Jun 03 2009

Give Me Two Tin Cans and a String

A cell phone is a great thing to have—except when you actually have to deal with it.  It provides a nice feeling of security when you’re driving, knowing that if you have engine trouble, you won’t have to walk to the nearest house and borrow a phone.  And it’s nice when you’re at the hardware store and you realize you don’t know what size bolt you need to finish that project.

photo by Glen Bowman

photo by Glen Bowman

But for those things to be possible, you can’t ever forget the thing.  I’d feel pretty stupid if I had a breakdown and had left my phone at home for the first time in months.  Carrying it is a pain, too.  I never liked carrying one on my belt, because it catches on things sometimes and gets knocked off, so I put it in my pocket.  But that’s not really comfortable either, even though they keep getting smaller.  (I hate having stuff in my pockets.)

But those are small annoyances compared to dealing with the phone company behind the phone.  For over two years now, I’ve had a pre-paid phone.  It’s simple: every month I dial a number, tell it how much I want to pay from my debit card, give it the last four digits of my SSN as verification, and I’m done.  No two-year contract, no credit check like I’m buying a car or house.  It’s cheap and simple, and I don’t pay for texting or ringtones or pictures or any of that nonsense.

Well, this month, when I called the number that used to tell me my balance and let me add to it, it tells me they’ve switched to two new numbers: one for checking your balance and one for adding to it.  And somehow this is for my convenience.  Then when I tried to add to my balance with the new number, it didn’t ask me how much I wanted to add, and then promptly told me my card was declined.  For how much, I have no idea.

So I called and talked to a customer service rep.  While I was on hold, I looked at their web site and saw they have pre-paid plans for 1/4 the price of mine, which cheered me up a bit, since I never use half my minutes anyway.  But when I got through, she told me she couldn’t make any changes to my account because there’s no password  on it, so I have to go to a physical store and have them set a password first.  Never mind that I started the account and gave them a debit card and have been charging it for over two years somehow without this password—now I need it before they can take any more of my money.  On top of that, this new more convenient system won’t let me say how much I want to deposit each month, so if I have some extra money and want to pay some ahead, too bad.

If they weren’t the only company that offers a consistently steady signal everywhere I go, I might switch companies today.  But instead I’ll make a special trip to talk to the guys at the store about this, and hope they know what I’m talking about.  (Wouldn’t be the first time the main company was making changes the dealers hadn’t heard of.)  Technology can be wonderful, but technology companies rarely are.

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