It was very easy to open a new phone line when we moved from California to Virginia 13 years ago.
I just called from California the phone company in Virginia, they gave me a few numbers to choose from, and I had a new phone line in my new house even before I left the old one.
Getting rid of it, 13 years later, was a very different story.
A friend told me that I would be wasting my money if I kept paying the phone company 65 dollars a month for the privilege of having an old-fashioned fixed phone line. Switch to Internet phone, and you will save a lot of money, he said. If you don’t call much, you can have a free line, although you will still have to pay taxes, but that will be only about 5 dollars.
So I spent 200 dollars on an Ooma phone device with a bunch of cool blue lights arranged on it like Christmas decorations. Because we call Japan a lot, I selected a more expensive calling plan – a whopping 10 dollars a month for the new Oooma phone line. So that is 15 dollars with 1,000 minutes of international calling a month, because 5 dollars is added for … taxes. How can taxes be 50% of a phone bill when Mitt Romney paid only 13% in income taxes on 20 million dollars that he made “when he was not doing much of anything”, as he put it? Oh, well, still much better than the 65 dollars plus for the old fixed line. The international calling plan on the fixed line alone cost 10 dollars plus tax, for the same amount of minutes, I think.
I had no idea how hard it would be to port my old number to the new service when I called Cox Communications to tell them that I wanted to discontinue my fixed line.
When I called them the first time, more than two months ago, they told me that I would have to submit a request in writing. So I did so. The mailing address was helpfully on the last bill from Cox Communications for 67 dollars.
After about a week, I received an unsigned formed letter informing me that my number could not be ported due to prior something or other … I don’t remember the exact wording, I just remember that I did not understand what the letter meant.
And unlike my dog Lucy, I generally do understand English.
So I called Cox Communications, and a nice lady working there told me that my number could not be ported because it was on a contract. What contract, I asked her? She started searching for something on the computer, and then she said, that … yes, indeed, it appeared that there was no contract, and that the porting order should be completed without any problems.
About a month after that, I received an e-mail from Ooma telling me that the porting process had been completed. And indeed, my old number, the one I chose from California 14 years ago, was ringing through now on the Oooma phone.
But because it was also ringing on the fixed line, I called Cox Communications to finally cancel the line. I was warned by Oooma that if I do that before the number is ported, the number could simply disappear. Cox Communications put me on hold for about 45 minutes. While I was on hold, I was forced to listen to a prerecorded message with advertisements about exciting services from Cox Communications, which meant that the same messages about all those exciting services were repeated at least 20 times. This must be how citizens of North Korea feel when they listen to a local radio station, I thought. I put the phone on speaker and turned the sound down as much as possible, but still, I had to listen to Cox Communications propaganda over and over again while waiting for somebody to pick up the damn phone.
Then somebody did pick up the phone, after 45 minutes, but this dude was absolutely not interested in what I was telling him. It was almost as if he could not hear me. He kept repeating that Cox Communications had a number of cheaper plans and that one of them would be definitely a much, much better choice for me. Why did you not call us earlier?, he asked me as if what I was trying to do was completely uncalled for and, frankly, stupid.
I had to shut him up, quite rudely, I’m afraid, because he was basically just a live version of the advertising messages from Cox Communications that I had to listen to for 45 minutes before the Cox Communications propagandist finally picked up the phone.
In the end, when I told him that all I wanted was to cancel the service and that I did not want to hear anything about Cox Communications services, he told me that I did not have to do anything and that the line would be automatically disconnected once the porting process was completed.
That’s a relief!, I told him, and hung up on him.
But when the hardwired Cox Communications line still worked a month later, along with the Ooma line, I was naturally feeling that something untoward was still going on in the bowels of the telephone company that does not give up its hostages easily.
And sure enough, a month later I received another bill from Cox Communications for a fixed phone line that I have been trying to cancel for more than two months at that point.
So I called them again, enraged at their insolence. They put me on hold again, but only for a few minutes this time, and when another nice lady came on the line, she told me that the porting request was canceled (she used the passive voice).
Why was it canceled and by whom, I asked the nice lady?
At first she could not tell me the why and the who, either because it was a secret touching upon a vital national security issue, or perhaps because she did not know, but after I posed the same question to her in different variations about 5 times, she told me that something had gone wrong with the paperwork at Ooma and that I would need to find out from Ooma what was going on.
I almost forgot to say that every time when I talked to them, they offered to discontinue the service immediately.
But, unfortunately, they said, they were not sure whether it would still be possible to port the number to my new service if they did so.
A lot of people probably give up when they hear repeatedly this veiled threat because they don’t want all of their acquaintances and friends to suddenly lose their telephone number.
But at that point, I’ve had it, I did not care anymore. I was going to get rid of them even if it would mean that my old number would no longer work. I started yelling at the poor lady (who just works for Cox Communications and probably really needs her job), while threatening to fight back in the following manner:
I told her that I would write a post about my experience with her company on my blog which is read by thousand people every month, many of whom may be Cox Communications subscribers. I also told her that unless the phone line was discontinued, I would contact my local radio and TV station, as well as the newspaper.
And then I asked to speak to the manager.
The manager came on the line in about 3 minutes. She apologized about the oversight.
Oversight? Yeah, right.
But anyway, she said that she was crediting me the amount stated on the last invoice, and that I did not owe anything to Cox Communications anymore.
I was exhausted, but almost delirious with happiness! I stopped Cox Communications, a mighty phone company, from sending me bills for something that I did not want and did not need?
How many people can say something like that about themselves, I wonder?
But that is not all. A week later I received an envelope that looked suspiciously like another bill from Cox Communications. When I opened it, with trembling hands, I discovered to my astonishment that it was a credit for $75.43, for two items called Partial Month Services plus Taxes, Fees and Surcharges.
Maybe they think that people are so stupid that they will only remember how nice and law-abiding the company is in the end to them, when they give us money back that we did not even know we had coming to us, and forget all the ugly stuff before the final act of surrender.
“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win”, said Gandhi when he defeated the mighty British Empire.
It was almost as hard for me to win my independence from Cox Communications as it was for Gandhi to win India’s independence from Great Britain.
First they ignored me, then they laughed at me, then they propagandized me and threatened me… and then, at long last … I finally won.
I mean, how would they explain another bill for something that I do not want now that they owe me $75.34, including $22 for Taxes, Fees and Surcharges?