Verizon offers two defenses of indefensible fee

Why does Verizon charge $5 a month merely to keep my telephone number unpublished?

Verizon's media relations department essentially says it's for my own good -- you know, as in I should thank them, I suppose. They also say the fee is "chiefly systems and IT based," a contention I'm anxious to see judged by the systems and IT experts in the crowd.

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Meanwhile, Verizon's online customer service department offers a completely different answer to the same question -- and, as you'll see later, this reply is comically unenlightening. In other words, exactly what you might expect from online customer service.

Of course, the real reason Verizon charges this $5 fee is because they can and people like me will pay. It's that simple, although not according to Verizon.

Here's what I asked both Verizon departments:

"Why do you charge me $4.95 per month just so that I can keep my phone number unpublished? Please do not merely tell me that you are allowed to charge me this fee because I already know that. What I want to know is WHY do you do it? What cost are you passing along? ... I would appreciate as much specificity in your reply as possible."

Here's the reply from a media relations spokesman, who first consulted with "a key member of product management with oversight for (unpublished) numbers":

"The cost charged to offer unlisted phone numbers is chiefly systems and IT based. Specifically, the costs we incur and factor into the monthly charge involve three things: quality control, data integrity and the interface we have with other carriers and directory publishers. These activities help us protect the feed of customer information we have, and must protect, when customers request that their telephone number remains private when requested."

See what I mean? They're going the extra mile in my behalf to protect my privacy. And, after all, I asked to be treated this way.

As for the costs cited? Sixty bucks a year to not publish my number? Call me skeptical.

But even if some of us want to doubt the veracity of that answer, at least the media relations department took an outwardly honest stab at addressing the question. In contrast, here's an abridged version of the verbose yet empty response I got to the exact same query from "Roishawn" in Verizon's online customer service:

"A non-published number will not be printed in telephone directories and Directory Assistance operators will not provide the number to callers requesting it.

"If a caller requests a number from Directory Assistance and the number is non-published, the caller will receive the message, 'The number requested is non-published.'

"It is a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) mandate to notify you that if you have chosen non-listed or non-published service, your billing name and address will be shared with your chosen long distance provider for billing purposes."

There's more, but you get the idea. And can't you see Roishawn sitting in his cubicle saying to himself: "The guy wants specificity, I'll give him specificity." And he clicks on every single canned reply that so much as mentions the word unpublished. I couldn't help but laugh.

But at least Roishawn didn't try to tell me that keeping an unpublished phone number unpublished costs Verizon $5 a month.

Feel free to chime in. The address is buzz@nww.com.

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