Bill would require internet providers to reimburse customers when service goes out

Measure brings questions, skepticism at House Commerce hearing

When the lights go out, the meter stops running, and you don’t pay for electricity you don’t use. Terry Roy wants to know why the same doesn’t apply when the internet goes down Terry Roy wants to know.

Roy is more than a frustrated consumer. He is a Republican state representative from Deerfield, and he is sponsoring a a bill to try to address his concern. The was heard by the House Commerce and Consumer and Affairs committee on Wednesday.

House Bill 1578 would require internet providers to reimburse consumers when the power is out more than four hours. Roy introduced the measure, he said, because of a “troubling trend” he has seen from his internet provider – “really, really bad reliability of internet.”

Roy, who told NH Business Review that his internet service provider is Metrocast, said he has experienced short-term outages daily and long-term outages weekly. It makes it hard, he said, for his wife to work from home, and with more and more consumers ditching their landlines, it could be a matter of public safety. Still, he still has to pay the same monthly bill.

“The internet is the only service that we pay for when we don’t get it,” he said.

Rep. John Hunt, R-Rindge,, suggested Roy try a redundant backup service. A hot spot on his cell phone perhaps?

“Your answer of not getting service is to pay for another service. I just want the thing to work when I pay for it, that’s all,” Roy answered.

Metrocast didn’t testify at the hearing, but Comcast and Consolidated Communications did.

Both opposed the bill, they said, because they already reimburse customers when service is dropped. Comcast does it if it happens for more than 24 hours, though it tells its customer service reps to work with users when it is down for less time than that. Consolidated said that it generally gives refunds after investigating an incident when asked.

“It’s very impotent to us that our customers have service,” said Ellen Scarponi, a Consolidated lobbyist. “We believe you should only pay for what you get. Call us and you will get reimbursed.”

But Roy doesn’t think he should have to call his provider. For one, getting a customer service representative on the line is a time-consuming event. He thinks that it should be automatic when the service goes down.

The providers contend that is not workable. They only know service goes down when they get calls to investigate because that kind of global “visibility” raises privacy concerns, said Christopher K. Hodgdon, Comcast’s lobbyist. And sometimes the outage could be caused by the failure of the customer’s own equipment

Other committee members wondered how of a problem it is. Rep. Joyce Weston, D-Plymouth, said she seemed surprised that Roy was having so much difficulty. “I don’t have that experience. The only time it goes down is when there is big storm,” she said, suggesting that Roy, or the community, just switch providers.

Roy said that wasn’t a viable option, at least for the short term. But after Scarponi approached him and said that as far as she knew Consolidated does serve Deerfield, and in any case, there is a new law allowing municipal bonding to bring higher-speed internet service.

“This is a competitive business,” she reminded him. “That’s why we aren’t regulated.”

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