Carrier Abandons Copper... and Customers

One recent evening I received a call from a realtor client asking for help because a carrier had left his wife in tears. Like many realtors, these folks operate a sizable business from a home office -- and yet the carrier refused to process a request to install fiber for their residential and separate voice, Internet, and TV service needs. (A good reminder of why some phone companies are referred to as "dominant" carriers.)

This refusal came after many futile attempts to re-establish their services after following the phone company's instructions to convert to fiber or lose service since it would no longer be supporting copper. We're all hopeful that this fiasco, which started in June, will soon begin to right itself -- at least to the benefit of one of millions of customers who has endured more than what I would expect of anyone.

My suggestion to anyone facing a similar circumstance is to get fiber, when it's cost effective. When dual services are involved, focus on only one thing at a time with phone companies. In my client's case, I recommended to call back and request Internet-only service for the business -- nothing else -- on a month-to-month basis.

What I need to explain next is that this tactic isn't without its own pain or bumps.

After spending more time on the phone with the dreaded provider, the wife reported that she was successful. However, the call center rep did try to sell her bundled services at a special discount in exchange for a commitment. I told her to refuse the bundled offering and instead ask for a static IP address. Of course this didn't go so well, but she endured, held her ground, and as a consequence got a change in delivery date.

What were the customer expectations? In an email I received from them, they wrote: "After all, you spoiled us with what we have now, and it's worked perfectly for us for 17 years. Too bad it got old and XXXXX [the phone company] is so uncooperative."

I arranged for a site survey, with photos, so I could get a refresher on what I had installed 17 years prior. Turns out the original installation cabling and system actually dates back 24 years, and the only replacement was the uninterruptible power supply, updated every four or five years.

Once I saw the photos, I could relive the install, remembering it as rather substantial due to the size of the home and home office. The good news is that I had wired most of the home and office with two drops (one Cat3 and one Cat5) in the residential or three drops (one Cat3 and two Cat5) per office location. They liked this solution, and did not want to change it.

To smooth out the transition, we've prequalified the customer telephone numbers for porting and have both a wireless DECT solution for their mobility concerns and SIP desk phones for the business office needs. The fax will remain on the fiber service as fax and as a backup to VoIP. Their overall bill will be substantially less, but that's not their concern.

Looking bigger picture, I can't help but to wonder how many more tears will be shed in the transition from copper to fiber. Copper isn't in the future plans for the carriers, and many businesses will have solutions in place that aren't suited to IP.

How we make it through the journey of change is more important than the change itself, and I can say that our industry has failed miserably in this sense of delivering good experience for customers taking the leap -- willingly or not -- and moving to IP. Maybe the expectations are unrealistic and people have come to expect less. I don't want the next 17 years to be one of regrets, nor do I think that will happen.

The one key benefit of IP is knowing that I won't be held hostage again by the phone company and it can still provide me with transport, a static IP address, and a fax line. And I will be happy because fiber is an excellent service -- the dreaded phone company does a much better job with fiber than it does providing telephone services.

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