Sometimes It Sure Is Easy To Hate The Phone Company

from the kicking-puppies-and-making-babies-cry dept

There’s been a fair bit of uproar about the story of the 82-year-old widow who’s been paying to rent a phone from her phone company for 42 years. At first glance, it looks like another case of everybody’s favorite company taking advantage of an innocent customer, while acting like it’s providing a valuable service, a view that gets strengthened by the woman’s family claiming she’s paid over $14,000 for the use of two rotary phones for 40 years. For one thing, that math is off by quite a bit — the woman was charged $29.10 every three months, not every month, making the actual amount based on that figure about $4900 (Lucent, which manages the rental service, says she’s paid $2,000 since 1985). Less, but still pretty steep. And some might argue that when mandatory phone rental was stopped in 1985, the woman wasn’t exactly old, and should have been aware she was paying for the service. But all that seems a little beside the point, really: this woman paid several thousand dollars for the use of a couple of rotary phones, certainly paying for them many times over. Neither Lucent nor the phone company would want to cut off the service, since apparently 750,000 people nationwide still rent their phones. It’s not clear they should necessarily have to, either, despite the venom being slung at them from online forums. That said, they certainly could run it a little more equitably, or at the very least, at much lower prices given the cost of phones these days. What’s interesting to note, though, is that nowhere does the woman herself say she wasn’t aware she was paying the fee — all the indignation seems to be coming from her granddaughters, who weren’t aware of the charge, dispute how much Lucent says it was, and claim “they were taking advantage of the elderly”. And for what it’s worth, the old lady says she liked the rotary phones better than her new ones to boot. Still, that doesn’t let the phone company or Lucent off the hook, when $10 would pretty much buy you a new phone each month.


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Comments on “Sometimes It Sure Is Easy To Hate The Phone Company”

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51 Comments
Jo Mamma says:

750 *THOUSAND* people still rent phones?!

You’ve got to be fucking kidding me…

Anybody renting a phone should be shot in the head, because their brain obviously doesn’t work.

These people know they’re for sale cheaper, and if they don’t, they should rent the phone forever… because the shock of changing from rental rotary phones to purchased phones is likely going to kill them.

My guess would be at least half those people are either comatose or dead, and the phone rental charges are just automatically deducted out of their account every month…

How many 150 years old are out there anyway? More than I thought, apparently…

Jo Mamma says:

Re: Re: 750 *THOUSAND* people still rent phones?!

HA! You should read more comments on this site dude. Mine’s actually fairly tame.

While I’ll admit it’s not exactly the most PC comment in the world, I certainly am not advocating violence or anything of the sort.

For me, this forum is about expressing views… and yes, expressing them a little more plainly than I would at a polite cocktail party.

If this offends you perhaps you should consider going elseware… or they should ban me. It really is up to techdirt.

anna says:

Re: Re: 750 *THOUSAND* people still rent phones?!

Please delete his/her comment immediately. This type of violent anger is beyond inappropriate, it is incitement to violence.

If techdirt is to maintain and sustain respectabitility then people like this should be forbidden to contribute.

Inciting violence would only occur if the OP threatened to shoot you in the head. He was making a general statement about all people who rent their phones from the telcos (not that I agree LOL).

dookie says:

Re: Re: 750 *THOUSAND* people still rent phones?!

SOBRIEN said:
“Please delete his/her comment immediately. This type of violent anger is beyond inappropriate, it is incitement to violence.

If techdirt is to maintain and sustain respectabitility then people like this should be forbidden to contribute.”

The true weight of freedom and freedom of speech doesn’t come from you being able to say what you want, it’s you standing up for what others say EVEN IF YOU DON’T APPROVE OF IT. Be free.

I like techdirt, the ubernerd factor isn’t as oppressive as slashdot. There isn’t the cronyism of posting priority. No one is rating my shit “funny” “insightful” or any other pretention. The people that post here are posting to contribute, not to gain “karma points” with star trek references and linux suck-ups. People say what they think.

I like slashdot, too, but they’re a microcosm.

In other words, I disagree, I find techdirt very respectable.

Anonymous Coward says:

I used to work for a major UK telephone company...

Yeah, these people exist, and it’s not always the company’s fault.

I’ve had people who I EXPLAINED the payments to still decide to START renting a phone when they could buy the exact same model. Because if they rent they can pay through the bill. Sure it costs a lot more but apparently it’s enough ease to make them happy.

It’s insane. I’d finish the call gaping. But if someone fully in their right mind wants to spend their money that way, is it a company’s job to stop them?

Anonymous Coward says:

If the old bat suffers from terminal stupidity, that is her affair. A nationful of riled commentators need not interject on what is, essentially, a decision she made.

It’s not like she’s being bankrupted or assaulted by the magical powers of the phone rental company, so who has the right to interfere?

Some people just need a nice warm glass of STFU. Her apparently overwrought or neurotic children need to be told one simple thing: This phone rental isn’t any of your business or any of mine.

? says:

People who rent phones

deserve to over pay for them. One rents because one doesn’t want to responsability of ownership. And if you are too cheap or lazy to go out and buy a $10 phone on your own, and instead want to “rent” one from a company who, very likely, had to send a UNION WORKER to your home to install and train you on the device, then you don’t have room to argue about the price you are paying.

Anonymous Coward says:

When I moved into my new home I rented a water softener. Seemed a good idea at the time. 4 years later I had paid almost double the asking price of the unit. It was one of those things where I just forgot about it.

I called the company and asked to buy it out figuring I would get a good deal since I had paid so much money already. Nope, just $200 off the new retail price. I negotiated a better deal with the owner, but still thought the price too steep so I went to the store and bought one and had a handy friend help me install it.

I wasn’t happy with the company’s practice, but in the end who do I blame other than myself?

Doug Rizzo says:

750,000 people nationwide still rent their phones

I remember those old AT&T phones. they never broke. We owned one my whole childhood. My father had one in his basement still connected and working last year when he died. It had to be at least 60 years old.
As for me, I believe the worst thing our government did was break up AT&T. Yes it was a monopoly but it was the best phone company in the world with the best service by far.
Look at the level of service we get today from our phone companies, like Verizon.
I actually had a Verizon service rep. tell me I was a problem customer because they did not install my phone cable correctly and I had to call three times to get it done right. result: I’m a problem customer. Right and running a cable 100 feet across my lawn on top of the ground to my house is correct installation.
As it turned out I installed my phone line and switched my service to AT&T local service. No more problems.

Coolcliftop says:

Re: 750,000 people nationwide still rent their pho

Doug are you crazy? The break up of AT&T was one of the best things to happen to telecom. Not only did it create more jobs but it also created more industry. When AT&T had the monopoly nothing or no one connected anything to their network. The internet service was delayed by degades because Ma Bell said so. I worked for MCI for 20 plus years and I firmly believe I would never had the opportunity to work in telecom if it were not for the break up. The CWA had a monopoly on the jobs and AT&T had a monopolu on the service.

As for the old gal that rented a phone, that would still be the case for everyone if Ma Bell still owned the network.

Manic Smile says:

Biggest mistake ever made was putting major public services into private hands. Look at our Medical problems now…$2000 a month for pills once the company has made it’s money back is horrible. Look at how many comercials we have to watch…like 8 minutes in a 30 min slot at least. Our powerplant bumps power at least once a month. Look at our military now companies…it’s private lobby groups that got these things decentralized in the first place. Heavy regulated, transparent, government ran monopolies are the way to go. Now they want to privitise our education system…like it was the systems fault and not the fact that all our nations money is being spent to make military contractors in bed with our government billions.

Vera (user link) says:

Is Nothing Private?

As many thoughts as I have on all the surrounding issues, the invasion of ‘the old bat’ (aka Esther)’s privacy keeps trumping the rest. Hopefully she’s just bewildered by and basically indifferent to being in the circus spotlight.

In terms of what’s a fair rate to pay in a free market (rather than a monopoly govmt or otherwise), well, that’s what free markets are about. Your company decides what to charge. If everyone decides it’s too much you’re out of business.

I spent a number of years using a wheelchair after I lost my balance completely and had to re-learn it. I rented that wheelchair, eventually paying several times what it would have cost to buy it. My refusal to buy was a personal decision related to my single minded determination to stop needing it. I refused to own it for personal reasons. Was that a stupid financial decision? If I had died or become permanently disabled before being able to walk without it, would my ‘stupidity’ have become a matter for public scorn?

Ditto Tek’a’s comment. ๐Ÿ™‚

Todd Henkel says:

A Dying Market...

I worked in a payment center that handled many types of telephony billing. At the beginning, leased phone billing was our largest internal “account”.

The vast majority of the customers were obviously old people. You could tell by the handwriting on the checks and notes. The others were just confused what they were paying for. We would get notes from customers included with the payment asking what it was (but sent a check anyway) or asking to remove a long distance charge from another bill.

The product managers knew the handwriting on the wall – the market was a declining one. When the median age was as high as it was, eventually the customer base would die off.

But that didn’t stop them from trying to make more money. And I see it continues today. If I recall correctly, most people were paying $14.90 every 3 months (it sinks in after you have processed the 5000th check that day). Looks like the product managers have jacked the price up to $29.10 every 3 months now. Not surprising giving they were trying to milk the last few dollars out of the program.

Funniest thing was the product managers came out to our office to talk up the service. Graphs were shown, product choices, etc. They even ran a video of a customer focus group (only the middle aged were shown in the video) where people spoke of the many benefits of leased phones. “No one can beat the reliability of a Ma Bell phone” and “I like knowing that I can return a broken phone and get a new one at any time”. We were all amazed at the sheer stupidity.

No wonder spam email is profitable. Suckers exist everywhere…

path says:

people want to rent..

I use to work for a local hardware store that managed the phone rentals (at that time the rentals/leases were through AT&T). This was about ten years ago. Anyhow even then it was cheaper to buy the stupid phone. But people would come in there with rotary phones looking for replace phones on their lease and I couldn’t talk them into buying their own. The hardware store didn’t really like handling the phone rental business but I guess they felt obligated to some old time customers. I can even remember old people coming in there who were upset cause we didn’t stock replacement rotary phones. They didn’t want touch tone. Insane..

Anonymous Coward says:

Look, its really simple: The telco is liable (morally, I’m no lawyer) for not making sure these people are aware that they are being billed for a stone-age telephone service plan, and the customers are liable for being stupid. becuase they apparently don’t want to change or simply don’t care. You’d have to be living under a rock or enjoy paying extra money for out-dated phone services these days. Come on! You can’t make me believe these people actually see “American Telegraph and Telephone” on thier monthly bills from Verizon or Sprint.

Renting a rotary phone. Heh heh… yeah, the customers have SOME responsibility.

Mattb says:

Re: Re:

Lucent isn’t a telco, it’s an equipment supplier. It provides the switches the telcos use to route your calls. It used to be apart of AT&T and the rental program transferred to them during the breakup (because they used to make the telephones).

Yes, I think it is stupid for people to continue to pay to rent phones. I couldn’t believe it when I heard about it several years ago. But from what they say, they clearly indicate on their bills that the customer can buy the phones or use other phones. What the customer is also paying for is the service to replace their phones or fix them if needed.

Many people pay money for this type of “insurance”, which gives them peace of mind. And generally older people want more “insurance” and will pay more for it. Is it stupid that they charge people so much for this “insurance”? Of course.

But you have to realize that some people actually want this service and will pay “whatever” for it, as much as us young-uns think it is stupid.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: What Matt said

> Lucent isn’t a telco, it’s an equipment supplier. It provides
> the switches the telcos use to route your calls. It used to
> be apart of AT&T and the rental program transferred to
> them during the breakup (because they used to make the
> telephones).

Lucent is what remains of the once proud Bell Labs, the same place that brought us the Itegrated Circuit and other marvels of the 2oth Century. Its staff boasts a number of Nobel Luareats. Not that there’s anything less proud, but its not what it once was. After the busting up of Ma Bell the Lab was “privitized” (in that rather than a pure research arm of AT&T if was mandated to make money for share holders) Bell Labs became Lucent Technologies and rather than produce electronic wonders it…? Supplies switches?

Mattb says:

Re: Re: Re: What Matt said

Bell Labs has always been research arm in order to build innovations for the telephone switch and other related telecommunications equipment. Along the way, yes, their inventions had many other practical applications. So Bell Labs and AT&T’s internal equipment supplier, Western Electric, were alwasys tied pretty close. Bell Labs contributed greated to make the switch what it is today. When AT&T divested some companies in 1996, the equipment supplier became Lucent, and Lucent took the majority of Bell Labs with them.

vmguy says:

Old Reliable

People of my Mom’s generation don’t want to buy that new gee-whiz phone, because it doesn’t bloody work.

Typical comment: “So what do I do if I just want to call someone … or answer when they call me?”

Don’t tell me this is an aging problem … it’s a manufacturing and design problem.

So, if my Mom wants to BUY her rotary phone, rather than rent it … where does she go online to make that transaction?

If I remember correctly, the phone company allowed you to buy the phone you currently had, rather than rent it.

I bought … and the damned thing broke about 2 months later, and I’ve been suffering from badly built phones for years.

Too bad AT&T had to come back thru SBC ๐Ÿ™‚

Stu says:

The telephone monopoly was bad

and it was a good thing to break it up.

So why are they being allowed to rebuild it by mergers of the same old pieces of it?

Big money spoke at the time of the breakup and it speaks again.

Our government does not act in the best interest of it’s citizens.

All I can do is try to convince people to vote the way I do – and that is: ONCE AND DONE – If they are in office vote them out.

i like ike says:

my gradmother renter her phone until she died a few years back. its like 60 years old. i told her she could get a new one for about nothing, but she pointed out it work great and that the few times it needed servicing in all those years a nice fella would come and fix it (that stopped i assumed but the phone never needed repair again, or worse firmware upgrading from beta to beta 1). i have it now plugged in by my bed, works great and should the time come to clock someone in the head with a phone this one will do the trick, try that with any sort of immediate effect with your crappy radio shack phone….

Red Beard says:

Cable modems = new rotary dial

After renting a cable modem for about a year at $5 / month, I went to Wally world and bought a cable modem. When I took the rental back to Charter, the very next month they jacked up the price of providing internet by $5 a month. Isn’t that a Murphy’s Law or something?

I remember when my folks bought their rental phone when the reg’s changed. They were renting for like $12 every three months or something like that. They buy the phone… the phone co changes their policy that they only service the line up to the junction on the outside of the house. So now they have to pay a Union whiz-banger about $45 an hour to come in the house when the inside lines are screwed up.

I have no more problems with local phone co anymore. I “cut the cord” about three months ago and switched my home phone to a cell phone number. So now all my friends/ kids schools/ etc still have my same number and I can carry my phone everywhere. And with the switch, we bought a “Dock-n-Talk” by Phone Labs. So all the old wired phones in the house ring when someone calls the cell phone. Very smart, and saving $50 per month.

ulle53 says:

I still have one of the old rotary phones, I love it, it does what I want a phone to do I can talk to someone when they call me and I can call out for a delivery pizza. I don’t want anything else from a phone I don’t want to surf the net or take pictures or listen to music with my phone. All I want with my phone is to talk on it and to do this I am willing to pay the $18.99 (including rental fee which means I have no phone repair expenses) a month . I see from all the posts that most think I am a fool and am getting ripped off, maybe so in your eyes but when I consider $18.99 for reliability, dependability and a phone that I can actually understand people on versus $60 – $100 a month for a little piece of plastic garbage that has terrible sound quality and is so crammed with usless features that nothing on it works right I wonder who the fool really is

craig says:

“As for me, I believe the worst thing our government did was break up AT&T. Yes it was a monopoly but it was the best phone company in the world with the best service by far.”

Be glad they broke up the phone company. The process began in the late 60s, when sprint started. The phone company sued, they wanted to prohibit anyone from connecting anything to their lines that they didn’t own.

They not only owned all of the lines in the country, they owned all of the phone wires in your HOUSE, your jacks, and the phones you used.

You were not allowed to own your own phone, only rent. You didn’t own the wires in your house, so you had to get their permission to get another phone jack in another room, pay them to install it, and pay an extra monthly fee.

It was ILLEGAL to plug anything into the phone lines that was not phone company owned, approved, and rented from.

And they were incredibly conservative in what they themselves came up with and allowed to be used. That’s why the same basic crappy phone design was around for over 100 years.

100 years without any real innovation.

Be damned glad they broke up the phone company – because if they hadn’t there would be no internet. None. No internet for you to post your ignorant complaint on.

Steven Diprose says:

Quite Complaning

im from australia and we over here have one option and that is to rent our line and it can com in at $100 a month (about $70 american dollars) at least you guys have freedom to chose what sort of service u want we just get told here enjoy

most of australians are desperatly wainting for a rich american telco to buy telstra(as soon as its willing to sell) and destroy our line rentals

where im from(Tasmania) we have one real telco(wich is telstra ever over “telco” in australia rents off them) and one power provider NO gas provider and there romers flying around that the gov wants to start taxing up on “RAIN WATER” yes you heard me right RAIN WATER oh.. and some places are recicaling water so what that means is potentialy drinking your own urine.

in closing i have a few thing to say 1. be happy that at&t sold and for every over service you have because there are some places that charge the earth just to breath

chaz says:

Bad marketing practice

Look ! It is bad marketing practice in terms of bad pub. when this gets out.What shoud have been done is the phones should have been sold (no choice) to their customers and the surplus sold when those phones broke down (I worked for at&t and those phones almost never broke but the ringer on the bell would get stuck). SHAME ON THE REST OF YOU FOR BLAMING THESE VICTIMS ! I hope you don’t think of this as captialism but as_holism.

BigEd says:

Math People....

1985 to 2006 = 21 years 29.10 every three months or 29.10 4 times a year. Thats 21 * 4 * 29.10 = $2444.40…
Now 40 years * 4 * 29.10 = $4656.00…
Now if that was the same amount for 750,000 people that adds up to $1,833,300,000 for 21 years. Thats alot of money they have been collecting. Make them pay it back since they were suppose to stop collecting it back in 1985. Not right to take advantage of idiots or the sick.

Anonymous Coward says:

Lord you people are a bunch of asses. Sorry if the older woman didn’t keep up on the times. Often they don’t. That’s a fact of life…and when you’re 82 and you are just trying to get by, hopefully the younger generation won’t treat you like a walking idiot.

She didn’t know. She can’t be held responsible for not understanding. I don’t think that means the telco is a big evil demon trying to steal an old lady’s pension check either. It’s just a situation that is unfortunate, but not really anyone’s “fault.”

reb blades says:

the telco

a public flogging of the Board of Directors and all the Chiefs. Fines simply are not good enough. Exact physical pain on these scum sucking piriah. They routinely change the rules to compete, and advertise for new customers but leave it up to their old customers to figure it out for themselves. Be prepared to wait hours on hold, just to hear their double-speak.

Stu says:

Cable modems = new rotary dial

Yes it’s similar; but

When my cable service goes down and I call Comcast, the first thing they do is blame it on the modem I bought.
Only when I can finally convince them them that it’s their modem – that I rent from them – that they installed – on the wiring they put in – (you didn’t buy one?) – then they’ll discuss my problem.

I’m not a computer newbie – I’m an IT manager. With all the software and hardware problems that can cause internet access problems, it makes sense – for me – to let them run the wiires and own the modem.
Your mileage may differ. ๐Ÿ™‚

Devious says:

Rental phone, my grandmothers good old rotory phone lasted as long as I can remember, she had that thing for years and years, and in fact did rent it. I don’t know how much, but I do recall that after she died a few years ago, we threw the thing away. Of course the phone service got canceled too, and a few months later we got a bill addressed to her for over $750 for failure to return the 40 year old rental phone. LOL, Her estate lawyers had a field day with that one.

Needless to say, the didn’t get the phone back or any money.

What is amazing nearly 7 years later we still get mail and credit card offers for her. I am still waiting on that Free power chair, maybe the shipped it to the Cemetary.

Spencer Garrett (user link) says:

Renting Phones

As a Christmas gift, my company sent Mrs. Strogen a Black Rotary Dial phone to make up for the ones that she had returned to the phone company. Until this article came out I had no idea how many people were still leasing their phones although I knew that it did still occur and that the phone companies ask for their phones back when the payments stop coming in.

Lee Valletto says:

Ma bell taking advantage of rental phones

My mother has been renting her two phones for the past 50 yrs. and my brother and I have been trying to tell she has paid thousands of dollars for the two phones. She will be 91 Nov.22,2009. My brother passed away two months ago, and my mom has nobody but me now to fight with about these rip offs-the phone Co. I made an appointment to have her phones changed,I am buying two new phones and having them installed next week.No more ripping my Mom off any more! Hope there more people out there willing to get rid of that good old Ma bell stealing from the old. Lee

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