Thursday, 29 July 2010

Cell phone rant

This all started when AirMiles sent me some promotional information from Primus. I was already a Primus customer, so I compared their offering to new customers to what I was paying, and the savings were significant. But the offering was only to new customers. And when I tried to get these new rates, I got the run around.

Some background first. So you can skip this bit if you like. I switched to Primus long distance some years ago, when it was still known as AT&T. The introduction of competition in the long distance market was welcome - at that time I was a BCTel customer (weren't we all) and the cheaper cost meant I could switch providers for ld service only and save money. At some stage, AT&T changed its named and joined the AirMiles "customer loyalty" program, so I had quite an incentive to get a cell phone from them, when they started offering that service. My first cell phone got lost - and I used it so little I didn't replace it, but other subsequent changes in my life seemed to indicate that a cell phone would be useful. When I last moved house, I bought a bundle from Shaw for home phone (including long distance) internet and tv. But I stayed with Primus for the cell phone since I had a three year contract. That contract expired last December.

Cell phones in Canada have for a long time been some of the most expensive in the world. Recent changes designed to bring in more competition - rather than the current proliferation of "resellers" (like Primus) and alternate brand identities for the three major carriers (Bell, Telus and Rogers) suggested to me that rates would finally start to come down, and some of the grinding restrictions customers faced here that are absent in other markets would dwindle. Actually, that has still to happen, as the barriers to entrance like setting up a new network of transmission towers is not trivial.

I was also carrying around a Palm Pilot - that no longer was any use at at picking up wifi - and a digital camera. So if I could get a new device like an iPhone I might be less encumbered with devices. The delay in bringing the iPhone 4 to Canada, the spat about antennas and its high cost deterred me from switching providers when my three year cell phone contract expired. But now I thought I should talk to Primus. So I called "customer service"and asked what i had to do to get the new rates offered to new customers. I could tell this did not fit into the script that the customer service rep had been given. The sticking point for me was that since I had to be treated as a new customer to get the new rates, they would do a credit check.

I paid Primus through pre-authorisation on my credit card and, for the period of the new contract, was willing to continue that arrangement. The rep agreed I had been a good customer - pre-authorisation means I never missed a payment. She also had to concede that a credit check was indeed insulting, but would occur automatically, and I would have been even more insulted if I found out afterwards that one had been done without them telling me. But she was helpless to do anything about it. So I suggested she get one of her managers to call me back. That took another 24 hours, and whoever called me was more emollient in tone but not actually capable of doing anything different. I talked to her about why customer retention should be important. Why getting emails from a company that claimed it valued me as customer, but charged me more than people "fresh off the street" and then told me they would check my credit - without cause -made me doubt the sincerity of that declaration.

So the next time I was in the mall, I started picking up cell phone rate cards. I already knew - from the experience of my son on a recent visit - that there was no such thing here as a disposable phone with a cheap pay as you go option. But there is a new company recently opened in Vancouver. Wind is just getting going so its network coverage is not yet Greater Vancouver wide, but will be soon. The main things they had to offer were no contracts - and thus no "free" phones - and no inexplicable fees. So no "network access" (Primus) or "government regulatory recovery fee" (Rogers wireless) and no "activation fee" (Fido).

I could get an Android phone (actually a Nokia 5230) which does much of what any smart phone will do, though the camera has limitations, of course. There are various rate plans - but it is important to note that none of the add-ons like US unlimited long distance is available on the lowest price voice + text $15 plan. That is also, by the way, not mentioned in their literature.

Now one thing that I wanted to do was hang on to my old cell phone number. And the WIND rep at the mall told me that would get me a rate discount too! What she did not say, but I learned today, is that only applies to land lines, not cell phone "lines". For a week or more I have been paying for two cell phone accounts since "porting" the number was what would have cancelled my Primus account. It has taken me over an hour - mostly on hold - of calls to both Primus and WIND to find out why and what I could do about it. Actually not much - cancel the Primus account and lose my number was about it. The tone of the operators convinced me that moving from Primus to Wind was still a good idea, even if Wind obviously has its own limitations.

As Joe E Brown says as the last line of "Some Like It Hot" - "Nobody's perfect!"