There’s a rumor about that Mstar has outsourced all customer support to ServerPlus. Employees in Mstar’s call center were reportedly either laid off or offered a job at ServerPlus with a big pay cut, possibly down to as little as $10 an hour. Mstar had initially used ServerPlus for fiber customer support and found it lacking, so the move back to them seems like a step backwards. I’m going to count it as another tick mark on the Mstar Death Watch.
A separate rumor says that Broadweave is in negotiations with ServerPlus for the same thing. That would be bad news for anyone currently in a customer service position with the company.
The Salt Lake Tribune reports that city records show that Mstar and DynamicCity, the network management company for UTOPIA, also put in bids to either manage or run the city’s fiber optic network. A fourth company also reportedly made a bid, but their name is being kept secret by the city. DynamicCity President Cory Turner (who I know and who wasn’t president of DynamicCity at the time) said that the bid to operate the network was a long-shot at best. That proposal was put together by D. Keith Wilson.
Mstar’s involvement in the process, however, is rumored to be very different from how it is portrayed in this article. Word on the street is that once they caught wind of the sale and were denied based on their account being in arrears, they quickly made a deal with Broadweave to sell the customer list and have their debt forgiven. The rumor mill says that Broadweave then double-crossed Mstar when board member Fraser Bullock threatened to pull business from the law firm that employed Mstar’s principal investor and demanded payment to settle the matter.
The major dailies reportedly are all aware of these shenanigans but have gotten a lot of pressure to keep it all under wraps. I’m privvy to only the surface details of the matter, but any current or former Mstar employees who’d like to fill in the gaps is invited to call or e-mail me.
After many months of waiting, UTOPIA has launched a new website (warning: sound and Flash ahead). It also includes a form for you to submit contact information to UTOPIA to check for service in your area and express your interest in signing up when it becomes available, apparently they hired a business web design firm that help with all the problems the old site had. It also lists FuzeCore and Fibernet as providers (in addition to XMission, Veracity and Nuvont), but Mstar is still absent from the list. None of the providers on the website are shown as providing video, definitely a cause for some concern. The site is also lacking any kind of newsletter sign-up or RSS feed for updates. Still, this is a marked improvement over the presumed-dead static site that had been up for years.
I asked Mstar directly if they are still on UTOPIA and got the following response from Henry Rodriguez, Customer Service Manager:
The change to the UTOPIA website must be an administrative oversight, as Mstar continues to be the largest and most experienced service provider on the UTOPIA network. Any questions about UTOPIA’s website should be sent directly to the UTOPIA staff.
Forum commenter DIE-HARD has reported that he is an Mstar customer and hasn’t experienced any change in service or received any kind of notification of changes. I also put in an inquiry to one of my contacts at UTOPIA, but I haven’t heard anything back yet.
UPDATE: I’ve heard back from UTOPIA who said it is a temporary measure. They’ve started selling in Tremonton as has been rumored on the forum and wanted to make sure that Mstar would be prepared for a large influx of new customers before they’re listed.
Meanwhile, details of Comcast’s new DOCSIS 3.0 deployments is coming to light and, while good news for current subscribers or those switching from DSL, it’s hardly competitive with offerings from UTOPIA. In addition to a 50Mbps/5Mbps tier at $150/mo, Comcast plans to upgrade current subscribers to 12Mbps/2Mbps at $42.95/mo and offer a 22Mbps/5Mbps tier at $62.95/mo to compete with a similar offering from Verizon. Compare that to a 15Mbps/15Mbps plan at $40/mo or 50Mbps/50Mbps for $55/mo from either MSTAR or XMission. Just be thankful you aren’t a SureWest customer. They charge around $192/mo for a 50Mbps connection.
Remember how Broadweave constantly hammered on the importance of owning thier own phone switch? Apparently it’s all talk and no walk. An insider has revealed that Broadweave resells phone service from Veracity for all of the customers they acquired from MSTAR on the iProvo network. With Broadweave unable to control all of the SIP session from one end to the other, it sounds like subscribers should be prepared for more of the finger-pointing game when their voice service experiences issues. That’ll be a great selling point for the marketers from Telerus, won’t it?
This same insider has reported that MSTAR plans to follow suit and switch their customers on UTOPIA from using NGT to Veracity. They would join Nuvont in selling white box services from Veracity and make XMission the only current provider to not do so. This will reportedly result in a loss of dialing features, voice mail boxes and even some toll-free numbers. Subscribers had better prepare for the worst.
The Deseret News recently ran an article on iProvo in which Mayor Billings claimed that iProvo is seeing a major turnaround under Broadweave’s direction. Certainly there are areas that have been improved drastically, live support being the most notable. Unfortunately, this improvement in response time has been at the cost of frequent outages with the TV programming guide, a 3-4 hour outage this morning for all Internet users and a lack of general notification as to what the heck exactly is going on.
Mstar is reportedly still receiving payments for customers they sold to Broadweave. Bills have arrived from Broadweave without explanation as to who this bill was from and their purchase of the network. Rates were scheduled to increase, but not notification was sent as to how existing plans will be migrated. This is top-notch management? There’s just two weeks for Sorenson to complete their review of the financing without so much as a peep as to how that’s going.
Amidst all this are many disturbing rumors floating around. CEO Steve Christensen is reportedly having to pay employee salaries out his own pocket. It’s also alleged that Broadweave is using trucks with city plates to do business in Provo. We’ve also witnessed the departure of all iProvo NOC techs and a significant amount of the rest of the staff, a major loss of expertise that cannot be easily compensated for. With the lack of basic notifications and the “silent running” attitude, it’s no wonder that rumors like this continue to persist.
Sounds like Broadweave needs to reconsider who’s doing their PR. Anyone out there willing to fill in the gaps?
As further evidence that the transition of iProvo’s Mstar customers to Broadweave is filled with potholes, I’ve heard that Mstar abruptly shut down customer e-mail addresses without any warning or notification from either Mstar or Broadweave, the company who bought those customers. Combine that with a total lack of notification on billing changes (Mstar is reportedly still getting payments from customers they no longer service) and it appears that the highly-touted customer service Broadweave promised has ended up a dud.
Today’s meeting of U-CAN in Orem went really well with some good attendance. Residents are largely frustrated at the delays and lack of information as to when UTOPIA would be deployed in their area and are very interested in having the network succeed. We had one of the UTOPIA NOC employees on-hand today (he moved from the iProvo NOC) as well as a consultant who’s been working with some of the new prospective service providers and a lot of good information came forth.
An established triple-play provider is really close to joining the network once they negotiate transport fees and they plan to market primarily to residences. This should be announced within a few weeks. Those of you looking for an Mstar alternative, look no more!
It’s possible to order different services from different providers, but the providers don’t really know how to do it. One example of this is a subscriber who has data from XMission, voice from Nuvont and video from Mstar. If you have trouble getting the provider to offer you an unbundled service, contact your rep on the UTOPIA board to get it moving.
UTOPIA isn’t currently equipped to handle adding new pledging cities. If you’ve been trying to get your city council on board, you need to step back and wait for a bit. Most city councils want to see how things function with the new financing and leadership before committing anyway.
Paul Recanzone was kind enough to show us some footprint maps of where service can be found in Orem. Stick to central parts of the city to ensure that service is available and always do a check for it before moving.
One interesting possibility was to market UTOPIA to cell phone providers to offer backhaul for their towers. The decreased transport fees make sense for Cricket, Sprint, AT&T, etc. and UTOPIA could bag a lot of revenue in the process.
UTOPIA may look at adding wireless to the fiber backbone, either via 802.11g/n or 802.16 (WiMax). This would allow voice providers to do cellular service. In the case of WiMax, it would also allow roaming on Clearwire and allow for service outside of the Wasatch Front. That’s just in the idea stage, so don’t count on seeing anything soon.
One meeting attendee said that he was aware of Qwest and Comcast purposefully planting moles in UTOPIA providers to try and sabotage the companies from within and that this was a primary cause of Mstar’s near-collapse. I know they’re underhanded, but I’m not sure to what extent they’d try and do something quite this dirty.