Kafka has nothing on web weaved by telcos
No doubt Franz Kafka was a perfectly decent chap, not in the least paranoid (though he clearly had every right to be) and nothing six-legged about him. Yet he gave his name to the kind of reasonless, powerless horror we associate with evil dreams, tyrants and telecommunications companies of all stripes.
No doubt Franz Kafka was a perfectly decent chap, not in the least paranoid (though he clearly had every right to be) and nothing six-legged about him. Yet he gave his name to the kind of reasonless, powerless horror we associate with evil dreams, tyrants and telecommunications companies of all stripes. No doubt Franz Kafka was a perfectly decent chap, not in the least paranoid (though he clearly had every right to be) and nothing six-legged about him. Yet he gave his name to the kind of reasonless, powerless horror we associate with evil dreams, tyrants and telecommunications companies of all stripes.I have several telcos in my life. This would be merely inconvenient, had it not gradually made me the beetle-like victim of a faceless web of telcos, banks, retail giants, credit card companies, intelligence firms and debt collectors.This not only threatens a serious impact on my retail life but flips me from busy-if-critical worker ant to supine victim of the capitalist conspiracy.But unlike Kafka, I'm not alone. New complaints to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman more than doubled last year. To each of these 112,376 consumers, and the millions more who do not complain, this is for you.The true extent of my helplessness became apparent after a recent visit to a major Sydney department store. I'm not sorry for department stores. Any shop that can't provide even a manned and visible cash register deserves every e-tail drubbing it gets.Yet there was some gadget with 10 per cent off for storecard holders. Having naturally ditched my old DJs card when they switched to Amex with its annual fee for nothing-at-all, I agreed to apply. Major palaver followed. Forms longer than a short novel, wasting twice the time represented by the paltry saving.Still, I got my discount - only to receive, two weeks later, a nasty letter saying my store-card application had been declined due to my ''personal credit bureau report''.I'm sorry, what? I'm such a debt-phobe I never even rack up Visa debt. Bad credit rating? Moi?There were no details. The letter, from Veda ''Applied Intelligence'', invited me to pay $52 for my e-file. Or write a letter and wait 10 days. This I did. Why pay them for your own guff?The return letter, a fortnight on, required yet another form and three types of ID, which I scanned and emailed back - but the address on their letterhead bounced. So here I sit, indicted but, like Julian Assange, still ignorant of my crime.But what I suspect is this: telcos.I've long learned to resist the sweet-talking telemarketers who offer to ''bundle'' your entire needs for a quarter your current bill, then charge you seven or eight times what they promised. Yet I still have four - four telco relationships.Of these, two are genuine. They do service, I do cash. The others are phantom relationships, like phantom limbs; the service is non-extant but the pain is nightmarishly real.One of these phantoms is benign. It's years since I had a contract with Telstra yet every month, for reasons of their own, they post a two-page bill saying they owe me $6.24. Interest never accrues. They never send a cheque. They just keep sending the bill.Do they think they'll tempt me back? Do they, in fact, think?The second phantom evinces the real bastardry. Until September last, my mobile was with 3. When I went in to upgrade, I was required to switch to Vodafone (although escaping them had been my whole reason for switching to 3, two years earlier).The switch took place on September 15, 11.49am. There were two phones involved (for me and a child), with modest caps of $49 and $29 respectively. Yet I paid Vodafone, on the day, $312. (3 sweetly waived their $37 service cancellation fee).Within the month, the bills started coming.Reading mobile bills is always maddening. Some charges are retrospective and some prospective; some GST-able and some not; here are unexplained credits, inexplicable debits and however you cut it, nothing adds to the total. Generally, I don't read - just link to my Visa and pay.But the bills from 3 resumed, too. Small at first; $8.89, for calls supposedly made after the switch. This was clearly spurious yet, like a good little capitalist beetle, I paid. Just easier.Then it got more complicated. That same September I'd been holidaying in Bali (with my new iPhone) when the NAB, without warning, cancelled my credit card. Very embarrassing. No cash, no credit. It later turned out they had freaked because someone - my web host - had four addresses, one of them in Panama.The first time, it was potentially dangerous. They knew that, and who my web host was, yet over the next three weeks they did it twice more; each time interrupting all direct debit arrangements, and then losing the replacement card. It was a bad month.But one effect had been that my final payment to 3, just over $100, was rejected, so in mid-October I'd had to pay by BPay. That was all fine.Until the following month, when 3 sent me a further bill - a $16.50 payment dishonour fee.And so it goes on. Each month 3's bill to me escalates. It jumped to $26, then $68, then $75. There's even the little chart, comparing this month's ''spend'' with last. Except that there is no spend, no phone, no contract; just each month a new payment dishonour fee. At 1400 per cent per annum, it's genuine.You ask, why not phone and yell at them? I try, but their given number requires a 3 phone number. Mine is no longer 3, so the machine cuts me off. "Sorry. That mobile number is not recognised." Very Kafka.In January, 3 threatens me by letter with Dun and Bradstreet and "up to five years" shame and disgrace. Two weeks later a second letter arrives, saying 3 has "no option but to terminate [my] agreement ?" Yes! I think. Do it. Terminate.But no. The bills keep coming, keep increasing. And this - I surmise - will be the content of my secret Veda file, if I get to see it before landing on my back in dank debtor's prison, where my only consolation will be that, at that rate of increase, Telstra now owes me $53,813.76.