February 26, 2009 in Idaho Voices

Replacing ring with cha-ching

Bundling costly lesson in communications
By The Spokesman-Review
 

I lost my cell phone somewhere between Carlin Bay and St. Maries while on a motorcycle trip around Lake Coeur d’Alene last summer. Despite a slow trip back the way we had come and talking to a few people where I had last used my phone, it was a no-show.

I had service turned off shortly after we returned home, then froze. I could not get a new phone. Purchasing that cell phone just a few months earlier had been one of the most frustrating adventures of our lives, causing hours of stress and hundreds of dollars.

A week before Christmas 2007, my son, husband and I excitedly entered a local telephone store with the intention of purchasing two new phones and merging two accounts together. We planned this outing because we had been getting enough promotional literature to fill the office garbage can once a month, outlining the absolutely fantastic promotions they had for us, and advising us we had two FREE phone upgrades coming to us.

After a 20-minute wait, we informed the young man of our intent and handed him our coupons.

“Oh,” he said, “do I have a deal for you.” What he suggested that we do was combine into one account as planned, but that we also replace our home phone with a cell phone and put our computer on a wireless system. “If you don’t like it,” he with assurance, “you can change it back within 30 days.”

We fell for it. We left an hour and a half later, with four new phones, including one for each of us and a cell phone to replace our home phone. We also had a piece of equipment to update our online account to a wireless system – all for one low, monthly price.

We didn’t know it then, but we’d been bundled.

From the minute we got home we realized our mistake. One cheap little (free) cell phone took the place of four connected home phones. We had replaced handy phones in our kitchen, bedroom, basement and shop, with one tiny, hard-to-use phone.

We never even bothered hooking up the Internet. We called the second day, wanting our home phone system and Internet system returned to their original accounts.

“Can’t be done,” we were told. Evidently bundling is easy; unbundling takes an act of Congress, and you know how quickly they work. To disconnect the service that had taken place with the wink of an eye, now required a lineman to come to our home; our appointment was two weeks out. This disconnect eventually took six weeks.

The bills began coming in before that – the first for more than $600 – and that was just our cell phones. We had expected $175 for all. Despite our denials, they insisted we added three of us together on one line and not increased our minutes. Eventually they did remove $400 of the charges the first month, but the next month’s bill was again more than $600.

While we focused on fighting the cell phone bills, accounting for promised credits, saving our home phone number, maintaining Internet access and having our home phone reactivated; the Internet and home phone bill spiraled out of sight. The problem this time: The company continued to charge for the account on our original home phone number, while setting up an additional account using a new number. This double-billing went on for months.

By April, we were unwilling to fight anymore. We paid exorbitant bills each month, and eventually wrote one last check for more than $400 to cover all the amounts they were unwilling to drop. In the end, bundling cost us, well, a bundle.

Since losing my cell phone a bare three months after this fiasco rendered me unable to step into their store again, we simply reactivated one of our old cell phones. I used it until a week ago when several keys (*, 1, 4, 7) quit working. My husband went in with me. I bought a simple phone, no funny business. We walked out and I breathed a sigh of relief.

My new phone rang barely five minutes after we left the store. The call was for my son. They had deactivated his phone instead of mine. I now had his number and he had no phone. We turned around and headed back.

Contact correspondent Mary Jane Honegger by e-mail at Honegger2@verizon.net. Previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/columnists.


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