Well, it was fun while it lasted. The idea of being able to take our internet with us wherever we went was a compelling one, but the realities of the service got in our way. If you’ve read my previous rants about leaving Comcast, you know that the idea we had for Clear was to use it for internet and television (through Hulu Plus and Netflix).
When I explained this idea to the salesman at the Clear store, he assured me that was perfectly reasonable. He said 4G data was unlimited and I was welcome to take full advantage of it and download as much media as I could.
Everything worked fine for the first month of service. We watched a couple of hours of standard-definition TV through Hulu Plus on my PlayStation 3, and all was well. We didn’t notice any serious bandwidth issues until this week.
Three days ago something strange started happening. We would come home and sit down to watch an episode of the Daily Show on Hulu Plus. I’d previously set our resolution to SD (1MB/s) so as not to greatly tax our connection while my wife surfed on her laptop. I figured with the advertised 3-5Mbps we should be fine.
We were fine for the first hour or so, but when we tried to watch something else, Hulu skipped something horrible. We tried it on our laptop and had the same problem. Finally, I checked our speed with Speedtest.net. Our downloads were hovering around 0.92Mbps, and dipping as low as 0.42Mbps. This was what I paid $70 a month for? I called customer service.
I didn’t have to wait long to get a tech support rep. That was good. The fact that I was on the phone with that rep for a good hour and a half with no resolution to our problem was not so good. To her credit, the rep had me try every trick in her book short of burying a potato in my back yard by the light of the full moon while dressed in a Cossack shirt and singing Nelson Eddie songs.
We did everything we could to try and bring the connection speed up. Finally, an hour and a half into the conversation she said she had one more thing to try. She put me on hold for about ten minutes and when she returned, we magically had our 3Mbps speeds back. I thanked her and considered the issue resolved.
It lasted about an hour. I called again, but this time no amount of praying to the broadband gods by the tech rep could bring the speed back up. By that time it was well past my bed time so I called it a night.
The following evening the same thing happened. After the first hour at regular speeds, our connection dropped off to 0.91Mbps. I called customer service again. This time I got a new answer: our account was being “managed.” When I asked the rep what he meant, he said that apparently some unnamed “manager” had been monitoring the bandwidth on our device and determined in his infinite (but not unlimited) wisdom that we were using too much. So he throttled us.
Throttling is a four-letter word in my family. My wife and I had a terrible experience with a wireless internet device from Verizon when they advertised “unlimited data” and throttled our speed down to 0.32Mbps when we reached their unwritten 5GB cap. They even went so far as to say we were committing “fraud” and charged us several hundred dollars for the privilege of dialup speeds. Needless to say, I was mad.
The tech rep said that no, they weren’t actually throttling our bandwidth, they were “managing” the bandwidth of everyone connected to our tower so that we all got slow speeds. Great, not only was he playing semantic games with me, he was giving me a guilt trip for making everyone else suffer because I had the audacity to believe “unlimited” meant “unlimited.”
I had the tech rep explain to me exactly what he meant, and the way I understood it was that even though ClearWire owns all the 4G towers and advertises “unlimited data” at 3-5Mbps, that doesn’t mean their network can actually support 3-5Mbps for every customer simultaneously.
What that really means is all the people in your area share that 3-5Mbps. The net effect is, if you’re getting what you paid for, someone else isn’t. That was pretty much the last nail in the coffin for us.
The next morning I packed up the ClearSpot and called Clear to cancel. I was fully prepared to have to pay an early termination fee (ETF) to cancel since we’d used the ClearSpot longer than the allotted 30-day trial period. I had it in writing that the ETF would not exceed $40USD and I was prepared to fight for that.
The fellow I talked to at the cancellation office was calm and reasonable with me. He listened to our problems with the service and followed along in the notes the tech reps had entered. He tried to offer me other options (such as a 4G-only ClearSpot that might get better signal and cost less per month). I explained to him that the issue wasn’t so much the price and signal, as the fact that their bandwidth simply wasn’t able to handle what we wanted to do with it. He apologized and set everything into motion to cancel my account without so much as a minor guilt trip.
I was very impressed by how reasonable and accomodating Clear was with this. Okay, maybe “shocked” is a better word. I asked him at the end if we were going to pay an ETF, and he said no. I didn’t have to haggle with him over it. He seemed to understand that Clear simply wasn’t able to provide the service we needed (or the service they advertised) and that our reason for cancelling was not our fault.
Although I’m sure most companies don’t want to have their customers cancel, this was a good example of cancellation done right. I did not leave the conversation with a bad taste in my mouth, and I’m much more likely to consider using Clear in the future should the opportunity present itself. We’re quite well-versed now on the limitations of the service, so hopefully if we ever choose them again we won’t be so unpleasantly surprised.
When I dialed the number to cancel our Clear service, I was livid. I felt like I’d been given a bait-and-switch, and I was out for blood. The service I received from Clear when cancelling my account did a lot to assuage my anger. I’m disappointed Clear wasn’t able to offer what they advertised, but I’m glad they at least owned up to it and didn’t make me pay for their shortcomings. This is something AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon can all learn from.
Hopefully my story can serve as a fair warning to those considering Clear service in the future. The company handles their customer service pretty well in comparison to their competitors, but be warned: unlimited data does not mean unlimited bandwidth.