Steven (unzeugmatic) wrote,

Nostalgia Time: Evil Phone Company Behavior

Ah, remember Lily Tomlin's Ernestine character? The telephone operator whose motto was "We don't care. We don't have to. We're the phone company."? Yes, those were the monopoly days.

I don't know if what I describe here is actually evil, and I believe this sort of thing is quite common, but there's certainly something that seems wrong here that borders on unethical.

The situation is that I have finally trained myself to use my cell phone for my long-distance calls, since I'm paying for them anyway. (I'm lucky if I use one tenth of my allotted minutes in a typical month.) Just when I've gotten my long-distance bill down to, well, practically nothing (there was one call on the last three-month bill) I get a postcard in the mail from A T & T telling me that starting next month there will be a $3.95 monthly charge for the privilege of using my current calling plan. That's a sneaky thing to put on a postcard, I think; there should be large visible mention of this change in the bill itself, but at least I caught it.

I called the customer service number the card provided, which led me to a many-tiered menu system that provided me with the option of hearing about three different calling plans. All of the plans had either a monthly fee or a "minimum usage" charge, which amounts to the same thing for me. I got to the menu item to request to talk to a representative and got put on hold for a while. A long while. About 36 minutes.

While I was on hold I went to the web site the phone voice suggested I use, and there were many more calling plans available there. Every one of the plans had the monthly or minimum fee.

Eventually a customer service representative got on the line, and he was very very good at the tone of commiseration, although it's a pity that a company has to hire people specifically to commiserate. I explained my situation, which as I suspected is quite common, and said that I was looking for a plan where I pay only by the call but there didn't seem to be one available.

The commiserating customer service guy said that AT & T does offer such plans, and -- get this, for it's the unethical part in my estimation -- "I'm sorry AT & T chooses not to display those plans on its web site." Chooses not to indeed.

Turns out there are two plans with no monthly usage or minimum fee: What I think of as the "expensive anytime" plan, and the "reasonable anytime plan" which has a per-call surcharge. Ok, fine, that second plan will probably work just fine for what I need and I don't need to switch carriers or worry about anything.

Still, what am I to make of a company that makes the conscious decision to limit what it provides on its website to services that will most likely cost its customers more than they need to spend if they have all the relevant information -- relevant information for which it puts enormous roadblocks to prevent you from learning?

Yeah, I know -- it's a capitalist world and if we don't like what they offer we can find another phone company. Still, I say there's something smelly here.
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