In the Indianapolis area, Internet service ranked as the No. 2 most complained about category on Angie's List in 2011, while phone services ranked No. 3 and TV services came in at No. 8, according to member reports.
Random outages that disrupt your Internet connection, interrupt a favorite television show or drop an important phone call. Agonizing calls to customer service representatives, whose promised fixes don’t materialize. Long wait times, erratic bills and surprise fees.
These consumer disconnects with Internet, TV and phone services attract enough member static that telecommunication services annually rank among the most complained about categories on Angie’s List.
In the Indianapolis area, Internet service ranked as the No. 2 most complained about category in 2011, while phone services ranked No. 3 and TV services came in at No. 8, according to member reports. Out of about 500 Angie’s List members responding to a recent online poll, 54 percent report having a poor experience with one of these services, with most complaining about technical difficulties, poor customer service and billing or fee issues. Also, nearly 40 percent report spending more than $200 on their monthly bill.
Getting the best deal
To find the best deal and service in a given area, experts say consumers need to do their due diligence before signing a contract, understand exactly which services, cable TV channels or broadband speed they need and be prepared to play the squeaky wheel.
David Hazen, a member who runs a highly rated handyman business from his Carmel, Ind., home, says his four-year ordeal of repeated interruptions to his Internet, cable TV and home phone service from Bright House Networks ended only after he filed a negative report on the company’s Indianapolis location in October and sought help through the Angie’s List complaint resolution process. “I wanted the service,” he says. “I work out of my home. I had the feeling that as an individual, they didn’t respect me, but if I put it on a public forum, that might help.”
Who provides your broadband service?Wonder what broadband providers service your area and at what speeds?
Check out providers at indianabroadbandmap.com, then check your providers on Angie’s List to see how they rate.
Hazen, who pays Bright House $170 a month for the bundled services, says he called the company repeatedly. “They would always try to go back to the start of their process,” Hazen says, adding that he refused to talk to anyone but a supervisor. “That person would say they would call me back tomorrow and it would never happen. In the meantime, I would call again. I decided I was going to nag them to death. I made up my mind that if they were going to waste my time, I was going to waste theirs.” He estimates technicians visited his home 30 times, but failed to fix the problem before he sought help from Angie’s List.
Help from Angie’s List
After the AL complaint resolution team contacted Bright House, Hazen says a supervisor and technician came to his home to fix the problem, so he decided to drop the case and give the company one last chance.
He says Bright House finally corrected the problem by completely replacing his cable line and other equipment. However, Hazen says that because Bright House originally told him the problem stemmed from his living in a wooded area, he spent more than $4,000 on a new computer, two routers and technical consulting in the last four years.
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Bright House corporate spokesman Donald Forbes declined to specifically discuss Hazen’s case, but says customer service is the company’s No. 1 goal. “It would be inappropriate for us to discuss any customer business matters with a third party,” he says. Gary Doda, Bright House’s online forums manager, based in Tampa, Fla., characterizes Hazen’s situation as rare for the company. “In the past seven years, I can count on one hand, and still have leftover fingers, how many instances I’ve seen of this” kind of issue, he says.
After learning of Hazen’s problems from Angie’s List Magazine, Doda says he contacted Hazen, who confirmed that Bright House gave him a $400 credit on his bill. Doda says customers may contact him online or via the phone number and email address he provides on the List.
Even though Hazen finally got Bright House to fix the problems, he says he’s not taking chances when it comes to ensuring reliable Internet service. He recently started paying AT&T $40 a month for backup Internet service. “I’ll be honest, [the Bright House experience] was the worst. It affected my life, my work; it strained my marriage. I will pay double just to avoid what I went through.”
Tips for Indiana consumers
Besides persistent nagging, an Indianapolis-area consumer’s best recourse to resolve issues with cable, Internet, phone and TV service companies may be to provide examples of special promotions offered by competitors, and then ask your provider to match them or lose your business. In 2006, Indiana legislators deregulated companies providing landline phone and cable TV services, saying the marketplace would protect consumers’ rights, while also increasing competition among providers. Some members complain, however, that competition among cable, Internet and TV service providers still isn’t as robust as wireless phone companies.
Even members with alternatives often find themselves sticking with their providers, despite irritating experiences such as the one Connie Whitman, an Angie’s List member in Indianapolis, endured in late 2011. After losing her AT&T U-verse Internet, cable TV and home phone services for reasons she never understood, the 65-year-old Whitman began placing multiple minute-eating cellphone calls to an 800 number for AT&T customer service. Whitman says she argued that caring for her 93-year-old, dementia-stricken mother at her condo created a situation that warranted immediate attention, not a tech visit in a few days. “And every time they’d get the services running, it would be three hours, and sometimes only one hour, and it would go out again,” she says.
When her mother died 18 days later, Whitman again lost her U-verse service and had to use her AT&T cellphone to call the coroner and funeral home. Whitman, who gave AT&T a negative report on Angie’s List, advises consumers with an urgent need to quickly demand to be moved to the next level. Several days after burying her mother, she says she got transferred to a “Tier 3” customer service representative who told her the earlier calls should have been escalated. AT&T spokeswoman Tammy Rader says AT&T’s tiered customer support levels are based on the complexity of the issue. “If the customer believes their issue is not being resolved or the agent handling the call requires additional technical support, they can escalate to the necessary support level required,” she says. “In most cases, it is our reps who initiate the transfer on the customer’s behalf.”
How to complain effectively
To get the best response, Angie’s List recommends treating the company with respect and acting assertive but not angry when calling communications companies about service issues. Whitman admits that under the stress of grief and caregiving — she also lost her husband, Ray, to a massive heart attack in October 2011 — she didn’t always follow the Angie’s List advice to remain calm with AT&T employees. “I didn’t use bad words, but I did scream sometimes,” she says.
Once AT&T finally restored her service, Whitman says, she noticed erratic totals for her U-verse bill and a $10 charge for going over the allotted minutes on her separate AT&T cellphone bill, but felt too exhausted by the previous ordeal to even call the company. Rader declined to discuss Whitman’s case, beyond saying it’s been resolved. “We strive for all customers to have a positive experience,” she says. Whitman confirmed that AT&T agreed to stabilize her bill at $174.94 and added 300 extra cellphone minutes a month. “I’m satisfied,” she says, as long as the next month’s bills reflect the changes.
If the problem can’t be resolved directly with the company, Indiana residents may get help if they complain to the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission. IURC spokeswoman Danielle McGrath says the agency recouped through mediation about $7,000 in cable cost adjustments and $44,000 for landline phone adjustments for Hoosier consumers in the last fiscal year. “In cases where we don’t have jurisdiction [cellphone and Internet services], the complaints are forwarded to the company,” she says. “Although our consumer affairs division can’t guarantee a specific outcome, we have found that contacting our office brings additional attention to the issue at hand.”
Kerwin Olson, executive director of Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana, a nonprofit that advocates for residential utility rate payers, says: “The bottom line is that telecom consumers in Indiana are unprotected.” And Indiana is not alone, as consumer protections vary among states when it comes to Internet, phone and cable TV providers. He suggests consumers research each company’s prices, and take time to ask neighbors about signal strength and reliability. “And when it comes to service issues, be persistent in forcing the issue,” he says. “You shouldn’t be paying for services you aren’t receiving.”
Make your problem public
Angie’s List recommends asking for the company’s consumer retention department when trying to resolve issues, or contact our complaint resolution team for help. Another avenue might involve logging complaints on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, Olson says. “Especially when those complaints pertain to companies that operate outside of the regulatory arena and have no one, other than the public, holding them accountable,” he says. “These companies thrive on their image and will certainly act more quickly to resolve problems if they are experiencing bad PR as a result of their service.”
Angie’s List member Lonnie Blevins of McCordsville, Ind., turned to email when his calls to Comcast about a billing problem produced no resolution. Blevins, who does online computer work from home, says Comcast in January agreed to give him a promotional discount of $35 per month for the remainder of 2012, but his next month’s bill failed to reflect the lower price. A call to Comcast’s 800 number for customer service produced no results, so he insisted on speaking to a supervisor, who said he’d correct the bill. The next month, however, the fee was unchanged. “Many repeated calls to Comcast, and even a trip to the local office, which I was told to do, all provided nothing,” Blevins says. He gave the negatively rated Fishers, Ind., location a negative grade.
In late April, Blevins emailed Comcast to cancel the service, saying he planned to switch to AT&T U-verse. Soon after, he says, “I got a call from someone who actually gave me her direct line and said she was giving me a rate of $119 for the next 12 months,” Blevins says. “Persistence seems to be the only way to get through the process.”
Comcast corporate spokeswoman Jenni Moyer says her company doesn’t get every situation correct, but is working hard to improve. “We know that customers want things to be easy,” she says. “We’re making sure our agents have the tools and the training. The technician today compared to a tech 10 years ago is like comparing the Commodore 64 with an iPad. We’re continually working on making the experience better for the customer. Our goal is to get it right every time, but things happen. And when they do we want to quickly turn it around and fix it.”Bant to quickly turn it around and fix it.”