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The $3000 local call

We had a very bad experience with Verizon a couple of years ago. I'll try to dig up the details at a later date; this is just from memory.

I accidentally entered an old number for EarthLink's dial-up service into our internet gateway computer (the computer providing NAT for our home network), which (at the time) was pretty much connected to the internet 24/7 via dial-up since we didn't yet have cable internet. Unfortunately, it turned out that this number had, not too long before, been officially moved out of our toll-free local service area and into the non-toll-free local service area. So there was a small per-minute charge for connection time -- something under a penny per minute, I think. There was, however, no change in the way the number was dialled -- you still didn't have to put a "1" or an area code in front of it. So we merrily reconnected to the internet and had no clue we were being charged until the bill showed up next month, with a charge for about $600 of "local toll" calls . They did not list the numbers called, either, so it was only after some investigation that we figured out that it was the Earthlink number.

Upon figuring this out, I immediately checked EarthLink's web site for the latest numbers for our area, and changed the number in the dialler. So now "all" we have to deal with is that $600 phone bill, right? Well... another one came in, now totalling about $1200... but I figured (having to guess a bit, since they didn't list when these diamond-plan calls had been made) that maybe this was the bill for the calls made between the previous bill and when I changed the number. So I took no further action, aside from getting ready to ask Verizon to remove the charge.

And then a third bill came in, and the total was still higher (I seem to recall that it ultimately got to around $3000, though that's inconsistent with the other numbers; as I said, I need to find the actual bills). I frantically double-checked the dialler and found that, of course, my "change" to the dial-up number somehow hadn't been saved; it was still dialling up caviar and truffles for us. This time, after making the change, I rebooted, reconnected, and watched to see that it actually dialled the "new", correct number.

Verizon flatly refused to remove the charge. I wrote them letters, called them and spoke with several different people... no go. (The story of what happened to the charge after that is... another story; it was fortunately on a number which belonged to a former resident of the house, and ultimately not our responsibility, although I did my darnedest to fix the problem anyway.)

Verizon's sins in this case consist of the following:

  • Having such a thing as a "local toll area" which charges for calls without requiring you to dial a prefix ("1" or an area code)
  • Listing only the total of charges for such calls, rather than itemizing
  • Refusing to negotiate

Additionally, Verizon actively encourages the monopolistic telecommunications system where they generally (or always?) have, in the areas in which they provide such services, a monopoly on DSL and plain old telephone service, so when they pull stunts like this you don't really have the option of switching providers.

Aero 14:18, 1 May 2005 (EDT)

Just thought I'd share some of my stuff on some o' these.

  • Having such a thing as a "local toll area": see htyp:local toll area
  • Listing only the total of charges for such calls, rather than itemizing
    • I've seen this many times too, especially with cell phone companies. Many of them consider it an extra service (= extra $$$) to itemise! Gee, I didn't know paper was getting so expensive, guys!
  • Refusing to negotiate
    • And this seems like pretty much the standard for Corporate America these days. If it was buried in pages of incomprehensible nonsense somewhere, well, it was completely reasonable to expect you to be familiar with it!


I originally posted this on HTYP on 2005-04-30, but decided on 2009-04-07 that it belongs here.

See HTYP for other Verizon stories, though.