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Verizon Scraps Wireless Service For Some Rural Customers

“Verizon believes that customers even in the smallest communities deserve the most modern wireless service and technology. In these first five years, the LTE for Rural America program has delivered value and high-tech solutions to customers and carriers in rural America. It all comes down to being focused on the customer.”
Except not so much anymore. That was Philip Junker, executive director of strategic alliances for Verizon Wireless in a May 2015 press release celebrating the five-year anniversary of Verizon’s LTE for Rural America program.
LRA is a program in which Verizon partnered with 21 carriers across the United States in an effort to provide service to rural Americans. Approximately 2.6 million people and over 100,000 square miles were covered under this program in 2015.
The program affected Alaska, Kentucky, Montana and many other rural states. Places like northeast Montana depended on the program for reliable cell service at competitive rates.
Some Verizon customers received a letter recently regarding the end of their service on Oct. 17.
The letter reads, “While we appreciate you choosing Verizon, after Oct. 17, 2017, we will no longer offer service to the numbers listed above since your primary place of use is outside the Verizon service area. We encourage you to evaluate your wireless provider options and switch your service on these lines to another provider before Oct. 17. After your Verizon Wireless service is discontinued on Oct. 17, you will no longer be able to transfer your phone numbers to a different provider.”
The letter goes on to say that, to “make your transition easier,” Verizon will forgive outstanding device payment plan balances for devices purchased prior to Sept. 12.
It appears it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been a Verizon customer either. There have been reports of 10- to 17-year customers being contacted about their contracts being terminated. This is impacting not only northeast Montana residents, but rural communities all across the United States.
It isn’t just impacting their abilities to Snapchat and browse Facebook either. In a Sept. 14 article of the Great Falls Tribune, several emergency responders across Montana reported that their entire emergency networks are handled by Verizon. One county ambulance service director said that approximately 90 percent of ambulance paging was done by Verizon text messages and the discontinuation of service was creating a safety concern.
Some farmers, ranchers and other rural families may not be able to make calls once their wireless service ends.
Some carriers, such as Mid-Rivers Communications which serves McCone County, are not currently accepting new wireless customers which could leave some citizens without any wireless service at all.
Jennifer Leischner, from Nemont, tried to answer that question on Voices of Montana in an interview with host Jon Arneson.
Leischner said that the problem started with unlimited data.
“When Verizon launched its unlimited data plan in order to be competitive in the market, they began to throttle those unlimited customers at approximately 22 gigabytes of usage,” said Leischner “When Verizon customers are roaming, such as on Nemont towers, Verizon has no way to control or throttle data usage.”
The discontinuation of accounts is apparently Verizon’s way of handling this problem. It also explains why only customers who use a lot of data are currently being impacted by the redaction of service. Although some have reported receiving letters regarding numbers that used less than 5 gigabytes of data.
Leischner said that Nemont’s neighbors, Triangle Communications and Mid-Rivers Communications, are also being impacted. Nemont, like many of the carriers in the LRA program, had no idea that this was coming. Nemont entered in to the LRA program back in 2012.
Leischner said that Nemont, along with the other LRA carriers, are not stopping Verizon users from using their towers. Nemont’s agreement has not changed with Verizon and the pricing — which Verizon sets — for using Nemont’s towers hasn’t changed.
U.S. Senator Jon Tester, in a press release, is demanding answers from the telecom giant for unexpectedly terminating so many wireless contracts. Tester is pushing for Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam to reverse the company’s decision to abandon these customers.
In a letter Tester wrote to McAdams, he said, “I am very troubled by Verizon’s recent decision to terminate contracts for customers living in rural areas of Montana. Given the importance of wireless communications for maintaining public safety, running a business and staying connected during emergencies, I strongly urge Verizon to reverse its decision to involuntarily remove rural customers from its network.
Montana’s other U.S. Senator, Steve Daines, also condemned Verizon’s treatment of rural Montanans, releasing this statement: “It’s unacceptable that Verizon has threatened to pull their service from rural customers. This is yet another example of the rural/urban divide and choosing a bottom-line over a commitment to Montanans.”
The numbers vary depending on the source. Some sources report up to 19,000 contracts being terminated, but Verizon disputes this number. However, Verizon hasn’t provided any official number for contracts terminated, only stating that it’s “a fraction” of that number.
Verizon also considers the one month leading up to the Oct. 17 termination “advance notice” as spoken in a statement by Megan Dorsch, a Verizon spokesperson.
Some of the LRA participants impacted by this issue include Bluegrass Cellular, Cross Telephone, Pioneer Cellular, Cellcom, Thumb Cellular, Strata Networks, S and R Communications, Carolina West, Custer Telephone Cooperative, KPU Telecommunications, Chariton Valley Communication Corporation, Appalachian Wireless, Northwest Missouri Cellular, Chat Mobility, Matanuska Telephone Association, Wireless Partners, Triangle Communications, Nemont, Mid-Rivers Communications and Copper Valley Telecom.
Verizon has not issued any official explanation as to why it’s cutting off these customers, aside from them using too much data. Instead of downgrading customers plans or differing to the fine print on their contracts, Verizon has opted to cut them out of their customer base entirely.