Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Can you hear me now?

A few weeks after we moved, I decided it was high time to get myself a local cell phone number. It seemed silly to continue using my old phone number, for three reasons. First, it would be a long-distance call from any land line in these parts. Second, on account of the three-hour time difference, I was getting wrong-number calls at 2 or 3 in the morning. Third, even moving 3000 miles away did not make the pharmacy calls stop.

So I called Verizon and requested a new number. I'd changed my number once before, upon moving to California from Ohio, and it had been a very easy process... until I received a bill with an early termination fee on it. It turned out that Verizon's California operations are completely separate from their operations anywhere else. So Verizon's everywhere-but-California office tried to charge me $175 because they were not told by Verizon's California office that I hadn't, in fact, jumped ship. Fortunately, it only took one phone call to straighten that one out.

(It seems many telecommunications companies have separate offices for California-based services. When I signed us up for land line service in California with SBC, they tried to screw us over with this very bizarre method of "credit establishment," which amounted to giving us about 7 calendar days to pay our first couple of bills and then slowly lengthening the payment timeframe. This seemed like a trap, so I called to complain. I pointed out also that I'd had SBC service in Ohio for four years and had never once been late with a payment--hadn't I already demonstrated myself as a good customer? The representative told me that SBC's California office does not have access to records for SBC's operations in any other state. I tried to enlist the help of the California Public Utilities Commission, but apparently this backwards billing method is perfectly legal in California. Your guess is as good as mine.)

Getting my Massachusetts cell phone number was also very easy--almost too easy. Then I got my first bill and noticed that not only did I have late fees for January (a month for which I'd never actually received a bill) but I was being assessed California state and local taxes on my new Massachusetts number. Naturally, I called to rectify the situation. I got the late fee erased after much convincing of the reluctant representative that, during my 6 years with Verizon, I'd never once been late with a payment, and furthermore I'd never been billed for January anyway. She made me acknowledge at least three times that they could only waive the late fee once, whereupon I reminded her each time that I would have happily paid on time, just as I'd happily been doing for six years, if I'd actually received a bill in January.

The matter of the taxes was a little more complex. It seems that when I had called to notify them of my new mailing address--prior to getting my new number--whoever took the call had not also updated the primary location where my phone was being used. So their computer system thought I was receiving mail in Massachusetts but using my phone in California. (Huh?) The person who helped me fix this was very thorough and not the least bit reluctant. I like it when that happens.

I thought all was well until Mrs. Gerbil called me from home yesterday and found that she had to dial 1 and the area code to get through. We do not live in an area with 10-digit dialing. In fact, the entire western half of Massachusetts has the same area code, so local people look at you funny if you give your phone number as 10 digits instead of 7. My new cell number was supposed to be a South Hadley cell number, but it obviously was outside our local calling area. Our local calling area is pretty big, but it's definitely not the entire western half of Massachusetts. What gives?

So I called Verizon and asked where my new number was based. Imagine my surprise when I found out that it was based in Huntington--which is forty-five minutes away! I wasn't all that attached to my new number, and it seemed silly to keep a non-local number that I'd received when I'd asked for a local number, so I asked for a number that was really and truly local. This time I looked the exchange up in the phone book just to make sure. The representative magnanimously volunteered to waive the $10 new-number charge. It all seemed too easy. But we'll see when the bill comes.

That is, if it comes.

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