U.S. Cellular, Amdocs struggle to fix billing system glitches

U.S. Cellular (NYSE:USM) said it is working with billing vendor Amdocs to fix problems in the companies' new billing system. The news comes shortly after the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that many U.S. Cellular customers are angry over receiving multiple bills in a short time with inaccurate balances or overcharges.

U.S. Cellular first acknowledged the billing system snafu in late July, but at that time said the issue had been resolved. However, it appears the company continues to have billing issues and it is now telling customers via its website that normal delivery of bill statements with payment due dates will not resume until the end of November.

"In late July, U.S. Cellular launched a new billing and operational support system that ultimately will provide better service for all customers, but at its outset, has negatively affected some of our customers," said Dave Kimbell, executive vice president and chief marketing officer of U.S. Cellular, in a statement to FierceWireless. "The transition is temporarily affecting our ability to deliver services to some customers such as processing customer orders and seamless and on-time billing. The billing and operational support system is not having any effect on our network performance."

Kimbell said Amdocs is the third-party vendor that the carrier contracted to develop and assist with the implementation of this system. He said that U.S. Cellular and Amdocs have teams  "working around the clock" to fix the problems, and that U.S. Cellular has added customer care associates to help affected customers. He also said the carrier is changing bill due dates to allow customers additional time to pay.

"With all that in mind, we want our customers to know this new system will deliver a better customer experience over the long term," Kimbell said. "Ultimately customers can expect an even better customer experience than they'd known from U.S. Cellular."

According to a recent U.S. Cellular SEC filing, the carrier inked a deal with billing vendor Amdocs in 2010 to develop a new Billing and Operational Support System. U.S. Cellular said the "initial implementation of B/OSS is expected to take until the third quarter of 2013 to complete" and that it expects to pay Amdocs a total of $190.1 million from 2010 to the end of this year. U.S. Cellular said that as of June 30, $116.3 million had been paid to Amdocs.

This isn't the first time an Amdocs billing system has caused problems for an operator. In August 2010, a quarterly filing from Clearwire indicated the company was experiencing unanticipated delays resulting from defects in Amdocs software code. Clearwire said it had paid more than $100 million during the past year and a half to Amdocs for the billing platform that was causing all the issues. As a result, Clearwire warned investors that the implementation of the new customer care and billing platform could result in delays to the company.

Amdocs is a major player in the telecom billing and OSS arena. The company's customer list includes several U.S. carriers including AT&T Mobility and Sprint (NYSE:S).

Ron Westfall, research director of service provider infrastructure at Current Analysis, said that these types of billing glitches are not unheard of. "The industry is going through a transformation," Westfall said. "And when this type of back office transition occurs, there will be growing pains as the operator figures out the new implementation."

Further, Westfall noted that these types of billing and OSS problems are not necessary indicative of a problem with Amdocs software. He said that billing systems are integrated with other service platforms such as policy control and that without proper integration, problems can occur.

For more:
- see this Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article

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