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#3 – Telecommunications

This week the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation held its annual Top 5 Press Conference at the Massachusetts State House, outlining the most prevalent consumer issues of 2014. The top issues from last year were insurance and banking & non-depository licensing.

Number three in our lineup goes to telecommunications issues, with just over 2,500 consumer calls and e-mails last year. The Department of Telecommunications and Cable regulates the landline telecommunications industry within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

The DTC has regulatory jurisdiction over landline phones – not cell phones – but the Department is often able to assist consumers with these types of complaints. Here are the most common consumer complaints about wireless cell phone service:

  • Upgrades: Consumers are told that if they upgrade or change their device, the plan they are on will stay the same. However, when the next bill arrives, the plan was switched. Often times, these are individuals with grandfathered plans, making it very hard for the plan to be changed back.
  • Employee variation: Conversations and agreements regarding credits or plan changes are not “noted” in the customers’ accounts. As a result, when the consumer calls back at a later time and gets a different representative, there is no record of what was promised on the first call. Sometimes employees provide incorrect information leading the consumer to add or change services or devices when the option(s) should not have been offered in the first place.
  • Early Termination Fees: Cancellation and termination fees are enforced even if the consumer has is breaking a contract because there is no service in their area. When consumers enter into new contracts or upgrade their phone and decide they want to change, employees stall assistance until the “grace period” has passed, resulting in an ETF. These fees are often waived if the consumer calls the company to complain.
  • Automatic billing: Contracts are automatically renewed when a phone is upgraded, or individuals are forced into new plans after being told their plan is not working or is no longer being offered.
  • Data throttling and network optimization: Data throttling is when the provider reduces the data speed once the consumer has reached a certain threshold of data usage in order to give all users the best coverage possible. Speeds are increased at the start of the next cycle. Network optimization, a term used exclusively by Verizon Wireless, is when the consumer’s data speed is slowed because a consumer is visiting a congested cell site. Theoretically, the data speed returns to normal once the consumer is no longer accessing the busy site. Consumers complain that the data speed gets slowed down so much that it renders data services useless.

More information on statutes and regulations and other key resources can be found on the DTC’s website.  If you have any further questions, contact the Department of Telecommunications and Cable’s Consumer Division at (800) 392-6066 or (617) 305-3531.

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