A few months ago, I blogged about a utility company in Texas attempting to change customers' fees and access to services based on credit scores. They were eventually forced to abandon this idea, but I predicted we hadn't heard the last of utilities using credit scores to decide your fate (everyone else uses them, so why not utilities?)
But I just came up against a new example of utilities adopting creditors' predatory practices.
I've warned you about Universal Default for a long time. Now, some in the mainstream media are finally picking up on this practice (in a nutshell, Universal Default means a creditor can raise your interest rate if you are late in paying ANOTHER creditor--if you default with one, you default with them all) and decrying it.
Well now my phone company is trying their own version of universal default.
I won't name my phone company, but it's Some Big Company you've heard of. They own a cell phone company (I won't name them either, but let's just say there's one cingular place in Kansas City where I can get a clear signal). I've been with that cell phone service for over a year. I just signed up with their residential phone service last month, mainly because I was migrating to DSL, and they wouldn't give me the internet service without also making me have a phone line put in.
A year with the cell phone, and no major problems. A month with the DSL and residential phone service, and already I've got problems with the line, DSL not working properly or up to speed, and phone bills that are way larger than they should be.
So I called the phone company to deal with some of these issues and they tried to get me sold on going through them to get my Satellite TV service.
It actually sounded like a good idea... they could get me a discount, and it would allow me to conveniently put both bills together. I wasn't in the market for satellite service, alas. But the phone company also mentioned that I could have my cell phone bill combined with my residential bill each month, since the phone company owns my cell phone service provider.
I was ready to go through with it. Getting my internet, phone, and cell phone all in one convenient bill each month, and even my satellite TV service, if I wanted to sign up for it.
But there was some glitch in the computer that prevented the phone company from combining the accounts. They said I'd have to call the cell phone service provider and have the accounts combined on that end.
Well. When I got through to them (cell phone company), the rep there very tactfully informed me (without saying anything that could get himself in trouble) that this was a bad idea.
It seems that if the accounts were combined in this way, and I had some billing problem with my residential phone service (which I did, which is why I started this entire line of inquiry), the phone company could suspend both my cell phone and my residential service until I dealt with the issue.
See what's going on? It used to be, if you had a problem with your phone bill and they cut you off, you were left with no options; you'd never be able to get phone service again until you paid the phone company off. But with cell phones, you could always forgo the residential line and just use the cellular exclusively. Well my phone company seems to have found a way around this.
And imagine having your phone(s) shut off because you haven't paid your satellite TV bill.
Not a very pretty picture is it? It's ingenious, I admit, but there's a Darth Vader quality to all of this; the ruthless efficiency of it is chilling.
So no, I didn't have the accounts combined, and if I'm ever in the market for satellite TV, I won't go through my phone company. I'm just glad the guy at the cell phone service provider was honest and up front about all this. The phone company certainly wasn't.
I've said it before, and here it is again; convenience is a luxury for the rich, not something for the rest of us. It may be convenient to have all of these services combined and handled by the same company, but that gives them a lot of power over you should you have a problem with one of your services. Resist any offers to "combine accounts" in this way. The small amount of extra convenience it nets you today could result in a huge headache for you down the road.