Monday, March 21, 2011

LIFE: And I THOUGHT I Hated Bell!!

I got rid of Bell Canada last week, the culmination of about a month of maneuvering to get that carbuncle off my back-side. I despise Ma Bell to the point that the unremitting villianess of the book I am writing is called Belle Rogers. (That Rogers is the last name is no coincidence, but in the battle between the ultimately unlikeable and the astounding awful, I've chosen to keep Rogers rather than the phone company).

Now, before I go on about this changeover, the why's, wherefore's and good-riddance's, let me point you to the current John C. Dvorak column at I point out that AT&T is not Ma Bell, just kissin' cousins with a virtual identical record of customer abuse. But, boy, does John write a first-rate rant. I could stop here and just say, "What he said." Basically it all applies. But where's the fun in that.

Bell used to be a company with a face. That face was Hugh Fisher, the father of a high school chum. Mr. Fisher, I was too young and too courteous to ever call him something else, was a phone repairer at the Bell store at the Bramalea City Centre. I'd drop in to pay my bill, look over what was new in phones and chat. He always had time for me. I'm sure he caught heck from his (younger) supervisor for wasting time with me, but he didn't care. He loved talking about sports. He was a director of the Bramalea Blues Junior B hockey team and he and his wife attended just about all of Mark's hockey and basketball teams. A little less loud than Mark's mother, but he could work up a sweat excoriating officials as well as the next fan.

He retired and Bell became a faceless entity almost at the same time. First, the store wouldn't take my money any more. Just cheques (I was cheap, I wanted to save the cost of the cheque and the stamp. And I WAS in the vicinity ... frequently). Then, even the store facade went away. Bell was something you mailed cheques to and occasionally sent around repairmen when their legendary five nines of service up-time met the proverbial 0.001 per cent. Oh, and the company found political license to add just about any phony charge they could think of. I finally asked about one oddly-named charge and discovered I had been paying five bucks a month for a phone rental, for a phone I'd returned to Bell more than a decade earlier. Closer to two decades actually.

Caught stealing money from me thanks to my stupidity, they returned $65, 13 months of pilfering. Citing statue of limitations or some such folderal, I decided to keep the money and be happy they weren't in my pocket for the five bucks monthly anymore. Now, once you've been caught with your hand in my pants pocket, I should be excused for looking at every bill you send me with a discerning eye. Which I did, for about a decade. Then, I got sloppy. It's easy to just pay the bill if it's in the ball park. So, I stopped even looking at the bill. I sent the cheque or just used the trusty credit card to make the accounts receivable department go away.

Course, Bell hated me just as much as I hated it. I wouldn't pay the blackmailer's fee to upgrade from pulse dialing to tone dialing when tone dialing came in (I did mention I was old, right?). Didn't do it when the price got cut in half, nor when it was offered for free. I turned down an offer of $25 bucks to make the transition and told them what it would cost them: $500. They turned me down. I was OK with that. Fact is, I would have had to spend a day re-arranging things in my bedroom and office to get AT the jacks. AND I was plenty okay with not having all the digital features. I always answer the phone when I'm at home and don't when I'm not ... although I've virtually always had an answering machine. I don't need Caller ID, as a result. Don't need call waiting, because I agree with my friend Irwin. It's rude. It's always a case of telling one party that I value the other party over them. Nope, I was happy for a long time with my old dial phone system. And yes, that included an old black rotary dial telephone that worked even during the great blackout of 2005.

But, last September, I stopped making any long-distance calls through my phone. I used Google Voice in GMail to do those. And when Bell got around to demanding their money last month, I paid by credit card and said I wanted to change my plan to the most basic plan possible. I THEN discovered two things. I was paying almost 50 bucks a month and that I had been paying 13 of those dollars for up to two hours of national long distance calling per month. And I'd been doing it since last spring.  The bright light you saw in the sky that Monday night was me erupting. I'd certainly never okayed THAT chaarge. I don't phone people all that much and when I DO talk to Mom and Dad, it's usually on their nickel (Free for them) or via Google Voice. Same with my brother Wayne. Everybody else I talk is a local phone call. So, I got the plan that I had been on for about 38 years changed. Basic would cost me $27 a month and I'd have to pay through the nose for any long distance. I got the confirmation email within 24 hours. I also told them that I'd shop that price around and wouldn't get back to them if I found a better price elsewhere. They didn't deserve that courtesy. I also noticed I was now going to get charged 65 cents a month for using my pulse line, the penny-thieving so-and-so's. They also didn't offer to refund the money from the unauthorized added long-distance plan I'd been placed on.

Over the next couple of days, I DID check out alternatives with Rogers and with Vonage for VOIP-based solutions. There were enough doubts that I didn't go any further. Besides, Patrick (who I swear HAS Bell stock, given his refusal to badmouth the company's dependability), talked me down from the anger mountain. I'd won and was going to start saving money immediately.

On the Friday (if you are counting, that's four days after I paid off my Bell bill and three days after I'd been emailed confirmation of my new plan), I got a bill. For more than 54 dollars.

On the Saturday, I was told by the hapless clerk at the end of the line that she'd checked, re-checked and then checked again. My bill was 54 bucks and some change. I bellowed at her for about a minute longer, then slammed down the phone. A half-hour later, I was a Vonage customer.

It's taken most of the three weeks or so since this all went down to get effectively moved over to Vonage, using the same number. And for Bell to become nothing but a bad memory and a listing on my banned list of phone numbers my phone system will let through (Yes, I went out and pre-spent my savings on a new set of Panasonic phones that have blacklist capability).

The last day of Bell service was supposed to be a Friday. Naturally, something behind the scenes happened, which I will bet will cost me money in my final separation from this magpie company. Service was eventually severed on the Monday three days later, very early in the morning. It was supposed to continue to midnight, but this is Bell we are talking about. I wasn't surprised or even upset. I had some growing pains in the Vonage move, but I'm happy to report that mostly the transition is working and I have all the capabilities and THEN some. I'll blog about the whole Vonage thing some other day.

But Bell had one more kick at my can. Before buying the new phones (and don't think this wasn't the full impetus of that move), I got a call from somebody reputed to be from Bell's head offices. I'm a little suspect, and it isn't because of his foreign accent. He didn't seem to know WHICH service provider I had switched to. So, I suspect I wasn't talking to anybody with any power, but another $#(*%&W)$#*U# Bell salesman, who are universally reviled for their ability to time their unwanted phone calls for the most inopportune time. He told me I was his customer (NOT ANYMORE) and that Bell would love to do what it would take to keep me as a customer. I yelled my litany of complaints at him. His response? "You've had your say, it's my time to talk."

Well, THAT was one way of waving good bye to the red bull. He then compounded his error by informing me I was in violation of my contract with Bell. STOP. Read that sentence again. Try to wrap your head around it. I was apparently legally required to give Bell 30 days notice of my intent to get out from their money-grubbing hands in my pockets. I can't be completely sure, but I've had nightmares my anger explosion at that might have caused the earthquake in Japan. I was so mad, some of my fingertips turned blue. My arms tingled. "Charge me for the $$%(*%*$ month and don't ever call here again. I'll pay whatever bill you send me you cretin. And just so you get it, if Vonage doesn't work out, I'll try Rogers. If that doesn't workout, I'll pay somebody for cell telephones. And if it costs me a thousand bucks a month, I'll never send Bell one bleepin' red cent again for as long as I live."

Bang went the phone. Two days later I had the Panasonic beauties that allow me to wipe out all my memories of Bell. How's that for a rant? Compared with John's? Yeah, I thought so.

No comments: