-‘Well, unless you live in our service area’
-‘Well, unless you live in our service area’
By Angel Wyrwas
When area residents received the first wave of Verizon service cancellation letters last week, Facebook discussion pages blew up. The content was so incredible that many customers believed that it was some kind of fraud. After all, they had signed contracts with Verizon, many on unlimited data plans.
The letter stated: “During a recent review of customer accounts, we discovered you are using a significant amount of data while roaming off the Verizon network. While we appreciate you choosing Verizon, after October 17, 2017, we will no longer offer service for the numbers listed above since your primary place of use is outside the Verizon service area.”
To add to the confusion, every phone call customers made to Verizon’s customer service came back with a different answer. Yes it was a fraudulent letter, they were not canceling plans. Another said they just didn’t know. Yet another confirmed the letter was indeed true and the customer should make plans to transfer their phone number.
The parameters of the cancellations were still unclear. Customers were unsure if they didn’t receive a letter, would they also be terminated? Did the cancellations only pertain to those with unlimited data plans?
“Approximately 8,500 customers (19,000 lines) – using a variety of plans – were notified this month that we would no longer be their service provider after October 17, 2017,” Verizon director of corporate communications Kelly Crummey said in a statement. “These customers live in 13 states (Alaska, Idaho, Iowa, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Utah and Wisconsin) and in areas outside of where Verizon operates our own network.”
Basically, Verizon was making a business decision to save their company some money by terminating service for a “small” group of customers that use vast amounts of data roaming on contracted towers. For members included in Verizon’s group of insignificant customers, that service is extremely important and necessary to them, even if they are in the way of Verizon’s budget line. An outpouring from these customers let U.S. Senator Jon Tester know how violated they felt.
“I am very troubled by Verizon’s recent decision to terminate contracts for customers living in rural areas of Montana,” Tester wrote. “Given the importance of wireless communications for maintaining public safety, running a business, and staying connected during emergencies, I strongly urge Verizon to reverse its decision to involuntarily remove rural customers from its network.”
Tester also raised concerns about the impact Verizon’s actions will have for rural families and their ability to access wireless communications, especially during emergencies. But he wasn’t the only one concerned about the emergency aspect. Fallon County DES Coordinator Chuck Lee has concerns as well.
“I believe that access to 4G LTE service is an essential 21st century infrastructure need,” said Lee. “From a 911 point of view, this is a critical decision with lots of pieces. There are less and less land lines these days, people rely on their cell phones. If they cannot get adequate service coverage what will happen in an emergency? Seconds matter. And how about texting 911? This is the only way to get help to battered individuals in many cases.”
Instead of being presented options for a different plan or being warned to cut down on usage, Verizon just said good-bye. Verizon did mention that they would buy customers out of their phone payments and unlock the phones to be used on other networks. However, unlocked doesn’t mean the same as interoperable. Different carriers use different technology platforms. Due to proprietary settings sometimes installed in locked handsets, the phones won’t always function correctly with other carriers, even once unlocked. This usually applies to carrier specific special features for your phone, which are programmed in to the phone. They may not function with the next carrier.
Both Denbury and Williston Basin Pipeline have contracts with Verizon for their company wireless service. Representatives of both companies said they had reached out to their IT departments to find out if this would affect their businesses. The IT departments had to contact Verizon to find out that these plan cancellations would not affect company owned devices and plans.
According to Mid-Rivers, the affected customers utilize Verizon’s LTE in Rural America (LRA) program. This is a partnership between the New York-based Verizon and small rural carriers such as Mid-Rivers, who then lease Verizon spectrum, building networks of their own.
“Verizon’s decision also affects us,” said Erin Lutts, External Relations Manager for Mid-Rivers. “We rely heavily on roaming revenue and some small federal support in order to operate. That doesn’t work when Verizon is booting all of the network’s heaviest users. Verizon worked with us to build the network. Then they stepped out and offered the unlimited plan that didn’t work for this area. We have changed nothing in our relationship with Verizon and had no idea this was coming either.”
As of print time, Mid-Rivers was not accepting new customers partially due to the inability to acquire enough phones to handle the new customers. “Unfortunately, we have been losing cellular customers to Verizon for years,” said Lutts, “so we did not have any excess inventory of devices on hand or other resources needed to support a large influx of new cellular customers.”
“However, please know that we are actively working on a solution to help you get through the October 17 shutdown, and will announce those plans as soon as we are able,” said Lutts.
People may contact Mid-Rivers to be put on their waiting list. While Mid-Rivers has been very busy since the Verizon letters went out, Lutts said to date they have had less than 80 people call to sign up on the waiting list.
The world of wireless networks can be confusing for those who don’t work in the industry. If you want to know more about how Wi-Fi, Data and the Internet work and why they cost what they do, Lutts has written a blog post that explains the situation in straightforward terms. The post can be found at: communityconversationsblog.wordpress.com/2017/09/15/wi-fi-data-internet-wth/