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Trapped in my Cell

I have a cell phone, but only because, apparently, I'm not allowed to be incommunicado. My parents wouldn't agree that. But they also wouldn't pay my phone bill. Where's the logic in that?

          My friends don't share my pain. They're on "family plans", which not only means that their parents are paying a general bill for the household, and that they can talk to them for free, but that they don't have to deal with the headaches involved in dealing with cell phone companies. They're so lucky. I hate each and every one of them.

          Since I communicate with everyone over the Internet anyway, I picked the cheapest plan, which means I have next to no minutes, which means I have to communicate with everyone over the Internet. I'll admit having a phone comes in handy when Internet order forms won't let you advance to the next stage because a phone number is required, even though they never call you; or when you're lost in the middle of nowhere (even though, when that happens, you invariably discover that you've forgotten to bring your cell phone); or when you have to schedule a repair for your broken computer. Still, it's not worth $25 a month. On a typical month, I make about 4 minutes worth of calls. That's $6.25 a minute!

          But I can't change it, because I'm still under contract for another eight months. I've also spent about $100 unnecessary dollars and spent countless irretrievable minutes on the phone with customer service (which, luckily, is free). Why? Listen, and I'll unfold a tale of great woe. Whoa!

          I first got my cell phone after my first week of college, when I learned that it would be more expensive to have a land line, and figured, correctly, that it would be more convenient in terms of planning and travelling to have a method of contacting me that followed me wherever I went.

          Just under a year later, when the end of my contract was coming up, I thought about what to do next. I kind of wanted more service, figuring I'd use it if I had it, and I thought I could spare the extra money from my summer job savings. I also wanted to get it all figured out before school started, although my contract wouldn't run out until about a week afterward. So I figured I would just get an entirely new phone with new service, and although there would be a week or so of overlap before the old service ran out, but that wouldn't be a big deal. Since I liked my number, I might even be able to transfer it to my new phone when my old plan ran out.

          I presented this idea to the people at the cell phone store. I guess I figured that they were the cell phone experts, and that if my plan had a flaw or there was a better way, they would tell me. The following is a list of information they neglected to pass on.

1. Your cell phone service doesn't just run out; you have to cancel it. I thought that if I just didn't do anything about my service, the phone would stop working one day. That's why I was in a rush to get everything sorted out before school started, so I wouldn't have to deal with when my phone suddenly stopped working on the second day of class. I don't know how I got the impression that this was the way things worked. But I ended up having to pay for an extra month of the old service, because it just refused to run out, and then I called the company, and they said they'd cancel it after the next pay period was up.

          The implication of this, of course, was that I could have just kept my old service indefinitely until I figured out what I wanted to do-- there was no rush. Also, there's a way not to be under contract with a service! I didn't know that you could just go month by month, once you've done your time. Why didn't I know? Why?

2. You can change your service plan while you're under contract; you don't need to get a new phone or new number. Therefore, if I wanted a more expensive service under the same company, I could have just... changed it. I didn't have to go through the rigmarole of getting a new phone. Why the people are the cell phone store let me, I'll never know.

          I discovered this when, after about a month of never using the extra minutes I was shelling out for-- partially because I was now living with the only person I ever called to make plans-- I went to the company website and found a nifty little feature where I could just go back to my old plan without any hassle at all.

          Of course, if I'd waited a month on that, I could have gotten my rebate on the new phone I had to buy (but wouldn't have had to buy if I had known Info Tidbit #2). Since I changed my service plan they would no longer give it to me. Bastards.

3. If you DO get a new phone, new service, etc., your number is up to fate. The reason I didn't know this wasn't because the cell phone store people failed to tell me, but because they out and out lied. The guy assured me that as soon as my old service ran out I could get my old number transferred to my new phone. I don't know what kind of magic he was expecting to work, but multiple customer service people at the company headquarters as well as official documents stated clearly that this is impossible. If you don't like your number, you can get a different random one, but you can't pick the number you want.

          When I first got my new phone, I kept getting all these text messages, like 20 a day or more, from some service that the previous number owner had apparently signed up for from or something. I tried to go there and un-sign up, but of course I didn't know the guy's password. I called the company to complain about unsolicited text spam, and they did nothing but to assure me that I would have to pay five cents a message. I'm not very good at being an irate customer; as much as I whined about how unfair it was, the customer service reps remained stoic. I know several people who would have stuck it out until they got the charges removed, but I'm conflict avoidant, so I just sucked up the cost and got my number changed.

          Coincidentally, the final four digits of my new number share the same first three digits with my P.O. box number, but the final one is different. Imagine that my phone number is 555-2043, and my P.O. box is 2047. So I'm constantly, constantly putting my address down as "P.O. Box 2043." Then I wonder why my expensive electronics products never get delivered. It's just another kick in the groin from the cell phone gods.

          Now, I'll never make these same mistakes twice, and I hope you won't make them for the first time. Make sure you know your cell phone company's policies through and through before you make any decisions. Don't assume. Find out what happens in every contingency. DON'T BELIEVE ANYONE WHO WORKS AT A CELL PHONE STORE. They lie for fun. They lie for profit.

          Once my contract is up (again...), I really ought to horn in on someone's shared plan. The only problem is that, again, everyone I know is already on their parents' shared plan, and my parents refuse to get a cell phone. I'll have to sit outside some affluent couple's home, dirty and dishevelled, until they take me in, give me food and blankets, put me on their cell phone plan, and release me again into the night, to continue my quest for home.


- Laura