Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Mobile Madness Part 2 - Contacting T-Mobile

This morning I decided to carry-through with the idea of staying with T-Mobile for a bit while I figured out what to do about my cell phone service. This meant moving to the paperless bill option, despite not wanting to do so. I went to T-Mobile's web site and going through the process.

What I didn't know is that before they will let you turn on the paperless bill option, one must receive an e-mail from T-Mobile and click on the included link. The problem is that I don't use a web browser to read e-mail -- I proudly use the Mutt text-based e-mail client. Actually that wasn't the problem - the problem is that T-Mobile expected their mail to only be read using a web browser and didn't include the URL (the thing that goes in the location bar of the browser) in text so I could copy and paste the link.

Remember my recent rant about businesses making demands regarding what operating system I had to use at home? Now we have T-Mobile making demands on what e-mail client I can use. So I'm now really frustrated, angered, and ready to figuratively rip someone's head off.

What follows is a pretty accurate paraphrasing of the dialog between me and the customer support representative (edited down for size, but the gist of the conversation is accurate):

Me: I would like to know how to reconfigure my account so I receive my e-mails from T-Mobile in text-only.
T-Mobile (TM): You would like to know how to send text messages?
Me: NO! I mean I received an e-mail from your organization in HTML format in order to subscribe to paperless billing under duress, and it contains a link that I cannot click-on because I don't use a web browser to read my e-mail.
TM: Well, all you need to do is read the mail with your browser and click on the link.
Me: I don't have a way to do that, my mail server is set-up for text access only.
TM: Then you need to change how you read your e-mail. We assume that if you are accessing our web site with a web browser that you also read your mail with a web browser. [ed note: I cannot stress how ludicrous and wrong this line of thinking is...anyone who has any basic knowledge of how the Internet operates would know this is completely wrong].
TM: You can just give us an e-mail address on Gmail or Yahoo! so we can send you the message, click the link, and that's it. We won't send you any e-mail after that anyway. [ed note: that's not what their web site says]
Me: I can see that there is nothing you can do to help with this. Okay, then is there any way to continue receiving a paper bill without being charged this extra fee that you're about to start charging me.
TM: No, you need to go to paperless billing.
Me: Would you be able to give me the e-mail address for your customer relations department, so I can contact them to express my disappointment with this.
TM: They don't have an e-mail address - there is a postal address where you can write that department on our web site, or I can give that to you now.
Me: So you claim to be saving paper by forcing me to not receive a paper bill, but you still force me to do business with you through the postal service and not save paper and a stamp by using e-mail. That doesn't seem very fair to me.
TM: You can receive a paper bill, you just need to pay a monthly fee to continue to receive it.

I am omitting the rest of the call regarding getting the compression turned off on my voicemail so that the messages don't sound like people have marbles in their mouth. The conversation is similar.

To turn on paperless billing, I ended up saving the message to a file called shit.html (so that the name would appear in their web server's referer log that way), opened the file in a web browser, and clicked the stupid link. I concede that I know how to handle an e-mail that comes as HTML with links in it - but to handle it takes extra time that their dimwit programmers could have avoided by placing the link as plaintext (even as plaintext within HTML would have accomplished what was needed). It was obvious that my point was lost on T-Mobile.

This was not a good way to start off the morning. What happened in the afternoon was truly deflating...

I stopped by to speak with a couple of people in a group I support about something unrelated to mobile phones, but when I found that one of them had Verizon Wireless as his carrier (and he was a techie like me) I picked his brain a little, and got some feedback from the other people there. A summary follows:
  1. It turns out that charging for a paper bill is the latest fad among all the providers to trick people into paying more money. It isn't just T-Mobile...and that doesn't mean it's right.
  2. The other people in the room where truly convinced that charging for a paper bill "to keep from killing trees" was justfied. While I am concerned about the environment, I doubt that getting my bill on paper is responsible for killing trees. Now, the chemicals used to bleach the paper is another story...but that could be rectified by using a different kind of paper.
  3. The guy on Verizon said that they do a lot of compression of the audio on normal phone calls, so that the calls tend to lose high frequencies. This explains my Mom's experience where she said that calls on Verizon (her provider) sound mushy.
  4. The same guy explained that he has travelled to various other countries, and unlike most countries' cell providers the United States carriers are unique in nickel-and-diming people for every little service, even those that don't really cost anything to provide.
  5. Conclusion from listening to everyone in the room: All the carriers suck.
The conversation left me drained and even more deflated than my conversation with T-Mobile earlier in the day.

There is basically nothing I can do. If I want cell phone service, I basically have to bend over, let them kick me in the balls repeatedly, and say, "Thank you, sir, may I have another." What a sorry state of affairs.

When I was in high school and college, and there was no Internet as we know it, and e-mail was an experiment that a bunch of us wrote on a shared DEC minicomputer, at no time did I think that the fate of this technology would end up in the hands of a bunch of corporate executives (and government officials) with the technical knowledge of a potato and the ethical conscience of a serial killer. We've come so far, but gone so far backwards...

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