Cross Border Dial Tone Blues

Posted by Somebody's Mother on 12:45 p.m.

Two weeks ago, I wrote about holiday gift items such as cell phones and cameras.  Over the course of the last week, I’ve had the occasion to realize that if you want to give someone a headache, give him or her a cell phone.  When it comes to service, cell phone companies figure that, once you’re in their clutches, they have you over a barrel, and there’s nothing that you can do about it.

In Europe, it seems to be understood that one’s own country is not the only country in the world, and that someone who owns a cell phone would probably need that piece of equipment to communicate with others when abroad.  North American companies seem to think, however, that no one goes over the border.  Canadian and American companies have some sort of perverted agreement that if you use a cell phone out of your respective country, they have every right to charge you the most extreme prices that could possibly be allowed: over one dollar per minute of air time PLUS long distance charges.  I find it impossible to believe that the cost of making a phone call goes up exponentially as soon as it crosses the border, but it seems to me to be a very profitable excuse for mobile phone providers.

I have to go down to New York City to visit my father frequently and I’ve found only one  American phone company that seemed to have a plan that wouldn’t lock me into a contract, Virgin Mobile USA.  As long as I topped up my phone with twenty dollars once every ninety days, I could keep my phone number.  This seemed reasonable until I found out that there was one big hitch.  I lived in Canada.  Virgin Mobile USA would not accept a Canadian-based credit card.  That seemed crazy to me.  The only way to top up your phone if you are a Canadian with an American cell phone is to go down to the United States, buy a phone card and call in the pin number on the card or enter it on Virgin’s web site.

For a variety of reasons, I was unable to visit my father and was getting emails and messages on my answering machine from Virgin that I had better top up my phone or lose my number which meant buying a new phone, telling everyone that I had a new number when in the USA and going through a great deal of inconvenience. 

 Luckily, my son had to be in the United States so I asked him to buy me a card and give me the pin number so that I wouldn’t lose my phone.  He did so.  When I entered in the pin number, the web site told me that it was not a valid number.  So, I called Virgin Mobile USA’s phone number. 

A very hip computerized voice answered my call and offered me a variety of options, none of which would allow me to speak to a living person.  I screamed and yelled until finally the computer figured out that I wanted a “live adviser” which I would presume to be better than a dead one.  My live advisor found out that I lived in Canada and instantly suggested that I call Virgin Mobile Canada.  It took nearly ten minutes to convince her that I was using an American phone with an American number which I only used in the United States of yes, you guessed it, America, and that Virgin Mobile Canada would just send me right back to Virgin USA.

When I asked to speak to a manager, I was put on hold where the music of choice was rap music, and the music system was badly in need of repair as it crackled and changed volume repeatedly, probably a great means of getting people to hang up as one can only take that kind of torture for so long.  I never got to speak to the manager, by the way, she was busy!

I was finally advised to fax or email a scanned copy of the card which my son kindly did for me.  Two days later, I got the following rather terse email reply:

Hi Mrs. Goldfinch,  While reviewing your attachment, the top up card that was purchased is for Verizon Wireless Prepaid and not for Virgin Mobile USA. I apologize for any confusion. Thank you.

My son told me that he bought the only Virgin card in the store and as far as confusion goes, my son has a B.Sc. in Biochemistry.  He knows stuff that I can’t begin to fathom.  If he can be confused in the process of buying a phone card, what hope is there for the rest of us?  More-over, THEY HAVE MY MONEY.  If a computer can answer my phone call and transfer my call to a so-called live advisor, why can’t it transfer thirty dollars from Virgin Wireless Prepaid to Virgin Mobile U.S.A.?  It is a mystery, and the ways of cell phone companies are mysterious to any consumer who can’t fathom how they can get away with such murder.  Miraculously, they do.  Taking someone’s money without giving anything in return is what most consumers would call robbery.

Apparently, a new company, Wind Mobile, is being allowed to do business in Canada and rumour has it that the competition is going to make cell phone prices drop.  The media has advised people not to lock into contracts, now as prices will be dropping so keep that in mind when you shop, and remember, cell phones are the gifts that keep on taking…your money, that is.  



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