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Gotcha! SunRocket Leaves Angry Customers in its Wake

I am posting a blog by my colleage Rachael King, who is guest blogging today. here?? her post:

When it comes to the battle between scrappy upstarts and entrenched telecom providers, I?? all for backing the Davids. But the experience of a friend of mine has me ?and her – thinking twice about that.

Earlier this week, a friend of mine, Gail Norris, received the unpleasant news that her Web calling provider, SunRocket, was going out of business. Norris is a former colleague who is now a PR consultant in Gaithersburg, MD and used SunRocket for her home office phone service. But she didn’t find out about SunRocket’s demise from the company. Instead the tidings came from a friend who had read about it in the news. It wasn’t until this afternoon that she finally received an e-mail message from Sherwood Partners, the company hired to help with SunRocket’s liquidation: “After significant effort by the company to avoid this result, SunRocket is in the process of closing its operations and therefore will no longer be able to provide you with the phone service that you have been accustomed to.”

The letter offered no apologies but rather “an opportunity” to sign up for replacement service with 8x8, Inc. or United Communications Corp. In October, Norris pre-paid $199 to renew her service for a year and she’s pretty sure she won’t get any sort of refund for the 3 months left on her service. The letter certainly didn’t mention any refunds. It ends, in fact, on an odd note: “It has been our pleasure to service you at SunRocket!” The company seems to be suffering from some strange form of denial that 200,000 or so customers are now scrambling for replacement service and that most have lost money since most of the plans were pre-paid.

SunRocket’s slogan, ironically enough, was “the no-gotcha phone company.” Until now, Norris says she got great service from SunRocket. She says the service offered some innovative features, like the ability to have incoming calls ring both her office phone and cell phone at the same time, so she could easily pick up calls if she was out of the office. While she can get a similar call-forwarding feature with her new provider Comcast, she must manually forward her calls each time she’s out of the office.

Norris, who once worked at COMPTEL, a trade association for non incumbent communications providers, signed up with SunRocket because she believes in supporting smaller providers. Yet, this experience has made her think twice. Norris juggles a busy work schedule with 16-month-old twins and switching providers was one hassle she says she didn’t need this week. “After working in the industry to advocate competition, it was in my nature to go with the small guys but I’m not sure I will ever want to do that again.”

It’s all made me wonder, when is it a good time to go with a smaller, and possibly riskier, provider of telecom or tech services? When would you take such a risk?

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