Saturday, May 13, 2006

Phoney Charges

Last month when I got my phone bill, I did a quick calculation and discovered that I was paying $405.12 per year assuming that the phone bill stayed the same each month. Of that, $132.60 was for AT&T long distance service. Since my account was with Verizon, I decided to call them to see what kind of a deal they had for long distance. I was told that they had a "special rate" of $4.95 per month plus 5 cents per minute any place in the U.S. Thinking that $4.95 was a lot better than $11.05 charged by AT&T, I signed up for it. I was a happy camper.

I just received my new phone statement and almost fell out of my chair. First, it was eight pages long; and it took me at least a half hour to figure it out. Here is a summary:

  • Monthly Service (Residence line) -------------- $13.90
  • Federal subscriber line charge ------------------- 6.50
  • Interlata carrier change charge ------------------ 5.50
  • Regulated Service Taxes and Surcharges------- 4.21
  • Verizon Long Distance ---------------------------- 8.88
  • AT&T Long Distance ----------------------------- 11.05

This was an increase of more than 48% over the previous month. Granted, some of these charges were one-time charges, but what were they? For example, what was the "Interlata carrier change charge"? It sounded to me like Verizon was charging me to drop my AT&T Long Distance service (their competitor) and switch to the their Verizon Long Distance service.

I called the Verizon "Billing questions" number and talked to a nice lady who called me by my first name and explained that the "Interlata" charge was really an FCC charge. Just to make sure, I asked her again. Yes, she said, it was out of their control. More on that later.

The next thing I questioned was the $8.88 Verizon Long Distance charge. Well, dumb me. I should have realized that there would be tax added to the $4.95 fee that I was quoted and that the first month was a partial month and was prorated and that, of course, I would have to pay the next month in advance. Gee, I wonder why they didn’t tell me that when I signed up? I could get really sarcastic here, but I won’t.

Ah, I’m sure you’ve noticed that I was still charged for the AT&T Long Distance Service. Why was that, I asked? The nice lady at the Verizon Service desk explained that they were just told by AT&T what to charge. I would have to ask them why they billed me for a full month when I only had their service for a partial month; and I, presumably, had paid a month in advance when I signed up for their service.

So, I did the logical thing. I called the AT&T service desk and got an Indian lady who did a nice job of trying to speak American English. She was a little confused at first about what I was saying but finally understood. She said that she would have to put me on hold for "a few minutes" while she got the answer and wanted to know if that was okay. I said, yes, knowing full well that it would be a waiting game. They were counting on me hanging up when I had to wait a long long time listening to really bad and staticey music. But, I outfoxed them. I went on speaker-phone and did something useful. She finally came back and….victory. They were going to drop the $11.05 charge, but it would take "two or three billing cycles" before I received the credit and, by the way, was I interested in switching back over to AT&T for a flat rate of $29.95 for local and long distance combined total? I told her that I would have to think about it and said goodbye.

Now, about that "Interlata" thing. I did some searching on the Internet and Verizon site, but I couldn’t find anything that indicated that it was an FCC charge. I wrote to Verizon on their web site email (but I cleverly made a copy for my records) and asked them if their representative was mistaken; and if she was, please refund my money; and if not, tell me where I can find documentation supporting her claim.

Stay tuned folks. I’ll be updating this one. In the meantime, you’d better really examine that next phone bill.

Update #1 - I got a response from Verizon which read in part:

"The $5.50 charge that you are inquiring about is for changing your long distance carrier, since this change requires reprogramming your number in our central office. This charge is also regulated by the Federal Communications Commission. Since it is regulated, we are not able to waive this charge or issue credit for it. However, Verizon Long Distance will send you a payment voucher for $5.00 after 60 days of your having Verizon Long Distance as your carrier. This voucher is to help offset the cost of this fee."

Update #2 - In response to the above, I wrote to the Federal Communications Commission. They responded with a nice long letter which said in part:

"It would be up to the local phone company if they decide to charge a switching fee. The FCC does not mandate a switching fee; it is the decision of the local company to charge such a fee."
I guess I better check back with Verizon with this information.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Iran – More Power to Ya!

The leaders of Iran want to build nuclear power plants so that they can sell their oil and use the money to improve the lives of their citizens. Sounds like a good idea except that they want to do it in secret. They don’t want the United Nations IAEA inspectors checking up on them to make sure that they aren’t developing nuclear weapons. The Iranians say that they have a right to develop their nuclear industry without interference from other nations.

They did sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Pact but now want to back out of it. Why? That is not clear. They just want to do what they want to do, and they don’t care what anyone else thinks, or so it seems.

On the other hand, the international community is concerned that Iran will develop nuclear weapons and use them against Israel and other perceived threats to them. We do have good reason to believe that they would do just that since the president of Iran has called for the elimination of Israel. And there is no doubt that they would use nuclear weapons against the United States given the chance. They even said the they would share their nuclear knowledge with other nations such as the Sudan. That is really a scary thought.

Most of the nations of Europe have come out in favor of imposing sanctions against Iran if they continue to pursue their nuclear ambitions in secret. Unfortunately, two permanent members of the UN Security Council are opposed to sanctions. China needs Iranian oil to keep its economy growing, and Russia is opposed but won’t say why. I think they are still upset because everyone is saying that they lost the Cold War. Actually, they didn’t lose. There were no losers. We were all winners, but that is another story.

So, what to do? Let’s give the Iranians what they want. Let’s work together to build three nuclear power plants on the border between Iran and three of its neighbors. Iraq, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan all border Iran. At the designated locations, each country would cede a few square miles so that each plant would be on land that straddled the border. Each country would share in the cost of running each plant and in the power produced. The whole operation would be overseen by the UN IAEA.

The benefits of this plan would be that Iran would get the power it needs and would be able to sell its oil to nations which need it. Adjoining nations also get power at reasonable rates, and this should help their economies. Best of all, though, is that the world would lessen the possibility of a nuclear conflict.

Could this plan work? Sure, if that is what Iran really wants…..

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Raise New Orleans

I saw a man on the news the other day who was removing the plaster-board from his New Orleans’ home. It had been flooded by seven feet of water during Hurricane Katrina. I have seen similar stories, and they all mention levels of water around ten feet. That really isn’t surprising since much of New Orleans is in a bowl-shaped depression which is below sea level. Most areas are no more than five feet below sea level; but with the storm surge, the flooding was twice as high or more.

It is probable that at some time in the future New Orleans will again be hit by a hurricane as severe as or more severe than Katrina, which was a category four storm on a scale of five. New Orleans was, in fact, on the less severe side of the storm and did not sustain the extreme wind damage which was felt in communities further east.

So, what is the solution for residents of New Orleans who want to rebuild? Knowing what happened and what will probably will happen again, I for one, would never rebuild below sea level. I suggest that New Orleans be raised. Simply put, fill in the bowl with dirt and rock to bring it at least five feet above sea level. I’m sure your first thought is that this would be impossible but wait to see what I have to say before totally dismissing the idea.

Most areas would require no more than ten feet of fill. Look at this on a lot by lot basis. Let’s say the average lot is 100 ft x 100 ft. That is probably too large but just for discussion purposes let’s use that size. So the volume of fill required would be 100x100x10 or 100,000 cubic feet. Since fill is usually measured in cubic yards, this converts to about 3,700 cubic yards. That is a lot of dirt. Where would it come from and how much would it cost? I checked the Internet to get some idea about how much fill would cost and was amazed to discover that there is a lot of dirt out there for free, just haul it away. Of course the hauling wouldn’t be free, but the Mississippi is a great cheap way to transport large volumes of materials. I estimate that it would cost no more than $10 per yard to get the fill in place on our hypothetical lot. That works out to $37,000 per lot which I think is cheap considering the long term benefits.

Local sources of fill could also be utilized. Lake Pontchartaine could be dredged and deepened pumping the bottom materials in the low, inland areas. This would be similar to the beach re-nourishment which is constantly being done along our coastal areas. Some very low areas could be dug even deeper to produce recreational lakes and valuable waterfront property. This is done all the time in Florida where canals are dug in swamp areas and the dredged material is use to build up the adjacent land which is then suitable for building.

If this was done on a massive scale using large pipes and conveyer belts, the task could be completed fairly rapidly, perhaps in less that five years. Of course, the entire infrastructure (streets, sewers, water mains, etc.) would probably have to be replaced but they would need repair anyway. It would take coordination, cooperation, dedication, and a substantial amount of money, but it could be done and would be a permanent fix against the flooding that resulted from Hurricane Katrina. The result would be a flood resistant and beautiful new New Orleans.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Bad News is Good News

I think it is disgusting what Mother Nature has been doing to us. Recently we have been besieged with hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, typhoons, forest fires, tornadoes, and you can bet that we will soon have more blizzards and ice storms. It isn’t right. Innocent people are being killed and valuable property is being destroyed. And, to top it off, all the news media are giving it top coverage. This can only encourage further bad behavior.

I think it’s time to protest. There is a lot of good weather going on out there, but you never hear about that. I support good weather and detest bad weather; and I don’t like it when bad weather gets all the attention. I’m calling for a national day of protest against bad weather for February 19th, 2006, in Washington, DC; and if you can’t get there, you can demonstrate wherever you are--even in Paris or Moscow or Horseheads, NY. Yes, I’m calling for a worldwide protest against bad weather. I hope Mother Nature gets the message; lousy weather isn’t acceptable; and it’s time that good weather gets the attention it deserves. After all, there is a lot more good weather, probably 99.44% or more, than bad weather. So, news agencies, take note; it is time to focus your attention on that good side of Mother Nature.

Local protesters need to start getting organized now. February isn’t that far off. Marches need to be planned, and protest permits need to be applied for. Signs for protesters need to be fabricated. Some possible slogans follow:

 Down with hurricanes (or earthquakes, or forest fires, etc.)
 Mother Nature kills
 Stop the bad weather, now
 Mothers against Mother Nature
 Make love not tsunamis
 NBC (or whoever) loves disaster
 Good weather deserves more news coverage
 I support good weather
 Earthquakes aren’t fair

Of course, you shouldn’t wait until February to protest. You should write your congressman or the President or even better, the Weather Channel. Those people always find bad weather to report. It could be a perfect day, and they will tell you that 15,000 people died on this date back in 1912 due to a meteor impact in Siberia. The network news shows are notorious for reporting bad acts of Mother Nature. When was the last time you saw on the national news that it was sunny and 72° in Seattle? So, get out that pen and send off a letter of protest. Do it now……….

PS - This protest was originally scheduled for January 15th but was cancelled because of bad weather.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

If You Were God

If you were God, what would you want? I’m not looking for some generic answer such as "Peace" or "The end of hunger" or anything like that. God could theoretically make those things happen if he wanted to, but he gave us free will so I am looking for something God would want you or someone else to do. With that in mind think, "I am God and I want…."