Tuesday, April 24, 2007

I Hate All Phone Companies

AT&T and Cingular are only slightly evil. On the other hand, Legacy, which has hijacked several pay phones in Redwood City, should burn in hell. BEWARE.

On April 12th, while traveling north to meet D and then go to a Hookslide concert, I ended up spending over $27 to make two local calls via pay phone. Admittedly, this was an avoidable error on my part, but it doesn't excuse the deceptive and predatory practices of the pay phone operator.

D works in Redwood Shores, so she was going to meet me near the RWC Caltrain station. I tried calling her from the train, but the call wouldn't connect. I tried from two different phones, both unfortunately on the same network (Cingular). I thought it might be a problem with the local switchboard at her office, so I tried routing the call through Tellme's voice dialer service, but that call wouldn't connect either. I figured it was a problem somewhere in Cingular's network, and decided to call her from a pay phone once I arrived.

The pay phone at Sequoia Station wouldn't let me call Tellme's toll-free number, so then I tried to use my AT&T calling card. The pay phone actually interrupted that call in an attempt to force me to use Legacy's long distance service instead of my preferred carrier; by the time I navigated that IVR menu, my call to AT&T had disconnected, and I had to redial. ANNOYING.

At that point, I discovered that my AT&T calling card number didn't work anymore. Because I was pressed for time, I just used my credit card to pay for the call. I figured they might charge me something like $5 for a call, which I could live with--I didn't have a lot of options at that point. (In retrospect, I should have gone into one of the shops and gotten some change, but I just didn't have the patience at that point to deal with retail droids.)

I ended up having to make two calls, because D didn't recognize the pay phone number on her Caller ID screen and didn't pick up the first time. When I got my credit card bill, I saw that Legacy had charged me $13.70 for each call. Not even long distance calls--these were calls terminating within the same damn city, and each call was less than a minute.

There's a word for this: EXORBITANT.

I want to point out that this isn't really about the money, although that is the straw that broke the camel's back. Hell, I was willing to pay $5 for a minute-long local phone call, which is already ridiculous. But not only did Legacy charge me a completely unreasonable rate, they also tried to prevent me from using my own calling card and did not disclose their prices up front.

This is a bad way to do business. They may get my money once, but they'll never get it again; and I hope they won't get any of yours, either.

I did some research on the company, and I'm not alone: I found two separate Rip Off Reports, from May 2006 and September 2006, and a story in the North Texas Star-Telegram about how a man who ran out of gas was charged over $100 for five short calls from a Legacy pay phone. The FCC and local PUCs regularly receive complaints about this company, but deregulation means there's not much they can do besides issuing toothless warnings.

As it turns out, Legacy also does inmate communications--telephone services for prisons. Because what better people to cheat than those who can't complain about the services they get?

CAVEAT EMPTOR.
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