British Columbia

Man charged $500 fee by internet provider after losing home to B.C. wildfire

A rural internet provider refused to let a man out of his contract after his Pressy Lake house burned down in the B.C. wildfire — and later claimed he owed $500 in damaged equipment.

Company relents after social media backlash: 'It's extremely regrettable and it should have never happened'

Lorne Smith says he spent three weeks repeatedly calling Xplornet to cancel his Internet service after losing his newly purchased house to a wildfire in late July. (Lorne Smith/Facebook)

A rural Internet provider refused to let a man out of his contract and later claimed he owed $500 in damaged equipment, after his Pressy Lake house burned down in a B.C. wildfire.

Lorne Smith says he spent three weeks repeatedly calling Xplornet to cancel his internet service after losing his newly purchased house in late July.

But in phone calls with several agents, Smith was told he was bound to his contract. 

"It was probably one of the most frustrating things I've ever had to go through," Smith told host Sarah Penton on CBC's Radio West

"I was trying not to break down and cry in front of them while trying to deal with what we've lost."

Repeated calls

Smith and his wife moved in May to their new house in Pressy Lake to start their retirement.

The evacuation forced them out in late July, and by mid-August, the couple learned their home was gone.

Smith had only moved into his Pressy Lake home in May before he lost it in the fire. (Lorne Smith/Facebook)

Smith called his television and hydro providers to cancel his services. He said both providers agreed and promised free installation in his new home.

But when he called Xplornet on Aug. 18, the agent refused to cancel his service.

Smith was instead offered a month of free service and told his contract would be re-evaluated in four or five months.

"I explained to them again, there isn't going to be any service again in four of five months. Our house is gone. Your equipment is gone. We probably won't be rebuilding for at least a year."

After repeated calls — and waiting on hold for an hour for a supervisor that never answered — one agent agreed to cancel the service.

The catch? Smith was told he owed $500 for the Internet equipment lost in the fire.

"I told them I wasn't happy with that and that's ridiculous," Smith said. "We're in a state of emergency here in B.C."

After more failed attempts, Smith posted online about his experience. Users on Facebook quickly condemned the company.

'It's extremely regrettable'

On Thursday night, Smith received a call from Xplornet saying there had been a miscommunication and that his fees would be dropped.

"It's extremely regrettable and it should have never happened. We're very sorry as a company," said James Maunder, Xplornet's vice president of communications. 

Maunder said a policy was already in place that drops customer fees in cases of hardship or tragedy.

"It wasn't reinforced clearly and consistently over time," Maunder said.

"We've re-communicated the policy to our customer-care team, and our care agents that are located in three locations in Canada and will continue to do so."

"If Mr. Smith decides to relocate or rebuild his home, we'd love to win him back as a customer," Maunder added.

Xplornet is the largest rural Internet provider in Canada and is the only option for many residents in the B.C. Interior.

But Smith isn't giving them a second chance.

"If I can help it, I will never ever use them again. Their customer service is just horrible," Smith said.

"To put us through that for the last three weeks with what we've been going through, with our house lost — that's the last thing we needed."


With files from CBC's Radio West

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