Dealing with a VOIP provider as a small business owner

The folding of one U.S VoIP provider has had damaging knock-on effects to its customers

Marc Kruskol understands how a small business operates. Like the head of any small company, he is also the IT guy, the receptionist and much more, all to reduce costs.

Kruskol, who owns MJK Public Relations in Van Nuys, California, has been spending time lately trying to solve his home business-based voice-over-IP phone service problem.

Kruskol hasn't been able to use the VOIP service arranged recently with U.S. service provider TeleBlend for eight days, even though TeleBlend announced that an outage to its 60,000 customers was fixed last Wednesday, Kruskol said today.

"Service has not been restored to everyone," an angry Kruskol said.

Indeed, TeleBlend, a brand of Unified Communications Corp., has been able to restore service to all but about 1 percent of its customers, said spokesman Brian Lustig. "It's a small group" still without service, he said. "It's been tricky."

The problem stems from contractual relationships that SunRocket had with "dozens" of local carriers, Lustig said. SunRocket went out of business in July and recommended TeleBlend and 8X8 as replacement providers. "SunRocket left a huge mess," Lustig added.

It isn't clear how soon TeleBlend service might be restored, but Kruskol is moving ahead, looking for other providers and even considering Time Warner Cable broadband, which might more than double his monthly home phone bill to US$30 or more.

For now, Kruskol relies on his mobile phone to keep in contact with his business colleagues and clients, and several have informed him that his VOIP service is out. He publicizes independent films, which involves contacting members of the news media to arrange interviews. He said he can't reliable track how many opportunities have been missed since the outage.

Krusko said he doesn't regret going with SunRocket to control his costs, since it started at US$99 a year. "How is anybody going to beat that?" he asked.

But he is also concerned about getting the runaround from TeleBlend, and how his repeated calls there haven't made a difference.

Admittedly, he added, TeleBlend's customer care is not that different than the large carriers he has done business with, including Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile. "I have found that every time you call any of the carriers for a problem, that each different [customer care] person has a different answer to what's wrong, a different attitude toward you and a whole different procedure for what to do," he said. Even a complaint to the Federal Communications Commission would not matter much, he suggested.

Because he works in public relations, Koskol said he realizes that he has one possible advantage over other small businessmen -- a louder voice. "I really feel bad for people who don't have the resources and some time to know who in the media to call to complain," he said.

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