'Matter of Laugh or Death,' a humor column
By Bill Dunn
Interesting observations on this thing we call life
(appearing each week in the Republican-American newspaper, Waterbury, CT)
‘WEASEL CHARGES’ ADD MYSTERY TO PHONE BILL
I was in the mood to read a mystery novel the other day, so I opened my monthly phone bill. Boy, talk about mysterious. I think phone bills were designed by the same people who write the assembly instructions for those products that have this little note on the shipping carton: “Some assembly required.” As we all know, those maddening instructions are printed in four different languages: French, Spanish, Portuguese, and English-as-a-Second-Language. My phone bill is just as confusing.
First, the phone bill is six full pages long, in very tiny computer-generated print. I realize the bill has to be multiple pages nowadays. I know we’re not in the prehistoric era anymore, when every home had an identical black, rotary-dial phone. Back then, the phone bill was one-page long, listed a handful of long-distance calls, and the total amount due at the bottom was usually around nine dollars. I can remember when I was a kid, my father used to open the bill and yell to no one in particular, “Who called New Haven for 14 minutes?! Jeez Louise, what do you think, I’m made of money?!”)
Now my phone bill covers our regular phones, our Internet service, and two cell phones. So we get a six-page printout filled with tiny hieroglyphic gibberish, and at the end it says Total Amount Due: $195.11. When I see the last page of the bill, I want to yell out, “Jeez Louise, what do you think, I’m made of money?!” However, I don’t have a simple and concrete complaint with which to begin. I suppose I could exclaim, “Who had the Text Messaging Pay Per Use International Text Messaging charge?!” or, “Who rang up 68 Kilobytes Used, Billed at $0.05/KB?!” but those laments just don’t have the same succinct punch as a wail about a 14 minute call to New Haven.
I borrowed an electron microscope to peruse the fine print on my phone bill and discovered some very annoying items, which I call “weasel charges.” Here’s a partial list:
Regulatory Cost Recovery Charge: $0.64
Connecticut Telecom Relay Service Fund: 0.02
Federal Universal Service Charge: 1.18
9-1-1 Service Fee: 0.35
CT State Telecom Tax: 2.28
Connecticut E 9-1-1 Surcharge: 0.47
Connecticut Service Fund: 0.05
Universal Service Fund – Local: 0.78
Federal Subscriber Line Charge: 5.77
Carrier Cost Recovery Fee: 1.99
Universal Service Fund – Interstate: 1.82
There might have been a few more of these “weasel charges,” but after a while I had a headache from reading the tiny print. Yes, I realize they add up to only about 15 bucks, which is about what I spend on glazed crullers in a typical week. But it’s not the money, it’s the principle of the matter. (OK, you’re right. We all know whenever someone says, “It’s not the money, it’s the principle,” you can be sure it’s really about the money.)
So the phone bill mystery novel is very mysterious, but it’s not very exciting or entertaining, as I always know how it turns out in the end: I have to write a large check. I suppose I could get rid of my phones and Internet, and live a prehistoric lifestyle. Nah, then I actually might have time to read a real mystery novel.
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