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Why do BBB accreditation rules for internet firms need updates to solve consumer complaints?

Mar. 30, 2012

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The Better Business Bureau (BBB) runs an accreditation program for a wide range of businesses, including internet service providers, which is intended to ensure that those businesses provide the highest levels of service to their customers.

The accreditation is paid for by the business and includes monitoring of customer service as well as the review of the accreditation process.

Even despite accreditation, some internet service providers have such a high level of consumer complaints that many consumers have begun to question whether the existing accreditation guidelines of the BBB are sufficient for use with internet service providers at all.

The service providers in my area are all BBB accredited. My area is serviced by two broadband companies, each of them providing those services to several states in the region. Both have been in the internet business for over a decade and I've been able to use both companies over the years.

Help Me!
Services from both internet service providers in my area can best be described as barely adequate. The companies offer always-on connections with fairly stable speeds. Barring electrical storms, I can feel assured that the services will be operational. As long as the services work, I get what I paid for. Unfortunately, it's when something goes wrong that I have my doubts about the veracity of the BBB accreditation program.

Complaints about the service providers in my area are fairly consistent. Waiting times for reaching actual support personnel are far too long, support trips to customer homes are done on erratic timelines and advertised services are not provided as advertised with changes made to service contracts at the company's whim.

Year after year the complaints persist, with consumers sometimes complaining directly to the BBB itself. Yet, nothing improves. The companies continue with business as usual. It's gotten to the point that many users have jumped from one provider to the other multiple times, as they grow fed up with the service they're getting in the hope of finding something better with the other company in my area.

Is Anyone Listening?
Accreditation guidelines from the BBB are intended to assure consumers that a company is customer-centric. The guidelines are supposed to give the company methods to collect and resolve consumer complaints, reducing those complaints and providing a constantly improving service. If this is the intention though, why are complaints concerning internet providers consistent year after year?

The monitoring of providers by the BBB accreditation program should reveal each provider's inability to answer complaints satisfactorily. Those companies without the ability to deal successfully with complaints should, according to those same accreditation guidelines, be removed from the BBB lists at the next review.

The providers in my area are not removed despite customers complaining about the same issues today that they complained about a decade or more before. This is not the fault of the BBB but that of the guidelines themselves.

Overall, BBB accreditation guidelines are not specific to internet service providers. This lack of specification gives the BBB a disadvantage in dealing with service provider companies. Updated rules are needed to handle consumer complaints toward their internet providers if the BBB accreditation system is to remain useful to consumers in choosing a provider in the first place.

Without specific guidelines meant to cover internet services, the BBB cannot adequately monitor and review these companies in a conducive way that reflects the company's actual commitment to customer services. I only hope that an update happens quickly as I'm just about ready to switch my provider once again.

About the Author:
The above article is written by Eva Kempinsky from Broadband Expert Group. She writes articles in her free time which is related to internet and technology. Her latest article can be read here: Internet service providers in my area.

In other tech blog news

Last month, Pakistan's National University of Science and Technology, which represents the government, began inviting bids to help create a national-level URL filtering and blocking system. The project was initially described as a means to protect the public from undesirable content. It's a very controversial project and one that has had the internet buzzing a lot in the last two weeks, and for good reason.

But Pakistan isn't alone. Other countries have also deployed similar internet filtering and blocking systems in the past at web backbones within their own countries. But what makes this case different is that Pakistani ISPs and backbone providers have expressed their inability to block millions of undesirable websites using current manual blocking systems.

A national URL filtering and blocking concept is therefore required to be deployed at national ISP and backbones of Pakistan for it to work, and that's where all the challenges lie.

And now, the bids to accomplish the project are all in, but whoever wants a piece of what is almost certainly a profitable contract is keeping quiet, and for reasons that could be easy to understand since competition for the project is fierce, even if it does have its share of technical challenges.

Yesterday was the deadline for companies to file their applications. But critics say that the project is more like a smokescreen for Pakistan to tighten its control over the web, "fortify barriers" and choke off dissent.

But what's really going on, critics say, is a Pakistani attempt to duplicate China's sophisticated content-filtering Internet, often referred to as the "Great Firewall."

"This is essentially about multiple government agencies wanting more and more control over public spheres," said Sana Saleem, a Pakistani journalist and blogger who also runs a Karachi-based Internet free speech organization called Bolo Bhi.

The construction of the envisioned system would empower the authorities with a switch they could use to "turn off anything and everything that they deem 'objectionable'-- especially in the absence of proper legislation or a clear definition of the term 'objectionable' or even 'national security," according to Saleem.

She said that the project's opponents have heard that Pakistan's National University of Science and Technology may be involved in building and maintaining the system. "It's rather interesting to note that this is a military run institution & beyond ironic that it teaches science and technology," she said.

In the run-up to Friday's deadline, activists published the names of some of the companies believed to be competing for the bid. But it's still difficult to carefully verify the list's accuracy. For example, it was reported that Cisco had dropped out of the running. But the company maintains that wasn't true. "We don't have the products they're looking for so we didn't bid," a spokesman said.

Another company, this one more obscure, Blue Coat Systems, whose Internet blocking equipment has turned up in Syria also denied its participation or interest in bidding. "Blue Coat did not bid on this opportunity," according to a company representative.

So who is submitting their bids? "Good luck trying to find out," said an executive at a technology company which sells products to many developing nations including Pakistan. "Nobody here is going to talk about that-- nobody! Forget even getting something on background. And don't you dare use our company name."

That extra sensitivity is a response to our 24 x 7 era where companies find themselves under constant scrutiny and a PR disaster is only a tweet away. That increased transparency of the 21st century Internet age is forcing companies to be more circumspect about profiting from doing business with problematic regimes.

Such groups as the Global Network Initiative-- co-founded by Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo, and have urged tech companies not to respond to Pakistan's request for proposals.

It's rare for Silicon Valley companies to take public stands on free speech issues in other countries, but that's changing, since it's such a delicate topic and one that any company doesn't want to be misunderstood for.

The plan to build a new system for Internet filtering and blocking in Pakistan has offered an opportunity for some to claim the high ground. McAfee earlier this week tweeted that it wasn't going to send in an RFP but a spokesman said that future decisions would be applied on a case by case basis.

Websense took a stronger stance, putting out a statement on its corporate website urging other companies to "say no to government censorship of the Internet in Pakistan."

As a publicly-traded company, Websense has a financial duty to maximize shareholder value. But in an interview, interim CFO Michael Newman said the company is hoping that the positive publicity from refusing to do business with governments that censor the Internet will more than compensate for any potentially lost revenue. The company does not disclose how much business it does regionally.

Social responsibility hasn't traditionally figured as a money maker on the corporate agenda, but Newman said that the uptick in media interest may change opinions. And Pakistan serves as a perfect example.

"In general, the reason why companies are reacting differently is that people are being called to task more often than they were several years ago," adding that pressure from organizations like GNI and the Electronic Frontier Foundation is making it harder for Silicon Valley companies to evade questions about the nature of the clients buying their products and services.

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"What we hope is that this starts to put economic pressure on other companies to follow along," Newman said, noting that the sheer number of companies publicly removing themselves from participation in the Pakistani project remains small, at least for now anyway.

"This kind of publicity will drive, hopefully, a customer backlash to make them think differently."

In other tech blog news

On average, mobile app privacy arguments have dominated the technology headlines over recent months, but the pressure for higher privacy standards may upset existing business models, which often use targeted advertising to subsidise the cost that users pay for the apps in question, something that may or may not please everyone.

As always, it comes down to a matter of choice, and dollars of course.

In February, it was discovered that iPhone apps Path and Hipster were uploading user address book information without the users' consent. Nasty you say? Yes, but they did it nevertheless.

And while all of that was happening, Twitter was criticized because its own privacy policy failed to explain that if users utilized the “Find Friends” feature on its iOS and Android clients, Twitter would store the user's entire address book for 18 months.

Surprised? You should'nt be, but we understand if you are.

In another similar case, just a few days after Facebook denied that its iPhone app was reading private text messages, the company was found guilty of doing just that with a whole bunch of its users. And last month was rounded off by the revelation that software granting access to GPS and location-finding services can potentially siphon off users' photos on both iPhones and Android devices, revelations that prompted Democrat Senator Charles Schumer to write to consumer watchdogs at the FTC calling for quick action.

The GSM Association (GSMA) has responded to heightened concerns about the privacy of mobile applications with the launch of newer and stricter guidelines designed to offer users greater transparency and control over how apps use their personal information.

The new privacy enhancing guidelines for mobile application developers were launched at the MWC conference in Barcelona earlier in March. The framework seeks to make privacy-protecting measures a key part of the mobile software development process, not as an afterthought or an "add-on".

The concept of hardwiring privacy into the development process is embodied by the concept of "Privacy by Design" where app developers would be asked to enable the most restrictive privacy settings by default, for example.

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Source: Broadband Expert Group.

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