16 March 2009
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The Rest of the Scams

Neither a Texter Nor a Textee Be

These thumbs have never sent a text message.  Neither have mine eyes observed one sent to their attention.  Although I initially never bothered to calculate the cost per byte of a text message to compare it to my "data plan," I realized it was a bad deal immediately.  When Verizon tried to sell a "plan" that included some number of text messages, I was having none of it.  I told them I not only wanted no plan, I wanted "texting" totally blocked from my cellphone so that I wouldn't have to pay for messages sent to me by people less frugal.

I can get unlimited emails, each of essentially unlimited length, for "free" after paying a monthly charge for data.  I'm going to pay $.10 for each 160 bytes?  Shame on you Mr. Verizon, for your excessive, although perhaps necessary, greed.

Shame on You, Shame on Me

Shame on me, Mr. Verizon, for not paying attention.

I looked at my telephone bill the other day.  Not the new cellphone bill, which I attend carefully, but the common landline bill.  I, like a rapidly decreasing number of souls, have a "POTS" line in the house.  Verizon is the local provider, and when I moved in I ordered a telephone.  My telephonic needs are relatively simple; calls in, calls out, caller ID to avoid some of them, and the ability to make long distance calls should the need arise, as it does but infrequently.  Since I arranged for this line many years ago, and I was frugal then, too, I assumed the bill would be reasonable.  My housemate does the routine bill-paying chores, and I expected that the telephone bill would remain just that—routine.

I looked at my telephone bill the other day.  I didn't intend to—it was an accident.  But when I did look, I immediately found what I thought was a discrepancy.  I was paying $5 per month for not making long distance calls.  That's right!  There was a "shortfall charge" that made up for my not making calls that I would have, instead, been charged for making.  I don't remember that being part of the initial agreement.  Surely, if it had been, I would have rejected it and selected a non-long-distance "plan."  How did that get on there?  Did Verizon send me one of those flimsy, fine-print-intensive sheets with an ancient bill?  I'm sure I was notified when the price of caller ID was raised to $9.50 per month.  Caller ID is a short stream of bytes, fewer even than in a text message, that is sent to your telephone at the beginning of a call.  The equipment needed to send it has been amortized for at least a decade.  (I think they stopped charging for Touch Tone about 40 years after it was pervasive, even though it saves them money if customers use it!)  So Mr. Frugal here, who has steadfastly refused to pay for text messages, was unknowingly paying even more per byte for caller ID.

Having looked at my telephone bill the other day, I called Verizon immediately.  After a fascinating detour through their perky "tell me what you want" system, I found that the office was closed.  The day following, I spoke to a representative and demanded that these ridiculous charges be reduced and that I be given a hefty refund.  Not only did he decline, he told me I've been paying those charges for years!

Shame on me, Mr. Verizon.  Corporate greed I understand; I'm harder on my own stupidity.

Switching to Cable

It turns out that switching telephone service to cable, although it required a tedious telephonic interaction, is fairly simple.  I discussed with their representative the cost and features, and found out the following:

  • Caller ID is free.
  • Long distance calling is free.  Even Puerto Rico.  I can call Arecibo for daily reports.
  • But the service isn't free.  By adding telephone to my teevee and internet service, it would cost me negative $12.00 per month which would appear as a reduction of my cable bill.
  • Oh yes.  They would be giving me free movie tickets every Tuesday.

I have a history of ignoring routine charges.  Normally, if a bill is the same every month, I don't revisit the value of the service; life is too short and there's little enough time for blogging as it is.  But whenever there's a change, something in my alleged mind starts questioning it, and it inevitably redounds to the detriment of the billing organization.  When our ISP at work tried to add a surcharge, they lost the whole account.  They might have kept it forever if they hadn't added that gratuitous and relatively small amount.  

The Utility Puzzle

I'm sure Verizon has people whose job is to study this sort of consumer reaction.  For example, I've recounted how I got my BlackBerry Storm for less than free from the self-same utility that just lost my landline business.  Have they decided that one type of customer is more worth having than another?*  Or do they have no alternative?  They're besieged with competitors with new technology.  Does it make sense to irritate customers with outrageous charges for services that cost them nothing?  Are they fighting a rearguard action in the hope that many customers are even more oblivious than I?  When this is all over, and we have our communication implants and retinal projectors, perhaps the learned journals will have some papers on their internal decisions.  I wonder how long, though, we will still have "journals."  A musing for another day.

National Association For Information Destruction

Having nothing to do with yodeling, this bizarrely-named organization also actually exists, if you can believe their web site.  I found out about it when I received a notice that told me, as a public service, the "mobile shredder" is coming to my community on Earth Day.  How nice!  One of the most hotly debated issues in physics is whether information CAN be destroyed, even when sucked into a black hole.  I shall try to find out if the NAID has any thoughts on that issue.


It's been a while since we've heard from Citizens Against the Waste of Kinetic Energy.  Do I hear their flywheel typewriters revving up?

*If they have, they're waffling.  There is still no update to the increasingly annoying Storm software.  One was "promised" for a week ago by someone in a Verizon store, but I think he just wanted me to leave.  I can understand that.

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© 2009
Richard Factor

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