Friday, September 15, 2006

Telecom Non Grata

I just wrote about Cornell University's incessant e-mails, so, while I'm on the subject of people who just won't leave you alone, I should tell you about my least favorite telephone company, PowerNet Global, a.k.a. PNG Communications, of Cincinnati, Ohio.

Read more...Back in 1995, in the early days of "personal 800 numbers," I signed up with a company that turned out to be a reseller of PNG's alleged services. They activated my toll-free number and started billing me, but neglected to tell me what the number was — making it rather difficult for me to get any use from the service. Repeated calls to their so-called customer service department invariably went to a voicemail box, which was usually already full. Finally, after three weeks, I managed to get a living person, who told me the number. A few months later, though, I was testing my service and dialed my own number from another telephone. To my surprise, I was connected with a housewife in South Dakota. I called and complained, so they reconnected my toll-free number — to a subscriber in Pennsylvania! I called again, and left my work phone as a daytime contact number, so they connected my personal 800 number to my work phone. Things went along fairly smoothly for a while, but in 1997, I found another vendor, and leapt at the chance to leave PNG forever in my dust.

No such luck. After dragging their feet on the switch of "RespOrg," PNG finally released the number to the new provider. In 2002, though, they began billing me a monthly minimum on the account that I had closed five years earlier. I filed an informal complaint with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and got a reply indicating that a computer mix-up had led to the erroneous billing, but I was also assured that it would never, ever, ever happen again.

No such luck. Last month, I got another bill from PNG, this time for the "telecom infrastructure fee," "network access charge," "Federal Universal Service Fund surcharge," and "High Cost Fund B." Another complaint to the FCC brought the answer that the erroneous bill was a result of a computer error in 2002! To wit: "The complainants' information was in our billing system in preparation for the possible migration of American Telecom Network customers in 2002. Even though the complainant did not receive service from PNG, the account remained open in our system. Recently PNG restated the Network Access Charge creating a new Telecommunications Infrastructure Fee (TIF) of $.99. Due to the TIF and tax on the TIF exceeding one dollar, al accounts in our system, including the complainant's, received an August invoice. The outstanding balance has been credited and the account has been closed permanently." If only I should be so lucky. Given the fact that they promised in 2002 to close the account permanently, my skepticism is alive and well.

If ever you need telecommunications services of any kind, get tin cans on a string before you even think about doing business with PowerNet Global. Their incompetence, both on the technical level and on the billing level, knows no bounds. Since "PNG" is also an abbreviation for "Persona Non Grata," I prefer to call them Telecom Non Grata.

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