Once upon a time, in a house not far away, I had a Bell phone line. It was a decent phone line, quite plain, and very reliable. There was only a slight problem; I rarely used it.
At the time, I had a cell phone, an inexpensive, ruggedized Motorola, something I needed to own for the push-to-talk feature. To be honest, it wasn’t a terribly good phone, but I rarely used it as a phone. The only redeeming quality was the plan; it was a sub-$17 monthly plan. Much better than pay-as-you-go right? Then things began to change.
I swapped out one internet account from cable to dsl. With all the problems I had with a rapidly expanding cable internet market, performance and reliability started to suffer, having a backup seemed to be a good thing. Both were piped through a basic computer running linux, then re-distributed throughout all the rooms. The computer served as a smart router and firewall, since at that time, good routers were frankly very expensive, and everything else was very much garbage. Tenants appreciated the reliability.
But the seed was planted, I started to question the need for this fail-over grade reliability. We all know incumbent telcos and cable providers are a special kind of evil, and they have the bare minimum concern for the customer experience that keeps people from launching lawsuits. Why am I spending more trying to keep my captive audience any happier than my provider? Monopolies aren’t trying to make your life better, and they know that you really don’t have a choice, unless you call choosing the other monopoly a real choice?
This new attitude of questioning my infrastructure spending got me thinking, do I need a landline anymore? Was I going to be fine with just a cellphone? Do I want to give up one of the last remaining technologies that don’t blast radiation into my brain?
I decided slowly to start by rejigging the plans I had, to see what I could do without amputating parts of my well-oiled life. The first thing was to get a real handle on costs, cellphone long distance rates are brutal, and something I’d have to live with occasionally, something my landline handled effectively. If I transferred all my activity to cellphone, would the expense of a real plan, along with the added fees/charges, outweigh the savings from ditching the landline? The answer turned out to be no, at least not with the options I had.
Once again, things changed. Followed by a fairly steady succession of changes to my telecoms needs.
The next step was upgrading my cellphone to a real plan, business requirement, my push-to-talk was now the expensive part that I used least. Then some tenants left, so I cancelled my cable internet, and replaced my linux server with what are now the ubiquitous cable/dsl router. So where my costs had gone up, were entirely offset by reductions elsewhere. Not long after this however, I moved.
The came the ordeal. I ordered a VOIP service with my dsl company. Bell, like other monopolies, don’t want to let you go. If they could rope you into 99 year contracts, they would, believe me. Perhaps I should have expected it?
Now it’s possible you’ve had some frustrating interactions when you need tech support, like when the representative from India asks you for the fourth time to reboot your computer, or tells you they don’t support your combination of equipment. But, you may only have realized when you go to cancel the service that there’s a secret customer retention department, which will beg or bribe you to stay, as opposed to the customer service department, which tells you that you’re stupid, and very ungrateful, bitch.
There’s also something else they never told you about, that’s how their demonic cancellation procedures work, and how the billing cycles affect it. For example, you start paying for a service on February 2nd, for which they charge you until February 15th, after which they start charging full months, but when you cancel (or even change plan), they might continue to charge the month at the old rate, pro-rated an arbitrary number of days, if that.
It has been a common business practice for providers of local voice services including voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services (referred to hereafter as “local voice services”), wireless services, and Internet services, as well as for broadcasting distribution undertakings (BDUs) to require customers to provide 30 days’ notice prior to bringing into effect the cancellation of their contract, even after the end of a contract term. These policies are referred to as “30-day cancellation policies.”
Up in Canada, and I’m sure elsewhere, Bell also wanted you to give them 30 days notice. Except they seem to interpret 30 days notice as: we cancel your service now, but you have to pay for 30 more days, and if you tell us to cancel 15 days from now, we will use that as the beginning of the 30 day period.
Which is exactly what they did to me, I didn’t grasp their arcane language when I was given the legalese, and the no doubt Harvard-educated single mom on the phone wasn’t a good interpreter.
I ended up having to pay Bell for a month of service, and half a month at a discounted rate, to clear my account, for a service I wasn’t able to use the entire time. You can imagine, this is not a pleasant experience, especially when the overdue notice shows up at the new place 3 months later, when you were certain you had paid in full up to the time your service was cut.
So it was with a bit of elation that I read the announcement:
The Commission determines that 30-day cancellation policies for local voice services, Internet services, and broadcasting distribution services (e.g. cable and satellite television services) will be prohibited as of 23 January 2015.
As they say timing is everything, I’m a couple of years too late. And it’s long overdue, but their next battle will be with Netflix… that one might get messy.
Meanwhile, the FCC in the United States continues to dicker around with the idea of regulating internet providers, or continuing to let them extort consumers and content producers alike. Also curious are how the megalithic corporations we all know and love (cough) are lining up on either side, for entirely selfish reasons, some of which might incidentally preserve fairness in the process.
You’d think this would be a fairly simple assignment, stop Comcast or Verizon from stymieing upstart media from becoming competitive. Isn’t that what the land of opportunity is all about? Haven’t people learned, that for good or bad, the internet has become as pervasive as bottled water, and will only get worse (or better depending how you look at it)?
Then, just as it looks like the FCC head honcho, a former telecoms lobbyist, is about to cave to public pressure, the Republicans take over Congress. With the head of the science committee being another paid telecoms lackey, Ted Cruz, the pressure might be swinging the other way come January.
As the largest hub of the internet, they need to get it right, for the sake of us all.