I’ve Got One Hand in My Pocket…

November 25, 2008

ipwn2An unsettling trend has arisen among prepaid providers over the course of the last year or so. It started, as is often the case, with AT&T; they increased the cost of per-use text messaging on their Pay-As-You-Go and Pick Your Plan schedules from 5 cents to 15 cents per message sent or received. Earlier this year they raised the price again, to 20 cents. Virgin Mobile also raised the price of their per-use messaging from 5 cents to 10 cents; only Tracfone has maintained its messaging rates over the course of the last several years, at .3 and .5 units for Tracfone and Net10, respectively.

Most of the time, such an exorbitant rate hike is accompanied by the release of messaging packages which pare the cost of each sent and received message to 2.5 cents or less – except in the case of T-Mobile, who’ve yet to announce any new increases – so looking at l’image grande, it’s really only a rate hike for those of us who are too lazy or too stubborn to sign up for the packages. Some carriers make signing up easy, like Virgin and Verizon, who’ll gladly apply a recurring monthly charge to your prepaid balance in order to pay for the text packages, but others (cough-AT&T-coughsputter) make it a pain in the ass on the order of applying for a student loan. No, you can’t have my mother’s maiden name, you duplicitous sons-a-bitches.

In order to get the monthly text packages on three family GoPhones with AT&T, I had to call their automated customer flagellation line and wade through a series of menu prompts that would have made Justinian and Theodora beam with Byzantine relish, and I had to do this with each phone. The entire process took about a half-hour every month, until I got sick of wasting what would have become – over the course of the next ten years – time equivalent to a two-week vacation, doing nothing but provisioning the text messaging on three phones. I think it was Marcus Aurelius who phrased it best when he wrote, “fuck that noise.”

It wasn’t such a big deal in the small scheme of things, but it was the grand scheme of things that bothered me; with time and persistence the little things add up to the big, and without the proper temporal diligence you wake up one morning to wonder where the hell your life went, and suddenly realize that a significant portion of it was spent trying to get a phone company to take your friggin’ money. Paying for a single aspect of service from one business entity should never be that time-consuming, so that was the beginning of the end of my association with AT&T. Sorry, plicks.

I have no problem with phone companies raising their rates to whatever the market will support (and no, it’s not “price gouging” as one Fulbright candidate in economics put it on Howard Forums); what bothers me is a total disregard for the value of my time, when other carriers have found a way to eliminate that imposition with the aforementioned recurring monthly balance deduction.

Every transaction between two parties is, at its most basic level, an exchange of value; they get my money, I use their service, and ideally everybody’s happy because everyone agreed to the terms and gave their value willingly. The one area in which I will not compromise, though, is when unwarranted claims are made upon my time; time is my sole non-negotiable, non-renewable commodity, and I’ve quit a number of jobs over the last ten years because virtually no businesses understand this, in regard to both their customers and employees; the quickest and surest way to send me packing is to demonstrate indifference, or worse – contempt – for my time.

I don’t give a greasy Cadbury Easter shit if they raise their text or voice rates through the roof and want to force people to sign up for packages out the meat-hole, but unless they can make it convenient (I don’t want to think about it beyond adding money to my account, ever), I’ll take my hardly earned scratch elsewhere, thanks. It takes a special kind of arrogance to assume that I’ll be willing to jump through hoop after corporate hoop to suck down their Smugberry Kool-Aid in the form of telephone prompts and half-assed voice recognition systems that more than half the time don’t recognize anything, and certainly don’t make it any easier to obtain the very same thing that I previously received with no undue effort whatsoever. It had been simple; 5 cents per text, right out of the phone, no mess, no hassle; instant value. Then I had to carefully track the dates of each message pack’s expiration, or risk losing the remaining balance (and, by extension, the lower per-message rate), with much too little received in exchange.

That, coupled with their weak coverage in these-here particulars (FYI, a hamster with rubber boots and a note pad scurrying across a high-tension wire does not constitute a communications network), contributed to our migration first to a contract account, then to a more consumer-friendly conglomerate entirely. I’m a sucker for things that work the way they’re supposed to, and around here Verizon does just that, while at the same time demonstrating a healthy respect for my time, and ultimately, our exchange of mutual value in the consumer-provider relationship.