Finding Frontier’s Newly Increased Pricing Scheme

By: 
Steve Propes

Longtime East Long Beach resident J.D. Rose has long since reached retirement age. Old enough to remember PacBell, then GTE as his local land line provider, followed in 2000 by Verizon, which sold its franchise to Frontier in 2016. Though he has a cell phone, he still relies upon his land line phone in case of a dire emergency. Sometimes he finds local cell service spotty. He’s aware that if he loses this land line, he can’t get his current phone company, Frontier, to install a new one. That company has moved on.

Very recently, Frontier moved on to a newly created profit center, charging customers for the privilege of receiving a paper bill in the mail. The stated charge is nominal, $2.99; in reality, it’s $3.15 a month with surtaxes added, which made little sense to Rose.

Rose first became aware of the charge when he got his June bill. He almost threw away the attached paperwork, but noticed something unusual. It was headed with “caring for the environment is one of our core beliefs.” In the body of the short two-paragraph blurb was “we’re moving to Paperless Billing as your free billing option.” It offered “the freedom to manage your bill whenever you want.” As long as it’s paid before the due date, that is. It was signed by Jennifer Johnson, Vice President, Customer Experience.

At that juncture, Rose’s customer experience was bafflement about what freedom he was being granted. Rose read on. Here came the catch. “When you sign up for Paperless Billing, you’ll avoid paying our new Printed Bill Fee of $2.99 per month, which will be automatically added starting with your June bill.” He checked his June bill. It had already been added.

He didn’t recall any previous advisory, so he called customer service. That is, he tried to call. The phone number was a closed circuit. He pressed “0” to get a person. “Please describe why you are calling.” He responded, “about the paperless billing charge.” The answer, was “this voicemail is not yet set up“ followed by “thank you. Goodbye.” Dial tone. No customer service on the customer service line.

He had one ace in the hole. He had both vision problems and hearing problems, so he called the second number on the bill and got a rep on the phone. When he told her he just found out about the new charge being on the same bill as the warning notice, she said “it was on page four of your last bill.”

“I never read my entire bill. I just pay it. What other company or utility charges a fee for a paper bill?”

“My bank does,” she responded.

“What bank?”

“That’s personal information.”

“You already shared personal information when you mentioned your bank. Can you delete the charge?”

“No. You already were given a deduction on your last bill.”

“For what?”

“It doesn’t say. I can delete the deduction of six dollars to delete the charge.”

“Let me speak to your supervisor.” After about 15 minutes of waiting, a supervisor was on the line.

It was an extended conversation about what constitutes personal information and the like. When the supervisor willingly deleted the charge, Rose asked why the customer service rep couldn’t have done so.

“They are told not to delete it.”

“Why?”

“That’s what they’re told.”

In response to Rose’s question about similar charges, the supervisor said that in his Tampa Florida region, a credit union called Campus USA has a similar paperless charge. Rose called Campus USA, and sure enough, there’s a $3 charge for the similar privilege of receiving a bill on paper, tax not included.

On June 23, Rose wrote to Frontier’s Vice President, Customer Experience to ask a few questions.

“As many land line customers have no computer access (I can name a few), what provisions have been made to waive this charge for them?

“Why was an easily overlooked insert chosen to announce the fee, and why was that insert given the ‘core beliefs’ headline, as opposed to something like ‘new surcharge for paper bills’ which more aptly describes the real-life consequence for the customer?” Rose also asked how the arbitrary amount of $2.99 was chosen.

The vice president did not respond. The next day, Rose received a full page letter dated June 13 from Frontier’s Vice President, Customer Experience advising of the upcoming charge, which had already been implemented. Apparently there had been other complaints.

Meanwhile, Rose had the customer service rep sign him up for paperless billing, which appears to be the coming trend in finding new ways to bill customers that those very consumers will be expected to tolerate, Frontier leading the way.

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