Big Red goes South

My story begins about seven years ago. I was sick and tired of Sprint. Six months in a row they had gotten the billing wrong. Naturally, they claimed that this was just a sequence of random errors, but if that were the case, at least one of them would’ve been in my favor. Unsurprisingly, that was not the case ; all were in their favor – a one in sixty-four probability.

So we left and moved to Verizon. The first month, they overcharged me by $10. When I called them on this, they double-refunded me. Impressive. There were no more mistakes. For many years, I was happy with them. Although they had the crappiest selection of phones, they had the best coverage – I have done a thousand-mile road trip with no loss of connectivity (besides one brief outage in the Smokey Mountains in Tennessee, which is understandable), and their Customer Service was very good – and there are the good folks in the Verizon Stores that have sprung up over the last few years.

Recently, however, I have noticed an encroaching tide of evil coming from Big Red.

  • First they got rid of “New Every Two”, the program that gave you a new phone free every two years with a two-year contract extension. Instead, they offered a $50 discount off the cost of a new phone after 20 months… but if you drifted out of contract and kept waiting they would send you additional discounts to get you to commit to a contract.
  • Then they started charging “upgrade” and “activation” fees. This would be reasonable if you took your new phone into one of their stores and had them connect it for you, but charging you for work you do yourself is ridiculous. If you ask them persistently but nicely, they would waive the fees, a process that involved a manual account credit, which meant more work for them. Their “everybody’s-doing-it” rationale was specious at best – you want to be doing better than the competition, not continually coming down to their level.
  • Complex bills – Every time they change the bill layout it gets harder to understand.
  • Belated refunds. If you find an error in your bill, they will happily refund your account… but not until “the next billing cycle”.
  • They declared war on “Unlimited Data”. During the first half of 2011, they were offering a $30 unlimited data deal to all new smartphone customers. This was presumably designed to woo iPhone business away from AT&T, who were offering a similar deal at the time. But having persuaded them to switch, it seemed like they were hell-bent on getting rid of them. Last July, they discontinued the deal – which is reasonable. They said that existing customers were grandfathered in – which is also reasonable. Then they changed the definition of “Grandfathered” – which is not reasonable. Until this point, the deal that they and every other cellco was offering was a cheap or free phone in return for a two-year commitment. That was a reasonable trade-off; one which we have all come to accept as normal over the years. What they did was to give their faithful users the choice between keeping their Unlimited Data Package or getting a Cheap phone. I upgraded my phone just before the new rules came into effect; it will most likely be the last “subsidized” phone I ever get from Verizon.
  • They then introduced “share everything” plans that may work out cheaper if you have four or more phones, but if you have only one phone it is the most expensive Data plan around ($50 for the first 2GB). Old Customers keep their plans (for now) but new customers are stuck with the share Everything plan.
  • While they were doing this, the “My Verizon” widget on their Android phones “broke” – they no longer updated automatically — so now you have to run the app every time you want to update your data usage. It is almost like they want you to blow through your data allocation by accident – but they wouldn’t do that deliberately, would they?
  • Judge for yourself: Six months later, it still hasn’t been fixed.
  • They have the distinction of being the only phone company in the world that sells a Samsung Galaxy SIII with a locked bootloader – a “feature” that prevents users from easily flashing their phones with Custom Software. When phones are unlocked, users win. Anyone else can do this – but not Verizon’s Customers. They then tried to blame Samsung – a claim that makes no sense, given that no one else has a locked bootloader.
  • Fortunately, some very smart people figured out how to unlock the bootloader (this is nothing new – they did the same thing with my previous phone – the Droid X2, a wonderful phone, hampered by Verizon’s “Lock-’em-all-down” policy. Of course, they made vague promises that an unlocked Bootloader would be made available one day… but it never happened.
  • They have also done everything in their power to make it difficult for their users to “Root” their machines, which makes it possible to do many cool things, including backing up their phones and removing the odious pile of crapware that they shovel onto every phone before they roll it out the door. And every update they bring out for the Galaxy SIII breaks root. They call it “Security”. I call shenanigans – all they have to do is ask the user “Did you root your phone?” when updating and if so, leave it there, but they are not interested in doing what the customer wants – they are interested in doing what is profitable.

This stuff does not affect most of Verizon’s customers – well over 99% of cellphone users neither know nor care about Rooting or Bootloaders. What they have done is annoy a very tiny percentage of their user base – those few who understand technology and know what they want. That is not a demographic that any technology-based company should want to make enemies of.

Their “Better Customer Experience” excuse is, to put it bluntly, a steaming pile of poo. This is about control… and I don’t like it.

I am still with them, for now. Once my contract ends or they take away my Unlimited Data, I will take my business elsewhere. I don’t change horses easily, but when I do, I don’t easily go back to the old one; I left Sprint seven years ago, AT&T nearly a decade ago. I still haven’t gone back.

I am not the only one – I know of friends and relatives who are abandoning Verizon like the proverbial rats leaving a sinking ship. Many are reporting getting better service and paying less. A single 4G-smartphone on Virgin Mobile costs $55/month. No Contract, no commitment, no lock-in. A single 4G smartphone on Verizon costs $40 for the phone service and $60 for 2GB of Data. That’s $100/month – for Two. Measly. Gigabytes.

No thanks.

Yes, Verizon has the best, fastest network out there. But the others are catching up, and as customers realize that there are better options out there they will vote with their dollars and their feet.

There will be a day of reckoning for Verizon Wireless, and when the smoke has cleared, their massively overpaid corporate officers will shrug their shoulders and say that they didn’t see this coming.

At least, Dear Reader, you will.

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