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Family dials up a nightmare

Thu., April 14, 2005

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Lured by the promise of a low monthly rate for unlimited domestic calls, Sherry Willis jumped at the opportunity to ditch the old phone company in favor of 8x8 Inc.’s Packet8 Internet telephone service.

The family of six — including two chatty teenagers — was so pleased with the quality and reliability of the $19.95-a-month “Freedom Unlimited” plan that Willis canceled her old phone service, which had been costing about $175 a month.

But last month, Packet8 e-mailed the Minonk, Ill., woman to say her family was on the phone for nearly 9,000 minutes, exceeding the limits of “Freedom Unlimited.” The company wanted to put the Willises on a partially metered plan that would have cost about $200 a month.

So much for savings.

When Willis called Packet8’s customer support, the agent refused to transfer her to a manager. Her request to speak with someone in billing was denied because, the agent said, they’re swamped with phone calls. An e-mail address she was given bounced back as undeliverable.

“Steam started shooting out my ears,” Willis said.

She posted her story to, a discussion and news board for high-speed Internet users. Readers offered up 8x8 contacts — as well as suggestions that she call the Better Business Bureau and the Illinois attorney general’s office.

After several days of trying, Willis finally started to get responses from 8x8. First, agents suggested she order a second phone line and cut down on usage. Both options didn’t sit right with Willis, who pointed out the word “unlimited” in the ads.

After another round of e-mails, the dispute appeared resolved.

Bryan Martin, 8x8’s chief executive, said Willis was incorrectly misidentified as a business user because her family’s usage was abnormally high.

He said that the terms and conditions of the provider’s contract state that Freedom Unlimited is for “normal, single residential use.”

Martin said it’s rare that a real home user is misidentified as a business customer and that the Willises’ account would be flagged so the family isn’t bothered again.


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