Choosing the Lesser of Two Evils?

FTTH fiber-to-the-home

FTTH fiber-to-the-home (Photo credit: dvanzuijlekom)

Today our guest blogger is Ron Isaacson, a former employee and still a good friend of CCG’s.

A number of years ago, the large ILEC in our area installed fiber optic lines in our neighborhood and soon started offering their FTTH product line in the area. The cable provider had already been in the neighborhood for a while and was already fiercely pushing their bundled service packages. We finally were going to have the competitive market version of a boxing match. SWEET!!

Our family had “Dish” TV service, satellite access that worked most of the time – except when bad weather interrupted the signal. We had dial-up Internet through a local ISP, back when the bandwidth offered on dial-up was still relatively decent, and we had our telephone service through a local CLEC. Being a telecom consultant I liked splitting services between the different vendors because no one monopolist had their claws fully in my back pocket. I might have been paying a little more for this split service, but it made sense to me.

However, the FTTH offerings changed the whole equation. Cable offered a full package too, so we had a choice.

Having had previous horrendous customer service experiences with both the ILEC and the cable company we were at a quandary as to which 21st Century telecom service to commit to, so I decided to take a poll: I asked a bunch of my neighbors which service they subscribed to and why, and how were the services provided?

The results were a classic case of monopolistic bad reputations! Either a family absolutely hated the ILEC and had signed up with cable, or they absolutely hated the cable company and had signed up with the ILEC. Apparently, no one truly loved either telecom provider and they just chose the company that they hated the least. (It’s been a few years, hopefully this has changed!) I couldn’t help but thinking that both companies are as bad as the worst of the stories about the airlines!

We chose the ILEC, but the notorious nature of the story was just getting started. Our telephone number, which we had for over 25 years, was an exchange-level “FX” number, meaning that all of the customers with that exchange were billed as if the service was down-county, closer to the metro-area. The rep advised that this was not a problem, that they could still do the switch.

Once the FTTH was installed, the Internet and TV service worked beautifully, but it took another 35 days for the phone service to be re-connected because, and this is a quote, “The fiber can’t handle the FX line.” At this point I laughed and replied, “I beg to differ. The fiber doesn’t know the difference, and doesn’t care….it is your systems that are messed up!”

After 35 days, they decided to run the telephone service over the old copper pair, and bill it as if it was on the fiber. This actually proved to be a good thing when the electric power went out due to an electric utility that also possessed byzantine customer service skills.

Years later the ILEC came back and reconfigured the FTTH to include the telephone service on the fiber. Incredibly, the telecom service that was the most troublesome for the telephone company to install….who knew?

Years later, this experience still shades my view of the ILEC, the gang that proved to me beyond a shadow of a doubt that they can and will shoot themselves in both feet.

Thinking of my installation experience with fiber made me think back to something that had happened to me earlier. Many years ago, in the hay-day of the long distance marketplace during a customer service training seminar, the class discussed the results of a poll showing the reasons that customers cancel their service with carriers. A couple of facts stuck with me: First, 3% of customers die and there’s not much one can do about that. Additionally, about 5 to 10% of customers move, or otherwise change locations. Again, not much (at that time) that could be done about that.

However, over 50% of customers cancel because of rudeness or indifference from customer service personnel in reference to a given incident. There were reasons filling in the rest of the 100%, but those three points stuck out to me – two that you can’t do anything about and one that we definitely can.

The bottom line I took away from that training, and my experience with the telephone company is to be sure that every customer is treated as if their service matters, as if their patronage is appreciated.

Regulatory Alert: Annual Access Charge Reform Tariff Filings Coming Due

Seal of the United States Federal Communicatio...

Seal of the United States Federal Communications Commission. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The second year of access reform is here again and most LECs and CLECs will need to file revised access rates by July 1. However, you should be aware that many State Commissions have their own requirements and time frames that need to be addressed in advance of the FCC’s date. As an example, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio is directing that all affected ILECs and CLECs file the appropriate intrastate tariff amendment application or letter of compliance on or before May 1, 2013. This alert is to warn that in many states you are not going to have the luxury of waiting until July 1 to file your rates.

These filings are due to FCC Report and Order (WC Docket No. 07-135) which adopted a transitional intercarrier compensation restructuring framework for both intrastate and interstate interexchange and reciprocal compensation telecommunications traffic. In its recent March 26, 2013 release (WC Docket No.13-76) the FCC established procedures for the 2013 filing of annual access charge tariffs and Tariff Review Plans (“TRP”) for price cap ILECs, rate-of-return ILECs and CLECs that benchmark rates to price cap or rate-of-return ILECs. The Order sets an effective date of July 2, 2013 for the July 2013 annual access charge tariff filing. The Order establishes May 17, 2013 as the date that price cap ILECs must file their short form TRP. Affected ILECs and CLECs may make their tariff filings on either a 15 or 7 day notice (prior to the effective date) therefore affected ILECs and CLECs filing on a 15 day notice must file on June 17, 2013 and those filing on a 7 day notice must file on June 25, 2013. All filings must be made using the FCC’s Electronic Tariff Filing System (“ETFS”).

You also need to be aware that as part of the annual access charge tariff filing carriers will need to include the universal service charge contribution factor for the third quarter which begins on July 1, 2013. Note that in accordance with 47 C.F.R. § 54.712 of the FCC’s rules “…if a contributor chooses to recover its federal universal service contribution costs through a line item on a customer’s bill the amount of the charge may not exceed the interstate telecommunications portion of that customer’s bill times the relevant contribution factor.”

If you need help with these filings let us know. CCG also offers a service we call Regulatory Compliance where we notify our clients each year of every regulatory filing they need to make. It’s affordable and a great way to make sure that you meet all of your regulatory filing requirements.  Call Terri Firestein at CCG if you need help or want more information. She is at (301) 788-6889.