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I am relaying this cautionary tale, not only as a reprimand to HughesNet about how they created and handled a bad situation, but as a warning to the community as to how exposed HughesNet customers are to the company’s unclear and nonsensical interpretation of the law — and for which customers have little recourse.
I live in Rappahannock County in a remote, rural location, on a narrow gravel road on a mountain with few neighbors and no cell service. I rely upon my HughesNet satellite internet connection to accomplish what I must for my work, medical support and for conducting my daily life in lock-down. I have no cell service and an unreliable landline. Especially in light of the pandemic, their actions put me in potentially life-threatening peril.
Last week, the company suddenly turned off my internet. At first, I attributed my lack of connectivity to the windy day, which sometimes, along with rain, snow and other weather, affects my internet connection. Upon one last check on my computer at about 9 p.m., I received a message from HughesNet saying that they had completely shut down my internet service in accordance with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which could last two weeks while their “legal team” looked into the matter.
They “request[ed] that [I] immediately cease downloading content that is in violation of the Copyright Laws.” What???? I am not some “dude” sitting in a garage somewhere downloading illegal contraband, but rather an older person who works as a real estate agent and only occasionally relieves my pandemic boredom with the aid of nothing more exotic than Netflix, Pandora or (at times) Prime Video. Now I was totally cut off from anything, with the exception (thank goodness) of my landline. This occurred during a heavy ice storm which kept me from traveling from my mountain cabin due to treacherous roads, so I was really trapped!
For hours, I spoke to supremely unhelpful “customer service reps” and “managers” who would not tell me what I did to deserve the shutdown or how I could remedy the situation. The only information they conveyed was that the shutdown was due to alleged copyright infringement. They never told me the specifics of what I was charged with. They suggested that I file a request for an appeal via email, but I explained that they had shut down this option and I had no other way to respond.
HughesNet says they sent multiple email warnings, that, I must admit, I did not see. None of their emails looked urgent and were not clearly marked as IMMINENT SHUT OFF. Their message subject was “Copyright Infringement,” which had nothing to do with me and looked like any other vendor junk mail that fills my inbox. HughesNet has my telephone number and, had they called, this situation would not have escalated.
Indiscriminate shutoff by a company that provides essential service to rural customers who live in isolated conditions just does not make sense – it imperils their customers!! There are many of us who lack cell service in this county, many of us are older and have medical conditions and need to be able to connect with the outside world.
I spent several bleak, stressful and lonely days cut off and feeling extremely vulnerable up in my little cabin on the mountain. My service was finally reinstated, but I remain completely in the dark about why this happened to me in the first place. Shame on HughesNet for not caring that many of their customers do not have other means of communication if they are cut off. Shame on them for failing to call me to discuss the matter and making it clear that there was a problem that could mean a total internet blackout for me. And, shame on them for not divulging what that problem actually was.
Sadly, I have no other internet option in my remote location and, so, I am stuck with HughesNet. I have been a loyal customer for more than 8 years and deserve an apology and explanation for the predicament in which they put me. Every one of their customers should know that this could happen to them.
Note: A HughesNet representative told the letter writer that the company would look into the training of customer service employees. She remains unhappy with the company’s “ill-advised handling of the whole affair.”