 21 new major metropolitan areas. In addition, as AT&T has described to the Commission in this proceeding, the synergies created by our DIRECTV transaction will allow us to extend our GigaPower service to at least 2 million additional customer locations, beyond those announced in April, within four years after close.

Although AT&T is willing to say it will deliver improved broadband to at least “15 million customer locations, mostly in rural areas,” it is also continuing its fiber shell game with the FCC by not specifying exactly how many of those customers will receive fiber broadband, how many will receive an incremental speed upgrade to their existing U-verse fiber/copper service, or not get fiber at all. AT&T routinely promises upgrades using a mix of technologies “such as” fiber to the home and fixed wireless, part of AT&T’s broader agenda to abandon its rural landline service and force customers to a much costlier and less reliable wireless data connection. It isn’t willing to tell the public who will win fiber upgrades and who will be forced off DSL in favor of AT&T’s enormously profitable wireless service.

Your right to know... undelivered.

Your right to know… undelivered. AT&T redacted information about its specific fiber plans.

Fun Fact: AT&T is cutting its investment in network upgrades by $3 billion in 2015 and plans a budget of $18 billion for capex investments across the entire company in 2015 — almost three times less than what AT&T is ready to spend just to acquire DirecTV.

The FCC was provided a market-by-market breakdown of how many customers currently get U-verse over AT&T’s fiber/copper “fiber to the neighborhood” network and those already getting fiber straight to the home. But this does not tell the FCC how many homes and businesses AT&T intends to wire for GigaPower — its gigabit speed network that requires fiber to the premises. Indeed, AT&T would only disclose how many homes and businesses it plans to provide with traditional U-verse using a combination of fiber and copper wiring — an inferior technology not capable of the speeds AT&T repeatedly touts in its press releases.

That has all the makings of an AT&T Fiber Snow Job only Buffalo could love.

AT&T also complained about the Obama Administration’s efforts to spoil AT&T’s fast lane Money Party:

At the same time, President Obama’s proposal in early November to regulate the entire Internet under rules from the 1930s injects significant uncertainty into the economics underlying our investment decisions. While we have reiterated that we will stand by the commitments described above, this uncertainty makes it prudent to pause consideration of any further investments – beyond those discussed above – to bring advanced broadband networks to even more customer locations, including additional upgrades of existing DSL and IPDSL lines, that might be feasible in the future under a more stable and predictable regulatory regime. To be clear, AT&T has not stated that the President’s proposal would render all of these locations unprofitable. Rather, AT&T simply cannot evaluate additional investment beyond its existing commitments until the regulatory treatment of broadband service is clarified.

AT&T’s too-cute-by-half ‘1930s era regulation’ talking point, also echoed by its financially tethered minions in the dollar-a-holler sock-puppet sector, suggests the Obama Administration is seeking to regulate AT&T as a monopoly provider. Except the Obama Administration is proposing nothing of the sort. The FCC should give AT&T’s comments the same weight it should give its fiber commitments — treat them as suspect at best. As we’ve written repeatedly, AT&T’s fabulous fiber future looks splendid on paper, but without evidence of spending sufficient to pay for it, AT&T’s piece of work should be filed under fiction.

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