MOULTONBOROUGH – Stories like Karen Jacobs’ are not exactly unheard of at the Consumer Protection and Antitrust Division of the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office.
Jim Boffetti, the head of that division, said they receive about 4,000 written complaints and 7,000 calls a year to the division’s consumer hotline, where callers are encouraged to put their complaints in writing.
For Jacobs, a Boston University professor who spends weekends and summers at her house in Moultonborough, the chance to get cheaper, faster internet service was more than she could resist.
She was paying Consolidated Communications $104 a month at the house in Moultonborough, but when she called the company to pay a bill, she said, the customer service representative asked why she was paying so much.
“’We have a special that can reduce your bill to $74 a month, including internet,’” she recalled the rep saying.
All she had to do, the way she remembers the pitch, was sign up for a two-year contract.
She agreed and scheduled an appointment for the following Thursday.
“I was so excited,” she said in a phone interview. “I told my family and neighbors.”
But the night before a Consolidated Communications tech was scheduled to show up, she received a robocall that said the tech wasn’t coming.
Jacobs said she called up the next day to inquire about what the problem was.
“’It’s stuck somewhere,’” they told me. ‘Your order got stuck.’”
When she inquired further, Jacobs said, the company told her she would have to pay a $300 fee that hadn’t been mentioned before.
Shannon Sullivan, a spokeswoman for Consolidated, said she couldn’t say what that “stuck” term meant. She said she wanted to find out and also find out how the company handles consumer complaints in general.
A visit to the attorney general’s Business Complaint Lookup website shows more than 250 gripes filed against Consolidated in the last 10 years, but that is misleading, since Consolidated has only had a presence in New Hampshire since 2017, when they bought FairPoint Communications.
Even so, Boffetti, the head of the consumer protection bureau, said that number of complaints is not terribly unusual for a company like Consolidated, “considering the business that they’re in.”
The number of complaints recorded by FairPoint/Consolidated is still less than half than the 561 racked up by Comcast dating back to 2009.
Many of the complaints on the listings for those companies note that a case has been closed and that there was “money saved or recovered.”
That’s because “They’re pretty responsive to the complaints,” Boffetti said. “They make an attempt to resolve it.”
He said every complaint they receive is reviewed and most of them are forwarded to the company for a reply. Oftentimes, the company will contact the consumer directly and the matter will be settled.
“Usually it all gets worked out,” Boffetti said. “But the hassle factor is enormous. It’s just the way these people do business.”
He said his bureau isn’t a legal services organization and doesn’t represent individual consumers.
What it does do, he said, is, “look to see if a complaint raises issues of unfair or deceptive business practices.”
If it does, they might open a file and investigate.
Jacobs said she feels she was deceived by Consolidated because the company never mentioned the $300 payment when she agreed to the new, cheaper service. She said the Consolidated customer service representatives she spoke with told her internet service providers were not regulated by the state.
“He didn’t care,” she said of one particular representative. “It was like, ‘Too bad.’”
She said she was told repeatedly that the $300 payment was company “policy” and couldn’t be waived, which she thought should have happened.
“That was never, ever, ever, ever discussed anywhere in the conversation,” she said of the fee. “It’s lousy.”
Jacobs said she hasn’t filed a complaint with the AG’s office – she decided to call the press instead – but was thinking about it.
The attorney general's consumer protection hotline is 1-888-468-4454 or 603-271-3641, weekdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. It can be accessed by email at DOJ-CPB@doj.nh.gov