Monday, July 27, 2009

Verizon - America's Largest Network, Most Archaic Practices

I've been on the fence about Verizon for a while. I started my cellphone life with Alltel (much later than most, I didn't get a phone until 2004). Service was decent, but they clearly have the crappiest selection of phones on the market. A gadget-lover like me just can't be satisfied with such substandard fare. So, I moved over to Verizon once my Alltel contract was up. They have a good family plan, great coverage, a new and invaluable "friends and family" feature, and a few decent apps (including a very slick VZ Navigator GPS application - more on that later). However, they also have some mind-boggingly boneheaded policies and procedures that seem to keep them behind everyone else (except of course recent partner/acquisition Alltel).

I remember first being annoyed with them when I realized how locked-down their phones were. No Java apps here - everything must be BREW, which means they have tight lock and key over any installations. Want to use Gmail's cool, free mail app? Too bad. You have to instead pay a ridiculous $15/month to use Verizon's email service. Want to check out some cool free games? Not gonna happen. Only games purchased through Verizon's store will work.

I'll be up-front - for the most part I've been reasonably happy with Verizon's customer service. I don't recall getting screwed over too often, except a recent event that involved an accidental activation of their $10/month GPS application. Now, I love their VZ Navigator app - it's very effective, updated with new features fairly regularly, and even has voice-recognition built-in. I've happily paid $10/month for it for years, as has one other person on my plan. A few months ago, I noted that a third Navigator app was being charged though. I realized it accidentally got turned on on my brother's phone.

So I called them up on July 24 to see if I could get it turned off. Now, my billing cycle ends on the 23rd of the month. So, I'm calling on the first day of the month to cancel a monthly service. I did not request refunds for the two months that I had missed - all I wanted was to cancel this coming month and not have to pay for it. Apparently, this was completely impossible. "There's no way it could accidentally be turned on" I was told, and therefore they are completely unwilling to return my subscription fee for the month that just started today. Unbelievable.

But during this conversation I discovered the real gem of their WTF-policy-making-department. They've switched to a megabyte-usage system for internet use. Previously I had been charged $5 a month to connect to the internet. Now it's $2 per megabyte. Considering I only check my mail and occasionally wikipedia or amazon, I figured I might even save a buck or two. However, I started noticing charges when I hadn't been on the internet. Turns out, those megabyte charges apply to any apps you download from their store. So, buy an app, and pay an additional megabyte or two of download charges. Apparently they're taking their pricing lessons from airline backage-check policies. But it gets much, much worse.

You see, apparently, in order to view their store on your phone, you have to connect to this thing called the internet. Yes, that's right - they charge you for the mere privilege of oggling their wares. Can you imagine if stores charged for window shopping? What kind of moronic, backwards, I-got-an-MBA-but-know-nothing-about-people kind of marketing decision is that? Not even the elitist fashion boutiques on Fifth Ave. in New York charge to look around. They know that the best way to get customers is to let them see what you have and covet it. And not only that, but to add insult to injury, apparently adding up parts of megabytes is too complicated for the Verizon computer system, so each time you connect to their store you have to pay at least a $2 fee. I'm just flabbergasted at this policy. I've bought numerous games from them in the past, but now I'm never going to look in their store again. There goes any more revenue for them from games for me. Nice job guys. Pat yourselves on the back for being complete marketing idiots. You wholeheartedly deserve it.

On a related note, the only reason I'm staying with Verizon at the moment is the Friends & Family calling circle thingy that they stole from Alltel. I have a couple of calls (most specifically my daily conference call for work) that eat up a lot of my minutes, and if I don't have a couple of landlines that I can call for free my minutes skyrocket (specifically, my personal monthly minutes dropped from about 700 to about 150 when I added just 3 numbers to my plan). If I can figure out a way around that I will be very seriously giving the new iPhone a thorough look-over.

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