and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column

Another casualty of the region's phone wars
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Sunday is the 22nd anniversary of the harmonic convergence, when people all over the world meditated or at least concentrated on "world peace."

I took part in this myself, from my perch on the wall of a ruined Austrian castle to which I had hiked, as church bells pealed from the valley below.

A few years later, the Berlin Wall came down and the Cold War ended. Good job, convergers and Ronald Reagan, too.

But I think we need another such meditation to address the present war between Comcast and Verizon.

You've seen it on television: The unassuming Verizon technician installing the new FiOS system as the hapless Comcast tech guy stands by watching helplessly as customers make the switch-over. You may have seen it so many times over the past few months that you are beginning to feel sorry for the Comcast guy.

But back on June 24, when the FiOS guy came to my door, I felt as if I knew him already. I certainly knew I admired the brilliant ad campaign that had a potential client already primed to listen to his pitch.

What I heard was that if I switched from my bundled Comcast services (phone, TV, broadband) to FiOS bundled services and dropped HBO, I would save more than $50 a month.

Still, I hesitated: I had always gotten good service from Comcast when I called, and I am usually a loyal consumer when I'm treated well. I sent the FiOS guy over to Chip Ford's house, knowing he could make a technologically superior decision.

Unfortunately, I'd forgotten that Chip, like many guys, easily falls for the phrase "bigger, better, faster." To my surprise, he immediately signed on; so I did, too.

Chip scheduled his switch-over for the next week; I chose a week later, so one of us would have our vital business communications if something went wrong.

The next day, I remembered that my Comcast system includes my fax, so I checked with the FiOS guy who was still walking the neighborhood, and he said just to call on Monday and make sure it was added. He didn't mention it would cost more.

When I called, I learned that it would cost $45 more and would have a separate bill.

One of the reasons I'd switched to Comcast originally was so I could get one bill, assisting my "life simplification" project. Also, with the loss of HBO, FiOS was no longer a better deal.

Meanwhile, Chip and I realized that the digital recordings of our sometimes missed favorite television shows would disappear in a week. Unless we immediately did a "Kings," "Castle" and "The Unit" marathon, we were going to lose our planned summer viewing!

Quickly, we canceled, at least until we could see our shows and I could set up my fax on the same line as my phone. I was told my date would be moved to September, giving me time to think about it all.

Life went on ... until late July, when I realized that I hadn't received a phone call in three days, except from Chip, next door. Then I started getting e-mail from people repeating messages they said they'd left on my answering service.

I had nothing on my answering machine but checked the backup Comcast service and found several calls, mostly from media and my family, who was driving here from Nevada. I suddenly realized that I could call out and get calls from Chip next door, but from no one else.

I called Comcast, which quickly sent a technician, who couldn't find the problem. When I mentioned having briefly flirted with FiOS, I was told that Verizon had "captured" my number, so I called Verizon, which told me it had not. From that point on, they blamed each other.

Then things got bizarre. The Comcast message service vanished, too; now I couldn't get calls at all, while callers heard a message saying that the phone was disconnected. They probably assumed I was out of business or dead.

When I again phoned the 800 number on my Comcast bill, I heard a woman's voice asking me if I was "hot," among other things I won't mention here. The phone company had crossed lines with a phone sex line?

My first thought was that Comcast was tired of hearing from me and had created a distracting connection. My second, only slightly more rational, thought was that Verizon was running a guerilla campaign by sabotaging the Comcast 800 number.

I finally reached Comcast by using its cable TV number. This time, I got an operator named Terri who contacted something called the "provisioning department," where someone named Justin finally fixed the line. Sort of.

For a few days going forward, the phone sometimes worked, sometimes didn't. Right now, it seems OK. Thanks, Justin.

Terri also offered to credit my bill for the two weeks I was without phone service. Meanwhile, Comcast has started fighting back with its own television ads warning that the FiOS deal may not be all that it appears.

I know that competition is a good thing. But war is hell.

The comments made and opinions expressed in her columns are those of Barbara Anderson
and do not necessarily reflect those of Citizens for Limited Taxation.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and other Eagle Tribune newspapers; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Lowell Sun, Providence (RI) Journal and other newspapers.