Friday, February 15, 2013

Channel 84

So here's the result of my recent customer discussions with Verizon. As this is of interest to few, cut to the chase if you wish - it's at the bottom.

Some background: I watch almost no TV, and am old enough to remember when it was free. Thus the idea of paying for it has always seemed foreign. For a time when I worked for a cable co. (as Internet editor), I got full cable for free. I watched The Sopranos, loved it, and basically nothing else. When I left that company, I figured someone would step up and offer the choice of just getting HBO, and nothing else. Or just one show from HBO. Sort of like the Internet. Until that time came, I'd never actually pay for TV.

I now pay for Verizon FIOS. Why? I had a two-year contract with them for FIOS internet, and when it was up, I was told my monthly price would increase by some not insignificant amount. BUT,  if I took the "Triple Play" option - adding TV to the existing bundle of Net and home phone - with current promos I'd actually pay less than if I were to just renew Net and home phone.

An offer I could not refuse. I accepted the TV, and -- apart from a few biggies, like the World Series and the presidential debates, SOTU, etc. -- used it barely at all. My kid briefly got into some of the "rustic" entertainment including "Call of the Wildman," but we soon tired of the passive tedium of the medium.

Anyway, I have this excellent friend Dan who keeps talking about FIFA and Manchester United and Rooney and Rinaldo of Madrid and Balotelli and frankly he managed to make it sound interesting enough that I began to think it would be nice to have channel 84. In my market, that's Fox Soccer. Not Soccer Plus, just Soccer. My humble Verizon service - the low end, of course - blocks the channel, but offered me the option to subscribe, though it didn't say what it costs. I figured I'd call to find out, and from that call came this conversation.

That conversation, blogged, turned into a Tweetfest with Verizon, further morphing into 1.5 hours of phone time with two very pleasant Verizon support people, Michael and Bernardine.

Michael tried very hard, once he understood my request, to find a way to help. The problem as I saw it was, all I want is this one channel, why can't they add it, and it alone, and bill me a buck a month and bob's yr uncle?

The problem apparently is that in the corporate universe, no customer shall be so gratified. I could only choose to move up to the next package, called "Extreme" - in which case my TV would not only receive Channel 84 but also a buttload more channels I had no interest in, for a mere $15 (before tax) upgrade to my monthly bill.

I explained to Michael how it is. How I do not use TV, but might enjoy some Soccer if it didn't cost me over $100 a year for the privilege of watching. He proceeded in the most engaging manner to attempt a series of elaborate maneuvers worthy of Olympic diving competition -- Backflips, Inward Dive 3.5 somersault in the Tuck position, Armstand Back 2 Somersaults, 1.5 twists in the Free Position, and more. At one point, he thought he had it. He thought he'd managed to give me Extreme with no change to my contractual obligation -- there was nearly a whoop of joy from this enthusiastic and friendly young man, until, at the very last moment, the agony of defeat emanating from the massive corporate computational network told him in no uncertain terms that the customer was going to have to pay $15 more a month or nada.

I felt sorrier for Michael than one might imagine. I tried to comfort him, to assure him that I really don't watch TV, have no use for TV, am probably better off without access to Channel 84, as it would just consume more of the short life left to me (I'm no spring chicken) than I can afford. But Michael was not down for the count. He thought there still could be a way to do this, but it would take a higher power. I said fine, and was soon speaking with Bernardine in California. Bernardine sounded completely pleasant, nothing like any formidable Higher Power.

I explained to her how it came about that I simply wanted to know what it cost to sub to Channel 84, but after an hour was still discovering that her giant corporation could not, in fact, either give me an answer, nor satisfy the request, but was -- at least Michael was -- heartbroken at its lack of success.

Bernardine asked if she could look at the matter, and in short order she returned to say she could offer me Extreme, the package, for $6.72 a month. This was managed under some complex 12-month discount by which my bill is actually $15 + tax but I get some sort of $10 off deal that ends next March.

At this point I told her that I might consider it, even though I only wanted the one channel, but I'd only do so if she annotated the account to indicate that in 12 months I can go back to my non-Extreme status and to my current monthly bill, minus the $6.72, no questions asked. She agreed, and I agreed. I am now Extreme. Talk about Power. The new package was available on my TV nearly immediately. Bernardine offered to call me in a week, and I said that would be fine. We wished each other a Happy Valentine's Day. For one with such Power, she seemed quite sweet.

Yet I wonder: if Verizon can implement entire packages in the blink of a remote eye, why not one single channel? I still do not have an answer. The system is telling me I can subscribe to a channel, but when I ask how much, I get baited and switched. "Nooooooooooooo," it tells me, "you can't have one little teensie-weensie channel, but you can have a whole bunch of them!"


If it's a technical issue, then put it in layman's terms. End users will get it. Something too small for the giant to handle? That would be of interest. If none of the above, then it might, just might, be a greed issue. If so, well, buy some gumption and own up to that. Consumers are bent to consume the redirection of their substance at the expense of their wiser discretion.

Can Marketing ever get real? If a customer wants to buy something, and you won't sell it to them, why not tell them why not? Why do you always need to convince them they want something much bigger, far in excess of what they in fact want? Is it Un-USian to ask for something small? Is it demeaning to gratify small wishes? Must American Consumers always be presumed to live in hells of infinite desire?

Eventually the Corporates will discover that the fulcrum has shifted. What we desire, no matter how humble, can be within our grasp, without their help.

So I'm grateful to Bernardine, and to Michael and the Verizon Tweeters, and to Agent Marilyn whose robotics kicked this into high gear. Grateful less for Channel 84 than for the glimpse into the wide world of scripts, pitches, elaborate gestures and figurative maneuvers of corporate theater. It's a jungle in there. I'm in it up to my $6.72, and I mean to get out. But Bernardine told me to check: a better promo might await in March 2014.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

My chat with Verizon

Chat Subject:FiOS TV Product Availability

Your Question:I do not receive Fox Soccer (channel 84) in my plan. Is there any way that I can receive it without changing my plan? What is the cost to subscribe to that channel?

A Verizon eCenter Representative will be with you shortly. Thank you.

12:39:59 We apologize for the delay.You are next in the queue. A representative will be with you shortly.

Agent Marilyn has joined.

Marilyn : Chat ID for this session is 02121382008.

Marilyn: Hello. Thank you for choosing Verizon and visiting our chat service. I will be happy to help you today.

For quality & security purposes, your session is recorded and may be monitored or reviewed. Please do not provide sensitive information such as social security, bank account or credit card numbers. May we view your account information, including the services you subscribe to, so that we may assist you during this chat with respect to available Verizon products and services? You may deny us permission, which will have no effect on your current services. Under federal law, it is your right and our duty to protect your account information.

May I have permission to review your account?

tom: yes

Marilyn: Can you verify your account number?

tom: I don't have a bill handy. My home phone is 9xx-xxx-xxxx

Marilyn: Can you verify your can be reached number or the amount of your last payment?

tom: I can be reached at 9xx xxx-xxxx - I can look up my last payment

Marilyn: What is the your other contact number please?

tom: My last payment to Verizon was 95.11

Marilyn: That is associated with your account.

tom: other contact # 9-- xxx-xxxx

Marilyn: This is correct.

tom: My question is what is the cost of Fox Soccer - not Fox Soccer Plus, but channel 84, which used to be part of the basic package of FIOS tv channels.

Marilyn: One moment while I check for you.

Marilyn: Thank you for continuing to hold. I am still working on your request and I will be back with you in a few moments.

tom: ok, i'm still here

Marilyn(12:40:14): Thank you for your patience. I am still working on your request and will be back with you shortly.

tom(12:40:36): yes

Marilyn(12:42:06): I am sorry to keep you waiting. I am still working on your request and will be back with you shortly.

Marilyn(12:43:11): I show that you would have to upgrade your TV package.

Marilyn(12:43:37): You now have Prime TV, you can upgrade to Extreme TV.

tom(12:44:10): Yes,but I don't wish to do that. I simply wish to subscribe to that channel.

tom(12:44:47): When I go to that channel, it offers me the opportunity to subscribe, but doesn't say what it will cost.

Marilyn(12:45:17): I apologize for any inconvenience.

Marilyn(12:45:47): You can also add the Sports package for $11.99 per month.

tom(12:46:53): In other words, you are saying that I can't subscribe to this one channel, although it seems to offer me that option. I must upgrade to something else, which I don't want, which will cost me another > $100 a year. This is what you are saying?

Marilyn(12:47:38): I can understand your frustration.

Marilyn(12:47:38): Thank you for your patience. I am checking on your question for you.

Marilyn(12:49:18): Thank you for continuing to hold. I am still working on your request and I will be back with you in a few moments.

Marilyn(12:51:04): I apologize again for any inconvenience.

Marilyn(12:51:29): You can also upgrade your bundle package.

Marilyn(12:52:24): By paying $15.00 more per month.

tom(12:53:20): You are saying I only have options of paying a lot of money, instead of what I want, which is to pay a small amount of money for one station. I do not watch any of your channels. I basically don't watch TV at all, except for very focused, limited items. You are telling me that my only option is to pay you in excess of $100 per year to see the one little thing I wish to see. Yes or no?

Marilyn(12:56:10): This is correct.

Marilyn(12:56:36): Unfortunately, you will have to pay to upgrade your service or add the sports channel.

tom(12:58:00): Agent Marilyn, it's not your fault. Please do not apologize or tell me that you understand. This is about a giant corporation dealing out packages to suit itself, not its customers. This is the way big business works. I am very sorry that I ever added FIOS to my services.

Marilyn(12:59:51): Do you have any further questions I can assist you with today?

tom(13:01:45): Not for you. Please feel free to share my view of your services with your marketing people. Verizon is as bad as Comcast. I won't be a customer for very long.

Marilyn(13:03:26): Thank you for choosing Verizon, we appreciate your business. If you have any additional questions, please do not hesitate to contact us again.

Your session is now closed.

Thank you, have a nice day.

Live Chat Transcript
It was a pleasure to assist you. Your chat session has ended. Thank You.

Your chat ID number is 02121382008.

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Monday, February 11, 2013

A thoughtful graf about Aaron Swartz

François de La Rochefoucauld once observed that it’s not enough to have great virtues; one must use them with economy. As I listened to the tributes to Aaron Swartz in Highland Park and New York and online, this aphorism came to mind. Swartz had skipped out on the lessons taught by the American high school—the lessons in cynical acquiescence, conformity, and obedience to the powers that be. He was right to think these lessons injure people’s innate sense of curiosity and morality and inure them to mediocrity. He was right to credit his “arrogance” for the excellence of the life he lived. But if nothing else, these lessons prepare people for a world that can often be met in no other way; a world whose irrational power must sometimes simply be endured. This was a lesson that he contrived never to learn, which was part of what made him so extraordinary. It was Swartz’s misfortune, and ours, that he learned it too late, from too unyielding a teacher. It cannot serve society’s purpose to make a felon and an inmate out of so gifted and well-meaning a person as Aaron Swartz, and thus he was a victim of a grave injustice. But it bears remembering that the greater injustice was done to Aaron Swartz by the man who killed him. Yang

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Friday, February 08, 2013

Swartz on Slate

A few bits from a new piece about Aaron Swartz on Slate - 

“Suits,” he wrote on his blog, “are the physical evidence of power distance, the entrenchment of a particular form of inequality.”

On Kafka's Trial: “This isn’t fiction, but documentary.”

College was not an intellectual dream world—it was just another place that needed fixing. “If I wanted to start a more effective university, it would be pretty simple,” he wrote on his third day at Stanford. “Hire the smartest people and accept the smartest students, get them to work on projects that interest them ... organize a bunch of show-and-tells and mixers, and for the most part let them figure stuff out on their own.”
Swartz later acquired his FBI file, which indicated that agents had surveilled his parents’ Highland Park home. That FBI file, Swartz said, was “truly delightful.” At the time, it all seemed funny—the feds getting so upset over something so minor. But Malamud now believes the PACER downloads contributed to the government’s subsequent fervor in prosecuting the JSTOR case. In their eyes, Swartz was a repeat offender, a data vigilante. This was no small thing.

Swartz’s JSTOR scheme was different from his PACER escapade in several crucial ways. First, JSTOR is not a repository of non-copyrightable government documents. Though users with subscription access to JSTOR can grab its contents for free, it is a paid service—major research institutions pony up as much as $50,000 annually for access—that houses journal articles that are mostly under copyright. Second, Swartz wasn’t spurred by an easily identifiable, information-liberating call to action along the lines of Carl Malamud’s PACER push. There was one potential precedent: A couple of years prior, Swartz had collaborated with a Stanford law student named Shireen Barday on a project that involved downloading almost 450,000 articles from the Westlaw database and analyzing them to see who, exactly, was funding legal research. While it’s possible that Swartz was going to post his JSTOR cache on the Web, it’s also plausible that he simply planned to use the articles for research along the lines of the Shireen Barday project. We can’t be sure.

In 2008, Swartz wrote something he called the Guerilla Open Access Manifesto:

Forcing academics to pay money to read the work of their colleagues? Scanning entire libraries but only allowing the folks at Google to read them? Providing scientific articles to those at elite universities in the First World, but not to children in the Global South? It's outrageous and unacceptable. 
"I agree," many say, "but what can we do? The companies hold the copyrights, they make enormous amounts of money by charging for access, and it's perfectly legal—there's nothing we can do to stop them." But there is something we can, something that's already being done: we can fight back.   
Those with access to these resources—students, librarians, scientists—you have been given a privilege. You get to feed at this banquet of knowledge while the rest of the world is locked out. But you need not—indeed, morally, you cannot—keep this privilege for yourselves. You have a duty to share it with the world. 

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