Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Monday, January 10, 2011

Hikari Wars

"Hello! This is [...] of NTT proxy [...] Communications!"

That was enough right there. For at least the past year I'd been getting such calls on a regular basis from some telecommunications company claiming to be a "proxy" for NTT (the phone company). They were pushing fiber optic cable phone/internet service. At first I said I was interested, and they'd ask for my zip code before informing me that fiber optic service wouldn't be available in my area for at least the foreseeable future. They'd hang up, and that would be that until the next call came a few weeks later. Finally, I just got in the habit of saying:

"Sorry, but there's no fiber optic service in my neighborhood. Goodbye!"

"But it will be available in your area from next February!" retorted the cheerful, female caller very quickly.

Wait. That was a new development. "Next February?"

"That's right! Construction is due to take place in your area over the next month, and full service will be available from February! You're currently using Yahoo Broad Band, correct? Are you aware that, with fiber optic service, not only will your internet speed be faster, but both phone and internet service will be cheaper?"

I had been aware of that. I'd been eyeballing Yahoo's own promotion campaign for its fiber optic service for months and wondering how and if I could ever switch over to it.

"I'm not going to make any decisions on this today," I said resolutely, "but I'm interested in learning more about this. Please tell me more."

The woman on the phone did. In a casual, friendly, and charming manner unusual for phone salespeople, she asked me some basic questions about my household internet use. I gave guarded answers, and she proceeded to give me the rundown. It did sound very nice, and I had been very much interested in fiber optic service. However, I again made it very clear that I had no intention of making an on-the-spot decision, especially over the phone.

Finally, she said, "If you're interested in learning more, I'll put you in touch with a local service representative."

I figured why not, and the local service representative called me about ten minutes later. He asked me some more detailed questions about what sort of phone and internet service I'd be looking for, and then he started the L O N G S P I E L . He just kept yammering on and on and on while I kept glancing at the clock and hoping for a chance to get a thought in edgewise. Meanwhile, my mind was starting to spin.

Suddenly, he said, "By the way, your internet provider will change to 'iNächste' (name changed to avoid possible legal complications)."

"Huh?" By now my mind was mush. "i - WHAT??!?"

"iNächste. You'll have to cancel your Yahoo account. This is the phone number you'll need to do it..."

"What?" I said, as I dutifully wrote the number down. "Um, I..."

"Just dial the number, then press '6' when prompted, and when the clerk comes on, say, 'Cancel'."


"Your installation will take place on February 15th. The reservation is logged. I'll call again tomorrow to get the information I need for final confirmation. Thank you very much! Goodbye!"

I don't know how long I stood there before I was able to reassemble my wits enough to figure out what had just happened. Had they gone ahead and signed me up? And who or what was "iNächste", anyway? I immediately got on the internet and did some searching. It turned out that the NTT proxy that had called me was from a phone sales outfit based in Chiba Prefecture. As for "iNächste" (again, not the actual name, figure it out), it was an internet provider that seemed legitimate enough. It had branches all over Japan and was billed as one of the fastest-growing businesses in the country. However...when I did a more general search and started looking at blogs and chat forums, my blood began to turn cold.

Basically, "iNächste" popped out of nowhere about a year or two ago and started raking in customers, mostly through aggressive and somewhat underhanded phone campaigns like the one that had just nailed me. The main target was people who simply didn't know better, but they also used the "drone on 'em till they drowse and then sign 'em quick" technique as their standard MO, and it was apparently working very well (as I'd just found out). People who used their service said there weren't any problems, but quite often reality didn't match the promise. For one thing, "iNächste's" main selling point was that it was supposedly a lot cheaper than the mainstream broadband and fiber optic providers. However, they had a habit of quietly tacking on all these extra little charges here and there so that the actual cost ended up being about the same if not more. Also, once you started using their service, it could be very hard to cancel; much if not most of the time the service number given to do so would ring and ring with no answer. And unlike every other provider, once you got past the grace period, terminating their service would incur a hefty cancellation fee.

Fortunately, I had a handy excuse. I found out later that evening that my father-in-law had already talked to an NTT service rep about getting a fiber optic connection for both our houses, so I immediately called the "iNächste" guy back and told him his services weren't needed. I hoped that would be the end of it.

Fast forward two weeks.

"Hello! This is [...] of NTT East. A reservation has apparently been made for [my FIL's phone number], but not for yours. Would you be interested in adding yours, too."

This time it wasn't a cute-sounding woman, but rather a burly-sounding guy with the manner of a blue-collar worker. And no "proxy", but someone calling direct from NTT. Oh, good, I thought. "Yes, I would. I'm hoping to switch to Yahoo Hikari (fiber optic) from Yahoo Broad Band."

"Yes, of course! You know that fiber optic service is cheaper than ADSL like you've been using! Anyway, I need to ask a few questions about what kind of service you want..."

And so it went. I was asked pretty much the same things I'd been asked before, but at least this time I was talking to an actual NTT East person, not some proxy or agent, right? Anyway, the guy on the phone assured me that I could continue using my Yahoo account and e-mail addresses without any trouble. Then he finished by saying a follow-up call would be coming later that evening. Sure enough, about fifteen minutes later I got another call from someone saying they were from NTT East.

I could swear that the guy's voice and manner sounded identical to the "iNächste" guy I'd talked to before, so I was on my guard. He asked me the same questions as before, but I cut him off when he tried to start the L O N G S P I E L , saying I had to leave. Sure enough, he told me that my internet provider would be changing to "iNächste".

"iNächste?!?" I railed. "That's not what the guy who talked to me first said! He said I could stick with Yahoo!"

"There must have been a misunderstanding," replied iNächste Man politely, though I could detect a bit of edge in his voice. "Perhaps the NTT person you talked to didn't explain it well. They meant that you could continue using your Yahoo e-mail address, not the internet service. Of course, using your Yahoo e-mail address will incur an additional charge...especially if there is a large volume of mail at that address..."

"No, wait!" I snapped. "That is NOT what I was told."

"If you use NTT fiber optic service," iNächste Man went on, "your provider will change to iNächste."

"No," I said. "No, this isn't right! I'm not making a decision on this! Not now! Not like this! I want to look into a few things before I do anything else!"

iNächste Man suggested calling me back later that night. I said four days. He suggested calling the next day. I said four days. We finally settled on three. I figured that was enough.

The next day, after consulting the resident computer expert at Ye Olde Academy for advice (He'd never even heard of "iNächste" and advised me to stay away), I looked at NTT East's website, and there was no mention of "iNächste" whatsoever in their fiber optic service promotion. I then called the main office of NTT East directly. It turned out that they had indeed been promoting fiber optic service via proxy telecommunications outfits (i.e. contracted phone salesmen); however, the way I was being railroaded into using "iNächste" was NOT sanctioned by NTT. I therefore went ahead and made my installation reservation with them directly...and was asked all of the same questions yet again. This time I made it clear from the start that I wanted to choose my own provider, and my request was honored. Next, I got on the phone with Yahoo. After being made to wait for almost half an hour, I finally got someone who could sign me up for Yahoo Hikari. The policies seemed rather more anal than those of "iNächste", but at least I knew who and what I was dealing with and exactly how much I would be paying (and my FIL gets certain perks since he owns stock in Yahoo Japan's parent firm).

After that, I called the service number given to me by the "NTT East" guy who had called me before so I could tell him to go shove it. Interestingly, the person who answered the phone said, not "NTT East", but the name of a phone sales outfit. Even more tellingly, he sounded just like iNächste Man. He sounded a bit tongue-tied when I asked for the "NTT East" guy by name, but he put the guy on...and he sounded kind of flustered, too. Anyway, I told them very politely to go bite themselves. Hopefully that will be the end of least till I get my fiber optic hookup in late February. Then I'll have, or at least I hope I'll have, much better internet and phone service.

Hopefully that won't mean dealing with even more phone salesmen...

P.S.: More BS. My FIL never did make a reservation for a fiber optic connection. He was called by an "NTT East" person, but he told them he didn't understand what it was all about and suggested they talk to me about it. It was probably the "NTT East" phony who called me the second time. Whatever. We'll figure this one out ourselves...or with someone we know.

Update P.P.S. (January 15th): My new fiber optic cable phone/internet modem arrived in the mail from Yahoo today. The problem is that I won't get my cable connection for one more month. Yes, I told them that when I made my reservation. Are they going to charge me a month's rental for a modem I can't use yet? The Hikari Wars continue...

Update P.P.P.S. (January 17th): I guess Yahoo!BB's customer service is better than I thought. After navigating the maze that is their e-mail customer inquiry form, I got a prompt reply assuring me that no rental will be charged on the new modem until I start using it and, until then, my current ADSL account will continue as always. problems for now, at least, and kudos to the quick-responding service rep.


  • If I had to put up with that much BS, I'd be inclined to stick with ADSL just to spite them.

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 7:13 AM  

  • Believe me, that thought has been on my mind.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 8:59 AM  

  • I hate the tactics that some companies use.

    We keep getting calls saying that the insurance on our satellite TV gear is about to run out and that it needs renewing. These calls are from rival companies all trying to steal each others business, but there is no hint that you will be changing your supplier until they ask for you bank details! Totally sucks.

    Another favourite of mine is the people who come around trying to get you to change electricity suppliers - "Do you realise that your present company is FRENCH?" Geez, really? I need to change right now! :-)

    By Blogger Rock Chef, at 8:12 PM  

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