Friday, May 2, 2008

Birch Telecom

Birch Telecom is one of the smaller companies whose main consumer base is small- to mid-sized businesses. Serving only about 130,000 customers in 12 states, Birch has experienced some rough grounds over the past few years. The company entered bankruptcy in late 2005 and has slowly been able to reemerge from that state. Through renewed relationships with other carriers such as AT&T and Qwest, and a key agreement with Covad Communications, Birch Telecom is regaining its momentum once again.

But what does that spell for you, the potential consumer? It’s hard to say. There is a lack of performance information regarding its T1 service as the company tries to reestablish itself, which continues until late 2007, so there isn’t a guarantee in that regard. However, it is one of the cheaper options out there, and prides itself on providing a dedicated 1.544 Mbps connection “for less than most businesses pay for a fractional T1,” normally ranging around $400 per month.

In addition, you’ll also receive up to 100 email addresses for your usage, each containing 50Mb of mailbox capacity. You’ll get up to five public IP addresses for your business as well. And if you’re experiencing service problems within the first 60 days and it can’t be fixed or restored to your satisfaction, Birch Telecom will cover the costs of switching back to a previous provider, should you wish.

With that said, there are problems with Birch Telecom’s T1 service. As you can expect, the lower price of their service probably means you’re getting shortchanged on their product. Although the company states you’ll be receiving a dedicated line, it also puts in a clause that states you could get “up to a full T1 of bandwidth” – be wary, as this possibly indicates (although they won’t tell you) that their service is oversubscribed. Essentially, you may be paying for a fractional T1 service at the fractional price, even though their claim is that you’ve been offered a full T1 line.

Also notice that Birch Telecom’s satisfaction guarantee only covers the initial 60 days. In the beginning, they really want to reel you in to keep their service for the full contract. But after that? Well, I’ve read reports and comments that spoke of the company’s lousy customer service. Many times, if you have a problem, it’s going to remain unresolved. So save yourself some distress and don’t anticipate much help from them – that way, you’ll feel better when it happens.
Oh, and the T1 service is still only offered in 12 states in the southeastern part of the U.S. So unless you live in that region, don’t bother.

The good: Not much. The additional features may appeal to some, but the primary service itself may make you wonder.

The bad: A lot. The price may look good, but with the possibility of being oversubscribed, you may as well pay for an overpriced cable modem. Customer service is reported to be abysmal.

The bottom line: Just don’t subscribe to Birch Telecom’s service if you can help it. They offer awful guarantees (if they can even be considered as such), and you’ll most likely not get what you expected.