Sunday, August 4, 2013

Dear Verizon FIOS - You People Are Idiots

When Verizon offered to replace my copper lines for my phone service with fiber I was all for it. I had watched them for months slowly string fiber down a major feeder road toward my little enclave. In the past couple of months, I noticed on my daily dog walk where they were bringing their fiber from the main trunks on the feeder roads into my neighborhood. So, I was more than glad to have them replace my copper home phone service with the new and improved fiber connection.

Now I know what you are thinking. "Home Phone Connection? What is this home phone you speak of?" For all you under the age of say 40, you just won't understand this. When I grew up, there was always a phone in our house. Your phone number was one of the most important and first things you learned. Having a home phone was akin to having an electric hookup. It is a 'norm' for us older folks that we have a 'home phone', yet I acknowledge that such a thing is unnecessary in today's world of the ubiquitous cell phone. Yet I, and I am guessing, most of the folks of a similar vintage, cling to the concept of a 'home phone'.

I believe a historical divergence is necessary here, as some of you may not appreciate this irrational clinging to the past. I realize that it is hard to imagine, but in some places phone lines were so limited that neighborhoods had to share them. I can recall as a child seeing (but not being allowed to touch) a phone with a crank on the side at my grandparents very rural house in Texas. The way that worked was each person on the 'party line' had a distinctive ring. Thus you didn't answer a ringing phone unless it was your 'ring'. To make a call, you would lift the phone, listen to see if any one else was on, then turn the crank. This would bring an operator on, whom you would give the number and name of the person you were calling.

It was a major social blunder to turn the crank without listening, as was listening without indicating you were. The NSA of today didn't have anything on old Ms. Peters down the road who listened in on everybody's calls and knew everyone's business. With those drawbacks in mind, you would think that people would have been more circumspect in their conversations. I don't think it was the threat of Ms. Peters that limited the phone banter as much as the (then) exorbitant cost of the calls. Even with all these drawbacks, it is amazing now to think about all the phone operators connecting all the calls, technicians sorting through bundles of copper wires, and lineman climbing poles in all sorts of weather to make that simple yet life altering technology happen. I stand in awe of the shadow they cast.

So now I have a fiber connection literally hanging in a box inside my house. My thinking was that now, finally, I was no longer beholden to my cable company for TV and the internet connection. In the past they have put filters in place which killed my internet then complained that I had too many splitters on my line, causing me to spend way too much time in my attic diagnosing what fundamentally was their signal problem. At one point I got almost threatening emails from them because, having a house full of teenagers, I was using "too much bandwidth". All that being said, they provide a fairly (now) reliable and consistent service. In any case I value a free market, and having the competition literally hanging in my utility room gives me leverage.

So the very first thing that I did after the install was to click on the ads that started appearing on my favorite web sites advertising Verizon FIOS service. Rather than giving a straight price and service breakdown, they insisted on making me look to see if FIOS was available. Obligingly, I plugged in my address and was informed that I already had Verizon service. Well Duh! Home phone! They then asked if I wanted to 'upgrade' my service. Since answering 'yes' was apparently the only way to get an estimate online, I did. Their security protocols then kicked in. They attempted to go through a series of questions to assure themselves that I was not a nefarious hacker. After entering in my home number three times and being told "that is not a valid customer number", I finally gave up, resolving that I would have to talk to an actual person (something I despise) to get a quote.

A few days later I am talking about the new FIOS line with my neighbor. He is a fairly low tech guy, but he does have internet, phone, and cable like me. Unlike me he is a sports nut and his wife is a movie nut, so they have a bunch of TVs and channels. He called them to get a quote, and by the time they were through jacking him up with 'features', the FIOS bill would have been bigger the his existing service. My wife had a similar experience with a door salesman who then tried to give her the 'make the deal today or we will have to charge you more' pitch.

I guess what is really sad is to see all that investment in technology go to waste. The tremendous load capacity of fiber brings a plethora of service capabilities to the consumer. With a low key marking strategy like the cable provider, they could be dominate. Instead, their high pressure tactics reek of desperation. While they are technically preforming like the company that brought copper wire service to rural Texans, they are blowing their investment with shady salesmanship tactics in suburban Virginia. It is an achingly painful spectacle to watch. So here's my message to Verizon FIOS - you people are idiots!

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