Thursday, November 3, 2011

Phone companies: the scum also rises

Remember when you were a child? One phone company, Ma Bell, a regulated monopoly, supplied the entire nation. Long distance calls cost a fortune, but at least you could understand the bill. We always had the simple black wall or desk phones; made by Western Electric and owned by a much kinder and gentler AT&T. The phones were indestructible. You could throw a major hissy fit and barely dent them. My friends whose families had more means than we did sported phones with colors that matched the decor; the girls had those little Princess handsets that lit up.

Today, I get so many bills with so many extras, it gets me nuts every time I open an envelope. Verizon once charged my business phone for 18 months on an account that I had switched. I failed to notice (yeah, how could I?). Try getting someone to actually answer a phone at a phone company. You'd think they were in the business of communication. They made it incredibly difficult to get a refund because they couldn't find the account (they had switched software, heh, heh, for want of a better explanation and thought I'd been scammed by someone) Still, they cashed my checks regularly. It took months to sort out.

But AT&T and T-Mobile, especially in the wireless domain, are equally frustrating and awful to deal with. T-Mobile is only good in Europe. The reception in the U.S. is still spotty after all this time, and the sales reps know it. The thing that really gets in my craw about AT&T are their collection measures. First of all, they're billing you in advance for the monthly service part. So they get to use your money before you actually pick up and dial (or rather press buttons). If you're even a few days late, you get a "final disconnect notice." Once I called them (a ridiculous waste of time, I now know) and said, "Hey, I never received a first disconnect notice." They replied that they don't have one. They go right to the final to make sure they get your attention.

As for their mobile service, AT&T will barrage you with text messages and voice mails telling you that they have an urgent issue to talk to you about. This urgency involves your being one or two days past due. I hadn't figured this out until one month my son (who is part of a three-line plan) called me and said, "Um, Dad, our service has been disconnected...did you pay the bill?"

As for dropped calls, that would take another blog.

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