From the old days, we have a copper phone line coming into the house. Some years ago, I switched from Verizon to Ooma, to save money, because we use the iPhone for local calls.
But my ATT reception depends on a mifi station here, which means that all our communications are dependent on our cable provider and a not fully reliable device train. We also lose power from time to time, so we wanted a hardwired connection. Simple, we go to Verizon website.
Turns out there is no option for a basic plan in our area, but their on-line chat person found the hidden option: $22/month for local service. Good, is that all I ask? "be assured that the price is accurate" my anglo-named correspondant from the other side of the globe assures. But taxes, right? How much are they?
Dunno, says "John." Not much. Okay. Click through. What is your credit card? I ask John if Verizon is asking me to sign up and pay without knowing the cost. A circular answer ensues, always prefaced by "be assured..."
Click through. Who do you want to be your local service provider? Well duh, Verizon. John, how much will this cost? $22 he says. Click through. Who do you want for your extended area provider? "John, what's this? How big is my basic, free calling area?" John says 11 or 12 miles away. Jesus! I don't have anything but a gas station within that radius. Choose Verizon. Costs another $8.50. Anger mounts. Click through.
Schedule a connection appointment, provide more personal information than social security needs, confirm credit card, sign indemnity form... Still no indication of how much it will cost. John says be assured... Click through, end session, still no monthly cost. "John, how much?" He types from his script something useless. Goodbye, thanks
Verizon contractor comes out and flips a switch and in 15 seconds my landline is restored. Today I get the bill. Visit: $25. Connection $25. Prorated time starting not from when the phone is on, but from the time I open the ordering webpage. Federal taxes and fees, plus their extra surcharges, plus a charge to "maintain" the basic plan, plus a monthly minimum for the extended region. Close to $90 for the first month and $50-some a month foreverafter. Smarmy.
Now in the scheme of things, this is not worth the heart attack that would require the call to the medics that the phone is for. ATT charges similarly obscene rates, as does Cox for cable and other monopolies. If I had known it would be $50, I still would have done it; they are my only option for an essential service
But this bait and switch process is too well designed, too non-transparent to not have been carefully designed. Is this undesirable enough to be elevated to nuisance-you-do-something-about?
User Interface Design
In another, later post, I'll mention a parallel frustration with a federal bureaucracy, one that is far more disruptive. I see both of these as user interface problems, in part because I am spending my time now seeking world-spanning user interface novelties.
Let's put aside the possibility that these two systems are designed by evil catberts. What principles should we expect, and in fact collectively demand from user interfaces that are our only way to work with essential services?
I think we need more than just a set of design tools, like the extraordinary vocabulary of iOS. We need more than the commitment of design professionals to be artists in the sense that transcends commercial tactics. (A good statement of those issues is found in old issues of Emigré.)
Technical Support for a Bill of Rights
We need a set of design principles that I would equate to a bill of rights for on-line life and that need to be supported by user interface instances. This is in part a technical issue and I want to contribute to the solution. A following post will —most likely — mention our current UI problem with our government, and how it inspires the list and underlying technical support.
(I will only write this after the issue has been resolved. Our pathway out of the nightmare is tenuous and depends on someone stepping outside the system and being human.)
Some motivation for this is that in this final career of mine, I want to have unqualified success in making lives better. There are a lot of interesting things lined up for me, and it will be easy to do something that is fun for me, my partners and customers. But we really should go the extra mile and do what is right too.
But what is that? Let's work it out in a later post, probably after talking a bit about user interface experiences with government services that I have recently had, some good and some forehead-slapping bad.