Internet service provider BOSnet Communications admits that it got more that it bargained for when it took over thousands of USFreeway accounts for customers who were promised free Net access.
BOSnet has been plagued with hundreds of phone calls a day since March from former USFreeway customers who complain that they never received their start-up kits or were billed incorrectly after paying a one-time fee of $25 to $45 for Net software.
Across online newsgroups, some former USFreeway customers were crying "scam" over the past few months. But BOSnet's president, John Wind, said this week that his 14-person business is legitimate, just overtaxed.
After receiving charges on their credit cards, USFreeway customers were sent a note in March stating that BOSnet, based in North Carolina, would be their new Internet provider. Many customers, who signed up as far back as January, never received their software even after BOSnet acquired their accounts. USFreeway's Web site and phone number disappeared, and BOSnet's lines are not answered by live operators, leaving customers frustrated.
Offering Net access for nothing seems to have come with a price for BOSnet. The deal was great for customers, who usually have to pay the going ISP rate of $19.95 per month. But BOSnet's struggle to provide quality customer service is proving to be costly in dollars and reputation.
"We bit off a little bit more than we could chew in one gulp," Wind said. "There was a delay from the time that customers were set up on our network and when they were sent the new CD setup package.
"It was done in a disorganized way. We're sorry," he added.
BOSnet's "customer service" nightmare, Wind said, is the result of his small staff not being able to handle the almost 500 calls per day from USFreeway customers who have been left in the lurch for months after receiving an email notice saying that "USFreeway was forced to discontinue using its name due to a trademark dispute" and that "BOSnet Communications would acquire all customers immediately."
The "trademark dispute" was for real, said the owner of the domain name "www.freeway.net," Chuck Scott of Michigan. Although he never threatened to sue USFreeway, he sent the company a warning letter on March 13 stating that "freeway" was his trademark for the use of selling Internet-related services.
Scott never heard from USFreeway again, and some customers thought they wouldn't either.
But BOSnet sent start-up kits to all USFreeway customers by April 15, Wind said. In addition, the company revamped its voice mail system to route customers more efficiently.
"Every customer has been mailed a password, a user log-on name, and a fully licensed copy of Netscape Navigator 3.0 Gold," Wind said. "Services will be delivered to any customer that BOSnet has acquired. Phone calls will be returned within 24 hours."
Wind said customers should leave messages and be patient. After all, he said, customers are getting "$80 worth of software and free Net time" for a fraction of the cost.
Customers have to leave voice mails because live attendants aren't available. As CNET NEWS.COM found today, however, mailboxes can fill up. The message box for "new" BOSnet customers who haven't received their start-up kits was full. Customers who are able to leave a message should get a new kit by April 30, the recording states.
Even though Wind said USFreeway customers were shipped software, some still complain that they were overcharged and haven't received call backs from technical support or accounting.
Steve Lee of Hawaii signed up in January and says he still hasn't received the software. Lee claims he signed up for a $25 promotional fee but was charged at the regular rate of $45. He's also left at least three messages in the last three weeks to no avail.
"It really made me angry because I actually had to close my charge account due to them," Lee said.
Dell Elzey of Oklahoma City signed up for two USFreeway accounts in February. He claims he also signed up for the promotional fee but was charged the standard rate for each account. He hasn't received a minute of "free" Net access for his $90 yet but finally received BOSnet's software yesterday.
Elzey wants a refund instead. "I just hope I can get my money back," he said. "I tried to install the software and it messed my computer up something terrible. The technical support line says they'll call you back, but they haven't."
Marilyn and Gary Barrett of Canada signed up for USFreeway's hot deal on March 26 and said BOSnet came through with the software on Friday. They said they weren't billed for the promised discount price either.
"We received the start-up kit, so I'm quite confident that it's on the level," Marilyn Barrett said. "But I still can't use it because I have a Macintosh, and they sent me the Windows start-up kit."
However, Gary Barrett added: "You can phone them, but no one ever gets back to you. I was going to take one last shot at it today and leave a message about the Mac software to see if anything happens. [BOSnet] is a tremendous deal--if it works."