#18 – Ma Bell and her creeping pricing.

I have finally had it with Ma Bell. I have always made alibis for her. I have defended her. I have even worked for her and believed in her. I have been a loyal customer from the day I moved to my first home away from my family. I have stuck by her for many, many years.

But enough is enough. I am joining the legions of Canadians from Ontario and Quebec who no longer wish to endure her pseudo-sexual or other favours or do business of any kind with Ma Bell. And that is not a simple thing to do. After all, I get a small pension from her. The cheque goes into my bank account every month. It is one of those indexed-to-inflation mites that adds a few dollars with the cost of living. When I first started receiving it, I was quite satisfied with it, despite its small amount.

That pitiful pension was, at the time, more than enough to pay for my telephone, my cell phone and my Internet service. Ma’s grinches at her headquarters in Montreal refused my simple request to truly be treated as a pensioner and be allowed to continue the employee discount that I enjoyed in the years that I worked for the company. I was told that I had not worked for the company long enough to be included among those privileged pensioners.

Despite my hurt feelings over the denied discount (35 per cent off your telephone, Internet and cell phone bills is nothing to sneeze at), I stuck with her. I reasoned that since she was paying for my telephone services, there was no reason for me to go elsewhere. And, an indexed pension meant that I could look after any small increase.

Boy, was I kidding myself. I was still paying less than my pension amount when I moved to Babel. I had even been able to upgrade my Internet service from dial to Digital Subscriber Line (DSL). Where I lived in the big smoke, I was located too far from the central office to be able to use that service and had to use a second telephone line to connect to the Internet. In Babel, I could use the same line for both a home phone and high speed Internet. It meant I actually paid a bit less for my Bell services.

Not for long. Ma Bell soon launched her insidious program of extra costs for the unwary customer. I used to call 310-Bell every month when I got my bill to ask why this item or that item had been added to my bill. The odd time, because of Bell’s contractual obligations, I got apologies and rebates. When I got the occasional older employee still working the phones, we would compare notes and I would earn further discounts through creative use of the rules.

But the program of added costs was too pervasive. I could not stem the tide. In the past four years, my monthly bill from Ma Bell has increased by 50 per cent. It is amazing what companies can do, even when semi-regulated. You add a dollar here and a dollar there. A new network charge can net $7.95 per month and then another $2 that Ma never got before. You thought you had a good deal on long distance until Ma adds a charge of $5.95 per month for just having the plan.

The latest charge is the one for the DSL modem. When I moved to Babel, my inexpensive little made-in-China Internet modem, that blinks at me as I surf, was included at no charge. Suddenly a modem charge of $2 per month appeared on my bills. When I complained about that, Ma actually choked my service, reducing the bandwidth. I not only got slower service but I had to pay the $2 a month for a modem I had already paid for five times over. When I got the information recently that Ma was going to double the modem charge per month, I was outraged. When I called about it, I got some out-sourced call centre where the woman on the line had no clue what was going on. When she understood that I did not want to pay for the modem but wanted to keep the service, she told me to go buy my own modem and return Bell’s.

I quickly found out that there are very few sources where you can buy a DSL modem. It seems the telephone companies are controlling that market. Places like Best Buy and Future Shop said ‘no way.’ I finally found a modem that was actually better than the one from Bell and after some interesting modifications I find it works just fine. Then I found that the call centre airhead had lied to me. The problem is that if you return the old modem, Ma Bell will not stop charging you for it.

I have a problem with that. If somebody charges you for something that you do not need and have returned to them, I don’t think that is honest. There is no contract that says you will use Ma’s cheap little modem at an outrageous price. I am no longer paying Ma.

I am now trying out Yak Communications. It might be a stupid name but the company resells the services on Bell’s copper wires, so there is not much that can go wrong. Yak is charging me less for more services than I got from Bell for my home phone. I am also paying less than I paid Ma for my Internet service and getting a bandwidth of 4.2 Mbps which is ten times faster than the service that Bell provided. (And I use my own modem without charge.)

So far Ma has had a few out-sourced call centre people call me but as soon as you realize how poorly they are trained and how little they know about the business, you end the call. Bell Canada management would be amazed at how much respect they would earn if they just respected their customers.

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