I am interested in all things Internet, and was interested when a new company on the scene, Clearwire, began in January to offer a new WiMax service in the Portland area.  (It has existed in the Seattle-area for about a year now.)  WiMax is an over-the-air Internet connection serviced via microwave antennas located around the service area.

Since there were a great many advertisements touting the speed of this service, I decided to take a look.  Indeed, it appears that under many conditions, the service speed is indeed similar to my DSL connection that I presently have.  Like cable internet, it appears to be to be dependent upon the number of people using the service at any given time.  It seemed that it might be useful for me as I use my laptop, although it might not be so useful to my family who likes to play their online games.  Also, I happen to live in a particularly hilly part of town, where TV and radio signals have sometimes been an issue.  Logically, I though I might give it a try on a trial basis, to see of I could use it as my primary Internet service.

Let me also say that I have no love for some of our monopolistic utilities who we have been forced to do business with over the years.  I have been frustrated with the customer service folks at Qwest, my telephone and DSL provider, just enough times over the past decades that I might be inclined to do my business elsewhere if the opportunity came about.  As someone who has moved several times over the years, and as an operator of assorted businesses over the years, I have had plenty of opportunities to deal with customer service over the years.  So the level of customer service a company provides does have is a component of making my choice.  I would like to describe some of these experiences briefly:

  • First, I have dealt with many electric utilities throughout Cascadia.  Portland General, Puget Sound Energy, Seattle City Light, Pacific Power, and others have always been appropriately responsive to my issues.  None have any competition, but I have never had a problem with any matter under their control.  It is easy and businesslike to start or stop service, or to get billing questions answered.
  • I have mixed feelings about Qwest.  Getting service started or stopped is usually fine, although there was one incident where a CSR took liberties and signed me up for a suite of services I didn’t request.  When I called back after the first bill, though, all was corrected quickly and efficiently.  Their billing people have been only average to deal with sometimes.  I am quite irritated over their Yellow Pages folks, who twice failed to get a business of mine into the phone book, even with plenty of time to deal with it.  In all, average service, but I have no loyalty toward them.
  • I need to do a shout-out for my ISP here, Infinity Internet.  I have been with them for ISP services since 1995, forever in the Internet business.  But the level of customer service is impeccable.  I pay extra to keep them as a “third-party” ISP provider now, because I am totally loyal to them.  Their tech support has even called Qwest’s tech support for me, even when the problem is clearly on Qwest’s side of things and not theirs.  I will be with them forever, unless they give me a reason not to.  In fact, give them a call!
  • My longtime cell phone provider, Verizon Wireless, has been generally good to me over the years.  Yes, they have sometimes surprised me with some “policy changes” from time-to-time that have caused problems.  But in most cases, they have “made it work” and have done what was right to keep me as a customer.
  • One issue I had with my cell phone service is that, for a couple of years, I had a business where I used an average number of minutes much of the year, but thousands upon thousands of minutes during a 3 to 4 month busy season.  This caused a problem with my Verizon service, who at the time was somewhat inflexible about their plans.  A recent arrival to Portland, Cricket Communications, had been offering unlimited service with no contracts for about $45 per month.  Sure, I had to spend $200 upfront on the phone, but at the rate I was using the phone during the busy season, It would pay for itself the second month.  So I tried them out.  The problem started when I tried to get the service stopped during my off-season.  In short, it took four calls over two months to get the service cut off, and then it took a while for the billing credit to appear.  They tried to tell me that I had called, but not told them to stop the service.  The following year, I managed to negotiate a deal with Verizon to get the minuted I needed for a fair price.  Cricket lost my future business, as I will hesitate to go to them again when I need their service, because of the customer service experience.
  • Finally, I have a VOIP telephone at home with Vonage, and I have had no problems with them.  I also had several lines with them for a business that I sold.  While my business had been a customer of theirs for three years, and my issues during that time had been solved well, it was impossible to close my account.  The buyer of my business wanted to use all landlines, and I needed to close out my business accunts in a timely manner.  I was told that I could not close my account unless I spoke to the “retention department”. Presumably, their purpose is to keep me as a customer.  At a basic level, I would expect that, except that in this case, I needed to simply turn off some lines I ddin’t need anymore.  I still had another account with them.  I might have new business service with them in the future.  When I had called Qwest, this was a simple matter.  With Vonage, I had to convince them for almost an hour that I really needed to end the service on this account.  Eventually they did.  Of course, I was on the phone with them next month to have the charges reversed when they billed me for another month anyway.  So, tell me, why would I ever go back to them.

This all brings me back to Clearwire.  I am told that their sales people are great at telling me about their service.  I am told there is an option to try out the service on a month-to-month basis with no obligation to continue.  So, I though I just might try the service.

Before I did, I took the time to do a bit of research on the company.  Like every such company, there are reviews of their customer service.  Of course, there were both positive and negative reviews.  I have learned that many negative reviews have as much to do with the customer as with the customer service, and take such posted complaints wit ha grain of salt.

But one thing caught my eye.  It seems that, in markets where Clearwire has already been providing service, that some of the people who needed to cancel their service (even within the terms of their contract) were having to call a “retention department” to get their service stopped.  In short, just the fact that Clearwire has a retention department is enough to deter me from ever using their service. I may like the service, and I might not.  I need the service to stand on its merits, though.  The presence of a retention department, in itself, tells me that this company does not work for me.

If anyone from Clearwire or a user of the service would like to convince me that I am wrong, my ears are open.  So is the comments section below.  Otherwise, for my Internet services, “The choice is clear”.  And in this case, the choice is not Clearwire.