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Posted by gustav at 06:01PM, Saturday, November 02nd, 2002

Verizon Wireless Is Evil - A Tale of Bad Customer Service and Phone Problems

I have a new theory about the failure of the U.S. to adopt the GSM mobile phone technology. It has nothing to do with infrastructure, and everything to do with greed.

I got a couple Verizon phones -- one for me, one for my boyfriend -- about 18 months ago, along with a two-year contract, because Verizon seemed the least awful provider in terms of prices on phones and service, and had a nice big network.

Now, I'm in Chicago on business, and suddenly no one can hear me when I talk on my cell phone. Okay. I haven't really been in love with this phone, ever -- it's the hardest to use cell phone I've ever had, and it fails to charge half the time when I stick it in the charger. I'm not a big fan of LG, the manufacturer, which also makes the DVD drives in our PowerBook "Pismo" which have failed twice in less than two years. I looked on the Verizon Wireless website to see what kinds of phones were available, and had my eye on a nice little Nokia that was listed on the site for $29.95. All will be good, I thought -- a better phone, a great price, and it should be very easy to make the switch, what with the friendly Verizon customer service that I'd experienced in the past.

What I didn't know was that customer service is one thing when you're a potential new customer, and quite another when you're a potential repeat customer. The problem is this: according to Verizon, I'm not "eligable" for new hardware until May, 2004. Until that time, if I "want" new hardware, I have to pay full, exhorbitant retail (i.e., $150 for the cheapest, nastiest phone they sell.) Otherwise, I can simply continue to pay the monthly fee stipulated in my contract for no service, since I have a phone with which no one can hear me speak.

After she gave me this news, I told the Verizon rep at the counter that I wasn't particularly happy about that, and asked her to verify that there was no way I could get a phone at this point for less than $150. She smiled and said "Nope." I walked out, muttering "Thanks for nothing."

So my theory is that mobile providers have turned their backs on GSM because that would allow customers to buy phones without having to go through providers at all. You see, with GSM, the "identity" of the phone is stored on a tiny "chip" -- a SmartMedia-esque card that you can pull out of the phone, and stick in another phone, and which carries with it your account information, your phone book, your call history, and so on. With this kind of technology widespread, if, for example, my shoddy LG phone died before my service contract was up, I could simply go to, say, Target, buy a phone I liked for $19.95, pop out the chip, stick it in the new phone, and be completely set up. Instead, I can spend full retail to get a replacement phone so I can use the remainder of my mobile contract; at the end of the contract, in five months, I'll feel absurd switching providers, which would require getting a different phone entirely, having just spent so much on mine. Providers seem to think this will induce me to stick with their service. Of course, having had this Verizon experience, I'll be damned if I'm going to ever buy another Verizon phone. I'd rather cancel the service, and if they complain, simply pay the remainder of my contract off, and go elsewhere.

Why is it that these companies think they can win and retain customers by offering deals to new customers that they don't offer to existing ones, and forcing existing customers into unpleasant altercations with unhelpful employees who smile while telling you, essentially, that you're screwed whatever you do? They certainly won't win my devotion or custom, now or in the future. Corporations in the U.S. seem to be moving ever more in this direction -- find payment structures that screw their customers the most; no need to worry about them jumping ship, because, even if the particular industry is one of the rare ones that's not monopolized, all the corporations in it have essentially the same business practices. I've experienced similar things with Sprint, which was why I switched to Verizon in the first place. I've never had a cell phone that's lasted more than about 18 months. It's a designed-in lifespan, and now the carriers have found what they think is an effective way to make more money by screwing customers, inducing them to constantly switch between identical, rapist, customer-hostile, evil corporations.

Throw your cellphone away.

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