Sunday, May 09, 2010

Verizon for the fail

The first time David and I moved apartments, back in 2000, it took us four months to get a working phone line.

The problem was a fight between Verizon and MCI. For reasons I happily no longer remember, we were caught in a giant wrangle between the two over whose job it was to physically hook up our line -- one company owned the wires in our area, the other had our account, and resolving the standoff took me more than two dozen phone calls and countless hours of battling through Inferno-like levels of "customer service." In retrospect, I can't believe I didn't just swear off landlines on the spot and go mobile, but the whole thing eventually got so Kafkaesque that I was determined to pry a phone line out of these companies just to prove that I could.

It was good foreshadowing. Ever since, pretty much every interaction I've had with Verizon has been fraught with errors and incompetence.

I was all set to join the modern world and scrap our landline in April in our move. We'd be just fine with Skype and mobile phones, I figured, and hey, it would save us $50-$70 a month. That's what it was costing us to have a dial tone and an occasional phone call to Australia. (I was paying $10 a month for an international calling plan that gave us sensible per-minute rates, since I learned the expensive way how bat@%^! the rack rates are for overseas calls.)

But then we found out our new building was wired for Verizon FIOS. That meant that instead of kicking Verizon to the curb and consolidating our communications bills with the cable company, we could instead give Time Warner the boot and go all-in with Verizon.

Like every other cable customer, I've watched my bills creep up over the years, from about $100 six years ago (for cable and cable-modem broadband Internet) to more than $160 this year. On the flip side, Verizon was touting its "triple play" cable/Internet/phone combo packages for $89.99 a month.

I knew our bill wouldn't really be $90 a month -- fees and taxes always seem to add another 50% to telecom bills -- but it still seemed worth investigating. So I rang up, asked many pointed questions about the plan ("Are there installation fees? Equipment fees? Fees for extra computers? Required blood sacrifices every fortnight, which you charge extra fees for missing?"), and signed on. The add-on fees I agreed to were an extra $5.99 a month for equipment rental (which really should be part of the standard cost quote, but whatever) and $10 a month more for a 300/minute overseas international calling bundle. So, total bill each month should be $106 -- plus, I figured, an extra $20-$40 for taxes.

On Friday, the first bill arrived: $203.96. <insert primal screams here>

It wasn't just that the bill was too high that irked me. It was that I would now have to slog through "customer service" to untangle the mess.

And it was indeed a total mess. Despite email records confirming my order of the triple-bundle-package thingie, Verizon ran my bill for each service individually. The amounts listed didn't even reconcile -- random charges and credits skittered all around the bill, making no sense on their own and, even better, not actually adding up to the listed grand total. Instead of even attempting to sort it out, I threw up my hands and called Verizon.

Where it took half an hour to fight through the automated prompts and connect with a live human being. Happily, once I finally landed one, he looked at my bill for about 30 seconds before agreeing that it was fubared.

Twenty minutes of hold music later, I had my bill "repaired" (in theory) and knocked down to $140.56. That seems to include two months of Internet charges (prepaying May), which doesn't make sense to me if this is supposedly a level-monthly-billing plan, but I'm not inclined to battle about it.

I'm also not convinced this whole thing is actually fixed. We'll see what shows up in next month's bill.

And since my bill has been screwed up literally every single time I've signed up for new services with Verizon, I've got to assume this isn't actually incompetence. It's a business strategy -- mess up the bills and see what percentage of customers notice.