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Free is just another word

October 25, 2005|Joanne Law | JOANNE LAW is a San Fernando Valley-based writer.

MY DICTIONARY lists 16 definitions for the word "free." The definition that interests me is No. 10: not costing or charging anything. With that meaning in mind, I signed up for "free" Internet service.

I used the service with no complaints until I learned that my free service would be restricted to a limited number of hours a month. OK. Soon those limited hours became even more limited, but for a small monthly fee I could have unlimited hours. OK. There are problems with the small-fee service, but for a bigger small fee, I can have the gold-plated service. I go with the smaller small-fee service.

It is morning. I cannot access the Internet. I call technical support. I am asked for my credit card number and then transferred. I listen to sitar music while waiting for someone to respond. Someone with barely recognizable English comes on and takes me through steps I assume are supposed to solve my problem. As my credit card charge grows, I continually ask her to repeat instructions because I can't understand her. I am put on hold several times.

It is clear she can't help me. I'm told the problem is that my system has only 32 megabytes of memory. I correct her: "I have 320 megabytes of memory, and the service was working." I complain about the rapidly tabulating charge for this call. Rep tells me to e-mail my question to billing. "But I can't access the Internet," I remind her. It is almost noon.

I call customer service. A nice lady assures me I won't be charged for the call. My credit card bill arrives. In addition to the monthly service fee, there are several charges for what I thought was one tech support call. The charges total more than $70. I call customer service about the charges I wasn't supposed to be charged. A woman apologizes and offers me two free months of service. "What good will that do?" I ask. "I have no service." I request the "free" service. Woman repeatedly offers two free months of service. I repeatedly refuse and request the permanently free service. Woman says she will take care of it.

Two months later, my credit card bill arrives with a monthly service fee for the supposedly free service. I call customer service and am told I agreed to only two months of free service. I tell her I agreed to completely and always free service. I ask to speak to a supervisor, who seems to understand and offers the free service. I repeatedly refuse and now demand cancellation. Man says he will take care of it.

I am successfully using my new service. I check my old service to make sure it is canceled. I find that I now have their free service.

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