Our Experience with ISPs - Earthlink: B Comcast: F
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December 2006

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Our Experience with ISPs

Earthlink: B, Comcast: F



We've been online for over ten years now and thought it time to share our experience with Internet service providers. We've used several ISPs over the years, ranging from excellent like Aimnet and EarthLink, to abysmal like Verio and Comcast, which we feel should be avoided at all costs.

If there is a trend, it is apparently not a good one. Billing issues seem to be increasingly common at many ISPs and cable service providers, and getting them resolved is close to impossible. Publisher Ken Custer reports being billed twice for the same time period by DishTV and has been unable to contact a human at DishTV to resolve the issue. He reports a collection agency is after him about the bill. One NPR reporter recently talked about how they had lost all phone and Internet services for three weeks, and had spent over 13 hours on the phone with the telecom trying to resolve the problem.

Based on my experience over the last two years with Comcast, I'm not surprised. While I was able to find real people at Comcast to talk to, they were usually the wrong people to talk to, and even the right ones frequently provided incorrect information. Twice, after relying on Comcast's billing system's report that my online payment did not go through, I paid again and both payments were charged to my bank account the next day. In both cases Comcast representatives initially denied that I had overpaid, and after I proved it to them, they refused to provide a refund, and only provided credit towards my next bill.

Unfortunately, Comcast may be making too much money to want to fix either their policy or their billing system. Projections based on the frequency of my billing problems with Comcast (see the Comcast section below for details), suggest that Comcast may be earning as much as $5 milliion a year on overpayments they refuse to refund. If you overpay at a retail store you usually get an immediate refund why should Comcast be any different? Or for that matter any ISP or cable service?

Well, under many state laws retail stores are required to provide refunds, but telecoms are not, and that should change.

Are billing issues unavoidable? Not always, I recently caught Wells Fargo charging my account for the same check twice. But the matter was quickly resolved. Telecoms seem to have engineered a customer service system so difficult and time consuming to navigate that the average person gives up before they get any resolution.

To find out the depth of the problem we are launching a blog to deal specifically with billing issues with telecoms. We will forward the results to our representatives in Washington.



Aimnet
Connection Service: A
Hosting: A
Billing: A
Support: A

Good, reliable and out of business. Aimnet delivered the best service and support we ever had. Unfortunately, they were purchased by Verio and are now out of business



Verio - avoid at all costs.
Connection Service: B
Hosting: F
Billing: F
Support: F

As soon as Verio took over our account things started going downhill. At one point they doubled our monthly service charges allegedly due to new features being added. When we asked a company representative what the new features were, they couldn't name a single one, nor could we find any difference. The rep assured us we would be very unhappy with our service if we did not pay the new rate. Then we found certain features we dropped. When we contacted customer support we were told that those services may have been promised to us by a sale rep, but it was not company policy to provide them. The service rep was unaware that our service had originated with Aimnet, and said they would not honor the service agreement we were paying for. At that point we migrated to EarthLink.



Earthlink
Connection Service: A
Hosting: B plain vanilla service options only)
Billing: B
Support: A

Recommended as a connection and, with reservations, as a host. EarthLink's billing system updates instantly, and has always showed the balance accurately. Customer reps are easy to get ahold of, and can always talk intelligently about the account and service. Our only reservation about EarthLink - and this is a big one - is the limited service they offer. If you want to add a blog or reader poll you're out of luck. We had to use a second ISP to add many advanced features to our Website.



IMHosted
Connection Service: N/A
Hosting: C - one day of downtime in the first year, one day in the next.
Billing: B - must ask to get the free domain registration advertised as part of the service plan.
Support: B - email support only

Recommended, but with reservations. excellent feature set but reliability problems. Went down for 24 hours the day of our official launch. a form letter apologized for the downtime but claimed it was unavoidable. Not true. Because of this outage we cancelled our plan to move our entire site to IMhosted and waited a year to see what kind of reliable we could expect from them.

A year later our Website went down again for over 24 hours because we had not asked to renew our domain, even though free domain registration was advertised as part of the service plan we purchased. The first thing we knew about it was when our domain went offline. When we queried customer service by email (the only way possible, since they offer no phone support) we were sent a bill for the domain registration. It was only when we pointed out that free registration was included in our plan and threatened to report them to the FTC that our domain was restored. Most businesses will assume that if free domain is advertised as part of the package it will not be necessary to ask for it, and this means downtime.



Comcast - Avoid at all costs as a host.
Connection Service: B
Hosting: F - (faulty billing system compromises uptime.
Billing: F - the most unreliable billing system we ever dealt with.
Support: F - billing support staff often provide incorrect information.

Usually reliable service, but a primitive unreliable and misleading billing system causes many problems. Passable but not recommended as a connection service. Avoid at all costs as a host. About twice a year our online payment does not go through, and two weeks later we get a call (but no email) saying we will be disconnected if not paid in 24 hours. This is simply too unreliable to consider using Comcast as a host. A business owner might be on vacation, having every reason to believe their account was up to date, and come home to find their Website had been offline for days.

Sometimes payments made online do not show as paid for up to five days. Twice this caused us to pay again and the next day both payments hit our bank. On both occasions it took going through three people to just to get an acknowledgment we had overpaid, and in both cases Comcast refused to refund our money.

While we can't prove Comcast has deliberately and artificially created a system that occasionally causes people to overpay, it seems like they couldn't have done a better job if they had tried. Based on a 5% interest return, and a $62 monthly bill, customers will lose, and Comcast will make, about 25.8 cents in interest every time they refuse a refund. While this is relatively small change, it adds up to about $258,000 in free interest payments for every million customers Comcast has. Since Comcast has about 21 million video service subscribers, this indicates they may be making up to $5 million in unearned interest payments by refusing to refund overpayments their system causes.

We got an idea just how bad their billing system was when I cancelled my high speed Internet service to move back to Silicon Valley. When I called their customer service to cancel I changed my address to my new California address, and told them I'd pay the bill when I arrived. No problem they said. My move was delayed, and I wound up staying at another address before I moved to California, which caused further problems with Comcast. Almost immediately my ex-landlady started getting an automatic call daily saying I had an overdue bill. I called the number the recorded message gave, waited 20 minutes and then the rep hung up on me when I started listing my previous problems with their billing system. I called back, waited another 15 minutes, only to be told that was the wrong number for billing issues. I called the number I was given and found out once again it was the wrong department and was given another wrong number. Over the course of an hour three different Comcast reps I talked to gave me three different amounts I owed ranging from $62 to $112, and none could tell me what time periods those amounts covered.

After about an hour and a half I finally got someone who explained that once I cancelled my service, my records were frozen. This meant several things. I can't change my address to get a bill sent to me at my new address. I can't change the phone number on record so my landlady is continuing to get calls from them, though I am no longer living at her house. Comcast refused to provide copies of my previous bills, and I cannot verify the accuracy of the last bill. I am also unable to review my billing and payment history online anymore, and I can't even make an online payment.

I informed them that until I had seen the paperwork I would contest the bill. Given at least four serious mistakes concerning my bill in the last two years, I think this was reasonable. After having told three different Comcast representatives I was contesting the bill, I received a letter saying because I had not contested the bill it was being reported to the credit services.

Not surprisingly, we found that Comcast had been fined a million dollars by the state of Massachusetts for similar and even more problematic business practices there. In fact, a few Google searches about Comcast turned up even more problems with Comcast business practices.



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