After Gordon Howe purchased a DISH broadband service with no data limit, he was ecstatic and relieved. As a disabled veteran, Howe relies on the Veterans Health Care website, communicates regularly with his doctors and needs constant weather updates as he lives in a mountainous rural area.
Two weeks later, Howe discovered his data was “throttled,” a technique used by data carriers to limit bandwidth, producing agonizingly slow connection speeds. For Howe, the throttled level of data was of no use.
In our digital era, we depend on the Internet. For many of us, it’s a utility that offers speed, wireless connections, surfing, gaming and 24/7 customer support.
But according to Howe, Internet speed was a “privilege and a necessity.” Howe received quite the runaround from DISH’s customer service department. First, he was told he couldn’t get more data. Then he was told he could get more data when he called a third party, ACN.
Both ACN and DISH guaranteed over the phone that purchasing 7 gigabytes would offer faster online speed. So Howe’s only choice, he thought, was to upgrade.
Once again, the speed was slow. Then his service stopped working altogether. After speaking to yet another sales representative in DISH’s “president’s office,” Howe was offered a $20 reduction if he agreed to use only 6 gigabytes per month.
If you’re not a programmer or coder, what do gigabytes, megabytes and terabytes even mean? With so many computer and data services and plans, it’s important to read the fine print, read about competitors’ products and be knowledgeable before you purchase any product or service.
Without money for an attorney, Howe decided to research and discovered our website and posted in our help forums. One of our advocates suggested asking DISH to produce Howe’s contract with his signature and to emphasize the fact that the representative sold him a “totally unlimited” plan, without informing him of a data cap, which led to a throttle.
Howe asked DISH to send the contract with his signature. He remembered signing a work order for a cable, dish and modem installation. He was shocked when he received the contract with his signature cut, copied and pasted into an additional early data term agreement for more than $100. Howe believed that forging someone’s signature is illegal.
Howe found and posted in our community forum. An advocate raised the question of whether signing off on installation terms signified agreement to all contract terms, adding that during order calls, you’re rarely asked to sign a contract.
Another suggestion was that Howe send a letter with the names, dates and times of the calls, and that he check his credit report for negatives and learn how to protect himself if DISH ended up billing for the termination fee.
Other forum members pointed out a current legal battle against Time Warner for this type of practice (offering no data limits but then throttling the customer’s speed).
Howe emailed DISH and was shocked when a case manager in the escalation department reviewed the sales call and discovered Howe was wrong. The salesperson did disclose the data cap, but asked if Howe streamed data or used gaming.
“I stream a lot of data, which doesn’t require much speed, but I definitely need unlimited data,” Howe said. The case manager disqualified the contract and waived the early termination fee, but not the outstanding balance. Howe’s nightmare ended, and he saved nearly $400. He felt vindicated. Problem solved.
Howe wrote a letter thanking Christopher Elliott and our team of advocates for their advice in the forum. He highlighted the fact that using our company contacts enabled him to advocate for himself.
What can we learn from Howe’s experience?
First, it’s important to keep a paper trail during any transaction. In our digital age, technology and data can be complex. But Google’s algorithms make it easy to search for anything. Had Howe done a simple search, he would have discovered the drawbacks of his service provider: It’s slower than DSL, fiber or cable, and there are time restrictions on data.
Second, we’re no longer victims. We have social media tools, such as Twitter and Facebook, to voice our opinions. Companies want positive reviews on Google, Yelp or Bing so they can maintain their reputations and consumer brand loyalty.