Thursday, August 14, 2008


IT’S FOR YOU- SOMEONE NAMED “WOOF”: One ringy-dingy, two ringy-dingy, three ringy-dingy strikes and you’re out.

They’re fleeing in droves and shockingly the ghostly descendents of Ernestine at Hawaiian Tel report $30 million in quarterly losses for a total of $201 million sinceVerizon pawned it off on Carlyle Group a couple of years ago.

And while the top bosses blame it on cell phones and the fact that the cable company is raking in their customers with a much better deal, the local Baby Bell isn’t exactly making the decision to give up on standard telephones a hard one for consumers

We gave it up and threw out the spaghetti of semi-functional rusty phone connectors and wires almost a year and a half ago when billing nightmares- some going back two, even three years- left us so pissed off that we cut the phone company’s line and went with the one-price including the bells and whistles, no long distance charge cable company’s phone.

No, we don’t work for Oceanic Cable, which is a piece of work in and of itself. We just recognize a better business plan when we see it.

But the main motivating factor in ditching HawaiianTel- other than keeping our old number- which the phone company wouldn’t do- was that it had become impossible to resolve their billing errors- and we mean literally impossible.

Not only did we have long distance charges that were bogus, we were being double-billed for them by both HawaiianTel and AT&T. And we were being billed for DSL at a 50% higher rate than we contracted for. And later when we cancelled the DSL we were still getting billed for it for six months.

We even got the DSL guys to tell us we weren’t getting it but the billing people were either incapable contacting him wouldn’t believe him..

And, each time we called we didn’t get the usual “sure- I’ll take care of that for you” that we’d gotten from the their service reps for many years, we got “No. Tough. Pay us now. Good bye.”

We started paying just for local service each month, trying to work it out. And they would deduct that amount from our bill. And so of course the longer it went, the more muddled it got because the amount on the bill that they said we owed them had no relationship to whatever we were supposed to be paying for.

For more than a year and a half, once a month or so we dutifully yanked out the bulging file with yellowing, dog-eared bills, notes, receipts and the like and detailed our story to the next in a string of eleventy-twelve service reps, supervisors and assorted flack-catchers.. each one of them progressively ruder and more obnoxious than the last.

And unlike in the past when it seemed like they detailed everything said and done on every call for every rep to see, now they had no record of the last call.

Most of them would finally say they would check our bills and get back to us- but no one ever did.. We’d instead get clueless calls saying pay us now.

Then finally we called one time and were told they couldn’t access our old bills because they were now too old.

This all culminated in the famous blackout where no one could use the phone to call the phone company for six months. When that ended no one could find any of our bills so sorting out all the various charges was impossible.

Then we wrote to the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) and told them we were willing to detail what we owed and what we didn’t one last time- but only to the PUC because we had told the story to at least a dozen people at Hawaiian Tel only to have to start over with the next rep when the old one didn’t call back or have a record of the last call.

Instead of asking us for the details, after six months without reply we received a one sentence letter from the PUC saying they checked with Hawaiian Tel and we owed them whatever they said we owned them.

When they call now - on our cable company phone- we tell them to “sue us”.

We thought we were an exceptional case until today but when we read the comments on the article in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin we found that our problems were as common as mangoes in June and rectifications as rare as a fresh one in December.

Here’s some of the horror stories in today’s comments.

14 months to resolve billing problems at my old work place.12 months to refund me $18 after terminating service.Not to mention the hours upon hours trying to get HawaiianTel to rectify these problems.Then $100+ to start up (phone service only) again after moving to a new place.How'd they lose money???? I really have no idea *sarcasm*Recently I just terminated my HawaiianTel service again, hopefully they get their billing straight because I don't want to waste time being transferred all over the place again.


I too, had been overcharged $80+ and after being on hold for 30+ minutes for probably 6 or more calls, got them to admit it and send me a refund check. Then when I deposited it, I got a 'stop payment' charge from my bank for $20. So they now owe me over $100!But I gave up so its been over 2 years. And you should see how I vent my dissatisfaction.I am personally responsible for switching probably 50+ people from DSL to RR, and from landline to VOIP.They all love it! And some of them took me to lunch to thank me for their monthly savings!


It's been over two years and the billing for phone services for our business is STILL not correct and they seem to have no clue on how to fix it.


fix the biggest problem - billing and provide credits - ASAP! People are leaving because they are fed up. All it takes is a bill screwup that goes unfixed, i would leave too.


HawTel also needs to fix its billing system problems ASAP. It has lost thousands of customers, maybe even tens of thousands, to month after month after month of overbilling -- and customer reps who apparently are not empowered to issue an overbilled customer a bill credit on the spot or send the customer a check for the amount of the overbilling if the amount of the overbilling exceeds a certain threshold. Wake up! Those whopping overbillings need the quickest attention of all. The average person does not have the financial wherewithal to weather those overbillings. We cut our losses and cancelled our service when we got overbilled two months straight by a total of over $400 and HawTel's reps couldn't do anything about it except refer the matter to another group where it appears to have disappeared down a black hole.HawTel has a great heritage, but GTE and Verizon gutted the company of experienced employees, and when the company was sold to Carlyle, the back-office systems were not part of the deal, so the company was hobbled right out of the gate and continues to be so today.

If just the mention of HawTel’s losses in an article spurs this many people to explain to them why, you can bet there are a lot more who are just dying to cut the cord but somehow haven’t gotten around to it.

The cable company is no great shakes either. It takes forever to get through to them and they’ve got their own customer service lies and misrepresentations.

Don’t believe them when they tell you that you can use your current phone jacks. And expect to run all your phones off one connection in the back of your cable box so you either need a tangle of wires running throughout the house or have to buy one of those four-in-one wireless phone gizmos for at least 50 bucks.

But at least with one price for everything there’s none of the arguing with the different divisions and a separate long distance carrier, all of whom seem to think that they can act like little Ernestines.

But for the corporate morons at the phone company to tell us they are losing money because people are going to cell-phones and the cable company due to circumstances beyond their control is absurd.

People are switching when they finally get fed up with the way they do business.

If you’ve dealt with the cable company you’re not exactly doing the Feiffer’s dance of joy at the prospect of letting them provide another service.

And we all know cell phones are a rip off- people spent a hundred years perfecting the sound of a telephone so that you can hear everything clearly from halfway across the globe only to be stuck now with scratchy, distorted sound that may or may not work if you don’t stand on the roof and twist yourself into a pretzel... not to mention the per-call pricing.

No one is really happy with their cell phone service- that’s why the salespeople are always asking us that question.

And why exactly did we allow 87 cell phone companies each with their own sets of antennas? Why do we allow contracts and “plans” more complicated than the moon landing?

So it’s not like we’re enraptured with the alternatives. More likely than not, people are ditching the pho-co because they’ve had it with some interaction with the phone company’s service reps.

So why do we put up with all this?

Probably because any sane regulation has been preempted in our pseudo-democracy of American corporate governance.

Modern business models are designed to screw their employees and customers. And we’ve gotten so used to it we don’t even question it any more when we’re asked to bend over- we just ask “how far”.

It’s as American as Ma Bell.

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