The Covad Debacle
How an ISP can do whatever the hell they feel like and still charge you for it.
In late December 2001, I ordered an ADSL line that promised "up to
1500K" download speeds, with a monthly fee of $89. This line was marketed
as a SOHO service. The web page for this service is at http://www.covad.com/businessservices/telesoho.shtml
I was told I was within range to receive service. I specifically asked if
I would be able to run a Web server over this line, and was told that I could.
When the line was installed, I could receive speeds of only 100K, less than 7% of the advertised maximum, WELL below any expected performance, and well below the usable point for a SOHO situation, and MUCH MUCH too slow to operate a Web server. When I called to complain I was now told I was 3000 feet (that's over 1/2 a mile!) beyond their maximum range! They attempted to increase my line speed, but this resulted in an unstable connection that would cut out every few minutes. I was told there was nothing they could do about it, but that I could switch to an SDSL line that was within range but cost significantly more per month. I was also told by the customer service rep that if I was unhappy with the service, I could cancel within 30 days with no penalty.
After I canceled the line, I was billed a $250 cancellation fee and was told that their contract did not obligate them to provide any maximum speed. I didn't recall ever seeing a contract, let alone signing one. When I asked for a copy of this contract, they refused. When I asked to speak to a supervisor, they also refused.
If I was 3000 feet beyond their maximum range, they should never have sold the line to me in the first place, or should have at the least given me some sort of warning. I would not have ordered the line knowing I was 30% over their limit. There is also some reasonable expectation of performance, they advertised "up to 1500K", but the line I was provided with could only function at 100K. I was prepared to accept some degree of performance loss, even as poor as 33% (512K), but 7% is utterly unacceptable.
Fortunately, I did not give them a credit card number, so all they can do is send invoices. I've already filed a complaint with the BBB, if they continue to bug me about it, I will file complaints with the state Attorney General's office, the FCC, and the FTC.
Avoid doing business with Covad
Communications! They offer no performance guarantee, and will not refund
your money even if their service is unusable due to their own fault.
Update (1/21/02): Although I canceled my service on January 8th, I just got this e-mail today:
Subject: DSL Disconnect Service Request for Order 1802922 Customer Non Payment (chapter 11)
Covad regrets that you have chosen to discontinue your DSL service. We are continually striving to serve you better and our goal is to provide you the highest level of service. If there is anything that we can do to enhance your customer experience, please let us know.
If you have changed your mind since your request to discontinue service, please contact COVAD.net as soon as possible to ensure that you do not experience any disruption in your service. Currently, your order is scheduled to be disconnected 48 hours after January 21, 2002 12:53:39 PM, the date we received the service termination request.
No other explanation was provided. Does this mean they've received my letter and canceled the charges? Or does this mean they are even more screwed up than I originally thought?
Update (2/11/02): Received a letter from the Better Business Bureau. Although they attempted to contact Covad about my complaint, they received no response, and have recorded them as "unresponsive" in their public file, available here. From their page:
Our file experience shows that the company has an unsatisfactory record with the Bureau. Specifically, our records show a pattern of non-response to consumer complaints brought to its attention by the Bureau.
I have not received any response to the letter I sent to Covad, either. The letter from the BBB suggests that I contact Consumer Affairs State of California and the District Attorney of Santa Clara County. I will pursue these matters if things aren't cleared up soon.
Update (2/13/02): Got an e-mail that a partial payment had been made (huh? I haven't sent them a dime) but that I still owe money. How much I paid, or how much I still owed, they didn't bother to tell me. Cute, no?
Update (4/1/02): Got a phone call from Covad's complaint resolution department stating that they had received the BBB complaint and that after looking into the case, I should NOT have been billed for a termination fee, and that my account will be credited to zero it out. It's good to finally see some resolution to this, although taking nearly 3 months to respond is a bit ridiculous.
Update (4/4/02): Received a letter from the Better Business Bureau, who enclosed a printout of a e-mail sent to them by Covad:
I did research the customer's issue. He did have 30-day satisfaction guarantee that was not applied to his account. I did credit back all of the charges on his account and the customer's balance is now zeroed out.
So I guess the story has finally come to a happy ending. Fortunately, I had not given them my credit card, otherwise I would have been out hundreds of dollars for the past 3 months. I'll say it again, do NOT give Covad your credit card, for if anything goes awry, it may take 3 months or more to get your money back!
Update (4/19/02): Received an e-mail from Covad, claiming that I still owe $544.25! So much for that happy ending. This is unbelievable. They've already admitted that I had a 30 day satisfaction guarantee, and that the balance was supposed to be zeroed out, and yet, they come along and try to bill me AGAIN for over $500?
After spending a half-hour on the phone with the number given in the invoice, they claim I canceled after 30 days. This is obviously impossible, since I only placed the order on December 21st and canceled on January 8th, only 18 days from the initial order, and literally less than 24 hours after I actually received the modem in the mail! Huh? They gave me another number for the disconnection department.
I called the disconnection department, and they immediately told me that they could see the credits to my account, and weren't sure why it hadn't posted correctly. They said that my account had been closed, and that I shouldn't be receiving any invoices at all. They said I should disregard the e-mails, and their technicians would check into the billing problem. That call lasted less than 5 minutes.
Update (4/29/02): Received an e-mail invoice from Covad. This time, they finally seem to have gotten things right, the invoice lists a $544.25 credit to the account, and a final balance of $0. Hopefully this is the end of the story....
Update (7/1/03): Naturally, this couldn't be the end of the story. My current DSL provider, Qwest Interprise America, which has provided truly excellent service, is leaving the local market. And guess who they've sold their customers to?
Update (7/7/03): After checking around with other ISP's (most of whom offered terrible service or outrageous prices), I decided to give Covad another chance. After all, I was going to be ordering a full-blown SDSL line. Surely they'd treat their business customers better? And they said they could provide me with a 1024/1024 line for only $40 more than the current 512/512. Can't pass that up!
Update (7/21/03): 2 weeks after placing the order, I finally receive a call from Covad. They are unable to provide me with any sort of SDSL line. I'm too far from the CO. But I could get an IDSL line (144/144) for the same price, or I could upgrade to a T-1 for $500+ per month. Is it my imagination, or does this just scream "Bait and Switch"? Naturally, I cancel the service. (Funny, I've had 512K SDSL service from Qwest for over a year with no problems, and Qwest tech support said my line could "probably" handle even faster speeds)
Update (7/2303): I received the following e-mail from Covad:
We regret to inform you that your end user's DSL order could not be processed for the following reason Canceled: Option To Change Technology Refused.
Update (8/15/03): Received a phone call from Covad informing me that they were unable to provide me with any SDSL service, and to call if I was interested in obtaining IDSL or T-1 service. Didn't we already go through this a month ago?
Update (8/20/03): Received a bill in the mail from Covad for $0.00. Huh?