I can’t think of the last time I got a phone call that I really wanted. The closer we get to election day, the worse it’s gotten too.

I was thinking about it and how we pay for the (in)conveniance of having a landline. Have you ever tried to cut down on your phone service? I have. And I can honestly say, I have gone away from the experience with a smaller bill, but only because I was paying such outrageous bills in the first place.

I know the service reps are coached on maximizing what they phone company makes off of each customer. But at least the phone company, in my case, Verizon, is pleasant and professional about it, unlike past run-ins with say, AOL.

They can look at your past usage and suggest ways to save money on your bill. Usually, it involves a package deal that bundles services into one monthly amount. It all seems so good at first. Save even more, by buying more. Hmmm… sounds like a department store ad.

Okay, lets say you paid $20 a month for your phone line and averaged another $10 a month in extra charges – toll calls, time overages, etc. One month your kid goes crazy and instead of a $30 bill, you get a $40 bill. You call the service rep for help. They listen and look at your account and find a package for around $30 a month. Maybe it includes a larger calling area, or unlimited calls. Your bill will never go over that amount again! Woo hoo!

But it won’t go under either. Let’s look at what they’ve done. They just got you to voluntarily raise what you pay each month by 50%. You won’t get that month where the bill is $40 anymore, but you won’t get that month in the summer when you went away on vacation and it was only $20 either!

All that isn’t so bad, though. I’ve gone that route and rather than cut the phone line back to the minimum and pay for everything a-la-carte, I buy a package too. I can budget a consistant amount each month to the point where I can let them automatically debit my checking account. I no longer have to think about where I am calling anywhere in the region. It no longer matters.

But I drew the line at long-distance. First of all, I rarely call anywhere out-of-state. I just don’t know that many people in other places. Those that I do, I usually ‘talk’ to by email. My kids, of course, prefer IM.

If I did need to make a call long-distance, there is always my cell phone. Hey, that’s from Verizon too! So is my internet service! (And yes, I get a significant bundle discount for that, thank you.) So how come one part of the company, wireless, is giving me free long distance, but the other, traditional landline, can’t? For that matter, I can easily use Skype (or Vonage or any other IP Phone seervice.) over the internet. What gives?

I’ve said for a long time, that the phone company charges for things just because they can and that because they have little or no competition, they get away with it. Touch-tone phones for instance. I remember when they first came out. They charged you by the month for the ‘privelege’ of having a button phone. And they charged for the phone too. Later, they got out of the phone appliance business, but kept charging for the touch-tone service. At first, it made some sense. You didn’t need it, in most cases. It was a status symbol. Not until later and after computers became commonplace, did applications that took advantage of touch-tone dialing come along. And they had to install special equipment in their old central offices to handle the DTMF dialing.

But later, after they had updated all the COs, touch-tone became the standard. By then so many people had it that they were under pressure to drop the special charge. They did. They rolled it into the base rate and everyone paid it, whether you had a touch-tone phone or not.

If there was real comptition in the phone market, a competitor would have offered it for free. And they (the Bells) would have had to follow suit. The same thing goes on for every added bell and whistle they come up with. Call-waiting. Call-forwarding. Three-way-calling. Caller ID. and on and on.

The remarkable thing about these latest add ons is, that unlike touch tone service, which came about before modern computer driven central offices, every one of them is just software. Just software. It take no extra equipment to do. Infact, the biggest burden on them is keeping track of them so they can bill you for them and turning them on and off for different customers!

If they would just give them to everyone, as part of the default phone seervice, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference. They could save tons of calls from customers requesting them, or requesting they be turned off. Again, the lack of a competitor doing just that is all that keeps them from doing it.

A lot of customers wouldn’t even use them. I really don’t like call-waiting. I have it, but rarely interrrupt a call to answer another. The person I am talking to now is the one I want to pay attention to. I don’t stay on the line for hours, generally, so anyone else can just call again in a few minutes. I don’t remember ever using three-way calling. And call-forwarding can be a nuisance, although it is somethimes of use. Caller ID seems handy, but more and more, the people I want to know are calling (and avoid) are the ones who block it or show up as ‘Unavailable.’

One phone we own says ‘Out Of Area’ whenever a call comes in that it can’t get the information for because it’s long distance. We refer to them as calls from ‘Dimensionally Challenged’ people, because, obviously, if they are ‘out of area’ they lack height, width and depth…

Generally, unless the called ID shows a name, and it’s someone we know, we let the answering machine take it (No, we have an actual answering machine, not the phone company’s voice mail.) Usually, it’s a wise decision because it’s not anyone we want to talk to anyway, a telemarketer, charity, or political campaign. Lots of them this week! On the off chance we are wrong, we can still answer once we figure out who it is.

Sorry for the inconvenience, if you’ve called!