Wednesday, August 14, 2013

LIFE: Shame on You, Politicians of Canada

[Do NOT click on ANY LINK found in the comment section of this blog. No matter how innocuous the link MIGHT appear to be, it is MOST LIKELY SPAM or a link to MALWARE. I am disheartened by the need to do this, which accounts for the sparsity of posts this year.]

This will be a Stage 13 Rant. You've been warned.

Like a lot of people, especially older people, I need an emergency phone. I don't need a portable computer when I'm out and about or when the phone goes out at home. I just need some means to reach emergency assistance and to call a taxi to return me home on one of my rare forays from the Castle of Confusion. I know this to be the way a sizable portion of the phone-using population of both Canada and the US approach having a cell phone.

In the United States, you can buy a prepaid phone, use the minutes/money you bought with it and at the end of your prepaid use of telephone service, you can either buy another phone, decide not to have an emergency phone or buy some more service use. If it takes you a long while to use up your service that you have paid for it, so be it. You bought it, you own it

But here in Canada, where the law of the land for gift certificates and gift cards is NO EXPIRATION, our telecommunications companies STEAL the money of prepaid phone users if they don't use them by some decided upon expiration date. If you give the companies a hundred bucks, that expiration date will be a year away. Lesser amounts can mean as little as weeks and or a month. In fact, I can buy a Virgin gift card that will never, ever expire. But the money I gave Virgin Mobile (an indistinguishable branch) last year during my emergency when my phone service died due to my VOIP box failing, will soon be STOLEN from my account, via a legal contract I signed, by the oh-so-helpful, hip folks at Branson's legacy to Canadian consumerism (and the politicians who have continued to turn a blind eye to this practice).

In the last year, until last week, I had used a total of $4.80 worth of time. I went crazy and burned off another five bucks worth last week, out of spite, not out of need. I was in my living room, sitting beside me phone. In all, I will have paid $115 for those eight one-minute calls to the taxi company over the last year. That's more than $14 a minute. This isn't the dawn of the cellular age any more. It's been three decades since phone calls cost $14 a minute ... even with the money-grubbing roaming charges telecoms are thrilled to get away charging.

Last year, in the midst of my emergency that included a major malfunction by my then car-rental company (and yes, I am VERY, VERY, VERY HAPPY I switched to Discount Rent-A-Car, who picks me up and drops me off after giving me use of a good car, all for less money and WAAAAAAY less hassle than that other company that likes to advertise about the pick-up service), I was told by the salesman at Virgin Mobile that I could roll over my account with a minimal payment ($15), implying that that would then extend my expiration date to 2014. WITHOUT SAYING IT SPECIFALLY. What he said was true. That payment today or tomorrow would, in fact, extend my account ... for one month. A similar payment September 13th would give me another month. And so on and so on. Of course, the actual cheaper extension would be to pay another year-extending 100 bucks, not get bled to death for $180 a month a time. I asked several times, he danced around the specifics, but left me with the absolute belief I had found the deal I wanted ,,, to replace the crappy 7-Eleven phone that had cacked during the emergency,

Grating even further, he actually gave me the huckster's pitch to seal the deal. "Why don't you take the 10 buck a month plan and you'll get your minutes at 10 cents a minute? Then, when the emergency is over, switch your account over to the yearly plan. You'll pay 35 cents a minutes, but you tell me you will not be using the phone much. You'll get cheap minutes now when you have to use them, and then later, who cares?"

It was EASY to complete the plan all by myself. It was almost as if the setup at Virgin Mobile even allowed for this kind of scamming of the company in three easy steps. Do you think he saw an old dude coming and got ready to bank the commission? I hope he loses the means to procreate. In a painful way.

Completely oblivious to my compete and utter misunderstanding of the contract I had signed and then only cursorily read over ... hey, I'm not a lawyer in any case, I even 'TOPPED' up my account with a $15 donation to the Virgin Mobile bottom line last month. Actually a little more than a month ago. THAT donation has expires today. I should have waited until noon Friday, and THAT would have extended my account until the 15th next month. Doing it early? Well let's just say that the less-than-fine folks at Virgin Mobile laughed and laughed and laughed and then deposited the money directly to their account. Tomorrow, my account will plunge to 86 dollars because I have been using my FIRST purchase of time until it expires. The $15 bucks expired without me ever using a single minute. I double-donated to Virgin Mobile. I'm so proud of my stupidity.

So, given my antipathy towards the lying scum that hooked me for Virgin Mobile, you KNOW I was switching providers. Problem is, the cartel of telecommunications companies here in Canada have taken an oath to Muerta. Nobody will break the agreed on practice NOT to honour prepaid plans without having expiration dates. Steal it while you can. Maybe tomorrow, the sheep that have elected our current set of politicians, an incapable bunch if there ever was one, will be smote down by an angry electorate that will resent grandmom and granddad being soaked for money they need a heck of a lot more than the telecommunications companies do (some of the most profitable in the land).

I talked to one gentleman at Wal-Mart about maybe going with KooDoo (who have a new setup coming next week that MIGHT be a cost-effective). Currently, the same deal was in place for any of the service providers Wal-Mart, champion of low costs and big profits, sold. But he did tell me of one lady who pays the 100 dollar a year charge and keeps doing it, for fear of losing the money she has, in effect, on account with whichever one of the evil companies she is with. She now has a little bit less than 500 dollars on account. And she uses the phone LESS THAN I DID this past year. When will this stop? When that company can claim a THOUSAND bucks that have been given them in good faith, without providing the service that was paid for? Is there an upper limit to their collective greed?

The Telecom companies are campaigning hard to keep American competition out of Canada. How much market share would Verizon or some such company grab in our nation if they merely offered non-expiring prepaid phones? Five percent? More? Much more? Sure, all the ads are about foreign invaders coming to Canada and using the infrastructure they didn't bleed one cent in building ... as if the Telecom companies that rule the roost here in Canada spent much more than one (per) cent. And the other ads about cherry-picked examples being cheaper here than our American cousins pay is more embarrassing butt-covering and hope you don't smell the fertilizer.

Obviously, American companies CAN, in fact, BUY market share with competition-crushing introductory pricing. Losses? Thinking long term means they can treat Canada as a little experiment that will eventually pay off. So, yes, the $*_)%&## at the CRTC and in parliament, need to set up some protections,

But one of those protections should NOT be the cartel's right to steal prepaid money. Somebody with deep pockets and a victimized grandmother, has to take on the telecoms in court. Contractually agreed-to, or not, we victims of the telecom thievery, cannot lose this case in an unbought court. It's LUDICROUS that giving money to a company doesn't require service or goods in exchange, merely the promise that service will be available for a short period of time. Well, unless we are talking about prostitution.

The solution is simple. Give us what we paid for, the access to your network. If the price rises while we wait, that's on us. If the price for ALL users prepaid or on-going contract, rises from 35 cents a minute to 40, then that's the cost to we consumers for fiddling as Ottawa counted. We get less minutes, maybe waaaaaaaaaaay less minutes, if we wait a year, two years, three years to use our never-dwindling account. Or slowly dwindling. It shouldn't just go POOF! one Friday lunch hour. As long as price raises are fair (and I wouldn't trust the TELECOMS to figure out what fair is, it would have to be court-mandated), I think common business practices would apply. At the comic book chain I do point of sale software for, a $10 gift certificate bought you three comics two years ago. That same certificate, held to today, will only buy two comics, because of the rise in prices of comics over those 24 months. BUT YOU STILL GET TWO COMICS. Maybe just one if you wait another few years. BUT YOU STILL GET ONE.

What am I going to do in the short term? Well, I have oodles (well a few) friends who are always talking about giving me rides to and fro. Say to the hospital at the end of this month for my first eye operation. Thanks Marilyn, That'll save me the taxi phone call. I will run the risk of my VOIP not going south and go without the emergency phone, At some point I might end up with Rogers. If I can get some money off the other parts of my life I pay Rogers for, I might defray the cost of an emergency phone to double digits. I say MIGHT, because Rogers wants a ten-spot to 'switch' me over to Rogers system, graciously allowing me to use the phone I bought for the Virgin Mobile scam. Lucky for me, I only ever gave my cell phone number out to three people. I can't be held ransom for 'keeping' my number in the switch-over process, And maybe Koodoo's deal with Wal-Mart will offer a five dollar a month plan, which I would grudgingly pay. But for right now, I really, really like the idea of not giving the thieves one red cent. 

By the way, when I dictated this originally, the word blanked out before the CRTC reference was either about lack of mental acuity or a personal evaluation of the total lack of ethical backbone. I can't remember which. But it was one of them.