MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — AAFES officials have sent their own technicians to Misawa to try to help fix a backlog of customer complaints and service call tickets about communications provider Verizon.

Verizon took over the base’s phone and Internet service March 30, promising customers that they could expect up to a 400 percent increase in Internet speed over the previous service.

But some base residents are complaining that they have limited or unavailable Internet and phone connectivity, that repeated pleas for help have gone unanswered and that, given any other choice, they would kill their contract and go with another provider.

Verizon officials declined interview requests, referring all questions to AAFES.

Army and Air Force Exchange Service personnel at their headquarters in Dallas admit there have been some growing pains, but said that on June 5, less than five percent of the 2,800 Verizon customers at Misawa had current service call tickets filed with Verizon.

Mike Koucher, chief of Concession Telecom Business for AAFES, said in an interview from Dallas that the connectivity problem is because there is not enough Internet bandwidth to support the audience need at Misawa.

When Verizon took over the contract, they started using a U.S. Internet service provider. The previous contract used a Japanese ISP. The difference is that now Misawa residents can access more American content than they could before; some popular sites are blocked in Japan.

Koucher said AAFES is working with Verizon to increase that bandwidth capability, but he didn’t know how quickly that would happen.

Chief Master Sgt. Jeffry Helm, senior enlisted adviser to AAFES commander Maj. Gen. Keith Thurgood, said during the same phone interview that it’s a top priority.

"This has been elevated up to the general," he said. "We are taking it very seriously."

Misawa resident Rebecca Pate said during an interview in early June that lack of Internet connectivity creates huge morale problems on the base — especially for those who have deployed family members.

She said that her children have been unable to chat via the Internet with their father, who is deployed, and that she’s unable to take her online college classes or conduct online banking. She’s called Verizon weekly, but says she was just told to file another service ticket.

"They just tell you that their tech support is working the problem … and that they don’t have any timeline" as to when things might be fixed, she said.

Complaints to Misawa AAFES officials also have gone unanswered, she said.

She said she is so frustrated that she’s going to move her family back to the States and to the next assignment earlier than planned.

Another resident, Kourtney Ray, said the initial answer from Verizon was that any problems were due to her computer, not their service. She argued that couldn’t be right, since she had no Internet problems with the previous contractor.

She’s also unable to communicate with her husband, who’s deployed to Iraq. Verizon finally got her connected, but she said it’s not helping.

"It’s slower than slow," she said. Verizon "said they were going to be faster and more reliable. This has been nothing but a nightmare."

She said she would like to cancel her contract, but she has no choice.

"Unfortunately, we are a captive audience here, we have no other choice," she said. "We can’t go to a competitor."

In an e-mail to Stars and Stripes, Misawa resident Shing Long complained about the lack of communication about the problem.

"I understand it may take a while to work out kinks, but when you’re not keeping your customers updated or when you’re placing blame on one another (AAFES on Verizon, Verizon on AAFES), it’s ridiculous!" Long wrote. "It’s been over 2 months, and things have not improved."

When asked what customers should do if they feel they’re not being heard at Misawa, Helm, the senior enlisted adviser, gave another option.

"If they honestly feel like they’re not being heard, by all means they can contact me here at Dallas," Helm said.

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