While a lot of recent concern has revolved around consolidation in the broadband market, lack of broadband connectivity in the greater part of the United States, and the rising prices of Internet connectivity in general, not a lot of attention has been payed to the trials and tribulations of customers who, well, no longer want to be customers.
Nevertheless, getting disconnected is a topic receiving an increasing amount of press and has even been the subject of a recent Dilbert comic strip. This article details one person's attempts to disconnect from, not one, but two ISPs.
My favorite part of this article is where the customer asks to have his account cancelled. The customer service representative asks "Why?" When the customer graciously explains that he now has connectivity with a different provider and hasn't used his old account in quite awhile. The customer service representative responds, "You're sending out mixed signals here. This isn't really a good reason for cancelling." What?!?!
Now, every company makes mistakes. Lord knows we've made a few. But this kind of news makes me ashamed to even be in the same industry as these ISPs. It is abundantly clear that many ISPs make it as hard as possible to cancel an account. Perhaps they are assuming that most people will simply pay the extra $20 to $60 a month in an attempt to preserve their sanity or to avoid conflict.
We hear nightmare cancellation stories more frequently than one might think. Some customers say that after spending months trying to cancel their accounts, they finally got the ISP's attention by instructing the credit card company to deny all transactions from the ISP. This, at least, seems to stop the bills.
Unfortunately, with more weighty matters occupying our representatives' time, we probably won't see any legislation to stop this sort of behavior. Perhaps it will resolve itself in the civil courts, but most citizens are not going to take their former ISP to court over failing to cancel an account. If they do so and win, it is unlikely that the punishment meted out will be enough to make even that one ISP change its behavior...and that's what the ISPs are counting on.