Bruce Watson on ‘intelligence’ and the phone bill
LEVERETT — Last week, Americans were outraged to learn that the government is scooping up all our phone records and giving them to intelligence agencies. I, however, was grateful.
In an ongoing struggle to decipher my phone bill, I have devoted countless hours, support calls, and the first stages of a Ph.D. program. I’m not looking for “total information awareness.” I don’t expect to master all the taxes, fees, surcharges, minute plans, and line charges that helped Verizon rake in $116 billion last year. I just have a few questions.
What is this Verizon Property Tax Recovery Charge? Does Verizon pay my property taxes? What’s the difference between a local call and a Western MA Regional Call? And why does my monthly bill, once about $50, now average $250? Why did it once top $400?
It will take every last CIA spook to figure out my phone bill, so why should I care if they know that on May 21 I made a 17-minute call to my sister in Tucson? I’ll gladly reveal that vital secret if they’ll explain what in the name of Ma Bell is a “9/11 Disability Access Fee.” Was I disabled on 9/11?
And I’ll surrender those top-secret calls I made to my daughter at college last month if only some CIA covert op can tell me why I pay for Directory Listings when they no longer put out a directory.
This one might be beyond the CIA, though. If they did not foresee the fall of the Berlin Wall, how can the CIA decipher Verizon?
So perhaps the National Security Agency will take over. NSA analysts can start by decoding the $13.46 I paid for Federal Excise Tax, and Taxes, Government Surcharges and Fees. Then the NSA can tell me why, even if I didn’t make a single call this year, I’d pay $600 for these plus my Local Package.
If the NSA can’t explain this, the terrorists have already won.
Federal Subscriber Line, Universal Service Fee, Access Recovery Charge — I’ve called Verizon about each. Their answers came in code, a complex fee encryption only the NSA can break.
But these monthly charges are minor compared to pages 2 through 5 of my eight-page bill. (Read any good phone bills lately?)
These pages deal with wireless charges.
I don’t have a cell, but my family has three, and the only government agency that can decipher my wireless charges is the FCC.
It’ll take the FCC’s vast bank of lawyers to explain Verizon’s Minutes Plan to a guy who remembers the days when even an extra-terrestrial could put a dime in a pay phone and “phone hommmme.”
And maybe the FCC can force Verizon to put a few pay phones out there for those of us who don’t want to pay through the nose for a privacy-invading cellphone.
Come on, FCC. What is Unlimited M2M Text? UNL M2M Picture & Video? Universal Service Charge? Regulatory Charge? Administrative Charge? Oh, and the one I look forward to paying every month, the MA DA E11 Srvc Surcharge.
So go ahead, America. Get all bent out of shape about the big, bad government knowing you called your brother on May 12 and talked for nine minutes.
Denounce Obama! Feed the anti-government paranoia that has become the art form of our times!
But before you get too apoplectic, study your phone bill. Then start asking why. Why does the average Verizon customer with a Local Package, a couple of cellphones, and an occasional need to talk, pay $2,000 a year for phone service?
Ask who takes a bigger chunk out of our lives, the big bad government, for whom we vote, or the other “people” — Verizon, Google, Microsoft — who, with no oversight whatsoever, scoop up not just our information but our money.
Bruce Watson’s column appears on this page twice a month. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org