Verizon is disconnecting another 8,500 rural customers from its wireless network, saying that roaming charges have made certain customer accounts unprofitable for the carrier.
The 8,500 customers have 19,000 lines and live in 13 states (Alaska, Idaho, Iowa, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wisconsin), a Verizon Wireless spokesperson told Ars today. They received notices of disconnection this month and will lose access to Verizon service on October 17.
“These customers live outside of areas where Verizon operates our own network,” Verizon said. “Many of the affected consumer lines use a substantial amount of data while roaming on other providers’ networks and the roaming costs generated by these lines exceed what these consumers pay us each month.”
“We sent these notices in advance so customers have plenty of time to choose another wireless provider,” Verizon also said.
We wrote about an earlier wave of disconnections in June. The affected customers are supported by Verizon’s LTE in Rural America (LRA) program, which relies on a partnership between Verizon and small rural carriers who lease Verizon spectrum in order to build their own networks.
One customer says family only used 50GB across four lines
Verizon said in June that it was only disconnecting “a small group of customers” who were “using vast amounts of data—some as much as a terabyte or more a month—outside of our network footprint.”
But one customer, who contacted Ars this week about being disconnected, said her family never used more than 50GB of data across four lines despite having an “unlimited” data plan.
“Now we are left with very few choices, none of them with good service,” the customer told us. “I guess small-town America means nothing to these people. It’s OK—though I live in a small town, I know a lot of people, and I’m telling every one of them to steer clear of Verizon.”
We asked Verizon whether 50GB a month is a normal cut-off point in its disconnections of rural customers, but the company did not provide a specific answer. “Many current customers in these areas have lines which do not rack up roaming charges that are higher than what they pay us each month and are not impacted,” Verizon said. “People who live within the area where Verizon operates its own network are not impacted.”
Verizon’s letters to customers begin with the following statement: “During a recent review of customer accounts, we discovered you are using a significant amount of data while roaming off the Verizon Wireless network. While we appreciate you choosing Verizon, after October 17, 2017, we will no longer offer service for the numbers listed above since your primary place of use is outside the Verizon service area.”
The letters do not provide any options for customers to stick with Verizon, even if they reduce their data use. Verizon also warns customers that if they don’t act by the October 17 disconnection date, “you will no longer be able to transfer your phone numbers to a different provider.”
One of the letters can be seen in this Stop the Cap article.
Small carrier plans to hold Verizon accountable
A Bangor Daily News article provides some more background on Verizon’s rural LTE program that is now being scaled back:
Three years ago, Wireless Partners, a Portland-based company operating in Maine and New Hampshire, was one of 20 firms around the country selected to work with Verizon Wireless to expand service in rural areas. Wireless Partners constructed 13 new towers in Washington County to provide better coverage along routes 1 and 9.
Verizon then started offering cellphone plans with no data limitations to entice new customers. But Maine Public Advocate Barry Hobbins says the company then found out the roaming price tag for the incentive was higher than anticipated.
Now, Hobbins says, Verizon Wireless is pulling out of rural service agreements in areas of several states—including Washington County.
“It appears that Verizon induced these companies to build out in the rural areas around the country and then significantly promoted it by saying that they’re covering the rural areas,” Hobbins said.
But now that they are cutting the program back, a Wireless Partners spokesperson said the small company “plans to exhaust every effort to cause Verizon Wireless to rethink this decision and to honor the promise of its LRA program under which the network was constructed.”
Hobbins plans to meet with Maine Attorney General Janet Mills “to determine how the state should respond,” the article said.
The Bangor Daily News article said that Verizon sent the disconnection letters to 2,000 customers in Washington County in Maine, but Verizon told Ars that it was just 213 customers in Maine.
Further details can be found in the Stop the Cap article.
“Customers have no recourse and if they don’t port their number to another service provider by the termination date, their number will be disconnected and lost for good,” the article said. “The only good news? Verizon wants to disconnect customers so badly, they are willing to forgive the remaining owed balances for any devices financed through Verizon.”