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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Bring Back Ma Bell

I remember the days when a phone company provided phone service. It wasn't fancy, and sometimes it was expensive, but you knew where you stood, and you knew when you picked up the phone that you would get a dial tone. The world may be ending, the power could be out, but your phone would have a dial tone.

After the 1989 earthquake in San Francisco, power was gone, the bridge was broken, highways collapsed, but I picked up my phone and heard the dial tone. I was able to call my family and tell them I was OK. Back then the phone company did one thing only, but it did it well.

Fast forward to today...

I just had a screaming match on the phone with a customer service representative from Vonage. I fell for the Vonage marketing ploy and somehow got it into my head that they provide phone service. After a month of trying to get their phone service to work, and multiple instances of hour-long sessions with the Vonage technical support, I gave up and tried to cancel my account. (The technical support was neither technical, nor supportive and I often would get an answer that exactly contradicted what the previous rep had said.)

I sent them an email canceling my account - using the same email address that I had given to sign up for the account. I thought the account had been closed until I noticed I was still being billed on my credit card. So I emailed again, and all of a sudden, email was no longer an acceptable medium for conversing with Vonage. Security they claimed. They insisted that I call in, and informed me that they were there to help 24x7.

Not True! When you call after hours, the recording tells you to call back during business hours. So I called back during business hours. After navigating their auto-attendant to the option "cancel account", I was informed that there was a very long wait. Nevertheless, I waited. 25 minutes later I hung up, as I was calling from my cellphone, and we all know how that goes with the free minutes, etc.. I tried at least 3 more times with the same result.

Finally, I got through to the Vonage Rep in charge of such calls, and of course she started to try to convince me to keep the service. That is the reason they want you to call in. When I refused, she started telling me that they would only charge me $100 for disconnecting. That takes gall if you ask me, to charge a disconnect fee for a service that never worked. So I'll have to fight that another day.

But it made me think of the days when you could order phone service and get phone service. Vonage is not a phone company. They are a marketing and billing company. They have great commercials, and have set up billing such that they make money regardless of whether you can place a call or not.

I still have my big red phone I bought as a freshman in college in 1983 from AT&T for $25.00. It was the first year that you could choose a color of phone. I chose red. It is now hooked up to Pac Bell, and when you pick up the receiver it makes that old familiar sound, and if I punch the buttons in the correct order, it is actually possible that somebody at the other end will pick up and say hello.

Now that's progress!

RH

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