Would Google Fiber cut off a customer’s internet service for 12 cents? Yes.
It happened last month to Victoria Tane of Kansas City. For two days, she had tried to figure out what was wrong.
“I thought it was on my end,” Tane said.
When she called, customer service informed Tane that her service had been suspended. A 12-cent balance was overdue. There had been emails and, the company said later, two voice messages trying to collect.
Tane offered to pay but was told the company won’t take checks for less than $10. She said she never saw the emails or heard the voice messages and admitted to being “snarky” when she offered to tape a dime and two pennies to an envelope.
The company forgave the total, restored Tane’s service in less than an hour and credited her account for $30.
When asked about the incident, Google Fiber issued a statement.
“As with any customer who has a balance due, we made repeated attempts to reach Ms. Tane to resolve the matter. Google Fiber values our customers, and we have since worked with Ms. Tane to restore her Fiber service.”
The bizarre episode reflected a confluence of events that included an upfront payment, an unwatched gmail account, a sales tax increase and a customer who has no use for a $30 credit.
More to the point, it shouldn’t have happened. Retail businesses know that it’s much cheaper to keep current customers happy than to try to replace them with new ones. Especially when it’s a matter of 12 cents.
Solomon said the company’s systems should have been set up to detect that the rift was over such a small amount of money and drop the case instead of the customer’s service. Google Fiber’s systems may have operated efficiently, he said, but in this case they “backfired.”
Tane, like a lot of others in Kansas City, bought Google Fiber’s service by paying $300 to cover the cost to connect her home.
She opted for a basic service option. Yes, it is slow, with download speeds of only 5 megabits per second, not the superfast gigabit service Google Fiber is known for.
But it worked for her. More important, Google Fiber’s basic internet service would be free for seven years.
Tane also paid the total upfront. $300 to connect, plus $25.08 for taxes and fees. Transaction done. Free for seven years.
Google Fiber, however, didn’t treat her account that way. Instead, it spread the $300 out over one year, officially recognizing a dozen monthly payments of $25, plus taxes and fees.
And when the sales tax rate rose to 8.475 percent from 8.35 percent, Tane’s account was hit for extra taxes.
“At the end of the year, they came up short 12 cents for taxes,” Tane said she was told after her service was cut off.
Tane acknowledges she missed the emails Google Fiber sent advising her of the balance due and the warnings that she would lose service. They went to a gmail account set up when she bought the service but that she doesn’t use.
Others contacted by The Star and who bought the same $300/seven-year deal said they were unaware of an added 12-cent charge. They said their service has remained uninterrupted.
Tane is glad to have the internet back but is not sure what she can do with a $30 credit. She won’t owe the company a dime for the next six years.
Solomon noted that’s when Google Fiber will hope to convert each of those free accounts into paying ones.
“They want her to be a paying customer in seven years and one day,” he said.
Right now, at least, Tane’s not sold.
“The whole thing is ridiculous,” she said. “Why would you penalize a customer who paid up front?”