Verizon says forcing people to give up old plans to get FCC grant isn’t ‘upselling’

Enlarge / A Verizon FiOS truck in Manhattan on September 15, 2017.

Verizon defends its practice of forcing customers to switch plans for a government-funded $ 50 per month rebate, telling the Federal Communications Commission that it is not the same as “upselling.” Verizon partially backtracked from this restrictive policy, but told the FCC that it would take “about a month” to roll out an update to billing software that will allow more home Internet customers to obtain discounts without changing plan.

As we wrote on May 18, Verizon is preventing some customers from getting the new government grants unless they switch to different plans which are sometimes more expensive. AT&T, Charter and T-Mobile are also limiting grant-eligible plans, while Comcast says it will honor discounts even on grandfathered plans that are no longer offered to new customers.

Verizon is crazy that its policies have been criticized.

“Despite Verizon’s decision to offer the EBB [Emergency Broadband Benefit] discount on nearly all of our current fixed and mobile broadband service offerings, there have been isolated claims that Verizon viewed the EBB program as an opportunity to “sell” customers more expensive plans. These allegations are unfounded, ”Verizon told the Federal Communications Commission in a deposit on friday.

Despite this claim, Verizon decided to relax its rules after facing a public backlash against its subsidy restrictions. “[W]Some customers have told us that they prefer to keep their old plans. Going forward, we will offer customers of older FiOS plans (which are no longer on the market today) the option to enroll in EBB, ”Verizon said in a statement. May 19 update, one week after the start of the reduction program.

This means FiOS home internet customers won’t have to upgrade to Verizon’s new “Mix & Match” plans to get the discount. However, Verizon told the FCC that it would take a month to make the “complex billing system changes” needed to grant discounts to FiOS customers on grandfathered plans. FiOS adopted the Mix & Match pricing system in January 2020, so what Verizon calls “legacy plans” includes any FiOS plan that is at least 18 months old.

Verizon lets users go back, if they act quickly

Verizon also told the FCC that “EBB customers who contact us within 14 days of switching to a Mix & Match plan can revert to their old plan.” But Verizon did not say whether it had informed these customers of this option. For customers who have already changed, the 14 days will have passed by the time Verizon changes its billing system to allow the discount on old plans.

Mobile side, Verizon Apparently still won’t let wireless users on older plans get the discounts unless they purchase “an unlimited Mix & Match phone plan or a mobile hotspot as their primary or only line on one account.” Verizon does not make the subsidy available at all on existing DSL plans, which it offers in areas where it has not upgraded copper lines to fiber.

Verizon said the purpose of its letter to the FCC is to “respond to incorrect characterizations of Verizon’s practices in implementing the EBB program and to inform the Commission of further steps Verizon has taken to encourage participation by eligible consumers. “.

“[R]Instead of paying more, most existing customers who switch from a legacy FiOS plan to an EBB-eligible Mix & Match plan save money – on average around $ 25 per month (before the EBB discount) – by having the ability to choose only the services and content they want. These savings would continue after the EBB program ends, ”Verizon said.

Verizon also said that its “experience in the early days of the program confirms that our original list of EBB eligible services provides the vast majority of EBB eligible customers with both choice and a cost effective broadband service option.” But Verizon did not dispute that in order to get the rebate, some customers had to sign up for more expensive plans with prices that would stay at a higher level after the government subsidy expired.

AT&T limits frustrate customers too

The EBB is temporary, until the $ 3.2 billion in program funding runs out or six months after the Department of Health and Human Services declares the pandemic over.

Verizon isn’t the only Internet service provider frustrating customers with its subsidy policies. For example, AT&T does not allow home internet customers to get the discount on plans with speeds over 300 Mbps. An AT&T customer who pays $ 70 per month for 1 Gbit / s speeds emailed Ars last week, writing: “I was told that in order to take advantage of the subsidy I had to upgrade to a 300 Mbit / s plan for $ 75 per month, and I would pay $ 25 per month after the grant, and lose two-thirds of my speed! “

ISPs just have to come up with a plan to comply

Grants of $ 50 per month are available for people with low income or who lost income during the pandemic. But ISPs are not required to participate in the EBB program, and the FCC allows ISPs to participate even if they only make one plan available to customers seeking subsidies. The FCC mentionned he made this decision because “dictating the required offers in a temporary program will discourage participation and lead to less choice for the consumer than what would otherwise be available if we gave participating suppliers more flexibility.”

While Verizon apparently does not break any rules, consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge told the FCC that “Verizon’s behavior goes against the intent of the program and undermines Verizon’s own reasons for seeking a recent waiver of the FCC’s EBB reimbursement rules.” The FCC April 20 granted Verizon waiver request, which allowed additional time to file reimbursement requests.

“Contrary to Verizon’s arguments, receiving the waiver did not prevent Verizon from later using the EBB to force customers to switch to more expensive plans well above the amount of the subsidy,” he said. Writes Public Knowledge, adding that the FCC “should take note that Verizon’s internal decision-making process has caused it to view EBB as an opportunity to take advantage of the low-income consumers they were meant to serve.”

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About Christopher Easley

Christopher Easley

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