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Still Crazy After All These Years
The Crazy World of Telecommunications Charges
by Steve Holden
March 30, 2004
Summary
As far as telephone service goes, the lunatics are clearly running the asylum. Economics is topsy-turvy in the information age.

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I was working on a blog article (another one, not this one) when I got a sales call from Verizon, who are my telephone service provider. As far as I can tell I don't get any choice about that -- unless I head off into VoIP land, which I may well do as soon as I get a copy of shtoom (see here for information) running. "Verizon's copper, Verizon's customer" seems to be the way it goes.

So, this particular marketroid was primed to tempt with an offer she clearly thought I couldn't refuse. My current two-line telephone service (voice and fax), with long-distance and international calling provided by third-parties, costs me $58.23 a month (according to her -- I wish the telephone companies would find someone who could actually make their bills comprehensible, but that's another rant). She wanted me to know that I could now have unlimited long distance and local calling (by which I presume she meant local, interLATA and intraLATA, but I didn't want to confuse the situation by throwing technical terms around) for $49.95.

Now, I'm all in favour of reducing my bills, but being an expatriate Brit I make a lot of calls back to the UK, so I asked about the price of international calls, which had been conveniently overlooked in the pitch. Apparently I could get a "low" 8 cents a minute rate to the UK by paying a $4 per month charge (which, of course, equates to 50 minutes on the 'phone, but I let that slide). Unfortunately for Verizon one of my clients is a telecommunication company. Many of the calls I make, both long distance in international, are test calls, and obviously I didn't see any reason why I should pay Verizon to move my calls away from the client and lose access to the facilities I am testing. Plus the calls I do pay for would be cheaper if I stayed where I was.

This made my next question obvious. I asked "Can I have the new, low price and retain a third-party long-distance and international provider". We were clearly starting to stray outside the parameters of the sales script here, so this necessitated a discusssion with the supervisor, but after a few seconds on hold I was told no, this would not be possible. In order to get the lower price I would have to use Verizon for all long-distance and international services.

I was left wondering how it made any kind of sense to offer a lower price for more service, and had to conclude either a) Verizon had looked at my account records, knew perfectly well that I made international calls with some frequency, and were simply hoping that I would overlook that aspect of things in my hurry to save nine bucks (give or take) on the basic service plus long distance, or b) there really is some advantage to them in losing money on this service. If the latter, are they planning to eventually start gouging the new customers this campaign wins them? If the former, are they really happy to be cheating customers in this way? What's goping on?

I've already had to cope with a cable company that insisted on charging me $10 more per month for cable Internet service alone than it did for Internet and basic TV service. Since I already had satellite TV service I added the cable and had them wire it to bedrooms normally used for guests. I presume the cable company sees a certain percentage of its customers buying additional services after they take this deal on, and that they are the winners overall by this policy.

But now my telephone service provider has pretty much told me flat out that they could provide the service cheaper, but they aren't going to because I won't take free long distance. Or, in other words, they are charging me for not using their resources. I wonder what the stockholders think about that.

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About the Blogger

Steve Holden has been using computers longer than some of you have been alive, and he still isn't tired of it. The fascination is to do with the modeling flexibility that information systems allow. Steve consults to help his clients design and build their network architectures and programmed web systems, and teaches networking, database and security classes. He is the author of "Python Web Programming" (New Riders, 2002) and chaired the PyCon DC 2003 conference.

This weblog entry is Copyright © 2004 Steve Holden. All rights reserved.

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