Drinking too many Spirits of Service

Dear Qwest: While watching the NFL playoffs the last couple of weekends (sadly, the only football I’ve had time for this season), I have seen several of your commercials touting your new tagline, “The Spirit of Service.”

The commercial I just saw features an older couple eating ribs when the phone rings. They look at each other, disgusted at the potential of it being telemarketers. (They haven’t heard of donotcall.gov or the other methods of reducing some calls.)

Suddenly the woman exhorts a wohoo! and runs to answer the phone because she is excited at the likelihood that Qwest may be calling. But, alas, it’s just her sister.

Can you explain this to me?

I’ve ignored the last few years’ of chirpy advertisements you dump in with my phone bill each month as messages from the Qwest Bizarro Planet — the same, mythical place where all my plumbing works, I never get flat tires, and quality babysitting is free and abundant. And I have to admit that I thought your previous tagline,
“Ride the Light” was an homage to Albert Einstein, not some kind of subtle drug reference that I didn’t pick up on. But these commercials are too much. Why would anyone look forward to a call from Qwest?

As much as this may come as a shock to you, I feel obligated as a long-time Qwest customer to tell you, before someone else does, I don’t have a the fanatical adolation for Qwest. I know, you’re saying “say it ain’t so, Jim.” It is. Let me highlight some of the reasons why I’m not about to name my kids after you.

First, you’ve changed names too many times — it’s like I don’t know what to call you. After your court-ordered divorce from AT&T in 1984, I knew you as the Pacific Northwest Bell Company. Then you had a fling with Northwestern Bell and Mountain States Telephone companies, changing your name to US West. That wasn’t good enough, and you became part of Qwest. (I have to admire the mechanics of a smaller company buying a bigger one.)

Second, I’m still a bit pissed off that you wasted so much of my time taunting me with the potential of DSL. It’s your fault, Mister too-cheap-to-upgrade-the-multiplexing-switch-serving-the-Issaquah-Plateau. While you were ignoring our pleas for DSL, @Home/AT&T Broadband/Comcast was able to deliver cable modems. Sure, cable broadband slows down when my neighbor is surfing adult sites, but I’ll never go back to modem. Never!

Third, I’m a little hurt that you dumped my long distance service. I understand that the government made you do it, but it was kind of cheesy being served by a Montana holding company with a Kentucky billing address, that coincidentally shut itself down when the government reapproved your offering long distance in Washington State. That sort of thing makes me think you’re also the folks spamming me.

Speaking of spam, you still haven’t responded to my inquiry about your customers sending unsolicited commercial email with forged addresses. Did you know that’s $500 per email? That would cover my phone service until my grandkids graduate. College.

Finally, your explanation of why my $12.50 phone line costs me over $27 is pretty lame. This is what my basic phone bill looks like:

Basic Service
—— Residence line 12.50
Federal Charge – Service provider number 0.43
Federal Access Charge – access to telephone network 6.10
Caller ID 5.95
Taxes, surcharges and additional dealer markup
Federal Excise tax 0.77
State 911 0.20
Local 911 0.50
Federal Universal Service Fund 0.57
TRS Excise Funds/ADA requirement 0.14
Telephone assistance program 0.13

(By the way, you need to check your math. You overcharged me $.02 for the the “3% federal excise tax.”)

As mentioned on the bill, I went to your website for an explanation. Except for pointing out that it wasn’t your fault, I found the answers lacking and had to go on a quest for knowledge at various government web sites.

To summarize:

  • 911 This charge is imposed by local governments to help pay for emergency services such as fire and rescue.
  • Federal Excise Tax This is a 3% tax mandated by the federal government (not the FCC). It is imposed on all telecommunications services, including local, long distance and wireless bills. (I think this is the same tax imposed to support the Spanish-American war. Wait, wasn’t Spain our ally in the Coalition of the Willing?!?)
  • (Federal) Subscriber Line Charge This was instituted after the break-up of AT&T in 1984 to cover the costs of the local phone network. This charge may appear as “FCC Charge for Network Access,” “Federal Line Cost Charge,” “Interstate Access Charge,” “Federal Access Charge,” “Interstate Single Line Charge,” “Customer Line Charge” or “FCC-Approved Customer Line Charge.” The FCC caps the maximum price that a company may charge for this. This is not a government charge or tax, and it does not end up in the governments treasury. (It’s been 20 years, guys, how long is this going to continue to pad your earnings?)
  • Local Number Portability Charge (LNP) The FCC allows local telephone companies to recover certain costs for providing “telephone number portability” to its customers. This charge provides residential and business telephone customers with the ability to retain, at the same location, their existing local telephone numbers when switching from one local telephone service provider to another. This is a fixed, monthly charge. Local telephone companies may continue to assess this charge on their customers telephone bills for five years from the date the local telephone company first began itemizing the charge on the bill. This is not a tax. (Uh, oh, guess what’s coming to my bill…)
  • State & Local Municipal Tax This charge is imposed by state, local and municipal governments on goods and services. It may also appear as a “gross receipts” tax in some states.
  • (State) Subscriber Line Charge This charge is mandated by some states public service or utility commissions to compensate the local phone company for part of the cost of providing local telephone lines associated with state services, i.e., intrastate long distance and local exchange services.
  • Telecommunications Relay Services Charge This state charge helps to pay for the relay center which transmits and translates calls for hearing-impaired and speech-impaired people. (I’m cool with this)
  • Universal Service Fund (USF) (Also called the Universal Connectivity Fee) – Because telephones provide a vital link to emergency services, to government services and to surrounding communities, it has been our nations policy to promote telephone service to all households since this service began in the 1930s. The USF helps to make phone service affordable and available to all Americans, including consumers with low incomes, those living in areas where the costs of providing telephone service is high, schools and libraries and rural health care providers. Congress has mandated that all telephone companies providing interstate service must contribute to the USF. Although not required to do so by the government, many carriers choose to pass their contribution costs on to their customers in the form of a line item, often called the “Federal Universal Service Fee” or “Universal Connectivity Fee.” (Question: doesn’t everybody have a phone now?)

So, I guess I’m saying I don’t understand your commercials, the “Spirit of Service,” or why anyone would look forward to interaction with your company. I hope the above comments give you some insight on how to not behave like a big, impersonal company. If you wanted to make a quick, big impression, you could toss in Caller ID for free and be much more responsive to thwarting spammers on your networks and maybe, just maybe, exert some of your big-gun influence on those folks at spammer-heaven, Global Crossing.


24 thoughts on “Drinking too many Spirits of Service”

  1. Hooray! Someone explained to me, the lazy, what the Federal Access Charge is! And I thought it was so they could keep their telephone network clean and tidy–without boxes or trash piled up in front of it, or like a dirty sheet draped over it. You know, so we can have access to the telephone network. I always wanted to visit, to see my $6 a month. But I never did, and now I never will.

  2. vonage is $15-40/month. $40/month gets you unlimited calls, unlimited long distance, free calls to Canada, really cheap international rates. No (or very few) taxes.

    Why would you deal with Qwest? Our home isn’t even connected to the phone grid.

  3. I gave up on getting anything intelligible from Qwest when after at least a dozen attempts (both by calling them and writing the revised info on the bill) they have yet to spell my last name correctly. Not a huge piece of info to have to change, just a single letter, but to no avail.

    There is also another commercial in the series with a women who comes home and CAN NOT WAIT to open her Qwest bill. Somewhere there must be an advertising agency worker who still can’t believe that Qwest actually went with their throw away concept.

  4. > why would you deal with Qwest?

    Service was set up seven years ago, it just hasn’t bothered me enough until recently. Vonage looks interesting — are you happy with the service so far?

  5. > Vonage looks interesting — are you happy with the service so far?

    Yeah, we like it. It’s nice to see a caller ID log online, check voicemail remotely, get emailed when I have new voicemail, etc.

    The call quality is great.

  6. I was digging around my hard drive and found a truly geeky spreadsheet with a sensitivity analysis I did to help determine which was the best valued cell phone plan for my needs.

    To use it, fill in the appropriate plan parameters in the pink cells.
    The top block is seven months of actual usage, which I’ve loosely defined as: N&W = nights and weekends (essentially free time), Any = anytime minutes, LD = long distance, ROAM = roaming minutes.

    You can compare three levels in three types of plans (or carriers, if you wish). For example, I’ve filled in Regional, Digital One and National plans. Each has a different value for the Extra “anytime” minutes, roaming minutes, and long distance. Add the plan costs in the pink cells underneath each plans.

    This just adds up the minutes in different ways to determine what the balance is between basic plan costs and extras.

    For example, in the mythical “digital one” rate, there are no roaming fees. However in the sample actual usage, you’re not consuming the entire plan and are thus wasting money on stuff you don’t need.

    For my usage, I found taking the plan that was slightly smaller than what I needed was most effective.

  7. > an advertising agency worker who still can’t believe that Qwest actually went with their throw away concept.

    According to the Decmeber 22 Denver Business Journal, this latest series replaces the “generational” campaign. Qwest spent $25 million on commericals that are “aimed at changing the image of Qwest and increasing the morale of employees.”

    Just doing some quick math: $25,000,000 on ads divided by 47,000 employees equals $531.91. There may be better ways to improve employee morale…

  8. Raising company morale through advertising to your captive (in most cases) customers. Yeah that sounds like a key executive descision.

    It’s kind of hard to believe when the “actual” Qwest workers in those commercials either look stiff as board when interacting with their “customers” or in other cases when they are pictured at their job, like say in a manhole, that they have perfectly coifed hair and enough makeup on to spackle a cracked wall.

    Here’s my new Qwest campaign, for both customers and employees….

    Qwest, be glad you have a job, and be glad we don’t charge you more, but we’re looking forward to a future where we can fix those problems.

  9. This month’s phone bill also had a slightly higher than 3% Federal Excise Tax. (3% of the $24.98 is $.7494. So basically they’re charging me tax on $.68 more than the base bill. )

    The person in Qwest customer support wasn’t sure how this was calculated. There’s no paper mail address to write, but she did suggest faxing them at 888-579-0760. Hmm…

  10. I can’t wait to read this more thoroughly. I skimmed through and I despise Qwest. Their customer service department stinks, mostly because “cell service is not a necessity; it’s a convenience.” Something the customer service rep said to me when my payment was one day late and they cut off my cell service before a 4 hour driving trip and a full week in another city for vacation. “Ok, so the car breaks down and I’m left on the highway stranded with my 3 year old daughter… then what? What is your name again? I’m writing this down for my lawyer..”

  11. I’m not a customer, I’m a stockholder. The Qwest takeover of US West has been a disaster at every level. Questionable–nay, indictable–mangement at the highest levels, low returns on investment, no dividends…as a retiree these things affect my life every day. I’m not a major holder, just a guy who came into it via the AT&T breakup and the resultant changes to the employee stock plans. Letting little leaguers and newcomer yuppies take over a major telephone company was a bad decision, start to finish.

  12. What commercials would you like to see from Qwest? I’m thinking about auditioning for one this Friday.

  13. I dunno, maybe some self-referential humor that doesn’t assume the marketplace and customers are stuck in the 1970s? The commercials just don’t resonate well and don’t really make sense. “So they want to save me money? Fine, just automatically adjust my bill down.”

    Years ago David Leisure played “Joe Isuzu,” a car salesman who spoke 100% falsehoods. Those might be kind of fun if done right.

    The fundamental problems of my Qwest experience aren’t going to be changed by commercials: they’re a big, slow-moving company with uncompetitive services. (e.g., I’m still waiting for DSL service to my cookie-cutter subdivision.)

  14. the local telco switch has absolutely nothing to do with whether your line, (the actual copper pair or drop) qualifies for dsl. It has to do with how far
    your drop is from the switch. it tends to be under two miles.

    For emergency situations I signed up for their (quote/unquote) “$19.99 a month” service. My monthly bill was NEVER less than $30 and usually $40-$50 – whether I used the phone or not! Qwest is a bonafide RIP OFF artist. And the “customer service” sucks! Being on a fixed income, this was far more than I could handle so I’ll be paying their $200 early termination fee (in my own time). That’s a lot cheaper than paying for even 1 year of their so-called “service”

  16. Qwest sucks is what you guys say? Because Qwest lies? Because Qwest steals? Because Qwest over-pays Execs and under pays employees? Because Qwest took money away from retirees?

    Is this not typical in corporate America today? Does Qwest not behave like most, not all but most for profit corporations? Wal-Mart isn

  17. Ya I saw that Qwest employee message board. I like the post about the Qwest manager who lied about an employee at a labor hearing and she is keeping his stuff (THEFT) but the best part is it looks like not only is she getting away with it but Qwest doesn’t care..WTF?

    Then I turn around and see this Theft is a Crime commercial on TV…well why doesn’t anybody bust that Joni Kelly from Qwest?

  18. Just so you know not everyone has a phone. Qwest refuses to extend their line 60 feet to my house from my neighbor. They have given every excuse imaginable but what it boils down to is they are in cahoots with my developer who wants all residents to foot the bill for hardwiring the neighborhood. I can not have a phone without all the empty lots and people who can’t afford to monetarily compensate the developer to bring them in. He is looking for a free ride and qwest is his bed partner. That fee you pay so everyone can have a phone does not include me. So yow once again Qwest is greasing up for the ride. Indeed Qwest sucks!

  19. Doug in Exile

    As a former U S West employee, I can say for certain that it takes whatever amount of money they can extort, steal, hide, grab, grasp, weasel, lie, cheat, or otherwise acquire from their customers to hire the very best obfuscators and management obstructionists money can buy.

    You should all be thankful that they care enough to be the very best at what they do…nothing.

  20. I know this is not a political site …and I didn’t think I would EVER be defending a phone company …but here goes:

    I think it ROCKS that QWEST was the ONLY phone company to stand up to the government and say “no way!” when asked to join in on the NSA wiretapping (i.e. trolling for data)!

    I no longer care about their “Spirit of Service,” but think that their “Spirit of Freedom” is awesome.

    Thanks QWEST …and thanks to Google, too for the same reason!

  21. For over 2 years, I fought with Qwest – every single month – over the SAME overcharge…they were billing me twice for my DSL. And every month they claimed it was fixed for good.

    So when my local cable company finally offered broadband access, I took it, and dumped Qwest.

    It took them over a month to fix my final bill, and when it took me 15 days to pay it…they turned me into the credit bureau!

    effing creeps.

  22. digital gods

    QWEST IS a gross pile. least i can teach my kid they do sleep with developers, etc and they do act like animals to get yr money any way they can.

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