Kicking Back with Jersey Joe – How I Got Verizon to Lower My Phone Bill
Can you hear me now? With our economy still climbing out of the toilet, just about everyone is looking to save a buck here and there. For the past few years, I’ve noticed my Verizon phone bill slowly creeping up and up. Well, I got on the phone and did something about it.
I am probably one of the last American holdouts to still have a land line phone. My friends have been telling me for years to get rid of it. I don’t really use it other than for delivery food, work or to give to someone who I don’t want to reach me via cell.
In all honesty, I do kind of like keeping my land line around. It’s still safer to call 911 on a land line so EMTs can locate me immediately. When I have that heart attack, I don’t need them trying to find me via cell, which has my original Pennsylvania area code from six hours away!
When I first moved into my apartment almost five years ago, I signed up for Verizon’s basic home phone service. It was $19 a month with no long distance. For the two or three local calls I make a month it worked out great. I don’t have long distance service, since I can make those calls for free as part of my cell phone plan, which also happens to be Verizon.
Everything was great for a years. Suddenly, I noticed my bill had crept up to around $21. I received a notice that the New Jersey state and our federal government had raised the tax and fees on calls. Then, about three years ago, I received another notice in my bill that Verizon was would again be raising their rates. This time, a new fee was created known as a “SHORTFALL CHARGE.” Basically, if you don’t make at least $5 in long distance calls a month, they slap on this fee. I was not happy with that at all
The months continue to go by and again and again my bill is slowly creeping up. Last month, I noticed the biggest increase of all. Their shortfall charge had ballooned to $6 a month along with an increase to the flat rate and sensible minute. In December 2005, when I signed up for their service, the flat rate was $19 and change, plus tax each month. Fast forward to September 2010, my bill had ballooned to $36.87. That was it. I was done.
I made up my mind that I was going to cancel my land line phone service. I don’t have Verizon FIOS (their version of cable). While it is available in my area, I could package my internet, cable, and phone and save, but I don’t really want to go through all the trouble of switching my cable at this time.
In anger, I picked up the phone and wanted to get my bill lowered, or else this was it. Again, I don’t really need the old land line. But, knowing that big businesses don’t want to lose a customer, I was hoping that they would play ball. So, I dialed… and got that dreaded computer answering service.
When I call a company and I know I just want to talk to a person, I immediately just press ’0′. For most companies this works. You bypass the computer and go right to a real person – but, not with Verizon. Do that and you just go straight to the main menu.
After having to enter my phone number (I have no idea why they can’t read their caller ID for this), I’m given a zillion options for what I want to do. After a few more button presses and menus, I’m finally on hold. So far, we’ve consumed about three minutes of my time.
I’m only on hold for about another minute, when I get the operator. I can’t remember his name, but he was definitely a young American male. He had a Southern drawl accent, so I was pretty sure I had not called someplace in India (unless they’re that good at faking). I explained my situation and I wanted to know what all the confusing charges on my bill are. I had told him, I did not need long distance, nor did I ever want that, and that their SHORTFALL CHARGE was complete bull.
So, what did he do? He took it right off my bill. He pressed a few keys and it was gone. The sensible minute charge was gone as well. My phone is once again back to the setup I had when I first signed up and my bill has been lowered by about $8 a month. Thanks to his swift button pressing, Verizon saved my land line service and kept a customer.
I did learn a lesson in all of this and that’s to look closely at your bills. I usually glance over this one and really don’t pay much attention to it. There are so many confusing charges of a few cents here and a few dollars there that make no sense. Well, I decided to find out what all of these miscellaneous charges mean:
FEDERAL EXCISE TAX – a federal tax enacted by the IRS that has been removed and reinstated at various times. The tax was originally enacted during the Spanish-American war for long distance communications services. The tax has been collected regularly since the Vietnam War and has been the target of controversy ever since. In 2005, the tax again underwent a partial repeal and is only charged for locals only service.
STATE SALES TAX – the easiest to understand that this charge varies from state to state
911 SYSTEMS EMERGENCY RESPONSE FEE – New Jersey charges 90 cents to anyone with a phone for statewide 911 service.
FEDERAL SUBSCRIBER LINE CHARGE – this is a fee, that the government allows phone companies to charge, to connect your home phone to the phone service network. This is how phone companies pay for the phone lines, poles and maintenance. The law allows phone companies to charge a max of $6.50 per line for this service, on my bill Verizon charges $6.30.
FEDERAL UNIVERSAL SERVICE – another fee created by the Federal Communications Commission that really makes no sense without a detailed explanation. For what I can make of it, it does not allow for phone company monopolies and provides telecommunications access for schools and libraries, low cost phone service for those with low income, to provide phone service access to everyone in the country, and to further the development of new technologies. Whatever that means, it costs $1.54 on my bill.
SENSIBLE MINUTE – according to Verizon’s website, if you pay them $2 a month, you will get a flat rate of 11 cents per minute for all regional toll calls. I was able to get this fee removed from my bill.
SHORTFALL CHARGE – one of the biggest, piece of crap, moneymaker charges that should be illegal. If you don’t spend $5 (now $6) in long distance, Verizon charges you for it. You’re basically paying for nothing. If you use only a $1 or $2, you will be billed the difference, so the total ends at $5 (now $6.) A quick internet search will reveal how upset customers are about this charge. This really makes Verizon look bad. This is simply their way to milk a few more bucks out of each consumer and it will be on your bill, unless you call and remove your long distance service. It’s only a few bucks a month, but add that up and it becomes $72 dollars for the year for something you’re not even using.
Verizon has been in business since 1983 and was formed when AT&T was forced to break up into seven smaller companies and began business as Bell Atlantic. In 1997, it merged with NYNEX and began operating under the Verizon name. Eventually, the company inherited the rest of the smaller Bell companies and continues to merge with smaller companies, including GTE and MCI, to become the giant it is today.
Headquarters: Verizon Building, New York City
What: American telephone service provider.
JERSEY JOE RECOMMENDS: Bottom line, check your bill carefully. These little charges can add up and if you’re not happy, get the company on the phone and see if they will knock some of these charges off. In this day and age, if you’re not happy with your phone company, you have the choice to either drop them and go with a bundle package from your cable company, go with a cell phone, a prepaid calling card, or even Skype. We have choices. If you’re not happy and they won’t make a change, you have don’t have to take it. Take your business someplace else. In Verizon’s case, it really stinks that they impose this charge, but it was really great of them to remove it and work with me when I called.