Wireless woes confound this consumer

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 17, 2005

It started last week when an acquaintance told me his mother-in law tried to reach me at a number I had given him, but she got the message that the number wasn’t working.

I wrote my number down for him again while staring at the number displayed on my cell phone.

It would not have been the first time I transposed a digit or combined the number I was trying to write with some random figure that was circling my brain.

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A couple of days later I picked up a message from a friend on my home phone voice mail.

&uot;What are you up to, Outlaw?&uot; she asked.

&uot;Are you avoiding me by changing your cell phone number?&uot; The next day my brother said he tried to reach me by cell phone but had to dial it as if it were a long distance number.

That was the same day I stopped by the printer’s to see if an order had come in and the printer said, &uot;The number you gave me to call isn’t working.&uot; I whipped out my cell phone. We both stared at the number I had written on the contact sheet and the number on my cell phone.

Sure enough, it was the same number. So, we conducted an experiment. I stood there with my cell phone poised for a ring as he dialed the number and held his phone up for me to hear the beep before the operator nasally intoned &uot;We’re sorry, your call cannot be completed as dialed. Then we tried dialing the seven digits that included the area code. There was that annoying beep and the message, &uot;We’re sorry, you must first dial a 1 when calling this number.&uot; He dialed the long distance configuration and my cell phone rang and boldly showed his number on its screen.

Well, I was in the remote wilds of Portsmouth, so maybe there was some tower glitch that caused this phenomenon. At my next stop, which was my mother’s home in Portsmouth, I called my cell from her phone and there was that familiar sing-song beep and the message from the &uot;sorry&uot; operator. I could not imagine that the company, which I fondly call &uot;Big V&uot;, would sell me a bundle of services where the wireless number they assigned me would require long distance dialing from local phones. But I was confronted with a growing body of evidence that pointed to that fact.

When I arrived home that evening I called my cell phone from my home phone and was not surprised when I heard the dreaded series of messages that eventually led to me dialing my self long-distance. I was amused by the irony as I sat down the next day to set things right with my telephone company who supplies land line , long distance service, cellular service and a host of added features in one convenient package to subscribers.

I sat patiently through the list of options and realized that there was no selection that matched my issue.

I picked the touch-tone option to speak to a representative, and sat on hold until Thelma answered the line.

I had barely explained my problem, when Thelma informed me that I had the wrong number.

&uot;But, this is the customer service number that appears on my bill,&uot; I retorted. &uot;Since you are having trouble with your wireless service, you must dial this other number,&uot; she explained patiently. &uot;Can you connect me to that number?&uot; I naively asked. &uot;I’m sorry, I am unable to do that&uot;, she intoned.

&uot;We are different companies and you must dial their number.&uot;

Not yet daunted, I dialed the number she gave me.

After getting through the interminable list of options, I made my selection and was informed by a mechanical voice that my call was important and someone would be with in approximately 13 minutes.

What a discouraging message!

It might as well have said, &uot; We have you over a barrel and you will wait as long as you have to or you will never get this problem fixed.&uot;

I pushed the speaker button and folded clothes.

Fifteen minutes later Dwight identified himself and listened to my cell phone saga.

He dialed my cell phone from a land line in his location in Baltimore and had no problem getting through. It did not seem to matter to him that there was no one in Baltimore who would be dialing my cell phone.

He asked probing questions before he told me that it was not a problem he could fix.

I had to call the land-line side of the company.

By this time, I was a bit chagrined, and he was not getting rid of me so easily.

We involved his supervisor in the discussion. After 45 fruitless minutes, I had to hang up in order to make my next appointment. But I have not given up.

My further research has confirmed that it is long-distance to dial my cell phone from ten separate prefixes in Suffolk, Portsmouth, Chesapeake, Nor-folk and Virginia Beach. I am now armed with knowledge of the recent telephone number portability legislation and contact information for the Federal Communications Com-mission. I am also booking an entire day to deal with anyone the &uot;Big V&uot; insists I dial. So they can make me wait, put me on hold or refer me to their guy in a Indiana corn field, I’ll take the time.

In the meantime, you can hear me now, but you will have to pay &uot;Big V&uot; a long distance fee if you want to talk.

Beverly Outlaw is a Suffolk resident and occasionally writes a column for the News-Herald.