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Techno-whipped? I pity the fool

In our eighth month of bouncing about this expansive and expensive country, Ace and I seemed headed for our most frugal stretch yet – thanks mainly to lucking out and finding some free housing upon our return to Baltimore.

For the first time, in our continuing effort to see America while spending less than what we were while sedentary and housed – about $1,500 for rent, food and utilities – we were looking at a three digit number instead of four.

Now, thanks to my stupidity, and with an assist from Verizon, we’ve blown it, and somebody has some explaining to do.

Before we left on our journey, I canceled my home Internet service (through Verizon) and signed up for wireless mobile broadband (through a different part of Verizon), allowing us to get online no matter where we were for $59 a month – the package they suggested for a heavy user.

It worked pretty great. There were only two or three locations in our 22,000 miles of travels, where service was non-existent or spotty.

I was so pleased, I even eventually sent Verizon the payment they were seeking from me for home Internet service for the month following the date I moved out of my house. It was basically a choice between paying the money I didn’t really owe, being regularly harassed by the credit agency to which they turned the matter over, or spending far too much time on the phone, holding and then some, to try and straighten it out.

All was going smoothly with my wireless mobile broadband — or so I thought until last week, when Verizon informed me that for the past two months I’d gone over monthly limit, and that I owed them more than $400.

True, I never learned how to keep an eye on the amount of time I was using. (Actually, it’s based not strictly on time, but apparently on how you are using the Internet – the size of emails you are sending, the size of files you’re downloading and other factors I don’t begin to understand.) True, they had emailed me some warnings, which I deleted before reading. And true, I never bothered to look into what overages would cost, since I hadn’t been experiencing any, and did not suspect to be savagely pillaged for consuming an extra gigabyte or so.

But that’s what happened, and my suspicion is it’s because I watched TV shows on Hulu.

Not having a television in the trailer we lived in during December in the Arizona desert, or in the unfurnished house I’m now staying at in Baltimore, I started missing it. Since childhood, TV always has provided me great comfort while rotting my brain.  So I started going to Hulu.com and watching its free offerings. I watched lots of “Bones,” lots of “The Office,” and even – on a particularly cold and lazy day – entertained myself with onion dip and numerous old episodes of “The A-Team” (I love it when a plan comes together.)

I had no idea how many gigabytes I was consuming. Apparently streaming video uses them up quite quickly. Basically, in the last two months, I ended up paying $350 to watch recently-aired and long-gone TV shows – actual retail value, about $1.89.

I swore off Hulu – at least until I get into a situation where my gigabytes are unlimited – and decided I had better, after eight months, make an effort to understand my wireless package.

Checking into things, I found that the contract I had signed was for 5 gigabytes of wireless mobile Internet a month. I still don’t know what a gigabyte is, and I’m pretty sure I don’t want to. Life is too short for that, and I fear that if I used my brain to figure it out, other more important and interesting things might get squeezed out and lost in the process, like recipes and passwords.

Having spent major hunks of my life holding on the phone for Verizon representatives – the ones tied up with other customers, and who will be with you shortly, and to whom your call is very important – I tried to fix things online, thereby using up more of this month’s rapidly dwindling supply of gigabytes, and going over the gigabyte limit for a third straight month.

I managed to find my laptop’s cell phone number, which is different from my cell phone number, entered it and clicked on “forgot password.” It said a new temporary password would be sent as a text to my laptop’s cell number. Having no idea my laptop could receive text messages, or where they might show up, that didn’t help me at all.

There was one more option, answering my “secret question.” I clicked on it, and it told me I didn’t have a “secret question,” but could create one. But I could only create one after being logged in.

When a box popped up offering me an opportunity to chat with a Verizon representative, I clicked on it, then waited 15 minutes for the person or robot on the other end to type something in. No longer is the telephone the only place you can be put on hold. Eventually, a conversation started. I explained my problem in full, as the gigagbyte meter kept ticking. She regretted being unable to help me and gave me a phone number to call. I called Verizon, and waited on hold for another 15 minutes. A representative finally came on the line, and that was the moment my cell phone (its service coming from AT&T) unexplainedly turned itself off. It has been doing that a lot lately.

I called Verizon back, waited again and was all ready to yell at whoever was unlucky enough to field my call.

Jodi, though, felt my pain. Better yet, she said she knew how to stop it. She signed me up for the same amount of gigabytes for $50 a month, and said she’d send me – for free – the equipment I needed to become my own wi-fi mobile hot spot.

That had never been my goal and life, but free is free.

Not understanding why Verizon would give me something for free that would enable me to use the Internet for free – and not having the vaguest notion of the difference between wi-fi and what I already have — I repeatedly asked her, “what’s the catch?” She said, quite soothingly, there was none. She said the equipment – about the size of a credit card — would arrive the next day, and she would call me and help me hook it up.

For a while, I wasn’t angry at the company. I was, temporarily, Verizon ireless – even though I still owed $400.

The next day, the equipment didn’t arrive, and Jodi didn’t call. Two more days passed without receiving or hearing anything. (If you’re asking why not just call Verizon and tell them, you’ve never called Verizon.) After a week had passed, I decided to go to the Verizon Wireless store near where I live, figuring I could get the thingamajig from them.

They said they’d be happy to help me out and asked for my Verizon Wireless phone number, which I didn’t have with me. I went home to find it, and in the few minutes my car was on the street, got a $52 parking ticket.

That left me so depressed I decided to take a nap. The next day I went back to the store with the number, and explained everything again. They tried to sign me up for a second cell phone line, but I explained that’s not what I wanted. I told them I’d been promised a free device that would operate through my existing line and, somehow, provide me free wi-fi. How, I didn’t care. I just wanted to stop that sand-through-the-hourglass feeling everytime I went online.

The staff at the Verizon Wireless store decided to call Verizon customer service, and I got to watch a Verizon employee while he was on hold with Verizon. Normally that would have been sweet justice – something I could have watched and smiled at all day — but I was in a hurry.  He got off the phone, went to the computer and determined the device had been delivered. The information on the screen, unfortunately, didn’t include what address it was delivered to, only the name of the person who signed for it, M. Anderson.

I don’t know any M. Anderson.

I checked with my temporary neighbors, determining neither of them was M. Anderson.

I drove to my old house, in case it had been accidentally sent there. But the new resident, Mike, wasn’t an Anderson. I checked next door to my old house, where I knew Melanie – but not her last name. She wasn’t an Anderson either.

So, if you’re reading this, M. Anderson, wherever you are, please bring me my whatchmacallit so I can conserve my giggetybytes, maintain my position on the cutting edge of communications technology, and perhaps catch another 25-year-old episode of The A-Team.


Comment from Stumpy and Cyndi
Time February 14, 2011 at 10:04 am

I’m feeling your pain! As for conserving gigabytes, no watching, uploading, downloading video’s, hulu, or streaming anything. If you DO go over you can call Verizon and upgrade your plan for a month. You can also put it on hold for up to 6 months at a time, and not pay a thing.

Ask me how I know all this?

Happy tails!
Stumpy and me

Comment from jwoestendiek
Time February 14, 2011 at 10:05 am

How do you know all this?

Comment from Sue
Time February 14, 2011 at 11:47 am

It took me almost 20 minutes to read this (and I’m a fast reader.) I was laughing so hard I had to find kleenex for the tears. I’m in the middle of a satellite internet switchover to broadband. Different companies. Different issues. Very, very, similar pain. Good Luck and may the force be with you!

Comment from Lydia
Time February 14, 2011 at 1:40 pm

John, so sorry for you pain but I truly, truly understand. I had been without a cell phone since Oct. At first it was nice, but then everyone started getting annoyed then angry with me so I decided to opt for my “upgrade” (had the previous phone for almost 5 years) … after over 25 calls, hours upon days on hold, lost count of reps and their names after 34 (some calls required I speak with 3 different people), a defective phone, loss of upgrade and STILL being charged for usage I didn’t use, I finally received one that seems to work, so far (4 days). As for TV (which is available on my phone), I was told to forget it because AT&T will not offer it after March 31 anyway … so I guess I’m safe from giga-drain.

Comment from Carl Bryant
Time February 16, 2011 at 11:39 pm

I am thoroughly convinced that all of the ‘communication’ companies have as a central spoke of their business plan a ‘torture the customer’ mantra. On the past 12 months I’ve had maddening customer disservice experiences with Verizon (just try to cancel service), DirecTV (if serviceman never shows how can we have a contract), AT&T (4.5 hour 611 call to fix my Blackberry), Clearwire (we can’t charge that little even though it is in writing), Comcast (sure 3 DVRs in a row don’t work, drive all the way over here to pick up your 4th) and CenturyTel (how can I have a cancellation fee if I only called in to get pricing.). I do know what a gB is though.