JONESBORO, Ark. – Jonesboro-based Ritter Communications has attracted the ire of a Tipton County, Tennessee-based attorney who is asking for documented complaints against the communications company for negative phone, internet, and billing practices.
Attorney Jeff Ward has his main office in Munford, Tennessee in Tipton County, north of Shelby County. He also has a satellite office to the south in Bartlett, Tennessee – in Shelby County. In 2004, after graduating from law school, he moved to Munford, bought a home, and began working on political campaigns. That’s where the problems began for Ward involving phone services.
“When it rang, the phones didn’t work, the internet didn’t work half of the time,” Ward said. “It was very frustrating. Because I worked in politics, I filed complaint with the FCC, I had a conversation with U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander and his chief of staff, too.”
The Millington Telephone Company, founded in 1922, was in charge of service at that time. Ward learned Millington Telephone had a local monopoly on business due to its owner’s deep connections to politicians, he said. Many municipalities engage in exclusive contracts with communications companies making it impossible for competition to form.
“They very much gave him a monopoly so AT&T would not have a monopoly,” Ward said. “In theory it sounds great except AT&T knew how to run phone and internet service. They renewed the license every ten years or so.”
Millington Telephone was bought out by E. Ritter Communications, as of Dec. 11, 2012 and announced in 2013. Ward said people “raised Cain” but Ritter made “lots of promises” about adding services. He complimented their friendly staff, saying they always were kind on the phone with him.
The compliments end there.
“They’re nice people,” Ward said. “Their service is just substandard.”
The attorney told two particularly concerning stories which gave examples of how substandard service could potentially affect those in life-threatening situations. His first example was of elderly people who had needed to make phone calls during an emergency. Ward said their phones would not work at times. But, he said they were “very intimidated and didn’t want to get in trouble” by complaining about the issue more. No complaint was filed despite what he said are hundreds of people complaining on Facebook.
Ward’s second example came from a deaf family. The wife, the husband and child are all three hearing-impaired, he said. Because their phone is provided through Ritter’s internet service, they rely on it for emergency services. Unfortunately, Ward said it is unreliable while it rains. One situation unfolded when Ward said the family could not call 911 and instead had to get help from neighbors to reach the police chief who, thanks to a mutual contact, was able to help them personally.
“When it rains, the internet shouldn’t go out,” Ward said. “We can track an asteroid 7 billion miles away and land a probe on that but we can’t keep the internet going 10-15 miles from one of the 30 largest cities in the country. And I’m going to keep fighting this until I just give out. I’m not going to give.”
Ward’s efforts now are focused on getting potential complainants to come forward. That’s where he seemed to be roadblocked as of early March, 2019. While he said he hears from people about the issues, he has a harder time getting them to be part of the solution.
“Numerous people have told me, they’re afraid of what Ritter would do if they put their name on something,” Ward said. “I don’t think Ritter would do anything. They’re a responsible corporate entity.”
Ritter Communications President Alan Morse sent a statement to NEA Report on Tuesday, March 18. The full statement can be viewed here. But the statement from Morse conveyed a focus on improving customer satisfaction. He wrote that the only way they can correct an issue is to know about it.
“Occasionally we become aware of customer problems by reading about them on our social media platforms,” Morse said in the statement. “Service issues reported on our social media channels can be challenging because often the individual posting the concern is not the account holder. When that happens, the social media user ID and the customer account information cannot be matched and we are unable to proactively reach out to the customer.”
- Call toll-free 888-336-4466 during business hours
- Technical support – call 888-659-6009
- Email Technical Support using our online form – a representative contacts the customer within the next business day
- In person at any Ritter Communications office
Morse encouraged customers to contact Ritter customer service to report any issues and to not be afraid, as they “take every customer concern seriously.”
“Regardless of the customer’s issue, we want to hear from them through one of the customer care channels above so we can provide the best experience and service resolution possible.”
Ward said as of late, he’s learning of more problems with overcharges or people’s accounts not being credited when the system is down. Despite the Ritter statement focusing on customer service, not everyone would agree that the company has delivered in that realm over the past several years.
NEA Report interviewed a business owner (from NEA) who was engaged in a legal struggle with Ritter for sometime over a charge he said he never incurred. The problem was, no one at Ritter would believe him and take the charge off. The customer service agents functioned more like debt collectors, as he described. (The business owner still receives service through Ritter and asked us not to publish his name/business name because of this).
“It cost us a lot of money and attorneys fees to deal with them. They said we owed like $2800. We didn’t owe them anything. They said they installed equipment at our location. They did not. The [installation] employee even vouched for us and said ‘I did not install that’ and they said ‘yes you did.’ They were going to shut our services off if we didn’t pay it and we didn’t pay it. Finally, the vice president was able to reverse the transactions when he found out our attorney was contacting them. And he wanted to know why the account rep was dealing with our attorney, since she’s just an account rep.”
Others have joined together in their anger at the communications company. Several Facebook groups have been formed, including the one below, which are dedicated to complaints about Ritter and service/billing issues.
The solution, according to Ward, may not necessarily be a legal one. It could be through politics, public pressure, media pressure, or other avenues, he said. He acknowledged this probably will not be fixed in a court. Ward also said that he’s not doing this for money. He said he cares about the area and has experienced the issues himself.
“There were people early on last year thinking I would some how make money off of this,” Ward said. “There’s no money here. You don’t make money suing the government over a utility. There’s just not. People were upset, a few Ritter employees, but there’s no money or upside for me except I live here and I get tired of people complaining and being victimized.”
Ward’s law office can be reached at 901-837-9355. He is currently looking for those in and near Tipton County, Tennessee with complaints. Although he said more billing complaints had been coming in lately, he is interested in any types of issues customers have – especially disabled or the elderly who may rely on Ritter for emergency phone services.
“They’re a great phone system in a lot of ways for 1962,” Ward said.