BY BILL WEINBERG | What really fills me with despair is that amid it all — the rise of an open fascist at the forefront of the Republican Party, the relentless reign of deadly police terror, the impending collapse of the global biosphere — even the most quotidian aspects of our lives are being colonized by sinister corporate bureaucracies that eat up our time and energy…impeding out ability to fight back against all that other stuff.
For the past decade that I have been on DSL with Verizon (FiOS is not available in my building), I have never had reliable service. My Internet connection goes down regularly, and my dial tone goes dead every year or two. And I refuse to get a cellular phone. I draw the line at having Big Brother track my every move.
Verizon is required by law to provide me with a reliable landline. But it seems nothing will compel them to meet this responsibility.
Back in early August my line went dead yet again. I biked around to every Verizon store in Lower Manhattan to get some attention to the problem. They all said it wasn’t their responsibility, and that I should call the company — heedless to the reality that I had no means of doing so.
Finally, one store told me they could help at a Verizon location in Downtown Brooklyn. So (now three days into the ordeal), I biked over the bridge, found the place, and passed through the door with desperate hope. It turns out what was meant by “helping” was providing a courtesy telephone to call the company. So I waited through 45 minutes of choice menus and muzak before reaching someone who told me a repairman would be sent — in three days.
As a writer, I depend on connectivity for my income. Yet Verizon expects me to pay my bill on time, and threatens to cut me off if I don’t. Funny how that works.
Before it was over, I had lost nearly a week of work. But this nightmare was just beginning.
I’d always resisted the urge to dump Verizon for fear of the chaos it would cause. Now I was at my wits’ end. I had long received (unsolicited) pitches in the mail from Time Warner, promising a “hassle-free” switch to cable. I decided to finally take the plunge.
When the Time Warner technician arrived, I was informed the installation would take five hours and entail drilling through an exterior wall. In this old building, possibly structurally compromised, this struck me as ill advised.
So I cancelled with Time Warner — and went back to Verizon to reactivate my account. But no. I would have to start a new account — with a new number. I was told that the old number would be restored in a few days — after it had been “ported” back from Time Warner.
What happened in the “few days” is that the temporary number stopped working — but the old number was not restored! I could receive no incoming calls.
Every day, I called Verizon. I spent hours on hold. I had every note of the repetitive muzak memorized — I even heard it in my dreams. I was shunted from one department to another — each time having to listen to the evil muzak and risk being disconnected (as happened several times).
And each time I was told a different story. Everything was on track, the number would be reactivated “tomorrow.” (Nothing would happen.) Time Warner hadn’t turned the number over, I had to take it up with them. (I went to the Time Warner store, and they insisted the number had been “ported” back to Verizon.) Reactivation of the old number had to be “verified” by a third party. (Once I was transferred to some functionary claiming to be from an outside verification company who said he was recording my request for the old number, but this also failed to win any result.)
Adding to the wackiness, once I was told the number belonged to another address, blocks away — even though my name was on the account. I have no explanation for this, and I hope my bills aren’t going to be sent to the wrong address.
After two weeks, I gave up on calling Verizon. I called the state Pubic Service Commission. They told me they would contact Verizon’s executive office and insisted I give a telephone number so they could call me back — oblivious to the fact that my very problem was that I had no working telephone number.
I also called my state Assembly representative, Deborah Glick. To give credit, here — for the first time throughout this ordeal — I immediately reached a human being. And a friendly and personable human being (imagine!), who said he would try to get it straightened out.
This (at last!) was effective. Two days after I contacted Glick and the P.S.C., my old number was back in working order.
And this is the most maddening part. If I hadn’t sicced the authorities on Verizon, they seemingly would have left me with no working number forever. But I never could have reached the executive office without appealing to the authorities. Verizon has built a system that keeps consumers venting at hired flak-catchers in Third World countries. Asking to speak to a supervisor is useless — you just get put on hold and disconnected.
So now, I have lost nearly two months of work. I am stuck with a company that has never provided reliable service, and switching has proven impossible. And I am in deadly fear that my service will be interrupted yet again if I fail to pay my bill because it never arrives — being sent to a different address several blocks away.
This is totalitarian capitalism. In the name of freedom of choice, we are being enclosed in a system of totalizing surveillance — that fails to even deliver the most elementary right to communicate and access information.
Verizon could have taught the K.G.B. a few tricks.