Verizon vs Customers and Itself
I simply wanted to move a virtual phone number to VoIP. In order to do so Verizon would up sending a few trucks to my house and taking hours of time just to preserve a fiction. It's as if they fear admitting that their business is now about preserving a story rather than creating value.08-Aug-2005

I'm a very good Verizon customer. I have Verizon landlines, DSL and cellular phone service including EVDO. And I even want more. I've tried to get their FIOS (fiber) service which is supposed to be available. The pre-installers showed up at my house to prepare for the FIOS installation but no fiber!

Huh? We walked around the block but apparently Verizon hadn't finished fibering my block. All they could do was call in and report the problem. No one seems to be able to figure out the status. At best there is the vague notion that the trucks may install the fiber in the next month or so. I'm a bit more skeptical – the other fiber was run 6 months ago. But apparently there is no way to find out if Verizon's databases are even correct – after all, when I checked online it told me I was supposed to have fiber already.

The inability to tell me what is up on the polls is nothing new – even though the carriers are supposed to be able to report what's on the poles they seem to not be very good at keeping track of the information which makes it difficult for others to run their own cables – how convenient for Verizon. Having to share is so annoying.

In fact, part of the deal with getting FIOS is that I have to let them remove the copper and provide my land line service over FIOS. They have to share copper (or, at least, had to). They could've run the copper at 100mbps but FIOS is more about television anyway. That was the real purpose of DSL – Interactive Television with the Internet being just a salvage application.

With FIOS I can buy 15mbps service which is nice but it's a bit strange that doubling the speed to 30mbps is four times the price. Hmmm…

Thinking about FIOS encouraged me to move completely to Voice over IP. I do have VoIP service but I want to preserve my main numbers. The problem is that my “office” number is a distinctive ring number on my home line and such numbers are not portable. The whole idea of numbers being nonportable is strange – after all, they can all be forwarded and are thus translated anyway. Pretending that numbers are something other than entries in a table is another convenient story.

I also find it offensive that I can't control the number – I have to ask one company to ask another to pass the number between them. It's like a child who is not allowed to do anything himself – I have to ask my parents to speak to my friend's parents. As far as Verizon and, for that matter, the FCC, is concerned, I'm not an adult who can be trusted with his own decisions.

I finally figured out that if I moved this secondary number to its own line (or, in Telco parlance, its own “service”) I could then port the number to a VoIP service. So I called Verizon to make the change. I explained that they could just forward it to my existing number since that's all I would do until I could port the number. I was told that they still had to roll a truck to my house and install a new wire. Seems silly but it's far easier to go along than to get Verizon to just enter the necessary changes in their computer system.

It's not like the old days (a few years ago) when there were employees who would forward a line on my behalf at the CO and maybe save all the effort. So installer arrives a week later. He tests to find the new service on the box behind my house. In the old days I had a number of phone lines because of modems and ISDN and other services – so I now have a lot of copper from the pole to my house. I discovered some of the dial tones he found were coming from my VoIP lines so I disconnected them at the demarc.

It's a reminder that the relationship is symmetric – I can provide telephone service just like they can. They have to try very hard to make sure that they don't allow others to share their poles otherwise it would be obvious that there is no need for a big telephone company just to get a dial tone.

Once we removed the dial tones I generated we found that not only was the new service not yet “lit up” but I had lost my second line! Somehow Verizon had screwed up a simple order. This whole distinctive ring thing seems to have confused them and they removed whole line instead of just removing distinctive ring. OK, should be simple to fix since the wires ran all the way back to the central office. But the installer wasn't even able to find someone at the central office to speak to him!

Instead I had to act as the system integrator and attempt to get the disconnected parts of Verizon to speak to each other. Since I am such a good customer I'm supposed to have Encore support – a one stop shopping for all my Verizon services. So I call and am first switched to FIOS support – as we know record keeping is not Verizon's strong point. After a misdirection I finally get someone at encore but am told that they are not allowed to speak to the technical people – the very same problem as with Comcast!

Here we have a company with computer controlled offices where problems like mine can be fixed with a few keystrokes – the original work orders were correct. If someone at Verizon had any ability to solve problems they could just correct the orders and that should update the settings in the CO. That's a lot to ask for a company whose customer support system can't even pass my phone number from one person to another. Even after I key in my number I have to keep repeating it! Still, the support people should be able to call internal support at the central office to solve the problem. And that person could key in the changes.

The installer was very helpful (or tried to be) and gave me the exact coordinates for the wires and there was battery power on them already. But it was late on Thursday. On Friday they did manage to get the new service activated but not my preexisting line. After a few more truck rolls and a couple of phone calls I finally had my original line restored on Tuesday.

All this because Verizon is trying to pretend it is 1900 and you need a wire running from the central office to each phone. OK, maybe 1930 since I am allowed to “dial” my own calls because they couldn't afford to hire everyone in the country to act as a phone operator.

With Voice over IP the service is separated from the infrastructure. You wouldn't have the absurd costs associated with rolling all those trucks and the inefficiencies imposed by disallowing internal communications. This ban on sharing information comes at a high price as we've seen, companies that prohibit sharing information become increasingly dysfunctional and unable to solve problems let alone discover new opportunities.

It's frustrating because I've been a telephony enthusiast ever since I discovered that you could hook a phone to the red/green pair of wires and be connected. Of course the phone company (in those days, for most of us in the US, ATT) claimed such connections would destroy the phone network. The Supreme Court basically said that was a lie and thus began an era of innovation. The answering machine used to be illegal!

Today the Telcos are far slicker and hide the inherent simplicity of their offerings. That's why VoIP is so disruptive. It's not about cheap phone calls but the ability to create the service ourselves. All we need is an Internet connection. For now, thanks to the control excreted by the CableCos and the Telcos connectivity is a relatively expensive commodity. It's very cheap compared with traditional telephony but is still far more expensive (and profitable) than it would be were we able to take advantage of commodity connectivity.

Too bad that so few people realize that they can create the services themselves or buy them from anyone, not just their “phone company”.

This is also why the Telcos are so desperate to pretend that a phone number is special – if they lose control of those numbers and the gatewaying of phone calls between their network and the rest of the Internet how will they keep their customers confined to their services?

Now Verizon wants to offer IPTV but I'm puzzled. What value do they add? As my Internet connection becomes fast enough to carry video streams why would I want them between me and HBO or, for that matter, between me and the broadcasts from town hall or the local little league games? Of course maybe they are assuring themselves an advantage for video delivery – after all, they are reserving almost all of the FIOS capacity for their video services. The company that figured out that you only need a single stream rather than the broadcast model when they did DSL. They are building a brand new cable TV system in the old broadcast style. Huh? Of course, Verizon is also claiming that they will be my connectivity provider and their commodity bits will be better than others' even though their Genuity effort demonstrated the futility of that approach.

There are just too many disconnects here and I haven't even written about their control over cellular radios. I don't want to go back to Red/Green pairs but I do want to be allowed to create my own services over IP. After all, I have to do it anyway by trying to repeatedly explain things to Verizon people who don't seem to be allowed to talk to each other!

Shortly after this the FCC gave the carriers much broader power over their infrastructure. While I'm worried about what they might want to do I take comfort in the limits on the ability to do me good – I should be the one to decide what is good for me, not the carriers!