As the Rancho Santa Fe Association and Race Communications roll out with Rancho Santa Fe Connect installations, there have been some missed connections along the way. At the Dec. 5 board meeting, Race CEO Raul Alcarez responded to some of the criticism he has heard about the install process and laid out the “the good, the bad and the ugly” of the fiber network project so far.
Alcarez addressed both “serious breaks in communications” and failures to meet their performance expectations.
“At Race we believe that our success is not only based on the thousands of customers that we provide great service to but from our ability to identify and own our mistakes and challenges, step up and make changes to find proper solutions,” Alcarez said.
Alcarez said RSF Connect is a unique project for Race, as the Association paid for the $19 million construction of the network and owns the fiber-optic backbone. Race made an investment to come into the Covenant and owns and operates the electronics in the central office on the golf club property and is responsible for installation and providing service to customers.
RSF Association President Rick Sapp said in an effort to get customers connected as soon as possible, the Association made the decision to start the installs without full operation of the network, dividing the community into nine zones.
“We wanted to get this started before full testing and completion,” Sapp said. “That’s what began and as a result of that it’s created other unintended problems.”
Some residents said they believed everyone would be connected by the end of the year but that is not the case. Alcarez said the first six zones have been tested and released for service and they expect the last three zones, Sycamore, Cyprus and Birch, to be released by Christmas.
Alcarez said the “good” is that they have had 800 inquiries of interest and 430 orders in the first six zones with a very minimal marketing campaign—so far 120 customers have been installed.
As for the “bad,” at the meeting, several residents aired their frustrations about un-returned phone calls and emails, miscommunication and long wait times for appointments.
“After numerous phone conversations I still don’t have a handle on this thing,” said resident Marta Firestone about her challenges communicating with Race for what she feels is a high cost for service, nearly quadruple what they pay today for internet and TV. “I feel like we’ve been sold a bill of goods to an extent.”
Residents said customer service has been “nonexistent,” claiming they have called and emailed multiple times and have received nothing in response. One resident said even if they do place an order, no confirmation comes back. Race has said emails may be lost in spam folders—residents said they looked and found nothing.
“This is the behavior of a start-up more than an experienced company,” said resident Doug McKeckner. “I’m now looking at signing up and I’m worried about what the customer service is going to be once I connect, given my past experience which isn’t good.”
As they rolled out installations, Alcarez said Race broke their own process by allowing individual cell phone numbers to be given out and technicians to be grabbed out in the street, rather than following guidelines that hold individuals accountable.
“We are confident in our sales process and are owning that we should have and could do better with our communication during the construction process of the laterals to your homes,” Alcarez said. “For that I apologize and I assure you that we are making changes.”
While Rancho Santa Fe residents will not be able to get faster internet anywhere else, Alcarez acknowledged that they are not a cable or TV company—he said they are a fiber internet service provider at the end of the day and their focus is fiber internet connection. RSF Association Vice President Mike Gallagher said that Race TV is a “good add-on” and some may opt to stick with their current cable provider.
Customers have also complained about having to provide social security numbers to Race. Alcarez said that is standard procedure for utilities and that the numbers are entered into a secure platform.
“The ugly is the fact that we have not been able to install as fast as we all would hope and that there may be an idea that we would benefit more by not delivering. This could not be farther from the truth,” Alcarez said, noting that they recognize they need more resources on the construction side based on the uniqueness of every lateral build in Rancho Santa Fe—each install is custom.
Homeowners are responsible for the cost of bringing fiber to their home and there are options in regard to how the conduit is installed or extended. Alcarez reminded the community that construction can be done by the homeowner after a Race consultation lays out where it needs to be to tie into the backbone. The installation has to be done by Race to activate the service.
When Race comes out for the site survey, Alcarez suggested that homeowners have their IT consultant and gardener present to address any site issues. Site surveys and installations are done on a first-come, first-serve basis—rescheduling or delaying placement of an order will likely cause an appointment reschedule and installation delay.
“The story that they’ve told you about customer service is one I have heard many times over, it is lacking significantly in responsiveness, accuracy of information and follow-up,” said Gallagher. “It needs to be addressed even more than you think it does.”
“Anything that’s done that impacts our ability to connect as many houses as possible is a major flaw in what we’re doing,” Gallagher said.
Alcarez said he knows that the situation is pretty bad—he has been in Rancho Santa Fe from Race’s Bay Area base for the last week and said he is committed to being here as they work through issues.
“When I met with the Association early this week I said ‘I shouldn’t have to be here’ and I recognize that,” Alcarez said. “I will commit to making sure that we do right by the Association and the members.”
Sapp asked for patience as they try to reach their objective to provide high-speed, 1 gigabit internet to every single plot in the Covenant. He said while it is important that they solve the problems, there will be a lot of benefits when it comes.
“We’re doing this as fast as humanely and technically possible. We understand the frustrations, we want the best customer service,” Sapp said. “For every bad case we’ve heard today there are a lot of good cases that are happy with the experience.”
To contact Race, email email@example.com or call (800) 640-9436