Tightening up those telco Ts and Cs

If you enjoy negotiating with telcos, you're pretty weird. Most people hate it, for good reason. Carriers generally present their services with a "take-it-or-leave it" attitude. If you don't like the rates, or terms and conditions -- too bad. After all, where else are you going to go -- the cable companies? (Well, yes, but that's the topic of my last column.) 

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As it happens, I'm one of those weird people who likes negotiating with telcos -- because over the years, I've been able to help clients penetrate the facade of carrier implacability and obtain great rates and favorable terms and conditions. (And besides, I'm just weird.)

Here's a short list of issues and items you should be thinking about when it comes to telecom Ts and Cs:

• Installation times. Carriers will tell you that they have no control over installation times, particularly for access circuits. If that's actually true, perhaps they should consider getting into another line of business — since as a service provider, the first order of business is, ahem, providing service. Fortunately, carriers will be reasonable on this issue when pressed. Ask for three things here: maximum time (should be less than 60 calendar days for most services); average time (should be 30 days or less); and a guaranteed turn-up date.

• Termination penalty waiver. Carriers like to inflict termination penalties that say, in essence, that if you terminate a service, you pay anyway. Wrong. Termination penalties should be waived in a number of cases: for technology upgrades or service shifts within the carrier (such as going from PSTN to SIP trunking should not generate a termination penalty); in cases of merger, acquisition, or divestiture; if the service is terminated for nonperformance on the carrier side; and for a host of additional reasons.

• Minimum revenue commitments and "most favored nation" clauses. Carriers like to ask for a minimum annual revenue commitment (MARC) and a commitment not to give your business to their competitors. Say what? MARCs are acceptable, if they're low enough (I usually recommend less than 50% of what you're actually spending), but the "most favored nation" clause is a complete nonstarter. And be sure to demand that all carrier services be covered under the MARC (if there is one) -- none of this nonsense of having separate MARCs for wireless, wireline, or hosted/managed services.

• Correct billing. Phone bills are always wrong, right? Well, that shouldn't be your problem. If you dispute any bills — for any reason — the payments should be made to an interest-bearing escrow account that the carrier can't touch until the issues are satisfactorily resolved. That puts financial pressure on the carrier — not you — to fix things.

• Network performance metrics. It's critical to define performance using meaningful service-level agreement (SLA) metrics. What those actually are depends on what services you're contracting for -- but you need to define what comprises both chronic (ongoing low-grade) and acute performance problems.

There's plenty more; carrier negotiations is in fact an entire specialty. One that weird people like me really enjoy.

Johnson is president and senior founding partner at Nemertes Research, an independent technology research firm. She can be reached at johna@nemertes.com.

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