Monday, April 12, 2010

Verizon Part VI: Finalizing with the BBB

Verizon had until the April 10th to respond to my rebuttal through the BBB, and they failed to do that. The BBB records now show (on 4/12) that the business failed to respond, but they have not yet closed the case. At any rate, I would have liked to have been able to show a longer dialog between myself and VZW, but it appears there won’t one to show. Since this chapter seems to be over, I’ll post a modified version of my rebuttal for all to see. It’s ‘modified’, since I used the whole process as my basis for filing a complaint with the FCC. I made a few edits, helped by the original Verizon response, which gave me a few additional talking points. Really, it’s a blend of my original BBB complaint mixed with my rebuttal. Enjoy.

When I renew my contract with Verizon, I need to purchase a new phone, since mine is not functioning properly. My phone (Samsung Glyde) is a horrible phone, an argument to which Verizon conceded when they pulled it from their device offering after only a few months on the market. The vast majority of user reviews for the phone list it as one of the worst. My own experience is no exception, but in order to avoid extra fees for replacing it with a better quality phone, I have held onto it until such time that Verizon's policy allows me to acquire a new phone at a discounted rate. Now (as of mid-January, 2010), Verizon is forcing the purchase of a data plan for all but the worst quality phones. Some of these same exact phones were available the day before the change without a required data plan activation.

At this point, my phone is at time unusable. It has a touch screen that does not always accurately read my inputs and the phones internal system does not allow for bypassing of the touch screen for certain activities, such as placing a phone call. I have a real need to replace the phone, but I opted to wait until it was most fiscally feasible for me to do so. I want a phone with a QWERTY keyboard because I text frequently. However, (at the time of the original complaint) VZW only offers one phone with a keyboard without a mandatory data plan charge of $10 per month. I never use data, and I don't want to use data. I would rather just have the data access disabled than be forced to pay for it, since I will not use it. I know that I have the choice to move to another provider or buy a simpler phone, but as I consumer, I should also have a choice to not pay for something I don't want. I should have the right to refuse to purchase a good or service if I don't want it, but Verizon seems to think otherwise. I choose to stay with Verizon because they do offer high quality service, and up until now have not done anything so grievous as so make me terminate my contract with them.

Since I have done that, now in order to replace my phone with one that has comparable features, I must also now pay a $10 per month fee. This additional fee also applies to phones with less-than-comparable features, so even if I downgrade to something that will be less enjoyable to use (based on features, not quality - most anything will be better than my current phone in terms of quality), I will still be required to pay an additional fee.

Not all the phones with the new mandatory fee are touch screen or have QWERTY keyboards, but all touch screen phones and the vast majority of QWERTY phones have this fee. If I decide to get a touch screen phone or a phone with a keyboard, and I choose NOT to use the data plan that will be forced upon me for my selection, I will essentially be paying a monthly touch screen/keyboard fee. This is an example of how Verizon's policy is infringing on 'Tying' anti-trust laws, which state that a business cannot force the purchase of one product based on the purchase of another if that additional product is not required for the chosen product to operate/function. If I buy a smart phone, that data is mandatory because the data is in most cases actually required, or else the phone will not function. This is not the case here; as previously stated, the same phones were previously available without a data plan.

Verizon's answer to this has been:

"The new data plan requirement was made available to consumers as a method of permitting 3G Multimedia devices to function in their largest capacity, all the while eliminating the occurrence of individual $1.99 megabyte charges. Currently, activations of 3G Multimedia devices will require a data plan of $9.99 or higher; however, Mr. <NAME>'s feedback is certainly appreciated and valued, and can rest assured that it will be forwarded to the appropriate department."

This is an example of Verizon lying and misleading of customers about the situation. "The new data plan requirement was made available to consumers" Nothing has been made 'available'. Since when is a compulsory charge something that is 'available'. If Verizon REALLY had their customers' best interests in mind when they developed this plan, they would have allowed a data block. With a block in place, there can be no additional phantom charges, against which the mandatory data was supposed to protect. I realize that Verizon has been successfully sued for their practices of charging this 'phantom' fee for some individuals, but I am not one of them. As such I would much prefer a data block option as opposed to the policy Verizon decided to follow through on.

The problem is that Verizon is misleading and deceiving in saying they are doing the right thing for their customers, because they are really only doing it to make more money. To quote a quote from/about Lowell McAdam...

"Lowell McAdam, president and CEO of Verizon Wireless, ... stressed that Verizon's efforts with pricing were to get more people to use data. Such data use won't harm the company's network, he said. It will also bring in more revenue and keep the average revenue per user at the carrier on the rise."

(source: http://gigaom.com/2010/01/15/verizon-talk-is-cheap-data-is-mandatory-for-most/)

If Verizon's customer service reps keep saying that this change was to protect us from paying more money, then how is it that the CEO himself clearly states that this plan was put into place because he wants us to pay more money? I understand businesses are in business to make money, but then why not just increase all phone plans across the board? Why set up a scheme to force people into additional services then lie about the basis for that action?

In addition to this - again if they truly had the best intentions - they would also listen to other customers, whom I've heard complain about this piece specifically. Some customers are parents of children who do not want to allow unrestricted access to the internet on their child(ren)'s phones. I am not in this position, but it is still a point to be made. I've heard anecdotes that describe Verizon employees agreeing to allow the data block on these phones, but will still charge for the mandatory data. How is this even ethical? I know it's legal because this is what it says in the contract and if that's signed, then that's the way it goes, but that doesn't mean it's ok to do.

If the phone does not require a service in order to operate, it is not proper to require a charge for that service. I'm going to use an analogy, many of which have already been used over and over again on blogs, social networking sites and online bulletin boards about this situation:

This is nearly equivalent to an consumer electronics outlet charging customers for cable service when they buy a TV from them, even if the customer will not use cable service, either because they don't want it, or they already have an alternative service they wish to use instead (such as satellite service). If this electronics store did this, there would be an uproar!

In the case of Verizon, I choose to use the internet at home, and I don't have a need or want to have it on my phone. I don't care if it's more mobile/convenient; I don't want it. I suspect that the reason this issue has not become significantly large yet for Verizon is that customers don't know about it. Most seem to only be finding out AFTER they go in to change their phone or upgrade/renew their contract. This means that many consumers have up to about 1.5 years before they will even realize that this change has taken place.

Hopefully, the BBB will be officially closed soon with a negative mark for the company. Remarkably, at the time I originally filed my complaint, there had only been one negative/unresolved dispute for the company (with result “Company failed to resolve the complaint issues through BBB voluntary and self-regulatory process”). It appears they know how to work the BBB system, so if/when this new point is added, it will essentially be doubling their negative score.

From http://www.bbb.org/new-jersey/business-reviews/cellular-telephone-service-and-supplies/verizon-wireless-in-bedminster-nj-1001468:

These complaints were closed as:

14858 Resolved

1912 Administratively Closed

1 Unresolved

1 Unpursuable

Here’s hoping the FCC route turns out better!

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