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Denver Spent Last Night Without Comcast; One Fiber Line Cut Wipes Cable Out

Phillip Dampier September 19, 2017 Comcast/Xfinity, Consumer News 3 Comments

A construction crew accidentally severed a single fiber optic cable on Monday and wiped out TV, broadband, and phone service for Comcast customers in metropolitan Denver.

The outage began at 4:30pm and lasted until around midnight when service was restored. Customers reported problems across Denver, Aurora, and other surrounding areas.

In these circumstances, Comcast does not usually give automatic bill credits for service outages — customers have to request them. But the widespread outage triggered a press release from Comcast claiming service credits will be automatic for “affected customers:”

We appreciate everyone’s patience during yesterday’s service outage in the Denver area. We regret the impact to our customers and we want to make it right. We are conducting an investigation into the cause and full impact of the outage. Upon completion of the investigation and identification of the impacted residential customers, we will automatically apply credits to their accounts.

If you are still experiencing issues with your service please send your account number and a brief description to our customer care team by clicking here or connect with an agent by phone or chat here.

If you want to be certain about receiving a credit, contact Comcast directly and ask for one instead of waiting for them.

As Battery Backup and Generators Fail, New Telecom Outages Across Florida

Unattended generators that have run out of fuel and exhausted battery backup systems are causing additional service outages for telephone and wireless customers in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Although the last remnants of Hurricane Irma are now a mild rainmaker moving into the Ohio Valley, the impact of the storm at its peak is still being felt across the southeast, and some customers are surprised to discover new outages even as providers work to restore service in the region.

Data from the Federal Communications Commission and from impacted providers indicate that new cell towers are failing because backup generators have now run out of fuel. Technicians often cannot reach the cell tower sites to refill generator fuel tanks because of driving restrictions and inaccessible roads. The worst outages continue in rural parts of Florida, the Florida Keys, the U.S. Virgin Islands and parts of Puerto Rico.

Most of the telecommunications network failures are a result of power interruptions. Most cell towers are able to withstand hurricane force winds and short-term flooding, and underground fiber connectivity between the tower and the provider means failures from trees falling on utility poles is not usually a problem. In most cases, once power returns, cell towers will return to service almost immediately.

Wireline facilities in Florida are not faring as well, however.

911 Call Centers

Since yesterday, the FCC reports 29 emergency 911 call centers are down or compromised, up from 27 a day earlier:

In Florida:

Down with no re-routes: Homestead Air Force, Marathon County SO, and Ocean Reef

Up without Automatic Caller Location Information (ALI): Cape Coral PD, Collier County EOC, Ft. Myers Police Department, Hardee County Back Up, Hardee County Sheriff, Highlands County Sheriff, Lee County Emergency Dispatch Center EOC, Lee County Sheriff, and Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Department

911 Calls Re-routed with ALI: Atlantic Beach PD, Belle Glade PD, Broward County South Region, Indian River SO, Manalapan PD, Miami Beach PD, Neptune Beach PD, Sanibel Police Department, and St. Augustine PD

911 Calls Re-routed without ALI: Big Cypress Indian Reservation, Clewiston Police Department, Desoto County Sheriff, Glades County Sheriff, Glades County Sheriff Back Up, Hendry County Sheriff, Lee County Backup, and Naples PD

In the U.S. Virgin Islands, the 911 call centers in St. Croix and St. Thomas cannot locate callers and calls from Voice over IP phone lines do not provide the number the person is calling from.


As of Sept. 12, the worst affected areas with cell towers out of service:

Cell tower on wheels

Alabama: Less than 1% of cell sites in the disaster area are out of service — two of the 87 cell sites in Henry County are offline.

Florida: 24.6% (down from 27.4% yesterday) of all cell sites in the state are out of service. The worst affected counties:

  • Collier: Out of 212 sites, 154 are out of service (72.6%)
  • Hendry: 36 of the county’s 46 cell sites are down (78.3%)
  • Highlands: 43 of 80 cell towers are out of service (53.8%)
  • Monroe: 89 of 108 cell towers are out of service (82.4%). Much of Monroe County is in the Florida Keys.
  • Union:  Seven of 13 cell sites are not functioning. (53.8%)

Georgia: 10.5% of cell sites in the designated disaster area are out of service. Wilkes County is hardest hit, with one of the county’s two sites out of service. Other significantly affected counties include: Glynn (26.2%), Camden (17.4%), Mitchell (14.7%), Brooks (14%), and Colquitt (12.2%).

Puerto Rico: Puerto Rico: 14.5% (down from 19.4% yesterday) of cell sites are out of service.

U.S. Virgin Islands: 53.8% (down from 55.1%) of cell sites are out of service.

Wireline (Cable and Telephone)

There are at least 7,184,909 (down from 7,597,945 yesterday) subscribers out of service in the affected areas in Alabama, Florida, and Georgia. This includes users who get service from cable or wireline providers.

A massive spike in landline central office failures was also documented yesterday, with service outages at switching centers up from 390 yesterday to 819 today in Florida.

Customer complaints are starting to rise based on early predictions that once power was restored, telecommunications services would quickly follow. That has not always been the case in South Florida, however.

Comcast’s Wi-Fi hotspots are all functioning normally, as long as there is internet service in the neighborhood. But home broadband outages are common, especially in coastal areas and in the Florida Keys. Where power is out, Comcast services go out with it. Getting service back requires first restoring power.

“As of Tuesday morning, we have been able to restore power to some but not all of the equipment that services customers in the Miami-metro area. We are working very closely with Florida Power and Light so they can prioritize these critical facilities and restore commercial power service to them as quickly as possible,” said Mindy Kramer, a Comcast spokesperson. “Our facilities in South Florida have been running on generators since the storm began and unfortunately everyone is need of the same fuel resources. We have been doing our best to refuel these generators so that our facilities are able to stay functioning without commercial power. We have teams deploying additional generators today in South Florida.”

Comcast has a website for customers to report storm impact issues: https://www.xfinity.com/florida.

AT&T U-verse customer Ron Dias in Southwest Miami-Dade lost his bundled services — TV, Internet and digital home phone — Saturday and they are all still out, even though his power was restored Monday. He wants answers.

“I wish they would tell us what is going on. This is the information age,” he told the Miami Herald.

AT&T is treating its outage and restoration information as a proprietary trade secret, much to the frustration of customers like Dias.

AT&T issued the same statement to media outlets:

“In Florida, South Carolina, Alabama and Georgia some [U-verse] customers may be experiencing issues with their service because of flooding and storm damage. Our technicians are working to restore service to affected areas as quickly and safely as conditions allow. Our Network Disaster Recovery team is deploying portable cell sites to the Florida Keys, Miami and Tallahassee. Additionally we are deploying an electronic communication vehicle, command center and a hazmat team to Miami. We have additional resources being staged for further deployment across the region. We are monitoring our network closely and are coordinating with emergency management officials and local utility companies.”

AT&T stages repair crews to deal with Hurricane Irma.

The newspaper quoted Reginald Andre, president of Ark Solvers, a company that manages computer services for condominiums and other businesses, who estimated about 80 percent of his 240 business customers are experiencing outages with either Atlantic Broadband — many of them Miami Beach condominiums — Comcast’s XFINITY or AT&T U-verse, he said. Many have their business’ phone services through the internet too. “If the internet is down, their phones are down.”

Atlantic Broadband, which serves some high-end gated communities, condos and exclusive enclaves in South Florida notes most of its customers lost service during the hurricane, but the company has already restored service to 25% of its customers.

“Atlantic Broadband’s restoration workforce is currently mobilized in Florida and our network and facilities are intact. We have assembled additional response teams from across all Atlantic Broadband operating locations to support these efforts. As commercial power is restored and downed drops are cleared, Atlantic Broadband will be moving briskly to restore services to its customers,” the company said in a written statement.

Frontier Communications, which serves some small Florida communities as well as former Verizon service areas in Florida, has said little about the storm or its recovery efforts, except to ask customers to call the company if their services are not working after power is restored.

Verizon has announced it is relieving itself of all liabilities for Hurricane Harvey and Irma-related outages:

We must also declare a Force Majeure event for Hurricanes Harvey and Irma to the extent that there is any delay or inability by Verizon or its vendors to provide services. Under Verizon’s Service Guide and customer contracts, this declaration relieves Verizon of liability that would otherwise result from any such delays or non-performance.

Verizon Wireless reports 90% of its cell towers in Florida and 97% in Georgia are in service.

Free text messages sent to AT&T and Verizon customers in storm-affected areas. Verizon has extended its offer until Sept. 15.

“Many of those cell sites are running on backup power as designed for reliability, and massive refueling operations are underway to ensure those sites without commercial power continue in service for our customers and first responders,” the company said on its website. “We continue to assess the impact across Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, and mobile equipment and personnel have been moved into impacted areas. This week we will begin deploying Unmanned Aerial Systems (drones) to survey sites and assess antennae and tower damage. Repairs to impacted network facilities are well underway, and in many cases already complete. We are in contact with federal, state and local emergency management teams and are coordinating communication needs and efforts with them.”

Verizon is also extending its “data relief” offer until Sept. 15 in storm-affected areas. The initial offer began just after midnight on Sept. 9. Verizon is giving postpaid customers talk, text and data overage relief while prepaid customers receive an extra 3GB of data. To see if you qualify, see: Postpaid customer list of qualifying counties or Prepaid customer list of qualifying counties.

Sprint claims: “Progress is being made to the Sprint network as commercial power is gradually restoring across Florida. Sprint has fixed generators at our sites which are helping to provide service to some customers. Additionally, our network crews continue to assess any damage, refuel generators, and work to restore wireless service to customers who may be impacted. As it becomes safe, we will continue to deploy more crews, portable generators and satellite trucks providing temporary wireless coverage across the area. We are reminding people to continue to use text messaging rather than voice calling to help relieve network resources.”

Sprint is waiving all text, call and data overage fees for Sprint, BoostMobile and Virgin Mobile customers in Florida through September 15, 2017, and extending the same previously announced waived overage fees for customers in Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands through September 15, 2017. Fees will be proactively waived during the specified timeframe. Customers on Unlimited plans will continue to enjoy their unlimited data, call and text benefits. The company will also waive all international call and text overage fees for Sprint, Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile customers in the U.S. to the Bahamas, and roaming voice and text overage charges for Sprint customers in the Bahamas, effective today through September, 15, 2017. Customers can sign in to their My Sprint account to enable international calling before attempting to make a call. They can also chat with a Sprint International Representative. Customers may cancel international calling at any time following the effective period.

T-Mobile is making it free to call and text from the United States to the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos. T-Mobile will also waive roaming fees on calls and texts for customers in the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos. The offer is good until Sept. 15. T-Mobile also is offering free calling/texting, as well as unlimited data, for Florida customers not on T-Mobile ONE (customers on T-Mobile ONE always have unlimited calling/texting/data). The Florida offer applies to T-Mobile and MetroPCS customers in the following area codes until Sept. 15: 239, 305, 321, 352, 386, 407, 561, 689, 727, 754, 772, 786, 813, 850, 863, 904, 941, 954.

AT&T is automatically issuing credits and waiving additional fees to give unlimited data, talk and texts to AT&T wireless customers and unlimited talk and texts to AT&T PREPAID customers. This is effective beginning Sept. 8 across all of Florida and Sept. 12 in impacted Georgia counties and continuing through Sept. 17 for all impacted customers. AT&T is also extending payment dates for impacted AT&T PREPAID customers with voice and text service through Sept. 17. This applies to AT&T wireless customers with billing zip codes and AT&T PREPAID customers with billing phone numbers in all of Florida and in nearly 25 Georgia counties – Appling, Atkinson, Bacon, Brantley, Bryan, Bulloch, Camden, Candler, Charlton, Chatham, Clinch, Coffee, Effingham, Evans, Glynn, Jeff Davis, Liberty, Long, McIntosh, Pierce, Tattnall, Toombs, Ware and Wayne. Customers in these areas may still receive data alert notifications during these protected dates, but billing will reflect the correct data charges.


TV Stations out of service: 9 (up one from yesterday)

  • Alabama: None
  • Florida: WVFW, WGCU, WSBS (up one from yesterday)
  • Georgia: None
  • Puerto Rico: WOST, WMEI, WQQZ, and WWKQ (same as yesterday)
  • U.S. Virgin Islands: WTJX-TV and W05AWD (same as yesterday)

Radio stations out of service: 51 (up from 25 yesterday)

  • Alabama: None
  • Georgia: WLFH, WHFX, WBGA, WGIG, WEKL and WGCO (all added since yesterday)
  • Puerto Rico: None
  • U.S. Virgin Islands: WTJF-FM (same as yesterday)

2017 Edition of Comcast’s Customer Service Makeover (Rebooted)

It’s the end of summer and that means it is time for the 11th annual Comcast Customer Service Makeover — the annual ritual of going through the motions of saying you are going to improve the customer experience, without actually doing so.

Since at least 2006, Comcast has promised it would get better, but somehow never does. That the cable company remains one of America’s most-hated companies 11 years after first promising to do better, evidently doesn’t faze J.D. Keller, the latest executive assigned to win customers over. At least Keller admits it will be a tough job to turn around one of the country’s greediest and nastiest companies. He likens it to “turning a ship around.” We’re not talking about a weekend pleasure craft either. We’re talking a colossal toxin-filled tanker here. That’s an appropriate vision of Comcast, where the craft of alienating customers with impenetrable offshore customer service and local cable stores complete with bulletproof glass to protect the employees from customers has been finely honed for years.

To paraphrase Lily Tomlin’s Ernestine, Comcast’s customer service experience is best summed up as: “We don’t care — we don’t have to. We’re the cable company.”

Somehow, Comcast has spent another $300 million of ratepayer’s money for a three-year “corporatewide push,” beginning in 2015, to fix the damage. Considering the company’s war-criminal-like reputation score has barely budged, one wonders if the $300 million was spent on a golden Band-Aid… that has since fallen off. Comcast’s bullet points of new wonderfulness doesn’t seem to impress:

  • Comcast has opened eight Apple-style XFINITY retail stores in the Twin Cities, notes the Star Tribune. Have you ever been excited visiting your phone, gas, or mobile company store? Didn’t think so. Shiny and new doesn’t help if you are still standing in line for 30-60 minutes to swap out a cable box.
  • Comcast has beefed up its call center staff. But many customers tell us that is more of the same S&M experience they get now from offshore call center representatives, who apparently delight in having their revenge against evil and annoying Americans. Comcast’s customer service representatives are excellent at reading scripts, but when you ask for credit or above-and-beyond help with a service problem, suddenly their English skills go missing. “Twice nothing is still nothing.”
  • Comcast has put more technicians on the street. But they would not have to if their cable infrastructure wasn’t ineptly maintained in some areas of the country.
  • Comcast has developed online tools so customers can fix problems themselves. That’s a slight improvement, if only because you don’t have to call for a verbal torture session with the Philippines call center. But in fact such tools benefit Comcast more than customers, because it cuts their costs.

Mr. Keller:

“When I interviewed with Steve White [Comcast’s West Division president] and CEO Dave Watson, all they talked about was customer experience. Dave Watson regularly calls clients deep in our organization to ask, ‘How’d we do?’ He’s out on the street listening to people. There is no ivory tower here. We have a long way to go to respect our customers and do a better job. Our goal is to be recognized by our customers and J.D. Power as the No. 1 communications company in the world. That’s what brought me to Comcast. A recent American Customer Satisfaction Index report gave Comcast its highest marks in 15 years [although it still trailed Verizon, AT&T and Charter Communications].”

Indeed, it trails among many, many, many, many, many other companies. What does “clients deep in our organization” mean, exactly? Comcast is calling itself? We also find it impossibly hard to believe a division president in manning a booth on the street asking random customers how they feel about Comcast. At least not without his bodyguard. Comcast is the very definition of an “ivory tower” corporation, completely out of touch with the wants and needs of its own customers. Want evidence? Junk fees, channel shoveling, data caps, offshore customer service, constant rate increases, tricky promotions, and those bullet-proof glass windows at the customer service center, for a start.

Every year, Comcast reminds customers it has a long way to go to repair its emotionally abusive relationship with customers, who feel trapped with a company many wish they could ditch once and for all. Like other tragic relationships gone bad, the promises that things will get better are often empty.

Keller’s out-of-touchness shines as he talks about “respecting our customers and their time.” Comcast commits to two-hour service windows, and claims they text or call 30 minutes ahead of let customers know when the truck will arrive. Customers tell us that is true in some places, but not in others. The arrival of a repair crew does not guarantee the problem will be adequately addressed during that call either. Many tell us they have to get several crews out before a problem is really fixed. Keller also claims Comcast reads all the feedback customers give the company, but doesn’t mention it routinely ignores most of that feedback. Otherwise, those constant annoyances and policies that gave the company its horrific reputation would have been dispensed with a decade ago.

“We believe if customers are happy with us in the first 90 days, they’re going to stay with us for life,” Keller said with a straight face, forgetting that many customers don’t have a choice. Swapping one cable company for another is about as common as choosing where you get your tap water. It’s Choice “A” or Choice “A.” You decide.

Keller suggests he thought long and hard before accepting a job at the most loathed cable company on the planet.

“I took the time to take a deep breath and spend time with my wife and three children,” Keller claimed. “I knew I wanted to challenge myself. I’m not happy unless there’s some big boulder I have to push up the hill.”

Somehow, and probably with the help of a generous compensation package, he got over his concerns.

There are two ways to deal with Comcast’s nightmarish reputation. Either blow it up and start a new relationship with customers or convince yourself that your poor reputation barely exists at all and is easily fixed. The latter is what Comcast’s annual exercise in “improving the customer experience” is all about. Define a problem as fixable, pretend to fix it, and next year tell customers you are making progress. After a decade, this annual ritual is now a tradition.

Until customers have adequate competitive options to send a real message Comcast cannot afford to ignore (“I and all my friends are canceling service”), expect more of the same.

Comcast’s “Junk Fees” Now Exceed $40 a Month; Company Sued for False Advertising

Phillip Dampier September 11, 2017 Comcast/Xfinity, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't 4 Comments

Comcast is being sued for deceptively advertising cable packages at a low price, but actually charging much more because of compulsory “junk fees” that customers cannot avoid.

Plaintiffs’ lawyers Dan M. Hattis of Bellevue, Wash., and Jason Skaggs of Palo Alto, Calif., jointly brought the class action case against the cable company, asking a judge to force Comcast to stop charging the fees and return all of its “unjust profits” to impacted subscribers.

“Comcast promises to charge customers a fixed monthly price for the service plans, but in fact Comcast charges a much higher rate for those plans via concealed and deceptive ‘fees’ which Comcast intentionally disguises in both its advertising and in its customer bills,” the attorneys complain. “These illegal and deceptive fees, which Comcast calls the Broadcast TV Fee and the Regional Sports Fee, earn Comcast over $1 billion each year, accounting for approximately 15% of Comcast’s annual profits.”

But in fact Comcast’s bill padding goes well beyond its TV and sports programming surcharges. No other cable company has mastered the art of the surcharge and fee better than America’s largest cable operator. Consumer advocates in California complain those fees can now cost an average subscriber in that state more than $40 a month.

“Although Charter Communications and Cox — California’s other major cable operators — also charge many of these fees, Comcast pioneered most of them and charges more than any other cable operator,” claimed Geoff Nawasaki, a San Mateo resident that has filed complaints against Comcast for several years. “A class action lawsuit is long overdue.”

Once Comcast establishes a new fee or surcharge, the company often boosts those fees dramatically over a very short time. Vaughn Aubuchon has been tracking Comcast’s rates in the Monterey Bay area of central California since 2010 and has documented Comcast routinely increasing its junk fees by as much as 1,000%. But most regulators and members of Congress may not realize how much customer bills are increasing, because the rate card Comcast shares with Washington and the general public doesn’t typically include the extra fees.

Aubuchon has documented significant spikes in Comcast’s prices, even though the company is still promoting packages costing $79-89 a month for new customers. But once those customers open their first bill, the advertised price no longer matters.

Hattis and Skaggs’ 2016 lawsuit documents Comcast’s online order system making no mention of its mandatory surcharges and fees. In fact, even Comcast’s fine print fails to mention the exact amount customers will pay in surcharges. According to Comcast, you have to already be a Comcast customer to review your local rates.

Aubuchon’s rate tracking shows just how lucrative Comcast’s billing tactics have become to the cable operator, especially since 2014:

  • XFINITY TV cost $80.94 in 2010. As of August, the rate is now $102.98 — more than $20 a month more.
  • XFINITY INTERNET cost $47.95 including the $5 modem rental fee in 2010. Today, that price is $68.95 a month, and the modem rental fee has doubled. That’s another $20 more a month.
  • Comcast now charges Aubuchon $6 a month for its Broadcast TV Surcharge and $5 a month for sports programming — an extra $11 month that wasn’t there in 2010.
  • After adding up all the fees and surcharges, Aubuchon’s bill went from $135.58 in 2010 to $196.65 today — $62.23 more a month.


Some of the biggest recent hidden rate hikes have come from Comcast’s Broadcast TV Fee and Regional Sports Fee.

“In the Sacramento area in July 2016, Comcast increased the Broadcast TV Fee by 54% from $3.25 to $5.00, and tripled the Regional Sports Fee from $1.00 to $3.00,” the lawsuit notes. “Then, just three months later in October 2016 Comcast increased the fees yet again to $6.50 for the Broadcast TV Fee and $4.50 for the Regional Sports Fee.”

“Comcast has admitted these invented fees are actually just price increases for broadcast channels and sports channels in its cable television packages,” the lawsuit claims. “But Comcast intentionally does not include the cost of these fees in its advertised or quoted rates for those channel packages, in order to mislead customers into thinking that they will pay less than Comcast will actually charge them.”

The plaintiffs also argue Comcast is intentionally deceptive to customers questioning the ballooning fees on their cable bills.

“Comcast staff and agents explicitly lie by stating that the Broadcast TV Fee and the Regional Sports Fee are government-related fees or taxes over which Comcast has no control.”

A Guide to Comcast’s Junk Bill-Padding Fees

  • Broadcast TV Fee (up to $7.50): Ostensibly the cost of retransmission consent fees required to carry free, over the air stations on Comcast’s lineup. The amount varies depending on the fees paid in each local market, with a significant likelihood Comcast rounds those amounts up in ‘friendlier’ $0.25 increments. Introduced in 2014.
  • Digital Adapter ($3.99): Originally $1.99/mo when introduced in 2014, the fee covers the rental of a basic set-top box to continue receiving Comcast’s encrypted digital cable TV service on older “cable-ready” analog televisions that did not require a cable box in the past.
  • Gateway Rental ($10): This is the monthly rental fee for your cable modem, “gateway,” or Wi-Fi enabled router. You can buy your own equipment and avoid this fee. Recently, Comcast has offered customers a waiver of equipment charges if they upgrade to an X1 set-top box. But in practice the rental fees are stopped for your existing equipment only because Comcast has started charging rental fees for the new equipment it bundles with the upgrade.
  • HD/DVR Rental Fees (up to $10 a month for equipment you cannot buy outright yourself).
  • HD Technology Fee ($9.95): for viewing HD content on a set-top box you already pay up to $10 a month to use.
  • Service Protection Plan ($5.99): Was $1.45 (or less) per month for years until Comcast started hiking the price five years ago. Went from $1.99 in early 2012 to $5.99 in August 2017. Many customers sign up out of fear they will be charged between $36.50-$70 for a home visit from a Comcast technician dealing with a service problem. In reality, all the Service Protection Plan covers for certain is inside wiring that does not travel within a wall and protection from in-home service call fees.
  • Regional Sports Fee (up to $5): A way to pass on sports programming costs to every subscriber without boosting the published rate for cable television.

Comcast’s Service Protection Plan = “Service Call Extortion Insurance”

Comcast’s $5.99/month Service Protection Plan has been called “extortion insurance” by some customers who buy the plan to avoid Comcast’s notorious service charges for in-home service calls. Unlike many other cable companies, Comcast charges customers to visit their homes for any reason other than a true, company-caused service outage. A 2016 lawsuit in Washington alleged Comcast’s process for determining whether a service call is charged or free is subjective and frequently at the whim of the technician, who enters “fix codes” at the end of a service call. Some “fix codes” are free, others trigger service call visit fees. The lawsuit claims, “Comcast does not formally train the technicians on what each fix code means.”

Comcast customers that have faced the sting of an unwarranted service call charge often readily agree to Comcast’s sales push for its Service Protection Plan, which normally waives those fees. It doesn’t take much to trigger those fees. The Washington lawsuit noted that if a Comcast technician talks to the customer about how to use their DVR, program a remote control, reset their cable modem, or use Wi-Fi, it is considered “customer education,” which results in a service call charge.

“Thus, if a technician fixes a broken Comcast cable box but also provides ‘customer education’ during the service call, the customer will be charged for the service call if the technician applies the customer education code because customer education fix codes are chargeable,” the lawsuit said. “This occurred 2,078 times between 17 June 2014 and June 2016 [in Washington State].”

Customer education fees are waived for those who pay for Comcast’s Service Protection Plan.

Telecom Companies Prepare for Hurricane Irma

AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint, and T-Mobile are sending technicians to hundreds of cell sites across Florida to top off fuel generators, test back up batteries, and protect facilities from Hurricane Irma’s anticipated storm surge and associated flooding.

“Customers rely on us, especially during major storms,” said Joe York, AT&T Florida president. “That’s why we practice readiness drills and simulations throughout the year. We do all we can to have our networks prepared when severe weather strikes. We’ve worked for the past few days to position equipment and crews to respond to the storm. We’re closely linked with Florida public officials in their storm response efforts. With a storm of this size, we may have some outages. But if service goes down, we’ll do all we can to get it back up as fast as possible.”

With landfall possible along the Florida coast or inland, Verizon pointed out that in Florida, since last hurricane season, it has densified its network with 4G, fortified coverage along evacuation routes, put cell sites equipment on stilts and installed new systems in hospitals, government and emergency facilities, and high-traffic public areas.

“The country is only beginning to wrestle with recovery efforts from Harvey, and already, residents of Florida and the Caribbean are bracing for another potentially devastating storm in Hurricane Irma,” said Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure. “During times like these, the cost of staying connected to friends and loved ones should be the last thing on anyone’s mind, and we want to do what we can to support our customers across impacted areas.”

Hurricane Irma’s impact on Puerto Rico.

AT&T and Verizon Wireless are positioning portable cell tower trailers just outside of areas anticipated to take the brunt of the hurricane. AT&T in particular has a lot to prove as its network now includes FirstNet — a public private wireless broadband network for emergency responders that also depends on AT&T’s wireless networks. States are still in the process of opting in to AT&T’s FirstNet. The company has more than 700 pieces of emergency cellular equipment, including Cell on Wheels, Cell on Light Trucks, portable trailers and generators, and even the possibility of deploying Cells on Wings — airborne cell towers that can restore cell service in areas where roads are inaccessible because of floods.

Wireline companies are also positioning repair crews in the region to bring service back online. Other technicians are checking on emergency generator and battery backup power, particularly for maintaining landline service.

“Our team is working to prepare for extreme weather and will be there for our business and residential customers to quickly and safely restore any affected network services,” reports Frontier Communications, which provides service in former Verizon landline service areas.

The phone company is reminding landline customers that not all phones will operate during a power outage, but that does not mean Frontier’s landline network is down.

“Customers who rely on cordless phones should consider plugging a traditional corded phone directly into the wall. In the event of a commercial power outage, corded phones on the copper network will still operate; cordless ones will not,” the company says. “If commercial power is unavailable, generators and batteries in Frontier’s central offices serve as a backup. Phone lines generally will have enough power in them to use a corded phone. For customers using FiOS phone services, the battery backup will supply voice service for up to eight hours.”

The company also warns customers to watch out for damaged utility lines after the storm is over.

“Stay far away from any downed cables or power lines. Contact Frontier at 800-921-8102 (business) or 800-921-8101 (residential) to report any fallen telephone poles or cables.”

Some companies are offering customers a break on their bills:

  • Verizon: Landline customers will not pay any long distance charges for calls to Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Haiti, and the Turks and Caicos Islands from Sept. 6-9. Taxes and any government surcharges applicable will still apply. Verizon Wireless customers inside the U.S. will not be charged for texts or calls originating in the U.S. to those same countries and territories for the same period.
  • T-Mobile and MetroPCS customers in affected areas of Puerto Rico:  Will get calls, texts, and unlimited data free from Sept. 6th through Sept. 8th. This free service will be available to customers in the 787 and 939 area codes.
  • Sprint: Effective today through Sept. 9, 2017, Sprint will waive call, text and data overage fees for its Sprint, Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile customers in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. For Sprint, Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile customers in the U.S., the company will also waive all international call and text overage fees to the following: Anguilla, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Turks and Caicos, and British Virgin Islands. For the same period, Sprint will also waive roaming voice and text overage fees for its customers in those locations. Fees will be waived during the time specified.
  • Comcast: Opening more than 137,000 XFINITY Wi-Fi hotspots throughout Florida to anyone who needs them, including non-XFINITY customers, for free. For a map of XFINITY Wi-Fi hotspots, which are located both indoors and outdoors in places such as shopping districts, parks and businesses, visit Xfinity.com/wifi. Once in range of a hotspot, select the “xfinitywifi” network name in the list of available hotspots and then launch a browser. Comcast internet customers can sign in with their usernames and passwords and they will be automatically connected to XFINITY Wi-Fi hotspots in the future. Non-Comcast internet subscribers should visit the “Not an Xfinity Internet Customer” section on the sign-in page to get started. Non-customers will be able to renew their complimentary sessions every 2 hours through Sept. 15, 2017.

AT&T Offers These Customer Tips:

  • Keep your mobile phone battery charged. In case of a power outage, have another way to charge your phone like an extra battery, car charger or device-charging accessory. Applicable sales tax holidays are a great time to stock up on cell phone accessories.
  • Keep your mobile devices dry. The biggest threat to your device during a hurricane is water.  Keep it safe from the elements by storing it in a baggie or some other type of protective covering, like an Otterbox phone cover.
  • Have a family communications plan. Choose someone out of the area as a central contact.   Make sure all family members know who to contact if they get separated. Most importantly, practice your emergency plan in advance.
  • Program all of your emergency contact numbers and e-mail addresses into your mobile phone. Numbers should include the police department, fire station and hospital, as well as your family members.
  • Forward your home number to your mobile number in the event of an evacuation. Call forwarding is based out of the telephone central office. This means you will get calls from your landline phone even if your local telephone service is disrupted. If the central office is not operational, services such as voicemail and call forwarding may be useful.
  • Track the storm and access weather information on your mobile device. Many homes lose power during severe weather. You can stay up to speed as a DIRECTV customer, by streaming local weather channels using the DIRECTV application on your smartphone. If you subscribe to mobile DVR, you can also stream every channel directly to your phone.
  • Camera phones provide assistance. If you have a camera phone, take, store and send photos and video clips of damage to your insurance company.
  • Use location-based technology.  Services like AT&T Navigator and AT&T FamilyMap can help you find evacuation routes or avoid traffic from downed trees or power lines. They can also track a family member’s wireless device if you get separated.
  • Limit social media activity. Keep social media activity to a minimum during and after a storm to limit network congestion and allow for emergency communications to go through.

Business Tips:

  • Set up a call-forwarding service to a backup location. Set up a single or multiple hotline number(s) for employees, their families, customers and partners so they all know about the business situation and emergency plan.
  • Back up data to the Cloud. Routinely back up files to an off-site location.
  • Outline detailed plans for evacuation and shelter-in-place. Practice these plans (employee training, etc.). Establish a backup location for your business and meeting place for all employees.
  • Assemble a crisis-management team. Coordinate efforts with neighboring businesses and building management. Disasters that affect your suppliers also affect your business. Outline a plan for supply chain continuity for business needs.

Keeping the lines open for emergencies:

During evacuations, the storm event and its aftermath, network resources will likely be taxed. To help ensure that emergency personnel have open lines, keep these tips in mind:

  • Text messaging. During an emergency situation, text messages may go through more quickly than voice calls because they require fewer network resources. Depending on your text or data plan, additional charges may apply.
  • Be prepared for high call volume. During an emergency, many people are trying to use their phones at the same time. The increased calling volume may create network congestion, leading to “fast busy” signals on your wireless phone or a slow dial tone on your landline phone. If this happens, hang up, wait several seconds and then try the call again. This allows your original call data to clear the network before you try again.
  • Keep non-emergency calls to a minimum, and limit your calls to the most important ones. If there is severe weather, chances are many people will be attempting to place calls to loved ones, friends and business associates.

Additional information and tips for disaster preparedness can be found at www.att.com/vitalconnections.

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  • LG: It is now Sept. 23rd, and the same is true. I am using a neighbor's satellite internet while my Comcast is still out. Many promises of "by 7pm if n...
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  • Lee: Those who own the land leased to cell towers, they should NOT have sold the land, need to get good legal council on the terms of the lease if the comp...
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