Adventures In Customer Service

Submitted by Gene Howington, Guest Blogger

How would you feel if you asked your cell phone company for an itemized bill and their response was to tell you that you needed a subpoena?  A Pennsylvania woman, Bernice Keebler, can tell you exactly how she felt because that is the response Verizon gave her when she asked for an itemized bill.  Bernice Keebler, without the benefit of counsel, decided to take the matter to the courts.

Keebler chose to contest Verizon’s assertion that a subpoena was required and challenge their tariff charge of a $40 one time charge and $.02 per call charge for itemized bills.  Pennsylvania Administrative Law Judge Mary D. Long agreed in part and disagreed in part.

It is a basic matter of fair business practice that a consumer should be able to contact a utility about a charge on a bill and learn what the charge is for and learn that the charge was correctly applied. The only verification that Verizon’s witness could offer that a charge like Mrs. Keebler’s $4.19 measured use charge was accurate and billed correctly was her faith in the accuracy of Verizon’s computer system. The only way that Verizon would offer any information about a past charge in response to a consumer inquiry was to require that customer to hire a lawyer and subpoena their own usage information. By no reasonable standard could this be considered reasonable customer service.

In addition, Judge Long proposed a $1000 fine against Verizon, but the final decision on the fine rests with the Public Utilities Commission.  Judge Long did however find against Keebler’s claim about the fees, citing that Keebler had not met the burden of proof to show that those charges were outrageous.


21 thoughts on “Adventures In Customer Service”

  1. Let’s see… what am I missing… One needs a subpoena to get one’s own phone records but, in many cases, the government doesn’t seem to need to produce one… to get the phone records of Jane or John Q. Public…

  2. The same thing happened to me. I simply wanted to get my past phone history of calls made that occurred about 1 year prior because I lost my downloaded phone files. Three customer representatives and a supervisor told me I needed an order from a judge (subpoena) for my *own* phone records. I thought that was ridiculous, so I contacted an attorney friend. He called Verizon and got the same information. I finally gave up since I did not want to go to the expense, hassle, and the time to get my own phone records.

    The moral of the story: If you want to keep records of your phone calls, download them from the company website at least monthly and back them up on CD/DVD or on a different computer’s hard drive. You never know when you might need to confirm the timeframe you made a call and even though Verizon has the information of their servers, you have to get a judge’s permission to view what *you* purchased and it does not matter that you are a longstanding, faithfully paying customer that has never missed a payment.

  3. Mike,

    The fee in question is what Verizon wanted to charge her to print the itemized bill even if she got the subpoena.

  4. “Judge Long did however find against Keebler’s claim about the fees, citing that Keebler had not met the burden of proof to show that those charges were outrageous.’

    How could she prove she was overcharged if she didn’t have an itemized bill? Perhaps i missed something.

  5. LK,

    Have you thought thought about a magic jack….if you don’t call fee serviced phones..its about 1.70 a month….

    Magic Jack starts out at $40 for the first year, which includes the device and first year of service. The first year ends up costing you a little more than $3.30 a month! And each additional year after that is only $20, which breaks down to less than $1.70 a month!

    There are pros and cons to it though….

  6. I just paid my landline bill which is itemized. It doesn’t have any ‘cramming’ but on an 18.00 service bill there are another 12.00 in federal taxes and municipal tariffs and access fees. Damn, that’s harsh.

  7. I just paid my landline bill which is itimized. It doesn’t have any ‘craming’ but on an 18.00 service bill there are another 12.00 in federal taxs and municipal tarrifs and access fees. Damn, that’s harsh.

  8. Gene H.,

    I just made a formal request for a complete itemization of my land-line phone bill … we’ll see what happens.

  9. Blouise,

    🙂 Good news today…

    And may the water continue to rise, until they spew every secret, to save their drownin’ souls…

  10. Gene,

    I think I file a formal inquiry with my phone company … just to see what happens.

  11. anon nurse,

    Yes!! the Brits do have a way with words: (from the article link you provided)

    “‘The water is now lapping around the ankles of the Murdoch family,’ said Chris Bryant, a Labour parliamentarian …”

  12. I heard about “third party” charges on landline telephones on a news program recently. Here’s an article that I found on the subject:

    Senate Probe: ‘Mystery’ Fees on Phone Bills Charge Billions to Consumers
    July 13, 2011


    Third-party billing firms are charging Americans up to $2 billion a year in “unauthorized fees” on their landline telephone bills, generating massive profits for the nation’s largest telephone companies that don’t do nearly enough to crack down on the practice, a Senate Commerce Committee investigation has found.

    Most consumers don’t even detect the charges for months or years, if at all, because they typically range from $2 to $20 on their monthly bills. But when consumers and businesses do complain to telephone companies, they often get

    “We’ve got a real problem here,” Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., chairman of the Commerce panel, said Wednesday during a hearing on the issue. “We want to do the right thing and we want to protect people.”

    The Federal Communications Commission estimates 15 million to 20 million American households are affected each year by the fraudulent practice known as “cramming,” in which billing companies add charges to phone bills for services customers didn’t order, agree to or use.

    The FCC announced Tuesday proposed rules that would require telephone companies to notify consumers clearly of the option to block third-party charges from their bills if the carrier offers that option. The rules also strengthen the commission’s requirement that third-party charges be separated on bills from the telephone company’s charges.

    But trying to stop cramming is easier said than done. Most third-party vendors are illegitimate and created for the sole purpose of exploiting the practice, the report found. The vendors operate out of post office boxes, fake offices and apartments, with “presidents” that know nothing about their “companies,” reads the report.

  13. Well when you are making between 100K to 250K per year as a Judge, Magistrate etc….4.19 is chump change….I think its principal….Good for her….

    I wonder if they had a Red Hat…..

  14. I think that in the mind of utilities only the NSA and Murdoch’s News of The World have the right to those records folks.

    The crazies are being elected so that crazy laws can be passed to make Congress look like a useless appendage, and make the military look like heaven’s heroes.

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