Another Verizon “nickel and dime” trick

verizonfailIt started last week, when I noticed something different about the phone numbers on my Caller ID feature from my BlackBerry PRIV cell phone.

Normally, when I receive a call from someone, their phone number pops up as a Caller ID message.  And if I’ve programmed their name into the phone, then their name comes up as well.  Then again, I also sort my calls by giving the most important people in my life special custom-made ringtones.

But last week, I noticed that a new caller had appeared on my Caller ID.  And not by number – by name.  And the name wasn’t one that I had previously programmed.

Apparently during one of my phone updates, I somehow “subscribed” to a free trial of Verizon’s Caller ID Name feature.  With this little feature, Verizon would graciously add the name of the person or business or entity calling me, just in case I wouldn’t be able to figure out the caller by a telephone number.

Yesterday, I discovered how “free” the service really is.

Verizon sent me a message saying that my “free trial” was finished, and if I wanted to continue using the service, it would be added to my bill for the low cost of $2.99/month.

Wow.  Talk about “opting in.”

Nice try, Verizon.  I don’t need to pay an additional $3/month for get something that you should be providing to me for free anyway.  My PRIV has the ability to already program numbers and names and faces into my phone; and there’s even an option where it will match up a person’s name with their Facebook photo, should I possibly forget who they look like.

Seriously, Verizon?  You’re going to nickel and dime me over this?  What’s next, you gonna charge me an additional tariff for making phone calls to left-handed parties?  You gonna charge me a surcharge if I dial the old Times Union pre-recorded sports hotline from 1996?  You gonna charge me additional if I take more than one carry-on bag with me on the flight?  Sorry, got my Verizon rant mixed up with my United rant.

I tell you what, Verizon.  I’ll make you a deal.  I’ll pay you the additional $3/month tribute … on one condition.

In return for paying this vigorish, you immediately block all the spambots and robocallers and swindlers and scam artists who seem to think my phone is some sort of home base in a game of scam Tag.  Block all those vehicle service contract companies and timeshare sellers and phishers from “Windows Technical Support” and give me some peace of mind.

Because right now I’m in a very bad place, healthwise and psyche-wise.

And I shouldn’t have to deal with nickel-and-dime surcharges from Big Telecom.

Yeah.  I hope you can hear me now, Red Check.

Or maybe, as always, you’re giving me the Rhett Butler response to my concerns.

You know … “Frankly, Mr. Miller, we don’t give a damn.”

Jim Rome hooked me on BlackBerry…

My loyalty to the BlackBerry cell phone came from an unlikely source.

That source was sports broadcaster and commentator Jim Rome.

Yes, that Jim Rome.  Van Smack.  Host of a very popular radio sports show, and a few stints as host of a televised sports talk show.  You know, have a take, don’t suck or you’ll get run…

One day, I was listening to a tape-delayed episode of the Jim Rome show on 980 WOFX way back in the day (Jim Rome used to get on radio station program directors’ cases for tape-delaying his show, he would encourage the “clones” – his fans – to get on the phone and “bang their monkey” to get the show aired live), and Jim was talking about the soreness in his thumbs from using his “CrackBerry” phone all day and night.

Yep.  It was the BlackBerry.

And I wanted one badly.  Listen, if a cool sports talk guy like Jim Rome just off-the-cuff mentions his BlackBerry cell phone, then dang I want one as well.

Eventually I acquired a used BlackBerry off eBay and replaced the cheep-cheep cell phone Verizon sold me.  I stuck with that BlackBerry until it died, and then went through four more Berries – including my last two, the Q10 and the PRIV.  I still have the Priv.  And I’m not letting go of it.

Thus came the news.  This week, BlackBerry will no longer manufacture their own cell phones.  Future phones will be manufactured by a third party; whether they contain the BlackBerry brand name and BES software and all that remains to be seen.

Yeah, I’m disappointed.

But that doesn’t mean that I’m cutting loose my BlackBerry addiction.

Far from it.

Right now, for me, the BlackBerry PRIV is the best choice.  It has equally dedicated levels of speed, security and functionality.  Plus, it has that swank slide-out keyboard that the old BlackBerry Torch phones possessed.

So if, God forbid, my PRIV starts to die, I will go on eBay and get another PRIV 100-2 (that’s the designation for the Verizon-based phone).  And I will keep getting BlackBerry PRIVs until I can’t find any more out there.

Because I don’t want to live in a world soldered to planned obsolescence.  I don’t believe that a product should only work for a few years and then you replace it because something shinier and prettier comes along.  We’re in a disposable world, but that doesn’t mean we have to live our lives as if that was the only choice.

Yeah, Jim Rome hooked me on BlackBerry.  Even to the point where I still have my BlackBerry Q10 phone in case my PRIV ever completely dies – gotta have a BlackBerry to back up a BlackBerry.

Kinda wish there was still a radio station around here that broadcast the Jim Rome show, or at least someone who could simulcast it on SiriusXM radio.

But yeah.  BlackBerry may not make their phones any more, but that doesn’t mean I’m switching my cell phone loyalties.

That’s it.

Rack me.

I’m out.

Testing Verizon’s grandfathered “unlimited data” policy

verizonfailI’ve always felt that one of the most fortunate moments of my being a Verizon cell phone customer was when, at one moment in time, they offered an unlimited data package for those of us who were longtime Verizon customers and were no longer on two-year contracts.  I was grandfathered into the plan, and was immediately notified that, yes indeed, I would be locked into the unlimited data plan, so long as I purchased my cell phone outright, and that I didn’t enter into a new contract of any sort.

Woo hoo.

And for the past five years, I’ve heard rumors about Verizon trying everything to convince those who were fortunate enough to have the unlimited data package to give it up for the promise of lower rates – only to discover that the rates will skyrocket based on data limits in new contracts.  No no, not me.  I’m staying with the unlimited data plan, thank you very much.

So now I’ve got this big beautiful BlackBerry PRIV cell phone, and yesterday I was watching the Discovery Channel when I saw they were offering a cell phone app called Discovery GO.  No, you’re not walking around the neighborhood, using your cell phone to find and capture the F/V Northwestern or the latest Gas Monkey Garage restoration.  The Discovery GO channel actually allows you to watch your favorite Discovery Channel shows on your cell phone.  Okay.  Downloaded.  Installed.

And while I was downloading it, I discovered that there’s also a channel for the Investigation Discovery channel, called ID GO.  No, you’re not walking around the neighborhood, using your cell phone to try and capture Lt. Joe Kenda.  My, my, my…  No, the ID GO channel also allows you to watch your favorite Investigation Discovery channel shows, which for me include programs with such low-key titles as Scorned: Love Kills, Wives With Knives, Homicide Hunter: Lt. Joe Kenda, and Deadly Women (which for some reason has a fascination with Albany-based murder cases).

Yesterday, I tested the online apps out.  I watched the premiere episode of Deadliest Catch: Dungeon Cove (really intense show) and two episodes of Scorned: Love Kills.  That’s three hours of broadcast, plus maybe half an hour of commercials.

This morning, my BlackBerry PRIV notified me that I may have exceeded what it perceived as a data cap.  Now before anyone panics, this was the phone itself having an arbitrary data cap warning, which is not out of the ordinary.

So with about two weeks left in my billing cycle, if I didn’t have that unlimited data plan, I’d be freaking out at the possibility of seeing a phone bill with a ginormous AMOUNT DUE notice.

Still, it does give me a bit of pause.  What if I didn’t have the unlimited data plan?  I could get screwed by watching three hour-long dramas and suddenly I’m in an overage situation?

Urgh.

Trust me.  I know full well that big business will try ANYTHING to squeeze money out of Joe Consumer.  You know how all those “As Seen on TV” shows make extra profits on their mail-order products?  Watch as each one of them says, “And we’ll send you an additional whatchamadingle free! Just pay separate shipping and handling.”  Yeah, that separate “shipping and handling” is just straight sugar profit for those companies.  Nice trick.  Sneaky sunovas.

It’s the same thing where Time Warner Cable promises a low entry subscription for their cable service, only to trap you into higher rates one year later.  Companies do this.  It’s as common as sunrises.

So yeah, I’m holding on to this unlimited data plan for as long as ever.  For as long as I can.

And maybe if I can find the right app for this…

I wonder if I can download Netflix for this phone.

Can I get through an entire season of one of the Marvel shows before my BlackBerry’s battery dies out?

Now that would be a different type of “data cap,” wouldn’t it?

Verizon reneges on its “unlimited data” plan

Five years ago, I was lucky enough to be “grandfathered” into an unlimited data plan with my cell phone carrier, Verizon Wireless.  There were provisos, of course – I had to purchase my cell phones at full retail price; I had to stay out of contract (going month-to-month), and if I made any changes to my cell phone plan, I’d have to accept new terms regarding data.

verizonfailIt’s like getting the genie to give you three wishes… but you couldn’t use the wishes to wish for more wishes.

Of course, once Verizon made this maneuver, it discovered that people who had unlimited data plans were using every unlimited megabyte of that data plan.  Yep.  You could watch Netflix and chill on your cell phone if you wanted to.  You could binge-watch and live-stream whatever your heart desired.

Hey, I’ve got unlimited data, too.  And it’s handy for watching YouTube clips now and again.

But now comes the news that Verizon is once again taking away what it promised.  Ever since they’ve offered the unlimited data plan, they’ve tried to scale it back.  They’ve raised the monthly charge for unlimited dataThey’ve throttled download speeds of unlimited data users.  And they’ve tried – at nearly every possible opportunity – to convince unlimited data users like me to switch our plans.  “You’re only using a very small amount of data, Mr. Miller, you really should sign up for this deal.”  Yeah, right.  Not until I get an electron-microscope to read the fine print in that contract.

Ars Technica has reported that if you are a Verizon customer who uses at least 100GB of data per month on an unlimited data plan, Verizon will drop you from their phone service after August 31.

That’s right.  Verizon offered you an unlimited data plan, and now they’re punishing you because you’ve actually USED it.

Verizon, being the kind and benevolent telecommunications company that it is, says that those users can return to Verizon’s services after they agree to sign up for a new contract that includes surcharges for data overages.  Oh, and Verizon does offer a 100GB/month plan… it’s only $450/month.

Wow.  Talk about your strong-arm tactics.

This really concerns me.  It’s the same tactics as when your electric services provider suggests you conserve energy to lower your bill, and you do just that, to the point where the electric services provider jacks up the rates to make up for the loss in revenue.

And maybe I’d be okay with Verizon doing something like this … but I’m not.  Because we don’t know what Verizon constitutes “data.”  If I use my cell phone’s GPS functions to drive from the 518 somewhere, should I be concerned that the GPS is siphoning tons of data from the Internet, and therefore adding overages to my life?

I quickly checked my BlackBerry PRIV to see how much data usage I’ve incurred.  Hmm… 7GB/month at the most.  So I shouldn’t be affected by this new Verizon muscle tactic.

At least I hope they don’t target me.

But yeah, I know Verizon has been itching to get rid of its unlimited data customers.  We’re the ones that saw the sweetheart deal Verizon offered and we took it.  And for Verizon to turn around and threaten us for actually taking the deal… that’s just evil.  Shame on you, Red Check.

What’s next, Verizon?  You gonna tell me that I can’t own a BlackBerry on your network?

Honestly, at this point I’m tempted to start my own cell phone company.  I’m going to call it “Two Soup Cans and String,” and it will cost whatever it takes to string a fishing line between two tin cans.  Hmm… on second thought, maybe I don’t want to get tangled up in that idea.

Just another day, another moment with the Big Bad Red Check.

Can you hear me now, Verizon?

Oh wait … they only listen to me when I send them their “pound of flesh” tribute every month.

Meh.

Facebook can’t take my BlackBerry away…

The news certainly surprised me.  And initially not in a good way.

Reports from CNET and from Yahoo! Tech have confirmed that by the end of March, Facebook will disappear from BlackBerry phones.

Here’s what I know so far.  BlackBerry phones that use the BB10 operating system, or who have the earlier BlackBerry 7.1 operating system, will lose the ability to navigate to Facebook in a couple of weeks.  And the end-of-life period to use the WhatsApp messaging system on BlackBerry ends in a few months.

With that information, if you want to use Facebook through a BlackBerry phone, you would have to navigate to the web-based version of Facebook, which would severely limit your ability to experience the same level of Facebook activity as you had in the past.

bb_frontYep, doom and gloom.  I know.  Look up, Chicken Little.  Watch out for falling pieces of sky.

Viewing the headline, one would think – “Wow, Facebook is cancelling support for BlackBerry products.  Anybody who still has those BlackBerry phones needs to get a brand new iPhone, just like the ones I saw at the Apple conference with the rose gold and the burnished stainless steel and the touchscreen that was hand-crafted by skilled artisans…”

But here’s what the reporting about the Facebook / BlackBerry story completely missed.

The Facebook app for BlackBerry BB10 products wasn’t designed by Facebook.  It was designed by a third party to work with BlackBerry’s network.  And with that, those third-party operators needed Facebook’s API to continue to update that application.  Well, Facebook decided to stop providing that API to the developers, and without that API, the BlackBerry app couldn’t be updated or repaired or patched.

And there’s one other thing that the reporters didn’t mention.  Listen carefully.  Not all BlackBerry phones operate with the BB10 operating system.

In fact, BlackBerry just built a brand new phone.  It’s called the PRIV.  You know.. that waycool new BB phone with the slide-out keyboard?  And it operates on an Android hierarchy.  And Facebook has a nice little Android-based FB app, works wonderfully with my PRIV.

Yep, this marriage of BlackBerry and Android can run well with Facebook. And it can run Facebook’s Messenger service, and it can do so quite well.

So yeah, I’ll continue to use my BlackBerry PRIV to connect and communicate with Facebook and Twitter and Reddit and everything else.  And it will work as well as – or, as far as I’m concerned, much better than – all those iPhones and Samsungs and whatnots.

And I still have my old BlackBerry Q10 phone… and it still works.  I don’t use it as a dedicated telephone any more, but it still works as a WiFi hotspot, it still takes pictures and video and audio, its GPS and turn-by-turn navigation is still robust, and it still has native and downloadable photography apps in it (including a light meter, some star charts, some moon phase charts and a couple of weather channels).

As far as I’m concerned, BlackBerry hasn’t died.  It’s evolved.  And the PRIV is the cell phone company’s best example of evolution.

Hey Facebook… take a listen from this BlackBerry user, one of many who use your website.

There’s an old saying …

You may think I’m dead…

But don’t throw dirt on my grave just yet.

And the next BlackBerry in my life is… The PRIV

I have owned five BlackBerry cell phones in my lifetime, and have operated exclusively with BB cell phones for nearly a decade.  Okay, there was that one time where I got sweet-talked into getting a Motorola RAZR, but we won’t talk about that mistake any more…

bb_frontOf late, I’ve appreciated my BlackBerry Q10 smartphone.  I’ve had it for three years, and it’s been a great traveling companion.

And now … it is time to upgrade.

And the big news came yesterday, when Verizon finally released a puff of smoke from its basilica, essentially declaring that they would finally carry the BlackBerry PRIV smartphone.  The PRIV (originally code-named the “Venice”) has superior security features, it has an Android Lollipop operating system, and it also has a slide-out QWERTY keyboard.

Yeah.  Chuck like lots.

I blogged about the possibility of getting this phone way back in August.  That was six months ago.  And of course, Verizon made me wait and wait and wait and wait for this phone.  Maybe they wanted to install some proprietary kludgy VZ Navigator or Verizon Store software on this new phone.  Heck, they tried pushing that VZ Navigator stuff on my Q10, it nearly bricked my phone.  Yowtch.

So I had to spend a good hour talking with an online Verizon representative about getting this phone.  Yes, I would like the phone in black.  No, I didn’t think there were any other color choices this time around.  No, I don’t want to enter into a two-year contract to get this phone, I want to keep my grandfathered unlimited data plan.  Yes, I know I don’t use it that much, but I might have an itch to binge-watch four seasons of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit and I don’t want to incur additional data charges.

And after much negotiations… the PRIV is on is way.  My fifth BlackBerry ever.

Trust me.  Chuck is loyal to his brands.  BlackBerry.  Nikon.  General Motors.

But hey, as much as I loved the BlackBerry Q10 phone – heck, I kept it for three years – I knew there would be something superior from BlackBerry down the road.  I didn’t need an iPhone, and I didn’t care what Samsung came up with this year.

And here’s the thing… I might not get rid of my Q10 after all.  I’m suspecting that even if I upgrade my main phone line to the PRIV, I could still keep the Q10 in my camera bag as a backup point-and-shoot camera.  You know, just in case I want to take a selfie with my new phone while using my old phone.  Hee.

Oh yeah… and as for last week’s post about dealing with telemarketers and robocallers and spambots… this PRIV may have my solution to that little issue.  (rubbing hands together and laughing maniacally)

So now there’s one variable I haven’t yet experienced.  And I’m going to need your help.

See, this new BlackBerry is powered by Google’s Android technology.  So I can now access things like the Android app store or whatever it’s called.  And with that in mind, I’d sure like to know – from all of you who use these Android phones – what’s the best apps for a guy like me to add to this new BlackBerry PRIV?  You know, the usual apps… the fun apps… the important apps…

Open to all suggestions.

This should be fun.

Lots of fun.

Verizon doesn’t care that you’re getting bombarded by telemarketers and spamcalls

verizonfailBefore I continue with this post, please note that my cell phone number has been on the national Do Not Call registry for the past twelve years.  And even with that in mind, I still receive several calls from spambots, robocallers, telemarketers and swindlers.

Here’s what they do.  First you receive a call from an unfamiliar area code.  Now for me, I deal with long distance calls all the time, whether they’re from California or Ontario.  Sometimes I don’t recognize a phone call.  So I answer the phone.

“Hello?”

And then I hear that click.  That click that tells me that the other party on the phone call has reached a live person (me), and now I get the robocall.

“Hi, this is Brenda from Card Services, contacting you about reducing your interest rate on your credit card…”

“Hi, this is Tom from Motor Vehicle Services, contacting you about the warranty on your car expiring…”

“Hi, this is Kim from Security Systems, contacting you to see if you’d like a free security system installed…”

“Hi, this is Debbie from Marriott Hotels, your telephone number has been pre-selected to win a vacation…”

And if you hang up, they call back a few hours later.  And then they want personal information from you.  They want to know the mileage on your car.  They want to know your bank account information or social security number.  They want lots of things.

What they really want is your money.  And they want you to willingly – or unthinkably – give your money to them.

Sometimes the Caller ID on the phone will be a phony number – you try to call it back, and it’s a dead number.  Or you call the number back and it’s a redirect to an innocent person who has no idea what you’re talking about.  Or you’ll get a listing of “Unidentified Caller” or “Unknown Caller,” and when you pick up to answer the call …

Same old thing.

I decided that I’d had enough.  If these clowns were skirting the National Do Not Call Registry and continuing to harass me day and night, if they were willing to interrupt my life with their attempts to swindle me out of money…

Then I need to talk to my cell phone service provider.  Because certainly, there must be something that Verizon can do about this.  They must have some hidden technology that can track down these scurvy varmints.  So hello, Verizon…

I called Verizon and spoke to someone named Ben.  I told him my concerns, how I’d been contacted and bothered and harassed by these robocalls and telemarketers.

“Well, sir, the problem is, if they’re using Caller ID spoofing software, there’s no way we can find out who called you.”

Seriously?

“Yes sir, unfortunately, if they contact you and they don’t provide a proper telephone number to call back, there’s nothing we can do about it.”

So wait, if I’m getting harassed by these calls, if they’re interrupting my work and my social life and my privacy… and I’m on the Do Not Call Registry and have been FOR THE LAST TWELVE FREAKIN’ YEARS, you can’t stop them from doing these things?

“The only way we could theoretically stop them is if you changed your phone number.  Would you like us to do that for you, sir?”

Wait.  This is not making sense.  I’m getting harassed by these spambots and robocallers and whatnot, and you’re telling me that the only way to avoid dealing with these clowns is to change my own personal number?  Yeah, problem with that is I would have to re-establish a new phone number and re-contact everybody to give them my new number.  And how long before the spambots and the robocallers get their mitts on that number and start hassling me again…

The only thing that can even equate to this logic is that old trope about if you’re in the playground and the bullies are picking on you, you should ignore them and they’ll go away.  Right.  That’s the third-biggest lie since “I can’t pay you to take photos for me, but I promise you’ll get plenty of exposure and I’ll tell all my friends about your work and you’ll get lots of business from it,” and “I don’t understand why you’re still single, you’ve got looks and brains and charisma, the women should be fighting over who gets to date you.”

Yeah… no.  I’ve dealt with robocallers and spambots in the past; my experience with August Cove Resorts was an early favorite blog post.  Maybe I need to take matters into my own hands.  Maybe I need to find a way to beat the spambots at their own game.

“So there’s really nothing you can do for me, Ben?” I asked.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Miller, I wish there was.  If there’s nothing else I can do for you, thank you for calling Verizon Wireless.”

Pfft.  Call ended.  Well, I guess I have to figure something out on my own.  Because obviously Verizon Wireless doesn’t give two hangs and a bang about a longstanding and loyal customer.  All they care about is –

Wait a second.  Call coming in on my BlackBerry.  I don’t recognize this area code.  Let’s see… “Hello?”

Robocall.

“Welcome to Verizon Wireless.  We would like you to take a brief survey based on the customer service you recently received…”

I hung up.

Yep.  This really happened.  Verizon couldn’t help me out – and then they followed up the call with a robocall of their own.  Wow.  And this is a company that has information on the National Do Not Call Registry on their own freakin’ website.

Then again, it’s also false hope that Verizon would follow its own rules, in that they also list on their website that they will remove your number from Verizon’s own telemarketing calls … except for “survey requests, customer notifications, account information updates, and other non-marketing mail or calls from Verizon … surveys, notifications, account updates, and other non-marketing activity are not considered solicitation …”

Yeah.  That.

And with that in mind… I’m going to figure out my own personal solution regarding robocalls and spambots.  There has to be a way to stop these clowns.

All you readers who’ve enjoyed my blog for the past six-plus years… you know true and blue.  Chuck Miller is like a grizzly bear in the forest.  Do not poke him, do not taunt him, do not tease him.

Because the last thing you ever want to do with a grizzly bear…

Is to motivate him.  Grizzly bears can do LOTS of things when they’re motivated.

Just you wait and see.

Can you hear me now, Verizon??

CAN YOU FREAKIN’ HEAR ME NOW?!?!?