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Fred's Views

The High Cost of Talking

Those of you who know anything about me most likely know that I do not like using a telephone. In fact, I will go to almost any lengths to avoid using a telephone. I would rather drive to a place than call. And so-called customer service is the worst! I hate being put on hold. I really wonder, sometimes, how much business is lost by being placed "on hold". I know sometimes it is inevitable. But the few times when I have called customer service, I have always been placed on hold, although once or twice it was for a reasonably short time. Why don't companies take your name and number and call you back when it's your turn? That would be common courtesy. I don't believe it would cost significantly more, certainly not for those firms that might have 800 numbers for the customers to use. However, this is not my topic for today.

Given my dislike, okay, let's be honest, my phobia of phones, it should come as some surprise to learn that I have owned a cell phone for the last two or three years (I can't remember which, for sure.) Originally, I considered buying a cell phone so there would be a way to reach me (or the family) if we were on line. Again, I was hoping to develop a web-designing business and I would then use the cell phone for my business contacts. This would be particulary useful since I was not home most of the day anyway. So I shopped around. I discovered that "Fido" offered a "pay as you go" service where you could buy the phone and $25 credit for $100. Then, you could buy a $10 card which gave you 28 minutes and which was good for 90 days. Since I make very few calls, that effectively meant that I was getting cell phone service for $3.50 a month. I thought that was a good deal and I felt that I could afford that. (Of course, none of these calculations figure the initial cost of the phone into them.)

As I expected, I never used up my allotted minutes within the 90 days. However, as long as I bought and activated a new card before the ninety days was up, my balance was carried forward. All was well. Well, not exactly.

I quickly discovered that my home is on the fringes of Fido's coverage area. I could not get reliable service from my home. Therefore, I could not use the cell phone as a backup when we were on line. It also meant that the cell phone was somewhat useless as a business phone. Worse, reception was very poor in the room at work where I spent a significant amount of my time. I also travel between two other sites very often. Cell service would pop in and out. Bottom line: About 80% of the time I was outside of reliable cell service. But that's not what this column is really about, either.

About 15 months ago or so, I got a brochure in the mail from Fido. Great news! They were improving service: adding new features, and temporarily lowering prices! Wonderful - until I read the fine print. My $10 cards would only be effective for 60 days from now on. They had actually increased my costs by almost 50% while claiming to give me a benefit! Now my service cost a minimum of $5 per month. More than I thought it was worth, but still manageable. The straw was yet to come.

About three months ago, I got another of these brochures. Wonderful news! More features! And, in the small print, my $10 card was now good for only 30 days! Over the course of less than two years, Fido had increased my cell phone service rate by 200%! Our fuel shortage had only increased fuel costs by a maximum of 50%! The cost of living was fairly static but never exceeded 5% (in the past decade or so). But my phone service just went up by 200% in two years! I was furious.

What started out costing me $3.50 a month and involved the irritating process of activating a card once every ninety days was now costing me $10 a month with activation every thirty days! I sent them an e-mail to register my complaint. In a week or so I got a reply that said, in effect, their prices reflected the industry standard. I didn't choose Fido because their rates were the same as everyone else, I chose them because their rates - at least for casual (very, very casual) users were less than their competition.

Unfortunately, the last time I bought a $10 card, I bought two of them. Now I have a $10 card that I will gladly sell to anyone? Any takers?

At $10 a month, I simply can't afford to keep my cell phone service. And given my sporadic use of the service, I really couldn't justify the cost even if I could afford it. In the interests of fairness, I must point out that Fido's $25 card is still valid for ninety days which would effectively make the monthly rate a little over $8. Finally, I suspect that the battery on the phone is starting to go. Replacing that could be as expensive as getting a new phone under a similar plan.

Nevertheless, I have a problem with anyone effectively doubling their prices every year. I have no idea what actual costs a cell phone company encounters for a single customer. Maybe Fido can't break even at $3.50 or $5 a month - but I doubt it. I know many people pay $25, $40 or more a month for their cell phone service; indeed, my oldest son does. But he also uses it every day - several times. I often went for a week or more without using mine.

With just about everything "high tech" getting better and cheaper, it's hard to accept a 200% increase - no matter what the reasons might be.

Don't try calling me on my cell phone, it's retired. Just e-mail me. It's still essentially free and often far more convenient.

Copyright © 2001 by Fred Oldfield. All rights reserved.

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