Verizon has decided to abruptly cut off wireless internet to some 8,500 rural customers in 13 states, saying their heavy data use had made it impossible to profit off of the accounts—even though many of the users had purchased unlimited plans.
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“Approximately 8,500 customers—using a variety of plans—were notified this month that we would no longer be their service provider after October 17th, 2017,” Verizon corporate communications director Kelly Crummey told BGR. “These customers live in 13 states (Alaska, Idaho, Iowa, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Utah and Wisconsin) and in areas outside of where Verizon operates our own network.”
Letters Verizon is sending to the affected customers are blunt, to say the least.
“During a recent review of customer accounts, we discovered you are using a significant amount of data while roaming off the Verizon Wireless network,” Verizon wrote, according to Ars Technica. “While we appreciate you choosing Verizon, after October 17th, 2017, we will no longer offer service for the numbers listed above since your primary place of use is outside the Verizon service area.”
No option to continue, with or without reducing use of mobile data, was given.
Per BGR, the issue stems from Verizon’s LTEiRA program, in which the company pairs with 21 regional carriers to provide mobile access to rural regions. Verizon users get to jump on board those regional networks whenever they want, though when they use roaming data Verizon is responsible for paying the carriers’ fees.
While Verizon says some of the users were using as much as a terabyte of data monthly, one family reported they had been using less than 50 gigabytes of data across four lines every month on an unlimited data plan.
“Now we are left with very few choices, none of them with good service,” a member of the family told Ars Technica. “I guess small-town America means nothing to these people. It’s OK—though I live in a small town, I know a lot of people, and I’m telling every one of them to steer clear of Verizon.”
Verizon’s decision has ramifications for the regional carriers as well, which say the company encouraged them to build infrastructure to expand their service areas but is now backing out on the deal.
Though US telecoms have long gotten away with the digital equivalent of murder while providing terrible service, Verizon’s decision is particularly ominous given it could soon be given free license to treat rural customers even more poorly. The Federal Communications Commission and its Donald Trump-appointed chairman Ajit Pai have recently sought to slash the agency’s standards for what it considers acceptable access to broadband, including by allowing service providers to pass off mobile service as a replacement for home internet—a decision that would disproportionately impact poor Americans.