Rethink Impossible: A wake-up call

Lily Tomlin as telephone operator Ernestine on that ’70s show “Laugh-In” (Courtesy

I swore I wouldn’t use this space as flypaper for rants. But let’s talk AT&T, for just one unlimited, roaming minute, shall we? And I’ll try not to swear.

(Just exercising my free speech, at no cost or obligation to you, either — see? Totally free.)

I fear the phone company is again getting too big for its britches.

I say “the phone company” because, just like paranoid James Coburn in the charming 1967 romp The President’s Analyst, I am not sure who is behind it all. (Movie spoiler alert: The Phone Company wants to HACK into people’s brains and take over the world! Hmm, sound familiar, Rupert Murdoch?)

Sure, today’s Ma Bell and middle-aged Baby Bell – notably AT&T and Verizon — have different logos and slogans, but at times they seem in villainous cahoots, ping-ponging us back and forth with come-ons; cloned, “closed” phones; and contract chicanery.

Ma Bell and her babies (Copyright Slate, 2006)

Two years ago, I begrudgingly defected from “Team Mobile” to AT&T because my husband wanted an iPhone and, at the time, it was our only choice of carriers. (No surprise that today Verizon is the only official alternative.) In terms of billing snafus and inconveniences, it’s been two years of cell hell.

I’ll spare you the details, because I’m sure you aren’t interested – neither were countless AT&T customer service reps.

“Get Smart” (Courtesy of

What gets me is THEY GOT YOU. Hoodwinked. Because if you blink, the phone makers will whip out some technological marvel that makes you need to break your cellphone contract, emphasis on “cell”; you need a bail bondsman to get out.

Seems weird to have to pay more for a product when you stop using it.

Like the Pennsylvania Turnpike – easy to buy in, but you have to break a $20 or $50 to get off, and in between you are held captive to their choice of foodstuffs, services, brands. Unlike toll roads, though, in which the ride is generally pleasant, cellphone companies also make you pay as you go. Imagine having to stop each mile to drop in coins, still getting walloped at an exit with penalties when nature calls and the next prescribed pit stop is 38 miles away.

As a contracted cellphone customer, you also seem to be the company’s last priority, as its focus is to greedily lure more fed-up customers from rival carriers, not deal with you.

Hello! Wouldn’t this be a refreshing business model: to actually retain customers based on service and brand loyalty, rather than feel the need to lock us in for years, making us unhappy or forcing us to fork over big bucks when the next must-have gizmo comes out?

Are you also SEEING RED? Check out the second video, below, for more on the recent sea of red in New York City.

Even more refreshing: if companies like Verizon would consider loyalty and service in the case of its 45,000 workers now striking for their fair shake. Rather than spend so much time contracting with customers, maybe focus a little more on labor contracts, so that skilled, contented and loyal employees can help you offer decent services that your customers would willingly choose to stick with.

What we all need is more bargaining power. Or just the wake-up call that we already possess it. Make your voices heard. STRENGTH IN NUMBERS, PEOPLE! We’ve got their number.

Tooling around the Internet, I found something of a revolutionary: a guy who teaches you, step by step, how to break your Verizon contract, even if you, like me, still have no idea how telephones — whether pink princess rotary land-line model or wireless app-loaded non-Apple stupidphones™ — even work.

Given Verizon apparently thinks so little of contracts, I’ll pass it on.

Power to the people: