Sunday, April 24, 2011

cell phone rant

If Canadians are having trouble with debt, perhaps our politicians should look at the way the wireless world gouges its customers, because I'll bet there are an awful lot of people out there who weep when they get their phone bill.

Cell phones are an addiction that is almost impossible to recover from. I speak as someone who hasn't recovered, but is working on keeping it to a manageable evil. Whenever I think of tossing my phone (against a wall) I remember dark nights with flat tires, and am grateful for the convenience. That's how they get you; they're so bloody convenient. But it's not easy. The dealers know how to hook you, and they don't want you to be sensible.

In case you haven't already guessed it: I absolutely hate cell phone plans. I detest cell phone plans. I abhor the devious way that the phone companies work to obscure and confuse (bait and switch?) so that no matter how you try to set up your usage, they will get your money. I say this, even though I have just switched to a new company, and think I've set it up to work (better) for me this time. But I'm sure the new guys will get extra dollars out of me even though I'm wary now. And I might have tried to work out a new arrangement with my last dealer, but you can only be abused so many times, and then you have to break up. You just have to.

It is incredibly difficult to figure out any kind of phone 'plan' that will actually provide what you need in a way that doesn't cost you more money than it should. In other words, the wireless companies, all of them, work really hard to make up these 'plans' so that you'll trip. And the plans change constantly, and what you might be quoted in a store won't be the same as what you find online, and the next store will have different 'deals' too. And when you think you've thought of everything the extras will hamstring you. Though my experience until just now has been with Rogers, when I read through the choices on other company's websites, I can see that they all play the same games.

  • Watch out for activation fees. This is a fee for the privilege of setting up to pay them monthly for years.
  • Watch out for roaming charges and long distance. Either pay for a plan (insurance) for something you don't need, or pay for it at five times the price when you occasionally do. Pick the cheek you want them to hit.
  • Expect incoming wrong numbers to use up your time.
  • Make sure you have texting included. It costs them nothing, but they want you to pay for it.

I have no idea how people survive with 'smart' phones, and the added complexity of  'data' plans; it makes me shudder. Oh, they're smart, the telecoms. Get people hooked on instant email and Internet as well, and all this nonsense about the Internet being free will be forgotten. Who wants to access a free web site when you can pay for it on your phone? (I know, the free web site isn't free either, because you pay for Internet access too. Just like the "free" channels on your cable come at a price. You'll notice the telecoms and cable companies are mining the same soil.)

My addiction to cell phones began around fifteen years ago when, in an unwary moment, I signed on. I was instantly addicted. As an overwhelmed single mother, I found I could check that my adolescent children were still alive whenever they failed to return home by three or four in the morning. (I could count on them not turning off the phones, because that would cut them off instant access to their friends.) It seemed reasonable at the time, but my oh my did Rogers punish me for assuaging my anxiety.

And so, for all these years I have paid and paid, for god-knows-how-much airtime I haven't actually needed or used. None of the companies have any memory, so unused minutes do not carry over to the next month. But run over your time in any one month, nevermind that you've not used hours and hours of minutes since you began, and whammo, extra, generally brutal, charges pile up.

As my children became adults I transferred their numbers over to their own control, feeling both relief and guilt, as I fear the expense may cripple each of them.

You've heard that your number is portable now, right? Well, as soon as that law came into being, the companies all changed their contract wording so that they could gouge you extra if you cancelled a contract. When I migrated the last extra number I was maintaining, into the control of my youngest, I thought I was safely into the month-to-month zone. Rogers charged me the $400 anyway. On my protest they reduced it to $200, because my contract was from before the time of the new extortionate fee. But I couldn't get the other $200 out of them. Apparently I'd reset the contract's end date by changing the plan. My attempts to pay for what I use at a reasonable level backfired on me.

The moral is, anyway you arrange it, they will squeeze extra money out of you. Customer service my eye.

So I realized I was stuck. I had one more phone, my own, with a three-year contract at a price level that I could not adjust without resetting my contract. (I still regularly got dinged with extra fees even though my usage was way down). I should have just handed them the $400 for my own plan, but it was a close call which way was going to be the worse penalty, so I just coughed up monthly until the time ran out. Then I thought I could escape. Because I do not want to give any more money to Rogers. They have burned me too many times.

I bailed out to a no-contract plan with another company, at less than half of what I was paying to Rogers. It more closely resembles what I actually use my phone for, which is almost not at all. If they annoy me, I can quit, though their hook is that then I'll have to pay for the phone, but that seems fair enough. It's a pay-over-time deal, so the phone will get paid off if I stay with them. Do you suppose there's a one-month clause in their contract? I'll check if I decide to move on.

I keep the phone for insurance, I tell myself, taking the next hit. But I also still have my land line, as it doesn't have a meter, and I'm not bankrupted there when I make long distance calls.

Rogers still got one extra kick in, one last stab at my unsuspecting self, by charging me for one more month, in lieu of proper notice. Another $65 for nothing! Just like old times!

It will be somewhere on their website in very small print. I used the phone therefore I agreed to the penalty. You know how that works. It's the same as agreeing to use software. Say no, and you can't use it. Some choice.

But be warned: When a new company tells you, no problem, we can migrate your number, you don't need to even talk to your current dealer, er, I mean provider, er I mean telecom, remember that the old company still has its hand in your pocket.

I could have sent another child to university on the money I've poured into Rogers coffers, and it makes me mad at myself, that I've taken so long to sort this out, to get the habit under control, to cut off the waste.

The telecoms (and cable companies) are great as investments though. They're rolling in cash, and pay nice dividends. Think about it.

Thursday, April 14, 2011


shoulders to the rain
Last night a thunderstorm rolled over my home. A flash of light came through my curtains, and a rousing rumble and bang followed. I could hear the rain start up after that. I like the way we do thunderstorms here, the way there's a silence, a hush, before the rain comes. I sat out a thunderstorm on a camping trip at Nicola Lake once, and it was completely different. The same spectacular light show, and all the crashing and banging you could ask for, but instead of the dousing, there was a hot wind that threatened to lift up our tent, and then a slight spattering of fat drops of rain, and that was it. Very different.

But it's still raining almost 24 hours later, and it's cold too, around 3°C. I think I could go for a hot wind about now. It's raining big fat drops that occasionally look whitish, like sleet. I don't know where our spring went. My sister phoned me a half-hour ago to ask if it was snowing where I am. She's in a neighbourhood at a slightly higher elevation, and was looking out at big fat flakes, which I'm glad to say she reports have reverted to rain. Rain! What a surprise here on the soggy west coast.

their day will come again
It's amazing, really, how much the weather affects my moods, and how little I've managed to get used to it, after all my years knowing that this is what it does in Vancouver. Rain. I'm right back to my February-mood, gazing out at solidly grey and gloomy skies, dreaming about blue skies. But it's true, the dafs give me hope, even though some are sagging under the downpour. It will happen, I will get to toss my socks, and wear flipflops again. I know I will. Just not this week.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

the alma mater

I spent a lot of my years at UBC, both working on staff, and picking up a BA. It's a lovely place.

My brother (also an alum) sent me the link to this video.

I think it's very clever, but them I'm biased about the place.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

the filing life

not much fun for the uninitiated
I spent the last couple of days with files and paperwork and tax forms, figuring out my income from last year. The deadline is not until the end of the month, so I'm feeling very virtuous, as I mailed off my completed form yesterday, the earliest I think I've ever pulled it together.

I've never been late filing, but I remember one year dropping my stamped envelope off at the Post Office at 10:30 pm on the last day. I was intending to drop it in the drive-by slot that (I think) falls straight through to the sorting area but instead there was a fellow sitting with a mail truck accepting forms. Apparently it's not at all unusual to leave things to the very last minute, as he was sitting there receiving, and date stamping, each not-quite-late envelope. There was a long line of cars, but I got my envelope delivered before the glass slipper fell.

This image will slowly drift into the realm of fairy tales, as more and more people file online, but I'm old school in this. I do my taxes myself, and I do them on paper. I do just about everything else online, but this is one of those things that somehow feels better with my hands in the process (go figure).

One of the things I do when I fill out my forms is re-sort my files (yes, I keep files, on paper!). This makes the whole tax chore longer, but it also leaves me feeling as if I actually know where I stand, when I'm done. (This behaviour is maybe an admirable trait, or a sign of mental illness, but I actually enjoy this process.) I heap up mountains of paper, wondering why I saved it so long, and create new folders to make my situation clearer to me.

I'm a little disturbed when I realize how much of what I have filed away has now moved into the ephemeral arena, my computer. So much harder to keep tidy, though you wouldn't know it from the outside. It's even more insidious, the confusion you can create on your hard drive. It's far too easy to hit the save button, and if you haven't given some thought to it, it's much like tossing paper into a big room (as opposed to a shoebox) and then expecting to be able to find that important piece of information that you need, right now. And far too easy to keep stuff you absolutely don't need. At least in the physical realm you occasionally have to deal with the stuff, at the very least so that you can get in your door.

And there's little satisfaction when you look up from your computer, having worked all day cleaning and tidying, and completing tasks, and there  is absolutely nothing physical to show for it. Unless you've printed a few things out.

I won't tell you how long I looked for just the right one, but I have a lovely filing cabinet and it's stuffed with paper. I'm looking forward to spending another quiet day soon, sifting out more paper, the non-financial stuff. It's very odd the stuff that can get in there, and even I will admit there can be too much of a good thing.