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411 directory assistance is questionable at best, a scam at worst

Phone scams

Phone scams.

A couple of months ago I was temporarily in a bit of a desperate situation. I had just been dropped off at a ferry terminal by friends, and I had left something important in their car. I was sure they had a cell phone, but I didn’t know their number. But if anyone had their cell number it would be their son, so I dialled 411 to get his home number. I do realise these days that the phone book isn’t what it once was, and my own number isn’t even in it, but it was worth a shot to save my friends from driving all the way home and then having to turn around and do the drive again. So I gave directory assistance the name and town I required. Efficient as ever, they immediately came back (within seconds) with a number for, I guess, the right name but in a different town. This was no use to me, so I called back. I explained what had happened, and restated the name and town.

This time I got the opposite result: a different person in the right town. So I gave up and left a message on my friends’ land line. In retrospect, I don’t even think what I was given was anything even close to what I asked for; if I want the number for Bob Smith in Town A, why give me the number for a random Bob Smith in Town B? That’s not what I asked for! And in the second case, what’s the point in giving me the number for Barb Smith in Town A?!

I eventually got a hold of my friends and got my stuff back. I felt bad for making them drive back to the ferry terminal, but all ended well, and I was only one ferry behind schedule.

Fast forward a few weeks and, of course, I’m billed for the two pointless directory assistance calls by Troublesome Mobile (aka Freedom Mobile). I expected this, of course, and as planned I phoned them and asked for those charges to be cancelled. (If my second 411 attempt had been successful I’d have eaten the first charge, but both times directory assistance just shovelled a random number in my direction and washed their hands of me.) I was told flat out by Troublesome Mobile that, as they were billed to Troublesome by a third party, they could not refund the charges for the calls. Supposedly I would have to phone the third party to get a refund. What?! I obviously don’t even have an account with this third party, so how the fuck would I or they even do that?! They couldn’t give me a phone number to call, so said I should just phone 411.

I explained to Troublesome Mobile — I have a long list of alternative names for them, but “Troublesome Mobile” is probably the only polite one and the closest to “Freedom Mobile” — that they provided the opportunity for me to use the service and they billed me for the service, so they were the only party it made sense for me to call! To make a long story short, after much hemming and hawing and obfuscation and making sure that I understood the obvious, that the service wasn’t free, they finally agreed — “just this one time” — to refund my $3.50 ($1.75 per call).

In the “old days” 411 was a useful service. But, like all mass services these days, the people in the call centres are being timed like rats in a maze, and there’s no time allowed to actually confirm with the caller exactly what they want and that the information the call taker has is what the caller wants (I remember they used to do that) and there’s no opportunity to tell the system that the number you’ve been given is of no use to you or wasn’t even what you asked for in the first place. Nope, it’s just hit a couple of buttons and get the caller off the line as quickly as possible so that you can move onto the next call.

For this reason I will go out of my way to try anything except calling 411 in the future. A dollar fifty isn’t a life-changing amount of money, but as usual — especially with Troublesome Mobile (aka Freedom Mobile) and Canadian cell phone companies in general — it’s the principle of the matter. I will not allow them to take my money without at least providing the service for which I’m supposedly paying — and which they are advertising on the outside of the box; either they give me the number I’m actually looking for, or they be honest and tell me that they don’t have it and therefore are not going to charge me for their inability to provide it. Anything else is theft, and failing to provide the service you’re advertising and still charging for it is a scam. If more consumers actually acted on being scammed out of a dollar fifty once in a while the phone companies might actually go back to providing the service they’re claiming to offer.

Rogers buys Shaw. How bad can the news get?

Three weeks ago it was announced that Rogers Communications Inc. is planning to buy Shaw Communications Inc. This is yet another example of the big communications and media companies in Canada giving the middle finger to the public, and doing what they want to maintain the oligopoly they hold over the aforementioned marketplaces. Study after study, year after year finds that Canadians pay the highest prices for cell phone usage in the world, and yet the federal government, who are supposed to regulate these companies, pays lip service to lower prices but never actually follow that up with action.

Shaw owns Freedom Mobile (to whom I refer as “Troublesome Mobile” given the absolute gong show I had transferring a number to them from Virgin, a number I actually had to abandon), and they are the only reason I only quite recently got a cell phone in Canada. Before 2019 I found it more convenient and cheaper to have a phone with an American provider and “roam” in Canada. I combined that with Sugar Mobile to have a Canadian phone number. It wasn’t exactly a great system, but having lived in Third World countries in the past I am used to “making a plan” to work around the inefficiencies of Third World governments and thinking. Welcome to Canada.

Ironically, Air Canada just cancelled their planned purchase of Air Transat. The reason? The European Commission wanted concessions from the newly enlarged airline, while the Canadian government had given the green light to the merger. Thank the gods for the EC, saving Canadians from ourselves.

There has been talk that the federal government could insist that Freedom Mobile and perhaps Shaw’s fledgling cell phone service, Shaw Mobile, be excluded from the deal, to do something to encourage the nascent development of competition in our mobile industry, but such a suggestion assumes that the Canadian federal government has the cojones to do so. (But speaking of Shaw Mobile, it looks to me a lot like Sugar Mobile, the company against which Rogers successfully waged a legal challenge to shut them down in 2017! That hypocrisy is a story for another day though.) While I would support the federal government doing something like that, it won’t be enough for other opponents of the deal, such as OpenMedia.

I can assure Brad Shaw and Edward Rogers though that, regardless of the action or lack thereof from the Canadian government, if the purchase and merger go ahead, the new company will lose a long-time customer of Internet connectivity, cable TV, and now cell/mobile service. The cell service will go back to the United States; Internet will probably go to one of the resellers (possibly even of Rogers, but we don’t have much choice), and if I can get my shit together we’ll “cut the cable” completely.

Updated, 2021-04-07: Add link to Troublesome Mobile.