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Calling plans would befuddle even Nostradamus

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POSTED February 2, 2010 1:56 a.m.
There was a time when a princess phone was the cat’s meow when it came to high tech from your phone company that you affectionately referred to as Ma Bell.

You didn’t have to worry about programming, charging the batteries, or need to punch through a series of screen menus just to make a call.

If you were lucky your phone allowed you to adjust the loudness of the ring. You were unable to torture those within a 20-foot radius with Van Halen serenading you every time someone calls.

Nor did you need a technician to tell you how to use the phone. They came out to your house at a specific predetermined time instead of giving you a window between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. They crawled around pulling wires, scampered up the telephone pole in the alley to monkey with something, and you were in business. You had two choices – a wall phone or a standard phone. If you were drowning in money, you got the princess phone that usually went into the bedroom. And for obvious reasons, most guys didn’t like talking on princess phones. Go figure.

It also was pretty simple to figure out what it cost you. The phone company was pretty Unitarian. One phone line cost you $10 a month – you can tell how old I am – while a second phone line was $2. Instead of selling you a phone that costs $350 that you can buy for $50 through a rebate program that combines the worst aspects of scavenger hunting, coupon clipping, and translating hieroglyphics you instead leased the phone for a low, low monthly price. Ma Bell was forced to actually offer to “sell” you a phone when some Swedish company that inspired the original Volvo 240 tank car design started flooding the American market with cheap $10 black phones that were clunky.

The actual cost of making a call was straight forward. If it was local – as defined by the toll call area – it was included in the monthly fee. Long distance calls were charged in relationship with the distance you yakked.

Not anymore.

Figuring out calling plans today isn’t an art or a science. It is sheer madness.

First there are the plan’s basic minutes. Then you might be able to get free calling from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. during a full moon unless it rains three days prior. Weekends might be included in the basic cost of the plan at no charge unless you exceed your minutes that in turn means you just sign over your next two paychecks to your wireless carrier.

If you get lucky you will have rollover minutes that are then tracked in a billing statement that would befuddle a certified public accountant.

It gets worse. Let’s say you have three phones on your plan and you’ve taken your phone in to find out why it won’t charge any longer. The clerk notices that your plan expires in November but you can do a partial upgrade on one line and a full upgrade on the other line, switch one upgrade to your line, tear apart a box and mail parts of it to Bombay and – viola – it will cost you $19 – before tacking on $1,267.18 in various state and federal taxes to buy a new phone.

Then, to show you that you can spend money to save money, they suggest you change your account to save $50 a month. Naturally this makes you a tad suspicious since you once were a customer of Ma Bell and grew up on their marketing strategy. So they show you another plan and because you don’t text offers pricing with and without texting. If that doesn’t confuse you there is a 35 cent per minute overcharge fee. And even if you don’t use web access if you buy a certain phone you have to pay another $11 a month so you can download “Law & Order” while you’re driving down Highway 99 speeding past a CHP car.

The clerk then asks which plan you prefer.
It is when you arrive at the point in what was supposed to be a simple five-minute trip to the phone store is on the verge of turning into a two-day ordeal that you realize this is when even Nostradamus would throw up his hands in frustration and tell the clerk, “ I dunno, you tell me which one.”

Come to think of it, I think Nostradamus did predict the coming of great confusion sweeping the earth with people babbling non-stop using instruments that look like transporters from Star Trek.

As for me I don’t need a cell phone that can double as a video projector or web access to keep track of my stocks tanking as I’m walking the dogs. I just want a cell phone that makes calls that I don’t need an MBA in accounting to figure out what it is costing me.
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