Manitoban sues rural internet provider over unreliable service, ‘deceptive’ advertising

A Manitoba woman is the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit seeking class-action status over allegations of spotty connectivity and misleading sales tactics from a rural internet service provider.

Darcie Gervin of Douglas, 16 kilometres east of Brandon, seeks damages from Xplore Inc. for “annoyance and inconvenience” associated with her experience as a customer.

By the time she was able cancel her contract last year, she was out of pocket more than $4,500 for services and products that she never received or that didn’t work as advertised, according to a statement of claim filed in the Court of King’s Bench on Jan. 27. 

Headquartered in Woodstock, N.B., Xplorenet changed its name to Xplore in September 2022.  In one ad referenced in the statement of claim, the company describes itself as “Canada’s leading rural high speed internet provider” and suggests customers can chat, stream, browse and work on multiple devices at the same time.

Xplore serves about 400,000 clients across the country, said Gervin’s lawyers, Norman Rosenbaum and Jason J. Zushman.

They claim the company knew or should’ve known some of their ads and packages promised internet speeds Xplore “could not provide” because of where some customers reside relative to company signal infrastructure.

Rosenbaum and Zushman are seeking an array of damages for former and current customers who they suggest were given “misrepresentations” of available internet speeds and services. 

“Xplore manufactured, marketed, and distributed internet service packages and associated products and services in an unlawful, unfair and deceptive manner,” they wrote in the statement of claim.

The Manitoba lawsuit, which has not yet been certified as a class action, also seeks refunds for purchases of some satellite and traditional wireless packages, associated fees and interest for any person or company who paid for services that didn’t live up to expectations, going back to January 2003.

Since 2015, numerous customers have complained of speeds that were “far below” what they paid for, the statement of claim says.

‘Lack of reliability’

Gervin bought a 25 LTE unlimited package from the company in June 2019 that cost her $130 monthly, but it didn’t work as expected.

She said she called and wrote in numerous complaints about service disruptions, lower-than-advertised internet speeds and “lack of reliability” of the internet services, which “were not usable in the way in which they were represented.”

Many of Gervin’s complaints were acknowledged by Xplore, which then offered discounts and incentives “in order to induce” her to continue paying for services, the statement of claim says. 

She made several unsuccessful attempts to cancel, spending hours on the phone. Xplore agents suggested alternative providers in her area were unreliable and that she should retain the Xplore services “as a backup,” according to the lawsuit.

Gervin also claims an Xplore agent told her she couldn’t cancel her internet package by contacting the company directly by email or in writing. The only way she could do that was by phone, and she was told previous written cancellation requests she made wouldn’t be accepted, the statement of claim says. 

Her lawyers characterize that as a “hard sell” tactic that runs counter to many other service providers’ “button click”-style cancellation options on their websites.

She was able to cancel in early September 2022 and switched providers, but she experienced difficulty doing so due to Xplore’s “onerous” cancellation policies “that had the effect of stymying the ability of consumers” to easily get out of contracts, the lawsuit says.

‘Pattern of complaints’: BBB

The Better Business Bureau has issued an alert against Xplore due to a “pattern of complaints” stemming from failures to provide promised internet speeds, give refunds, install adequate service towers in rural locations and make adjustments on bills when services didn’t meet contract requirements, among other reasons posted on the BBB website.

The company acknowledged the complaints in a response to the bureau in 2018 and committed to “eliminate possible future complaints of similar nature.”

“Despite these complaints, Xplore has failed to remedy its practices and consumers have been harmed, and continue to be harmed, nationwide,” the lawsuit says.

Maggie Burzawa, Xplore’s senior manager of public affairs and media relations, said the company received the statement of claim Tuesday and is reviewing it.

“We intend to vigorously defend against these allegations, which have yet to be substantiated in front of a court,” she wrote in an email to CBC News.

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