13 Dec. 2006
SETI League
PriUPS Project


This should properly be part of my "why is everything so stupidly complicated" blogitem.  And it may well be if and when I get around to writing it.  Until then...

My cellular carrier is "streamlining its billing system."  Instead of reading and "podcasting" my blog as I do, I should record my telephone conversations with the telephone company, the cable company, and the assorted miscreants with whom one must deal in the process of attempting to maintain a household and the services appurtenant thereto. I don't talk to them a lot - my long-suffering housemate is normally charged with the task, but when anything involves electronics, media, electricity, etc., the task devolves to me.  These conversations are often classics.  But they come upon me unexpectedly, and I'm too lazy, usually, to bother recording them. 

Yesterday it was the cellular carrier, as I hinted.  Now, if I were a cellular carrier wanting to streamline my bill, the first thing I'd do is get rid of all the pages and render it thus:

Dear Customer:
Last month you used your cellphone, for which we provided a network.  Please send us $xx.xx so we can continue to provide it.
Yours truly,

I think I might use a post card, although even that seems profligate.  Actually, I'd send one out whenever the bill exceeded $100, telling the customer to send me $200, thus leaving them with a credit for the next month or so.  In other words, one post card per quarter or so.  But that's too simple.  (And, I'm not a cellular carrier.)  Here's what a real cellular carrier did:  They "streamlined" their billing by doing away with my "plan."

We are not a household of babblers.  Absent unusual or exigent circumstances, my housemate, who has friends who actually like to talk to her, usually fritters away perhaps one quarter of our allotment of "minutes."  I, whose friends are less sanguine and more taciturn, can be counted upon to use perhaps another ten minutes a month.  This leaves us with many extra minutes.  If we had a "plan" that allowed "roll over minutes" we would be rolling in them indeed.  Surprise!  The new, "streamlined" plan offers twice as many minutes.  But that's not all.  There are extra charges for all sorts of "features" that we never use and that have a marginal cost of zero to the carrier.  The old and new charges for these "features" are lovingly detailed for the new candidate "plan."  Some are higher!  Some are lower!  Some are the same!  But none have been disappeared.  And I won't even begin to detail the surcharges.  Perhaps there's a streamlining surcharge?

Having been warned that I must select a new plan, I decided that it was possibly time for new phones.  After a long chat with the representative about the new plan, I broached that subject.  Here's what I told him:

  • I want:  Text, Data, MP3, and a good but not great camera.

  • She wants:  Something her friends won't laugh at when she sees them, and a charger that works.

The model numbers started flying.  The extra charges and services proliferated like Dear Leader would if he found his cognac bottles filled with plutonium.  The megabytes per dollar and messages per dime took on a fetching and surreal pattern.

I gave up. 

The cellular carriers invest vast amounts of money to add features to their network, but are trapped just as the airlines are.  Their system costs a fortune; the marginal cost of delivering service is a pittance.  And so they task economists with deriving some formula that will maximize their revenue and make everybody miserable in the process.  Except for me.  I'm not miserable because I'm too lazy to make sense of it all and so rarely use the airlines, and get the cheapest cellphone "plan" I can find.

This blogitem would be more entertaining if I had recorded and played back excerpts of my discussion with "James."  He was one of the few representatives I've spoken with recently who wasn't irony-impaired, and we got along well.  At least we did before I gave up. 

Follow-up 15 December 2006

In a spasm of zeal I tried again.  This time I had lengthy speaks with a lad named Shawn, also not irony-impaired.  We discussed how remarkable it was that I could receive two mobile telephones via FedEx in a couple of days, but in order to receive my "rebates" I would have to send the paperwork in by post and it would require 10 to 12 weeks to receive my checks.

I selected a "Motorola Q" for myself, and an "LG8300" for my housemate.  Shhh.  It's a surprise.  I have 15 days to return either if not satisfied.  Of course I'm stuck with the "plan"200 additional minutes that will never be usedsince the old one has been streamlined out the window.  Check back here to find out whether they end up used, returned, or crushed.

NP:  "Little Steven's Underground Garage" - "Various Artists" and fun commentary. 

Richard Factor

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