Monday, March 26, 2012

Hello FiOS

The day has come. I am switching from Comcast to Verizon FiOS.

You may be surprised to find I still use Comcast given that I've written so much about Comcast problems. After all, it's been roughly 6 years now that FiOS has been available.

So why do I still have Comcast? For many years, Comcast was the only game in town. But after FiOS arrived, Comcast had to improve. Many people in my neighborhood wasted no time in switching. I wondered if Comcast technicians had no one else to serve but me. Bandwidth - all mine!

Yes, Comcast's service improved dramatically. Speed was good, latency was good, and customer service was, well, not so bad for a change. While the people on the phones still lived by their dismal scripts, at least the number of times I had to deal with them decreased. I only had to call once in 2011 and so far once in 2012. But I'll never get used to the technicians saying "I fixed the problem. But the guy who was here before me obviously didn't know what he was doing."

But through it all, Comcast rates have always been less than Verizon's. Admittedly, it's hard to compare exactly. The speeds don't match up. And while reports suggest that Verizon's service is significantly more reliable, as I mentioned earlier, Comcast has been reliable enough. Which leaves price. And Verizon's price is high. And I'm price sensitive. Indeed, I dropped my Comcast TV service entirely several years ago when I could no longer justify the expense.

But recently, I opened my Comcast statement to find out that my price for their Blast internet service went up from $63 to $80. That's a 26% hike. While the percentage is impressive, the old rate was already high. Every so often I checked Verizon's prices but Comcast's $80 was significantly higher than previous quotes I got from Verizon.

So I headed over to and found it as confusing as I remembered. I finally engaged the e-chat feature and a representative guided me to the rate of $55/month for 12 months for 15/5 with no installation charges. Gee, that sounds pretty good!

You may claim Verizon's $55 rate is a promotion but that is rather misleading. I've been on Comcast's promotional rates for years. In my book, any rate that lasts a year or more is not a promotion but the real rate. As an aside, you can be on a Comcast promo and have the price increase. I've had that happen personally. Obviously, promotion can be a very misleading word.

Signing Up For FiOS

The rest of this post will cover the Verizon signup process. It's only worth mentioning because it was awful and conceivably someone just needs to shame them enough to get them to make some changes. At one point I was so disgusted, I closed the browser window and gave up for the day. Here are the problems I encountered:

- Verizon cannot quote bottom line prices. They refuse to state what "tax and surcharges" will be, only promising that you'll see on your first bill and can cancel the service at that time. Now obviously, this pledge of ignorance is silly. Nor is it new. I've tried to find out this info in the past and ended up being transferred from one department to another and even to supervisors. Even the billing department swore they couldn't tell me. Are they not privy to their own billing system? In fact, this inability to see the true cost was a disincentive for me in the past. If a company has no respect for the potential customer, why would they have any once you've handed over your money?

- Even though I haven't had Verizon service at my home address for at least 10 years, the Verizon website insisted I did and asked me questions that I wasn't sure weren't going to lead to more trouble. (Example: "Do you want to terminate service for this address or open a 2nd account for this address?" Huh?)

- Verizon only bills through credit cards. (This may have something to do with not having Verizon phone service but if so, it still doesn't make sense.) I hate recurring charges to my credit card! I'm not worried about unauthorized charges (since legally I'm protected). But using a credit card for a recurring charge makes it problematic when I close a credit card, either because the # has been discovered by hackers or I'm just switching to a different card. If they could just send me a bill like every other company, I wouldn't have to go out of my way to contact them just to tell them I changed card numbers.

- Verizon's web page has a required credit check section with a confusing collection of form elements that let me decline the credit report, decline to give my SSN, etc. Yet when I declined everything, the page refused to let me continue and wouldn't explain why. Here's a pic showing only that the section has been outlined in orange. That seems to be Verizon's way of saying I wasn't being cooperative.

Screen shot 2012-03-24 at 3.54 PM

I won't go through everything but I will focus on the Social Security Number (SSN) as a specific problem. Verizon's website claimed that turning over my SSN to them was for my benefit - to confirm it was really me placing the order. But unless Verizon has my SSN already, which I doubt, this makes no sense.

Why do I care about releasing my SSN? Having your SSN leaked is even worse than having it happen to your credit card #. At least with your credit card #, you're protected from unauthorized charges plus you'll find out with your next statement. But using your SSN, someone can open a credit card number in your name and you may not find out until years later when it is very hard to repair your credit history. Here's a story from someone more persistent than me who tried to get Verizon service without turning over a SSN. The whole story is worth reading but the irony is at the end:

The irony is that Verizon, like many companies, pretends to care deeply about the issue of identity theft. One of the many times I was on hold waiting for a Verizon operator to pick up during my hour-and-a-half ordeal, I did some Googling to entertain myself. In doing so, I came across a Verizon web site that advised consumers on various frauds and scams. Identity theft was one of them. This is the way Verizon frames the problem: "People will use a variety of methods to convince you to give up personal information such as Social Security number, credit card numbers, calling card numbers, bank account numbers, etc. Using this information, criminals can pose as you and commit a number of crimes. This will cost you a considerable amount of money and time as you try to restore your credit rating and damaged financial situation." And this is part of how they suggest you protect yourself: "In general, closely guard all of your personal information."

Unless, it seems, you are trying to guard it from the phone company.

Back To Verizon's Problems

- I finally got to "select a 4-hour installation window" and did so. Then another confirmation button which I dutifully clicked. But only after getting the last (or so I thought) confirmation screen did it finally make clear that the choice of a 4-hour window was totally misleading - it was actually specifying an arrival window and 4 hours would be required for an installation. In other words, I might have to remain home for 8 hours if the tech showed up at the end of the window. An entire business day! Needless to say, I immediately had to reschedule - which I couldn't do from the confirmation screen - it wouldn't let me.

I tried to go back to the e-chat - but the chat link that had been plastered at the top of every screen earlier was now gone. Even going to the original URL was unproductive because as soon as I clicked on any of the obvious choices - such as Support - it told me I had an order pending again with no chat link. Alternatively, it offered to let me log in but since I had not yet been assigned a login (I was told later that I would receive this info at installation) this went nowhere. After trying many links, I noticed a contact link in the footer that let me re-open a chat and I was able to get help.

The new chat rep agreed that I should reschedule my appointment to allow for more time. However, the earliest he could schedule me was for 9 days later. But moments earlier, the website had shown me that the entire week was available. So I asked if he could cancel my order and I would just reorder again through the web. "Don't do that!" he said. He provided another URL for me to try (why couldn't he try it?) and I was able to get another appointment the following day. He was pretty annoyed that I could see appointments an entire week earlier than he could and he said he would report this.

Later in the day, I got an email with a confirmation of the whole process. This email demonstrated yet more Verizon cluelessness:

- The email had the tax and surcharges that all my other contacts at Verizon claimed they were unable to provide. Why is it that the moment I signed their contract, they were suddenly able to give this info but not before? Alas, there's no breakdown so all I can tell is that my "taxes, fees, and other charges" will be $1.65. That's a bit mystifying because Comcast's "tax, surcharges, and fees" for an $80 bill were only $0.42. Something doesn't add up here but evidently I'll have to wait for a real bill to find out.

- The email noted I should remove its return address from my spam blocker. But obviously, it should have said that at the website earlier, not in the very email that would never be seen if I had to take the very action suggested.

- The email insisted I click a link to confirm my installation appointment. Huh? Given all the hoops I had jumped through to fill out the forms at verizon's website, surely it was painfully obvious that I had already confirmed I wanted service, no? I began to wonder how many more ways Verizon would come up with to confirm that I was confirming my confirmation. Indeed, when I was later able to sign up for a userid, it asked me to confirm with my zip code. Why yet another confirmation? (And a zip code as confirmation? Huh?) Then it wanted yet more personal info, this time for recovery purposes. (Name of best friend. Name of first pet. Etc.) This is way, way, way past the bounds of common sense. And it's definitely not necessary. (It's one thing for Facebook to need recovery info - they have no proof who I am. But Verizon has my home address! My credit card #! And now my SSN. There is no need to for more. Much less is sufficient.

As if to confirm my imagination, I then got not one but three robocalls (including one the following morning that woke me up) on my home phone telling me to call a phone number to confirm my installation. (Another confirmation?!) Even more maddening, the robocalls explained that an install could last not 4 hours as earlier promised but 6 hours.

In Conclusion

So far, my experience with Verizon has been poor. It has been a never-ending stream of confirmations and "Prove you're you" by requesting more and more personal info and more and more admissions of information. Why Verizon cannot be open about this info (taxes, install windows, etc.) I cannot imagine. Surely, it only costs them more money when customers have to reschedule or cancel service due to finding out things later that should have been taken into account.

Yet another communication from Verizon has asked me to prepare for the installation by selecting a place in my house for their equipment. So I embarked on another e-chat with one of their representatives to find out their requirements. Another exercise in frustration. For example, the representative could tell me the width and height of their Optical Network Terminal that would be installed but not its depth. After 30 minutes of similar questions that resulted in confusing answers, she admitted that the technician would figure out how best to do the installation when he arrived. In other words, we had just both wasted 30 minutes.

I won't repeat all the unfruitful parts of our conversation but I invite Verizon, which surely has a record of the conversation to find it, study it, and help their representatives do a better job. And I invite Verizon to fix the other problems I've described in this post. If you're trying to figure out why you're not getting more customers, perhaps it's because they can't make it through this unnecessarily difficult and annoying set of interactions.

Should I Be Worried?

Earlier today, I received a flyer telling me that a contractor (Lambert Cable) would be running the fiber optic cable. (Verizon is still using contractors?) This flyer was handed to me by yet another contractor (UtiliQuest) who showed up to mark the utility lines and suggest a routing for Verizon's fiber optic run. He was wearing a Comcast shirt.


pauls said...

My FiOS installations were a nightmare. For my first installation 2+ years ago, I signed up online. They called me later and rescheduled and changed my order and order number. Multiple customer service reps messed with my order and it landed up getting delayed. Multiple appointments were scheduled, and then rescheduled. I finally was able to straightened that out. Once service got up and running, it was very reliable. I recall I had to call and straighten out a billing issue, but that was eventually resolved.

Fast forward to last October. I decided to upgrade to the cable service and go to FiOS Triple Play. I processed the order online and received my installation date. They call me back a few days later and ask me if I want a self install kit. Being a tech savvy person, I agreed. I informed the person that I have 2 Tivo boxes and I need cable cards. He noted it on my order. So they changed my order to self-install. I received a box several days with a standard definition tuner and no cable cards. I call back and they tell me that you cannot do a self install cable order! They were the ones who suggested it. I then had to set a new appointment, which they charged me for a service call! I had to call back and get reimbursed for that that later. I received my first bill and the overcharged me. They had be subscribed to everything twice, two of everything. Every line item was double-billed. I also did not receive the Triple Play pricing. To this day they are overcharging me by $5. I have given up after many calls. If the service wasn't so reliable, I would be gone. I am thinking of going back to Comcast, but I am not sure I want to take the chance. In my neighborhood Comcast is pretty reliable, but it was down once or twice when I needed it. I work in IT at frequently work at home. I need near 100% reliability.

In summary, FiOS, great technology and reliability, horrible ordering and billing.

Unknown said...

Guys, not to "one up" you on Fios installations - but you had it easy. I'll send you my Kafkaesk epic sometime after I get out of this hot tub at the gym. -Lyman

zhurnaly said...

as usual, wonderful report Don --- many thanks!