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On the Telecommunications Battlefield: Communiques From The Front Line

Phillip Dampier August 7, 2008 Competition, Frontier 5 Comments

Frontier vs. Time Warner. Frontier vs. Comcast. Frontier vs. NPG Cable. Across 24 states, passing nearly 3,000,000 households, some in America’s smallest towns and others in large cities, Frontier Communications is engaged in a battle of survival in an increasingly competitive American telecommunications marketplace.

In this series examining Frontier Communications, today’s report investigates the competitive realities of a hotly competitive telecommunications industry, becoming more concentrated by the day.    How does Frontier intend to survive and grow, and is it realistic to assume it can in an environment that demands major investments in the delivery of high quality video, low-priced telephone service, and reliable broadband that may be beyond its reach?   Yesterday, we saw how Frontier is attempting to control expenses with the plan to implement a 5GB usage cap on its broadband customers.   Today, we take a look at how Frontier attempts to maintain its market share and deal with customer defections.   Tomorrow, we take a closer look at how quickly Frontier’s telephone line business is losing ground to its competitors.

Frontier’s Background At A Glance

NPG Cable's Rate Card & Channel Lineup In Bullhead City, Arizona. How much of a competitive threat is a cable company without a spellchecker?

Frontier Communications, formerly Citizens Communications, primarily runs originally independent telephone companies in rural and exurban areas bypassed by the former Bell System. The company’s most significant presence is in the 585 area code, home to Rochester, New York. But from Elk Grove, California and Bullhead City, Arizona eastward to the AuSable Valley in central New York to Bluefield, West Virginia, a significant number of Frontier customers are also in some of America’s  small towns and cities.

The size of a community where Frontier operates is often indicative of how much competition the company faces.  Some of Frontier’s most difficult challenges can be found in the  Rochester, N.Y. metropolitan area, numbering nearly 1,000,000 people, where a well entrenched Time Warner has made deep inroads into Frontier’s telephone access line business, eats Frontier for breakfast in the video delivery business, and has been a dominant player in the broadband marketplace since Road Runner arrived  in 1998.

In more rural communities, Frontier often has it much easier,  free from  cable competition  in some  areas, or  competing with a small independent cable company that may be relying on its own aging infrastructure and cannot afford to engage in price and service wars. Where Frontier stands as the lone player or only faces token competition from a small cable company, consumers will likely find  lower speed broadband at higher-than-average prices.

The Threat From Big Cable

Comcast's Product Bundles Threaten Frontier In Many of Their Service Territories

Comcast's Product Bundles Threaten Frontier In Many of Their Service Territories

The cable television industry’s entry into telephone service  is among the biggest threats Frontier faces in maintaining their traditional primary revenue source: residential and business wired telephone lines.

Deploying  voice over IP technology, Comcast and Time Warner, the nation’s largest cable operators, have made significant inroads into Frontier’s telephone business where they compete.   Now, even smaller players in the cable industry are prepared to offer voice over IP service to customers.

Joining cable at the table are  mobile telephone companies like Verizon Wireless, Sprint, and AT&T which are also eroding Frontier’s  phone line business  as more people in America  rely exclusively on their mobile phone for telephone service.

How Cable Companies Pick Off Frontier’s Customers

Product Bundling & Discounting: The most important component of cable’s strategy against Frontier is cable’s product bundle, combining a voice over IP telephone line, a cable television package, and a high speed data product. Usually marketed as a “triple play” or “all the best” package, consumers are offered discounts based on the number of components of a package they combine. The more components, the greater the discount.

The product bundle offered by the cable industry has a competitive advantage because cable companies almost always have a more advanced network to deliver these products. Throughout the 1990s, most cable systems spent millions rebuilding their systems to accommodate increasing bandwidth requirements.   The result is a considerably larger pipeline used to deliver data, video, and telephone services.

Frontier’s network is considerably more dated, largely dependent on copper wire strung on telephone poles. While the company has made significant investments in their own  network, including some fiber optics,  in the end, they still rely on the same copper wire infrastructure the industry has used for nearly 100 years to connect to your home or office.

AT&T's U-verse service can deliver the goods over copper wire, but you need deep pockets to develop and deploy this technology.  Are Frontier's deep enough?

AT&T's U-verse service can deliver the goods over copper wire, but you need deep pockets to develop and deploy this technology. Are Frontier's deep enough?

Although this copper network is suitable for traditional telephone service, and can usually deliver a respectable data service over DSL, the video component has been sorely lacking. While AT&T is testing its U-verse video-over-copper technology in limited markets, Frontier is stuck  reselling Dish Network, the  smaller player in the satellite television marketplace.

Many consumers are resistant to satellite dishes of any size attached to their homes, and the cable industry’s response to Frontier has been the same as to DirecTV and Dish Network themselves: ugly satellite  dishes that suffer from rain/snow fade, require expensive service calls and maintenance, and a limitation on the number of TV sets you can hook up.   Also, no local channels in many areas.   In the end, most people who were even slightly uncomfortable with satellite-delivered TV elected to just stick with what they already had: cable television.

Results of the Dish Network partnership continue to be underwhelming. Sources tell Stop the Cap! the satellite service only succeeds in areas where there is no cable competitor, the customer was already a Dish Network subscriber independent of Frontier, or the incumbent cable company is hampered by a limited channel lineup, no HD channels, or exceptionally bad service. In Rochester, Frontier is actually losing more Dish Network customers than it is adding, and growth is  anemic in many other Frontier regions as well.

Frontier’s inability to provide a comparable quality television service is a critical defect in their competition with cable.

Claiming Inferior Product Quality:  The cable industry wasted no time attacking Frontier’s DSL product, accusing it of not performing consistently. Uneven telephone line quality, distance from the telephone company central office, and signal ingress (when interference or crosstalk gets into wiring and degrades the signal) can all dramatically slow a DSL customer’s  broadband speeds. The cable industry’s marketing often pillories DSL service because of its inability to offer anything close to a speed guarantee, and the fact  it is often slower than cable’s competing product no matter how good your line is.

In areas where a large cable competitor exists, traditionally  that cable operator will have the fastest speed broadband package to sell to customers in that market. This forces Frontier to compete on price.   In return for a significant discount, Frontier  usually locks customers into multi-year service agreements which discourage its customers from  switching to a competitor.   Unfortunately, the company’s inferior product bundle and  long term contract commitments have made it difficult to convince cable customers to switch to Frontier,  particularly if it means taking their video package from Dish Network.

Lampooning Questionable Marketing Practices: In Rochester, Time Warner’s marketing people have had no trouble finding new ways to attack Frontier in its advertising.   While Frontier may be able to pull off some of their hidden extra charges, long term contracts, and restrictive service policies in more rural communities, most of those practices meet strong criticism in Time Warner’s advertising.

Among the more common refrains in Time Warner ads  dismissing Frontier’s DSL  product include:

  • Charging a “modem rental fee” as part of Frontier’s DSL service, even if you can supply your own DSL modem.

  • Locking customers into a term commitment contract (often lasting several years) for DSL service that offers lower speeds than Time Warner’s Road Runner service and charging a substantial early termination fee for those dissatisfied with their broadband experience.

  • Charging for ancillary support services like Frontier’s “Peace of Mind” that Time Warner claims to offer at no charge.

The latest decision to impose a 5GB usage cap on customers is marketing gold for the cable companies competing with Frontier, perhaps only tempered  by the fact they are also studying whether to apply their own usage caps.

Relentless Marketing: One of the fringe benefits of owning your own video distribution network is the ability to pepper your existing customers with near-constant advertising promoting your own products while denigrating the competition. Cable customers can see an average of three product promotion spots every hour from their cable company trying to convince them to upgrade, attempting to bolster customer loyalty, or simply slashing and burning whatever the telephone company or satellite dish company is offering. Frontier has  a limited ability to counter this.

In areas of significant competition, the battle usually rages in your mailbox, with  a relentless flood of  promotional postcards and mailers, as well as ad buys on local television/radio stations and local newspapers. But cable retains an important advantage because of their ability to insert advertising into basic cable channels, usually at no cost to them.   Frontier doesn’t own their video distribution network – they are reselling someone else’s.

Frontier’s Battle Plan

Welcome to DeLand, Florida: Home of Frontier's Customer Care Center

Welcome to DeLand, Florida: Home of Frontier's Customer Care Center

Frontier’s plan to compete with cable includes  their own marketing by mailbox, and sponsoring local community events and charities to leverage free media and consumer exposure to the company brand to nurture positive feelings  about the company.

The company also places a high priority on attempting to position themselves as “local” players in the market – a company made up of local employees who customers supposedly will interact with on a daily basis. Unfortunately for them, most customers will likely only interact with one of their customer care call centers such as the one  in DeLand, Florida which is localism IF you live, work and play in DeLand.

Frontier also maintains call centers in Henrietta, New York and Burnsville, Minnesota which are designed to replace what used to be local customer service call centers in more than a dozen  Frontier areas.   Some 500 people were hired to answer phones in DeLand for Frontier.   This begs the question how many people lost those jobs in the various local communities where Frontier operates.

Call center employees are on Frontier’s competitive front line, trying to  maintain customer loyalty, convince customers to upgrade their service packages, and above all, remain with Frontier and don’t cancel anything.

They need to maintain the battle, because cable competitors continue to erode their residential business. The company’s deactivations of high speed data services and the ongoing loss of telephone lines are considerably above the company’s own estimates.

One significant bright spot Frontier has maintained is delivering commercial broadband to businesses.

Frontier has a significant advantage in many offices, business parks, and other industrial areas bypassed by their cable competitors. Installation costs to wire a building with coaxial cable often run into the tens of thousands of dollars, an expense borne by the company, the landlord, or a combination of the two. But every business has telephone service, which usually guarantees potential access to DSL service from Frontier. Small and medium sized businesses have become loyal Frontier commercial customers because of low installation costs and a reasonable pricing plan that is typically far more cost effective than what cable is offering. Cable modem commercial access pricing models are usually tailored to a range of product speeds at prices that, when compared with what Frontier can offer, are not competitive.

Frontier’s ability to effectively compete against cable will, in the end, come down to the company’s ability to invest in their network and be able to match what is on offer from the cable operator, and new competitors yet to emerge.    Some former Baby Bell telephone companies like AT&T are investing enormous sums to leverage their existing network (their U-verse product) or starting over from scratch (Verizon’s fiber optic cable to the home FIOS project).

To date, Frontier’s status as a smaller player has meant their investments in these efforts pale in comparison to their larger brethren.   They include experimenting with deploying fiber optic cable to new housing developments and selected mass density buildings (apartments, offices) in Rochester, building community wi-fi networks to create a new market for wireless Internet access, and other investments in their network distribution system.   If they cannot invest enough, fast enough, to keep up, they will become ripe for a merger with a larger player in the market or get wiped out by the competition.

In the meantime,  to quote company chairwoman and CEO Maggie Wilderotter, Frontier intends to “stay the course” for the rest of the year.

We’ll have to wait and see if that’s good enough.

Frontier Website: Cap Language Revised, But Inconsistencies Remain

Phillip Dampier August 6, 2008 Data Caps, Frontier 9 Comments

Frontier’s webmasters have been working overtime today apparently doing some damage control, as well as issuing some clarifications about their new usage caps.   But like much of the mixed and muddied message customer service representatives are sending customers, the website now contains several inconsistencies and contradictions between the product description page and the Acceptable Use Policy.

Because of the changing story, we’ve decided to begin capturing and saving select pages from Frontier’s website and will be adding them to a new Reference Library under construction.   From there, you can download and save Adobe PDF versions of captured web pages, dated for your convenience.   Unfortunately, with the shifting positions of Frontier, what may be on the website today may be gone tomorrow.   If engaged in an effort to cancel service, it may be useful to have some of these pages available to reference, because customer service representatives may not be able to locate them.

Let’s breakdown what has changed in the last 24 hours.

First, it’s obvious readers are making a difference.   Frontier realizes they have a public relations problem on their hands of their own making.   The complaint calls and cancellation requests have clearly made an appropriate impact on the company, although not to the point of shelving the idea of a usage cap.   The company has instead decided to try and manage the story more carefully in hopes of controlling the message.   Unfortunately for them, as long as they want to impose caps on customers, we will be here to debunk the fictional excuses, expose the inconsistencies, and educate consumers about why they should not be convinced that less equals more.

Second, the original Acceptable Use Policy dated July 23, 2008 for residential customers remains in place:

Customers must comply with all Frontier network, bandwidth, data storage and usage limitations. Frontier may suspend, terminate or apply additional charges to the Service if such usage exceeds a reasonable amount of usage. A reasonable amount of usage is defined as 5GB combined upload and download consumption during the course of a 30-day billing period.

This is now in direct contradiction with a new section attached to the product information page for the residential DSL product, which includes this new language:

If I hit 5GB will my service be interrupted?
No. Your service will not be interrupted at 5Gb. You will continue to use our High Speed Internet service without disruption.

Does Frontier plan to limit my use of the Internet?
No, there are no plans to limit customer usage. On average a Frontier High-Speed Internet customer uses less than 1.5GB per month. Frontier residential High-Speed Internet service comes with 5G per month (about 5,000 Megabytes), which is more than double the monthly consumption of most of our subscribers.

We appreciate the company’s apparent new policy not to suspend or terminate accounts for exceeding their 5GB usage cap, but their Acceptable Use Policy requires immediate revision to ensure consistency.

Third, the newest promotional page includes this laugh-out-loud passage.   If you are seriously considering imposing a draconian usage cap of 5GB, which is obviously so unacceptable to a significant number of your customers that are calling to complain and cancel service, maybe this passage  is just pushing things a little too far:

We all love the Internet, and Frontier is committed to offering you all the bandwidth you need and want to take full advantage of the Web! Our basic residential Internet packages offers 5GB usage — that’s the equivalent of 500,000 basic text e-mails, 2,500 Photos, 40,000 Web Pages, over 300 Hours of Online Game Time, 1,250 downloaded songs, or a mixture of the above!

This kind of writing convinces me the folks in Frontier’s Marketing Department have finally joined the party.   Welcome aboard, but remember, if customers were upset enough to protest a 5GB usage cap, rubbing it in their face by telling them you love the Internet and are committed to offering all the bandwidth “you need” (if the year is 1988 and you have a 1200bps dial-up modem) will be seen as fighting words.   Telling customers 5GB a month lets you take full advantage of the Web is fine, if you never do anything except browse low density web pages.   Maybe we can Gopher and Telnet some things as well.   Somehow I doubt the marketing people will understand the irony of either.

The rest doesn’t get much better.   If Frontier wants to learn more about The Internets, they can use The Google to read about average customer reactions to broadband user caps and exactly what defines a “power user.”   Someone who exceeds 5GB a month hardly qualifies.   Also, another inconsistency:  If Frontier has not implemented a usage cap plan, then why does the language implementing it remain in the Residential Acceptable Use Policy?

What are “bandwidth caps” and what does it mean for Internet users?
“Caps” are thresholds where Internet Service Providers could deem usage in excess of “normal” usage. For the majority of our users, bandwidth caps will not be reached. However, some users have multiple servers or computers or download huge files that demand large amounts of available bandwidth. In response to these “power users,” the industry is moving toward “tiered usage” plans that would be applicable when consumption reaches certain bandwidth levels. This type of plan would result in heavy users paying for their fair share of usage and will make sure that average users do not subsidize high-usage consumers. Other Internet Service Providers like Comcast and Time Warner are testing these tiered usage plans. Frontier has not implemented tiered usage plans and will continue to evaluate if and when they would be necessary. If and when Frontier implements a tiered usage plan pricing and usage information will be communicated to all High-Speed customers.

Before we go, let me add there is a bit of good news from Frontier today, which is to their credit, assuming they publish this policy in the form of a written guarantee to customers, which amend their term contracts to assure them this language will remain in place regardless of if it appears on the website or not.   Until a written assurance is in hand, a promotional  blurb on a product description page is  insufficient to make me withdraw my recommendation to cancel service within the 30 day opt-out window:

If Frontier rolls out tiered usage plans, will my Pricing / Plan change if I am on a Frontier Price Protection Plan?
Pricing for customers on Frontier’s Price Protection Plan will not change during your initial term commitment if we roll out tiered usage plans.

This language should be slightly modified to state that any overage fees for bandwidth in excess of 5GB do not apply to Frontier Price Protection Plan customers, and that no penalty or disruption in service will occur if a customer exceeds the 5GB usage cap planned for more  formal implementation in the near future.   Assuming that language is in place, it means that customers on a 12-36 term commitment will not have to worry about any usage caps and they will not apply to them for the remainder of their contract. But, again, an inconsistency remains here as well.   The Acceptable Use Policy clearly states the 5GB limit is in place right now.   Further reference to this should also be included on the Terms & Conditions page, which also contains the opt-out clause, to clarify that usage caps do not apply to customers with a contract that does not specifically include them.

Stop the Cap! continues to call on Frontier to discard the usage cap limitation altogether.   Next week, we’ll have some better ideas for Frontier to consider that will not alienate their customer base and positions them to begin competing more effectively in their service areas.

This article was updated at 11:58pm, August 6, 2008 and replaces language from an article entitled “Breaking News” posted earlier this evening.

Frontier Reveals Plans of Usage Cap Implementation to Employees; Leaves Customers In The Dark Until It’s A Done Deal

Phillip Dampier August 6, 2008 Broadband "Shortage", Competition, Data Caps, Frontier 12 Comments

Stop the Cap! has obtained new evidence outlining the scheduled implementation of Frontier’s new usage cap, its rationale, and how the company intends to convince customers that a usage cap is right for them.

New documents  made available exclusively to Stop the Cap! show a company relying on highly questionable, possibly manipulated data to argue for usage caps, at a time when many cap opponents have accused the broadband industry of fixing the facts around the narrative of  a need for metered Internet service.   The documents also raise new questions about whether company officials are using actual Frontier usage data, which we easily obtained from our own sources, or if they are simply telling a different version of reality to their employees.

The Implementation Plan

Despite the representations by Frontier customer service made to several readers of Stop the Cap!, there definitely is a 5GB usage cap, as published on the company’s website.   However, sources tell us the wording of the usage cap announcement may not have been completely vetted by company officials, and its appearance may have been premature.   The company has started to tweak the language on the page, perhaps in response to the predictable backlash, now adding language to tell customers they will not  be charged any overuse fees or face service interruption if they exceed the cap at this time.

Company officials are following a careful plan, the details of which we have obtained,  to roll out the usage cap in Frontier service areas,  starting with notification of the “problem of bandwidth usage” in a newsletter to be mailed to customers in September, stating Frontier’s position on the problems of bandwidth consumption and inviting a dialogue on the issue.

Company officials will also continue to  use the same flawed statistics published on their website to give customers a measure of what 5GB of usage constitutes.   No independent evidence backing up their claim of a bandwidth consumption problem, or the actual impact on Frontier’s network, or their resulting costs, will be provided to consumers.

With the ultimate outcome already pre-determined by company officials, the implementation of a 5GB cap is already underway across all of their residential DSL product lines (which vary according to speed provided).   Company officials will also conduct focus group testing and further marketing research in an effort to determine how to market the new service limitations, and convince customers that a 5GB  monthly cap is a reasonable and fair solution.

The company will also announce bandwidth measurement tools available to subscribers starting in 2009, so they can monitor just how rapidly they will exceed Frontier’s usage caps.

Customers exceeding 5GB per month will eventually be offered an option to consume more bandwidth at yet-to-be-determined rates, but there are questions as to whether an unlimited consumption plan will ever be available from Frontier.

The rationale for the cap, outlined in different documents  supplied to Stop the Cap!, varies according to who the document’s audience is.   Customer service personnel are being told the usage cap is a result of excessive bandwidth consumption.   But another document emphasizes the increased revenue potential a capped DSL product provides.

This raises new questions about whether the usage cap is truly intended to be a reasonable solution to their claims of a “broadband crisis,” or a financial rescue plan to enhance profits and offset substantial losses from their other divisions, particularly traditional telephone service.   Company officials draw direct lines between the  growing returns available from broadband services and how that revenue has become increasingly important to company profits as well as shareholder value and return in a difficult economic environment.

It’s a win-win for any company that can successfully increase profits, decrease investment in infrastructure, and convince customers that the resulting dramatic reduction in service represents a  positive change.

“The average customer uses less than 1.5GB per month”

Frontier's Idea of Dialogue With Customers: "You Give Us Your Money & We Promise To Give You Less Service."

Remarkably, Frontier has told employees that the average customer uses less than 1.5GB of usage per month. But Stop the Cap! has seen company data which suggests otherwise, and that raises questions as to whether company management is really aware of the actual usage profile of their customers, or if they are simply not disclosing the facts to employees now forced to defend their 5GB “solution.”

For instance, we have noted that in just one division, Elk Grove, California, more than 40% of customers already well-exceed 5GB of usage per month, often consuming more than 20GB of usage.   In other divisions, the numbers tell a story wildly different from what Frontier management is telling their employees.

We’ve also seen figures that illustrate the myth of the “bandwidth hog.”   While every division has stories of a handful of heavy users obviously running a torrent client or server 24 hours a day, which can consume hundreds of gigabytes of usage over a  month, there is absolutely no evidence those users represent a growing percentage of Frontier’s customers.   Additionally, Frontier’s existing acceptable use policies already provide avenues for the company to address those engaged in prohibited activities without punishing their entire customer base.

In fact, the company’s own research shows broadband usage growth increasing, but at a largely even rate, as customers begin to take advantage of new broadband-tailored services, such as streaming video.

It’s also notable Frontier has a partnership with Netflix to provide new customers with the benefits of a Netflix membership when signing up to a Frontier product bundle.   Ironically, Netflix is launching a new service to deliver video content to subscribers who use a home terminal sold by the company that connects to their broadband service.   Frontier customers attempting to use the service will exceed their usage cap just using the service a few times per month.

The overall Internet bandwidth growth pattern is comparable across many providers, and is not out of line with historical averages.   To be sure, the Internet is rapidly growing, but so are the resources to manage that growth.   Many costs, such as bandwidth, are actually declining, particularly for the industry’s largest players on a “per-gigabyte” basis.

Maggie Wilderotter, CEO of Frontier Communications, uses numbers that simply don’t add up:

Broadband usage consumption at Frontier in on track to increase by 100% year over year. It is important to note that close to 80% of our customers will NOT REACH the 5 Gb cap for several years.

Let’s do the math.   Using their own figures, which are disputed by their own internal numbers, let’s discover what “several years” equals in Frontier time:

Frontier’s Predicted Usage Trend

January 1, 2008   Customer utilizes 1.5GB usage
January 1, 2009   Customer utilizes 3GB usage
January 1, 2010   Customer utilizes 6GB usage

If you are a Frontier DSL customer in western New York, even relying on their numbers disclosed to employees, by the time you are finished raking your leaves in the fall of 2010, you will already be considered a “bandwidth hog” by Frontier, subject to overuse penalties.

We’re Doing This Because They’re Doing It

Prominent among Frontier’s reasons for implementing a bandwidth usage cap is that other companies are doing it.   As Stop the Cap! has observed, the lack of competition in many areas has allowed a duopoly of broadband providers to emerge, easily allowing for both companies to mirror rate increases and restrictions without fear of mass subscriber defection.

Frontier also complains it is forced to invest millions of dollars in their network and infrastructure as a result of Internet growth.   Their latest 10-Q SEC filing suggest a lower amount, but regardless, these kinds of investments have always been a factor in broadband services.   Independent research of bandwidth usage illustrate the trends are completely in line with well-predicted trends made several years ago without panic from bandwidth providers, and many of these costs also come from broadband subscriber growth, which Frontier itself trumpets as a success in its messages to employees.

The challenge Frontier faces is that it remains a small player in a narrowing field of large national providers.   Larger companies with more resources enjoy greater economy of scale in both equipment and bandwidth costs, and the ability to leverage multiple services (video, telephone, and very high speed data) over a high capacity fiber optic or hybrid fiber/coaxial network.   Those stuck with aging copper wire on telephone poles are at an immediate disadvantage.

Frontier recognizes these challenges, and has managed to find the financial resources to continue acquiring additional companies to incorporate into its portfolio, most recently including Commonwealth Telephone Enterprises,  Inc. ($1.1 billion), Global Valley Networks, Inc. and GVN Services through  a purchase from Country Road Communications,  LLC ($62 million).   It’s also attempting to build its own fiber-to-the-home network in limited areas, typically in new housing developments or apartment buildings.

As  Stop the Cap! will reveal in an exclusive report later this week, Frontier and other traditional wireline telephone companies are rapidly losing revenue from traditional telephone subscribers as they disconnect service, relying on their wireless phone or competing voice over IP telephone services.  Broadband remains a shining beacon in a sea of economic challenges the traditional telephone company industry faces. The push for profitability of this successful product line is becoming more critical than ever.   Limiting subscriber use enhances those profits.

Run The Clock Out On The Contract Customer

Frontier’s customer service representatives have been told to resist efforts by consumers with term contracts with the company to pursue their right to terminate service without incurring any early termination fees.   We have learned that customer service representatives have been instructed to tell customers trapped in multi-year DSL contracts that  Frontier is not currently enforcing a usage cap, so there is nothing for them to opt-out from.

But as Stop the Cap! has already reported, customers under contract have the right to exit that contract if the company unilaterally attempts to change the terms.   Frontier’s own marketing tells customers a “price protection agreement,” a feature of a term contract, protects them from price increases for the balance of the contract.   But with a 5GB usage cap, those exceeding the cap face significant penalties or overage fees for doing so beginning as early as next year.   Where’s the price protection?

Through an opt-out procedure the company includes in its terms and conditions, customers have 30 days to notify the company it does not accept the material change a 5GB usage cap represents to their contract.   After 30 days, continued use of the service constitutes acceptance of the new terms going forward under an existing contract.

Until Frontier guarantees in writing that a customer under contract will be exempted from any usage cap or corresponding overage fees for the balance of their contract, we continue to recommend the consumer cancel their contracts within the 30 day window that opened on July 23, 2008 when the company first published a notice to customers of the 5GB usage cap.

“We want to establish a dialogue with customers.”   OK, Here’s What We Have To Say

Although the company claims to want to take the time to engage in a dialogue with customers, their actions thus far have largely been in one direction.   In the material we were able to review, it’s clear the company has already determined exactly what steps it plans to take and has a timeline for doing so.   The only thing left is the focus group and market research to try and find a way to sell their customers on their plans and do damage control.

Stop the Cap! continues to urge Frontier, a secondary competitor in many markets, to reconsider their plans to implement this usage cap.   In addition to cannibalizing your own customer base, who will flee in greater numbers to competitors as consumers become educated about the impact of such caps, this kind of usage capped service at current pricing attracts regulatory review of the current state of broadband service in this country.

More importantly, this may well represent the biggest missed opportunity to deliver a marketing win for Frontier in the history of the company.   DSL has managed to survive against cable competition because it is willing to compete on price, even if it cannot always match the speeds that cable and fiber optic platforms can deliver.   To survive in this marketplace, being willing to deliver that lower price and more flexibility is the only way DSL can ultimately succeed in areas where a faster competitor is available.

A 5GB capped DSL service in metro Rochester against Road Runner guarantees the end of Frontier DSL as a meaningful player in that market, especially if Time-Warner capitalizes on the cap in their marketing, which is likely.   In areas where Verizon FiOS is rolling out service, Frontier employees should be updating their resumes and start looking for work elsewhere.   Your career path at Frontier ends where Verizon’s unlimited, extremely fast, and competitively priced fiber optic broadband network begins.

It’s not too late to make the right choice and plug into the reality of today’s broadband marketplace.  That’s our dialogue to you, with the sincere hope Frontier executives will pick up what we’re putting down before the last customer out the door switches off the lights.

Coming Up Tomorrow: How Frontier Competes With Time-Warner & Other Providers
Friday: Frontier’s Losses Accelerate in The Phone Line Business
And next week: Undoing the Damage; Becoming a More Effective Competitor & Customer Reaction to Frontier’s Bandwidth Cap Plans

Frontier’s Taffy Pull: You Can’t Cancel For A Cap We Have But Say We Don’t Have Except We Do, But Not Right Now

Phillip Dampier August 5, 2008 Data Caps, Frontier 5 Comments
Behind the 8 Ball: What Will Frontier's Magic 8-Ball Reveal To You?

Behind the 8 Ball: What Will Frontier's Magic 8-Ball Reveal To You?

Frontier Communications continues to bungle the implementation of their 5GB usage cap, with continuing reports that a good number of their own  customer service representatives are clueless they even have one (despite people reading it to them off their own website.)   But once you convince them there is one, in all its red, black, and white glory, then it’s time to play Frontier’s Magic 8 Ball Excuse-O-Matic as to why you can’t leave because they don’t have a cap even if they do!

Please share your experiences on our comment section (link is just below the headline of this article), so we can continue to compile the Many Faces of Frontier: Why They Just Don’t Want to Let You Go.   But also read on as to why you cannot simply take their CSR’s at their word.

Frontier Excuse-o-Matic v1.0: The Many Faces of Frontier

“What Usage Cap?”
“Frontier Doesn’t Have Any Usage Cap or Limits.”
“We’re not enforcing that right now.”
“It will be almost impossible to reach that cap.”
“There is a cap, but not really because we don’t have one.”
“Really?   I never heard of that and I work here!”
“Wow, you are the first person to tell me that. That’s too low –  you are mistaken.”
“We aren’t doing that in your area.”
“That is only for our wi-fi service.”
“The cap is in place to help your computer.”
“There is nothing to opt out from.”
“We aren’t currently monitoring or metering usage so we can’t not apply it to you.”
“There is no one who can cancel your contract without a fee.”
“I’ll have a supervisor call you in 24 to 48 hours.”

Frontier’s chaos theory of customer service notwithstanding, subscribers cannot afford to simply accept these kinds of word salad answers.   Because even if their customer service representatives swear up and down it doesn’t apply, the legal department… the ones that actually write the contracts they will then enforce no matter what they tell you on the phone, has made it crystal clear it absolutely does apply and they have taken the action of publishing it, in accordance with their own terms and conditions, in a way that makes it completely enforceable after the 30-day opt out window ends.   Nothing precludes them from applying it now and punitively enforcing later… after the opt out window expires, of course.

Now Frontier can make this boneheaded bungling of a PR move go away in just minutes.   And Stop the Cap continues to call on Frontier to remove the 5GB usage cap language from their website. After all, if they aren’t planning to enforce it, then why is it there?   Just to inflame customers and tie up customer service lines?

Insist on cancellation with no early penalty fee and specifically follow the instructions, step-by-step, to make the case.   If you are on a contract with an early cancellation policy, Frontier must honor their own terms and conditions.   They have three options:

  1. Give you a written guarantee no usage cap will apply for the remainder of your contract
  2. Honor your request to terminate the contract today with no penalty because you do not accept their changes.
  3. Rescind the cap language and remove it entirely from the website.

Please also consider going to the Executive Office customer service department, and continue to report your experiences to us.   We have now contacted both the Attorney General of the State of New York and the Public Service Commission regarding this matter.   We have reported Frontier’s attempts to trap customers with a material change to their service contract without allowing them to exercise the right to opt out of that change within Frontier’s own specified window.   Please also continue to watch this site – it may be necessary for you to file a formal complaint as part of the investigation that may be undertaken.   We will help you with that procedure if it comes to that.   Others have reported they have been able to successfully cancel, so it’s a matter of reaching the right CSR or making the case in a way that gives them no other choice.

NBC Plans to Stream NFL Football This Fall: A False Start Called for Capped Customers

Phillip Dampier August 4, 2008 Broadband "Shortage", Data Caps, Frontier, Online Video Comments Off on NBC Plans to Stream NFL Football This Fall: A False Start Called for Capped Customers

NBC has announced plans to stream its National Football League games live online this fall, with exclusive access to extra camera angles and multiple video streams, in near high definition broadband bitrates.   Viewers will also have access to live blogging from NBC sports announcers and game highlights and live statistics.

NBC & The National Football League plan to stream pro football this fall, but those with usage capped broadband will probably have to stick with old fashioned TV to watch.

NBC & The National Football League plan to stream pro football this fall, but those with usage capped broadband will probably have to stick with old fashioned TV to watch.

Unfortunately, broadband customers on usage capped services need not apply – the video quality will consume too much bandwidth and will drive many customers well over their monthly caps before the season comes to an end.   So while Verizon FiOS customers will be able to sit back, popcorn in hand, Frontier DSL customers will need to stick to the live blogging, text based web pages,  and hope their favorite game is on local television.

NBC has also warned metered broadband customers to avoid the 2,200 live hours of Olympics coverage starting in the next few days.   It will simply be untenable for a usage capped customer to spend time viewing live coverage without quickly exceeding their usage cap.

It’s just another example of the impact usage caps bring to Americans trying to take advantage of the latest benefits the broadband platform can provide.   Virtually every day, customers will find another application they simply cannot afford to access, all because of unjustified bandwidth limitations.

The NBC logo is a registered trademark of NBC/Universal.   NFL and the NFL shield design are registered trademarks of the National Football League.   Their use does not constitute approval of the content herein.

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