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USR fills in 56-kbps upgrade gaps

U.S. Robotics expands its upgrade program for 56-kbps modems, but users say they aren't impressed with the company's service so far.

    U.S. Robotics (USRX) today expanded its upgrade program for 56-kbps modems, but the experience of current customers indicates that buyers might face hurdles in obtaining rebates.

    USR is now offering upgrades to 56-kbps modems for users of its Megahertz PC Card modems for notebook computers. But some participants in the existing upgrade program for Courier and Sportster modems for desktop PCs have already had difficulty trading in their old modems for the new, faster models.

    The chief complaint is that customers have been given inaccurate information about whether they were eligible for a free upgrade.

    For example, several users reported in a Usenet newsgroup posting that support line technicians incorrectly told them they didn't qualify for a free upgrade and would instead have to pay $60 for the upgrade.

    A USR technical support representative also confirmed online that a mailing was incorrectly sent to a number of Sportster customers informing them they couldn't have the rebate. The "rebate denial card" said the modem had been purchased before the qualifying purchase date, but the company said it is now mailing rebate checks and letters of apology to the users involved.

    The company says it just wasn't prepared for the volume of rebate requests.

    "There has been an overwhelming volume of response to our [upgrade] programs," says Dean Brady, a product manager with U.S. Robotics. "We've staffed additional people and added phone capacity to handle the response...There's always a hiccup when these programs start up, but we are making sure our staff is trained and that they have the correct information," he said.

    Brady noted that USR will shortly announce a new program to let customers take their modems into CompUSA and Best Buy stores, pay $60, and receive a 56-kbps modem in return.

    The new rebate program announced today covers Megahertz 28.8- and 33.6-kbps modems purchased between October 16, 1996 and June 1,1997. Buyers can receive rebates of up to $100 if they purchase new PC Card modems with USR's 56-kbps x2 technology before September 30.

    Customers who purchased a U.S. Robotics 28.8- or 33.6-kbps PC Card modem before October 16, 1996 or have ever purchased a 14.4-kbps PC Card modem from U.S. Robotics or any other manufacturer is eligible to receive a $50 rebate. Customers can visit the company's Web site for more information.

    In related news, the company announced a brand new $269 56-kbps PC Card modem with x2 technology. USR expects to ship both the new XJ1560 and software upgrades for recently purchased 28.8- and 33.6-kbps PC card modems in mid-May. The software upgrades will sell for approximately $60.

    As with all 56-kbps modems, consumers need to make sure that their ISP supports USR's x2 56-kbps protocol if they want to get real speed gains. If not, the best transmission rate they can get is 33.6 kbps. Even with a 56-kbps modem and Net access service, current FCC regulations limit download speeds to 53 kbps.