I went first to a Verizon store on Seventh Avenue in Park Slope.
The guy there told me you had to sign up for a two-year contract. Almost immediately a fellow standing next to me said, "That's not true. I have a one-year contract."
I thanked the fellow to my side and walked out the door. It didn't seem like a good place to be signing any kind of contract.
Stay with me. This gets better.
Some days later, I went to a Verizon place on 86th St. on the East Side of Manhattan, near my new job, and I (knowingly and smugly) asked for a one-year contract.
When the paper work was done, I looked it over and saw they had given me a two-year contract.
Feeling I was in the land of con men, I went back and told them that I had clearly and articulately asked for a one year contract. They apologized and promptly issued me what I requested.
But hold on. It gets better still!
A month later I received, not one, but two bills: One for a one-year contract, and another for a two-year contract.
It was easily rectified with a phone call, give me a break!
Clearly this was not just a simple clerical error. Deception was so obviously built into the marketing of these Verizon contracts.
And let me say the following: that this story of the two-year contract that would not die is growing in relevance.
Today, as so-called smart phones grow in popularity, carriers like Verizon, AT&T and Spring and others are creating new age monopolies, cornering the market on certain types of devices (for example, AT&T possessing rights for the iPhone, and Sprint doing the same with the Palm Pre).
And (just as they physically lock up those phones so they can't be used with another carrier) the companies all but insist on locking you into a one- or two-year contact.
AT&T tells you plainly that you can't get the iPhone without a contract. Others just trick you into it, by not telling you the ways that you can be on a month-to-month (non contractual) plan.
These days, many Free Internet advocates are accusing the big phone companies of being anti-free market.
And the advocates are pushing back against the virtual behemoths.
Writes Josh Levy of the Free Press Action Fund (in an email that I received):
"These "exclusive deals" remind me of the days when AT&T held a monopoly over all phone communications. Consumers could only use one phone, on one network, at rates set by one company. No innovations could take place without AT&T's permission. When federal rules forced AT&T to open its network, an explosion of innovation occurred with new fax machines, Internet modems and answering machines. . . Today, the FreeMyPhone campaign seeks to open up the wireless market in the same way."
Senator John Kerry is getting into the fray also, asking, "Who Really Owns Your Phone?" in a post on Save The Internet.
Please check out what the "Free My Phone, No More GateKeepers" folks are saying. Click here.