After moving into a house in Seattle during September 2008, I began setting up the various utilities for the house. Comcast was booked for installation times and wouldn’t be able to come out to the house to hook everything up for another two weeks. Since I thought that was pretty lame and I wanted to see if there was a better offer out there, I looked for another company that could give me internet sooner.
That’s when I found Clearwire. They had been sending me ads in the mail that were piling up on a coffee table as junk mail, but now I was actually interested so I dug them out. One of the ads said that I could get service for $20 a month for three months. I thought this would be a great chance to sample their services. So I gave them a call.
The guy on the phone seemed nice. He was from Los Vegas. He let me know when he was reading pre-written lines on his monitor. I didn’t get the car-salesman vibe from him, which is the mark of excellence when talking on the phone with someone who is selling you something. He laid out the
terms of the contract, and I said yes to all of it because I was happy to be taking my business away from Comcast (which, I find out later, owns Clearwire), but I was irked by some of what followed.
First Offense: They require you to enter a two-year contract, and early termination comes with a fee of about $200 to $220. Since the three-month offer of $20/mo is followed by $50/mo, and because the alternative is a $45/mo lifetime price, the three-month offer they advertised would mean that you would *lose* about $200 over the course of two years by taking their special offer. The same amount you would lose if you canceled early. So their special offer isn’t special at all.
Second Offense: This guy had apparently never heard of the name Crabtree, and so he spelled my last name Cravtree, which prevented me from later accessing my account online. This had to be resolved on the phone at a later date, and waiting on hold to talk to anybody at Clearwire TAKES A LONG TIME!
Third Offense: The modem was supposed to be mailed priority and arrive in one or two days. He assured me it would be one day but I knew not to count on that. It arrived four days later.
Even though the modem was late, I was excited to pull it out of the box and hook it up. It was pretty straight-forward: connect the modem to 1) A power source and 2) Your computer or wireless router. I set up the modem/router next to a window in the front of the house. Now, the modem is this tall, light-weight black object the size of a small cereal box with five green LEDs on top that indicate how good the reception is. At its maximum, presumably with exactly all five lights lit, the modem is supposed to provide 1.5 megabytes per second. This isn’t as good as cable internet for sure, not exactly what one would call high-speed, but that is still decent. That should be fast enough to download an mp3 of a four-minute song in about 2 or 3 seconds. Not to mention check email without delays. That’s plenty good for me.
Fourth Offense: the modem sucked at picking up signal. It was getting one or two lights, sometimes three. Most of the time, though, it was one or zero. It never got four or five. The download speed was far from 1.5Mbs/sec, instead approximating 50kbs/sec. That’s worse than a dial-up modem. And it usually didn’t work at all.
Some of the paperwork that came with the modem said that rotating the modem or putting it up higher can make a large difference. It also provided a number to call that could tell me where the nearest tower is, and therefore the best choice of window to place the modem. I called, and after a LONG WAIT, I spoke to a Clearwire representative who was drugged on something. I said that he would know where the closest tower is, and his response was “No sir, I cannot tell you that,” then he immediately proceeded to tell me tips for improving reception, straight out of the page I had read about rotating the modem or placing it higher. He insisted I need to place the modem higher. This reminded me of that episode of Little House on the Prairie where one of the children really wanted to talk to God, but she wasn’t sure her prayers were “getting through” so she set out to climb a mountain to better reach Him. Kid thought God’s omniscience couldn’t penetrate the thick atmosphere encasing the lowland Prairie. Anyway, I had this modem resting on a pitiful series of boxes that positioned it close to the ceiling. Still, it wasn’t high enough. Maybe I needed to rotate it a quarter of inch from up there, and it would
immediately discontinue its shitty ways.
Fifth Offense: customer service was worthless and dumb. Nothing useful came from that conversation.
I tried the service out for a little while longer before deciding, along with my four roommates, that we had had enough of this. Now, don’t think that our internet speed is a result of spreading it too thin among five people. If two or more people tried to use the internet at the same time (emphasis on the word “tried”), it was slower than molasses. It is a well known fact that molasses is no faster than 28kbs/sec. That’s slower than old-school modems, so of course we weren’t happy with our “high-speed
And here is where the fun begins. I tried to cancel my service and return my modem (emphasis on “tried”). I also didn’t want to pay the BS early termination fee because I wasn’t receiving the service they promised. Not even close. I gave them a call, and after a LONG WAIT on hold I spoke to a
guy that was reading lines from a monitor in the most unenthusiastic way imaginable. It was kinda comical, actually. I explained to this guy that my service hasn’t been what I was hoping for, and to this replied, after pulling up the proper lines on his computer, that I needed to try rotating my modem or setting it higher. I assured him that knew all that, which I’m not sure he believed, but I told him that I think my best option was to cancel. To this he transferred me to a more enthusiastic guy with a
I forget his name, but we’ll call him Luigi. Luigi said, to my delight, that he could confirm over the phone that I have poor service if I walked him through it, and thereby waive the early termination fee. I was totally on board, so carried the modem to every window, one at a time, and tried different heights and angles, then reported the number of lights to him (which didn’t change much at all). After doing this for over 30 minutes, Luigi said he was convinced, and he would transfer me to someone who would
cancel the account and finish us up.
Sixth Offense: I was totally Punk’d. I was transferred to some girl who said that I can’t cancel my service without a representative coming out to my house to see things personally. I told her that I had done everything on the phone instead, as I had been told. She said that it never works that way, and that she would transfer me to someone who would set up an appointment time. Needless to say I was pissed.
After another LONG WAIT on hold (this was a long night), I spoke to a person whose job was to look at a calendar and write names on it in the open slots. A wonderful division of labor they have going at Clearwire, with each employee participating in a fulfilling component of the craft. After exploring the calendar, this person tells me that all of the available times for representatives to come out were when I was going to be at work, so I asked, “Do you have any times that are before 8:00am, after 5:00pm, or on the weekend?” They said they’d call me back to let me know. I was called back the next day, and they set up an appointment for the weekend. I was pleased that they called me back and had a time that worked.
Seventh Offense: representative was a no-show.
I called them and let them know what happened and they set up another time. This next time was for a Wednesday morning for which I needed to take off work for another reason, so it worked well. The representative was supposed to be there sometime between 9:00am and 11:30am. I had to catch a bus at 11:30, so I left my place about five minutes early to catch the bus. The person hadn’t showed up, so I thought it was more of the same no-showing. I was wrong. This was a case punctuality is not part of the Clearwire mission statement. I got a call while on the bus asking where I was. I told this guy that he narrowly missed me. I gave him permission to test the modem even though I wasn’t there. Probably a bad idea, but nothing was stolen, and he was able to confirm that I have no signal and amended my account info accordingly.
That day I called Clearwire to cancel my account finally, without the early termination fee. After a LONG WAIT on the phone I told some representative that I wanted to cancel, so they transferred me to a
“Clearwire counselor” named Ricki. She immediately started to butter me up the best she could. Little did she know that I am 100% immune to being buttered up by gals named Ricki. She asked me how I was doing, and what I didn’t like about the service. I said it was slow and usually failed to work at all. I left out the details (see above). She asked me if knew anybody in my community that would like the Clearwire service. I said no. She said that I should try and sell my modem on Craigslist or at my church! After collecting myself by raising my jaw from the thoroughly dropped position, I managed bring myself to a reply. I said “I don’t have time for that, and frankly, it would go against my conscience to pawn off
this poor service on others.” She then assured me that Clearwire is a great service, and I let her say her bit so I could get on with my day. She then said that I would be emailed a return label within 24 hours to my email address and that I should print it out and bring it to a local UPS with my modem. To this she added that after receiving my modem, they may or may not waive my fee at all! I was being told that I might get Punk’d again!
Eighth Offense: The return label never was sent! I gave it several days and it never arrived in my inbox or spam filter.
I wrote an email to Clearwire about this they said they would actually send me one this time. Emailing is so much better than calling, and I wish I had done it sooner. This time I received the label, and happily returned my modem as soon as I could that week. Then the service was cancelled, right?
Ninth Offense: Clearwire still didn’t cancel my service!
The next month I was charged another $45 on my credit card, clearly indicating that either my modem wasn’t received or they failed to cancel my account. After emailing them, I was told I had to call them to cancel my account. I did, and after a LONG WAIT I spoke with a rep that said the modem was received, but the account hadn’t been closed out yet. Great, so customers have to call after their modem is received to remind Clearwire to actually cancel the service? They just don’t have the basics of their business worked out over there at Clearwire. Anyway, she said that my fee would be waived for that month, and that my service would actually be cancelled this time. Finally the Clearwire Saga ends for me and I will never be bothered by that shitty company again, or so I thought.
Tenth Offense: Next month, I was charged again!
This time I called them to demand a hardcopy record that my service has been canceled. After a LONG WAIT on the phone, I was connected to someone who told me that there was a note on my account that the account needed to be canceled, but no one had actually canceled it yet. Maybe this is their business strategy for maximizing profits? Maybe canceled accounted have to be approved by another sector within Clearwire, and I was not granted a cancellation? I don’t know. Anyhow, I got this fee waived also and was assured that my account was now closed out. I said that I can’t believe that account has been closed out until I have a hardcopy record of the cancellation. She said that she cannot provide anything by mail. I told her that having hardcopy receipts when requested is standard practice in any financial transaction, and was not even an unreasonable request here, because they still had access to charge money from my credit card account and had been doing so inappropriately. She transferred me to someone else, and after a LONG WAIT I spoke with another woman who told me the same thing– no written records. I didn’t become impatient, but was insistent. I wasn’t going to hang up until I got something. Finally, she agreed to write me an email that had a confirmation code for the cancellation. That was as I was going to get, so I left it at that.
Clearwire has not charged me after that, and I’ve since gone back to using Comcast. Clearwire, notably, is owned by Comcast. They monopolize internet service in my area, which means that the customer is always wrong. I’ve read lots of stories of similar horrors from others who have used Clearwire’s service, and it makes me feel bad that this company can get away with acting so badly at every level. I would strongly advise that people stop using Clearwire. I suspect that this company will do poorly over time as people realize what they are about. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean they will go out of business. Instead, they will probably merge with other companies (they already have with Sprint) to keep them
profitably afloat during the start-up period (which they are in), after which point they can continue to provide shitty service at every level and still make loads of money doing it.
Save yourself some hassle and avoid them.