The Answer to the Missing Link(sys)
Teleblend, that phoenix of a company that seems to have risen from the ashes of SunRocket’s demise, has been accused of usurping the passwords and configuration of the Linksys SPA2102 –r phone adapter used as the intermediary device by many of SunRocket’s customers. This has left the ex-SunRocketeers with an inconfigurable device and no phone service. Two questions have, in various forms, been careening their way through the blogosphere.
- How were the passwords changed and/or by whom?
- Considering the somewhat frantic state of the abandoned customers, why didn’t Linksys release a ‘master’ password to unlock them?
The speculation has run the gamut and sometimes bordered on libelous. Everyone wants to blame someone and it seems so much easier just to rant and accuse than to investigate the truth. Being kind of old fashioned I decided to try the unthinkable. We called the companies involved and asked them for a straightforward, on the record answer. It’s amazing what you can find out when you take the time to ask the questions.
The first call went to Linksys. I spoke with Karen Sohl their Director of Worldwide Corporate Communications. After a short discussion of the issues at hand, Karen was kind enough to provide us with the following statement:
“Linksys’s goal is to help SunRocket subscribers to continue to use their Linksys ATA equipment and we will comply with any appropriate, authorized requests to facilitate the transfer of SunRocket’s service. We understand that there are negotiations currently taking place between SunRocket and 8X8 Inc. and Unified Communication Corporation. However, until we receive the details of any agreements between those companies from an authorized source, in addition to any approvals or consents that may be required from any applicable third parties with an interest in those transactions, we are not in a position to reprovision the ATA units.”
Before we go into further explanations of Linksys’ position, it is important to note that one of the VOIP service providers, Nuvio, had issued an open letter to Linksys along with a press release that requested Linksys to release the necessary information to unlock the devices. They went on further to say in the press release that these requests had been rebuffed and that the owners of the Linksys devices were being unduly neglected and punished. Here is an excerpt from the release:
“Sunrocket customers paid for these devices and should have the ability to choose which service provider they want to use, either Nuvio or others. We have requested specific codes to unlock these devices and so far have been rebuffed by Linksys,” wrote Jason P. Talley, Nuvio’s CEO.
Although fees may have been paid regarding the device, unfortunately, Mr. Talley’s legal assumption of ownership is incorrect. More on that later.
“We have asked Linksys to do the right thing and help out these stranded SunRocket customers. Their lack of cooperation is furthering the frustration of SunRocket customers and could create life threatening situations in the event of an emergency,” commented Joe Woodbury, Nuvio’s Director of Marketing.
This is a laudable sentiment, but it ignores the legal issues. More on that too, down the page.
In reference to Nuvio’s comments, Linksys provided the following:
“Statements, made by Nuvio on July 20, state that, “Linksys has refused to provide the code to Nuvio to unlock the ATAs.” Linksys is not the owner of the ATAs and may not be able to unilaterally unlock the ATAs or point the ATAs to service providers other than SunRocket. Also Nuvio states in its press release that SunRocket customers purchased the Linksys ATAs. Linksys does not know what contractual relationship exists between Sun Rocket and its customers. Linksys believes that a large number of the Linksys ATAs purchased by SunRocket were leased to its customers for use as part of SunRocket’s network service. In other cases, the ATAs may have been sold by SunRocket to its customers. Linksys’ goal is to help SunRocket customers to continue to use their Linksys ATA equipment. However, until Linksys understands fully what arrangements have been concluded between SunRocket and 8x8 Inc. and/or Unified Communication Corporation, in addition to the nature and extent of any third party consents or approvals required for those transactions to be concluded formally, we are not in a position to reprovision the ATA units."
Further conversation with Karen Sohl also yielded the fact that Linksys supplies these devices to the VOIP providers, NOT end users. They require a formal arrangement with whatever provider wants to use their equipment and endeavors to insure that the provider, in conjunction with their equipment, will deliver the best end user experience possible.
Fine. They have a right to protect themselves and a right to enhance their business through these negotiated contracts. That’s the nature of business. It doesn’t, however, address that sticky moral high ground issue that Woodbury, Nuvio’s Director of Marketing referred to, namely; What about the poor end users who are isolated with no phone service? Couldn’t Linksys do something to help out? Not really, and the reason is just a few paragraphs away.
Vonage, Subscriber lists and Sherwood Partners
Numerous people have received phone calls or mailings soliciting ex-SunRocket customers to sign up with Vonage. We can substantiate this first hand because we had a test line supplied to us from SunRocket and somehow Vonage got our name and called us specifically, as an ex-SunRocket customer, to ask for our business. When I inquired how they got our name, I was told that I would be connected to a supervisor. The ensuing dial tone was sufficient indication that this probably wasn’t really going to happen. We asked ourselves the same question we have now seen asked numerous times on line: Did Sherwood Partners, the company responsible for the liquidation of SunRocket’s assets, sell my customer information to Vonage in violation of my privacy agreement with SunRocket?
Again, we did the unthinkable. We called Sherwood Partners. I spoke with Martin Pichinson, a principal and founding partner of the company. Mr. Pichinson was refreshingly straightforward. We discussed this issue as well as the Linksys Gizmo problem. Regarding the mailing list, the answer is a simple ‘No’. Mr. Pichinson could not offer any further information as to how Vonage acquired the names, but he assured me, for the record, that Sherwood Partners did not sell them to Vonage. In fact, he was kind enough to issue a formal statement in that regard:
“With rumors of the customer lists being sold, Martin Pichinson co-managing member of Sherwood Partners, LLC, the company managing the wind-down of Sun Rocket’s assets stated that the customer list has not been sold, nor is such a sale imminent.”
“Our total focus for the past three weeks has solely been the transition for the SunRocket customers to other service providers.”
When you think about it, it makes sense. Why, if Sherwood has negotiated deals with Teleblend and Packet8 would they subvert those revenue opportunities by selling the list to competitors?
As far as the Linksys device, Mr. Pichinson told me the following: First, the Gizmo does not belong to the end user. It is in fact an asset of SunRocket provided to the customer to implement service. (Essentially, the assumption made by Jason Talley of Nuvio is incorrect. Well intentioned, but incorrect.) Secondly, in making further inquiry Sherwood supplied me with the following information:
‘The devices come pre-configured from the manufacturer (Linksys) to “talk” to the SunRocket gear and for security purposes the password automatically rolls every 2 weeks.’
For any of you who are skeptical about this automatic function, you may have noticed postings over the last few days that drew a laugh from just about everyone. It seems that the SunRocket computers had been programmed to periodically send out a Customer Satisfaction survey to selected customers. One went out this past week. I wonder how high their approval rating was? It is obvious that many systems are still on ‘cruise control’.
Regarding Teleblend’s ability to unlock and provision the devices, we were informed that:
‘since they purchased the gear that the devices “talk” to, they have the ability to provision customers to their network as the customers sign up for their service.’
This is obvious and logical. Still, this didn’t address the ‘Linksys could unlock them’ issue. Well they really couldn’t. Keep the following in mind:
1. Linksys no longer owned the equipment
2. They were not privy to any details of the agreements being made with replacement providers such as Packet8 and Teleblend.
3. They could not legally or otherwise usurp the new providers’ rights to this equipment, which again, did NOT belong to the end user, and take steps to reprogram or re-provision the device.
4. By the time conversations could have been had with the myriad of providers vying for these stranded customers to assure programming and provisioning was done properly, other steps could have already been taken that would have been faster and easier.
And then there’s Teleblend
I have tried unsuccessfully for over two weeks to reach someone, anyone from Teleblend. I tried their PR person, no response….twice. I tried the sales line; busy. I tried the customer support line; busy. I even imposed on the folks at Sherwood Partners to implore them to get back to me so that we could get their take on the issues. Guess the people they contacted were busy too. Actually they were. Cleaning up a bit of a mess they made when they posted a rather erroneous notice on their network status page on the 6th. It seems they were experiencing an outage problem of some sort that had impaired or disrupted service to their customers. They chose to post an excuse rather than an apology. They said that their problems were due to an outage on Global Crossing’s network. Global Crossing is one of the major carriers that provide the underlying network and phone number handling to the VOIP providers.
To say that Global Crossing was experiencing an outage was huge. This would affect numerous companies and untold end users. Still, I couldn’t find any references to this catastrophe anywhere, so, I called them. I spoke with Tom Topalian, Director of Media Relations for the company. Although I didn’t actually hear his jaw hit the desk, I’m pretty sure something dropped when I asked about the outage. He very quickly confirmed what I had suspected. There was no outage and the posting was fallacious. He contacted me again later and asked that I withhold posting this information as they were in talks with Teleblend who would be issuing a statement. I reprint it here for your enlightenment.
“OAKLAND, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--TeleBlend, a nationwide provider of broadband phone service, experienced a disruption of service for part of its customer base earlier this week. During the service disruption, the company inadvertently made public statements that incorrectly implied the outage was due to an issue with Global Crossing’s network. TeleBlend would like to state definitively that the cause of the service disruption was in no way, shape or form due to any issue or outage with Global Crossing’s network, which continues to serve customers with industry-leading performance and 99.999 percent service reliability.
We would also like to take this opportunity to let customers know we appreciate their patience during our service disruption and apologize for the inconvenience it has caused to their communications. By addressing and rectifying the cause of the service disruption we look forward to continuing to provide reliable broadband phone service that meets and exceeds customer expectations in the coming years.”
The end…I hope
Hopefully, this is the last time we’ll need to write about the fallout from the SunRocket shutdown. Hopefully, this will put the speculation and rash assumptions about the surrounding issues to rest. Hopefully, my next article will be shorter.