(And I’m not even exaggerating.)
This story is about the heartless and dishonest action taken by a company that claims to not only be “America’s largest and most reliable wireless network,” but also the one “more people trust.”
Clearly, America’s trust is ill-founded. And I am about to show you why.
My partner Sara and I live in Haiti, where Sara directs the recovery operation for one of the world’s largest and most well-known international aid organizations. I live in Port-au-Prince with her and blog about Haiti’s need for more relief, more aid, more care, more prayer. Sara does the work. I spread the word.
On the weekend of February 4th, Sara and I were in Miami for a long weekend away from the stress and strife, the grit and grime that is Port-au-Prince. But before hitting the beach and soaking up the sun, we wanted to upgrade our phones and renew our Verizon Wireless contract.
Up until that Friday I had an unlimited international data plan for my mobile phone—something that was essential to my functioning in Haiti, where access to both electricity and wireless is limited. I needed to upgrade my phone because I blog and the WordPress software I need was not available on the model of Blackberry I owned. Sara also needed an equipment upgrade, since her BlackBerry had stopped working several months before.
Frustrated that our access to electricity in Haiti had not improved even a year after the earthquake, we stopped at a North Miami Verizon Wireless store on our way in from the airport. We were eager; we were enthusiastic as we burst through the door and were greeted by a Verizon employee with, “Would you like to buy a Droid today?”
“No,” I sighed. “Really, I’d prefer another Blackberry, perhaps the Storm.”
The Verizon representative was willing to show me the Blackberry but eager to point out how difficult it was to type from the touch screen. He suggested I try. I did. Indeed, it was difficult.
“Really,” he offered. “The Droid 2 keyboard is more user-friendly and easier to operate.”
To make a long story short—
I tried the Droid. I love the Droid. Sara tried it. She loved it. We were sold.
We were in the store for close to two hours. We explained our circumstances to our now friend from Jamaica, who understood our frustration, as he too had grown up on a Caribbean island. We discussed my need to blog from my phone. He even loaded the WordPress software for me and moved the icon to my home page for easy access.
He empathized. He insisted the Droid was truly the answer to our data needs in Haiti. He referred to the unlimited access to email and internet we would enjoy. Things would be better.
Two hours later we left the North Miami Verizon Wireless store 2 Droids richer and $600 poorer—
Since, when we got back to Haiti the following Monday evening, we discovered we had no unlimited international data package. The phones were useless to us. We spent $600 and, in doing so, lost the very feature that made the phones useful to us, in fact, essential to us.
We had been duped.
So the first thing Tuesday morning, I called Verizon to have the problem resolved. I spoke with a “customer service” representative. I spoke with 2 managers.
Finally, manager Lenora empathized with our situation and agreed to submit a claim to the “Inactive Pricing Committee. “
Now, 7 expensive phone calls to US “Customer Service” later (Verizon refuses to remove the roaming charges associated with those calls), I learned this morning that Verizon has denied our claim, because we bought Droids and the unlimited data package had only been available on Blackberries.
If only we would return our phones to the nearest Verizon store and trade them for Blackberries then the committee MIGHT be able to reconsider our claim.
Maybe the “customer service” representative offered we could mail our phones back to the US.
Yeah, right—mail 2 VERY expensive phones from a country that doesn’t have a national mail service.
Yeah, right—mail them safely from a country where we can’t even trust our own gardener not to steal our tools—not because he’s a dishonest thief, but because he is that desperate to feed his family and might be able to trade the hammer on the street for a handful of rice, a cup of beans.
We won’t be using these phones for economic gain. Really, I‘d be a lot more comfortable blogging from the US, and Sara would be more relaxed if she weren’t trying to house the 1.3 million homeless Haitians living in Port-au-Prince.
We don’t make nearly enough money to pay the $70 per month for the 7 GB of data per phone that won’t come close to meeting our needs.
International aid work doesn’t pay well. Blogging about Haiti pays nothing.
Verizon refuses to restore the unlimited international data plan we had until February 4th, when a Verizon representative dishonestly persuaded us to buy Droids rather than the Blackberries our unlimited access to data depended on.
Verizon has essentially crippled us in our ability to function in Haiti.
Verizon may be the wireless company most Americans trust, but God forbid, the Haitian people place a similar trust in corporate America’s willingness to meet their needs.
Verizon insists there’s really nothing more they can do.
Verizon Wireless is the devil!
(If you are willing, please pass along this story of corporate greed at the expense of the planet’s poor. Please help me hold Verizon accountable.)