Saturday, April 28, 2007

A Phone Company Rant

I'm sure there's a difference between the phone company and a team of highly-paid professional sadists, but I can't think of any offhand.

For instance, this morning I tried to dial a number I saw in the local paper's classifieds. I immediately got the saccharine-sweet computer voice of the phone company, that woman who sounds like she'd happily offer me an apple pie while simultaneously poking me with a sharp stick. "We're sorry," she says, not sounding sorry at all, "it is not necessary to dial a 1 before this number. Please hang up and try again."

So the phone company knows what number I am calling from. It knows what number I am calling to. It even knows what numbers I am or am not supposed to dial before the actual number. And yet with all that information, do they use a computer to figure out what the proper dialing sequence is and go ahead and connect me? Oh no, that would be logical. That would be kind. That might have the disastrous effect of making my dealings with the phone company pleasant, and we can't have that, after all, can we? I mean, Rule 8, Paragraph 12 of the Phone Company Code is very clear on this matter:

Make every experience having to do with the phone as painful as possible.
In fact I understand that originally the standard phone handset contained an exposed wire designed to shock the customer whenever a number was dialed. Luckily electric prices went through the roof and they had to abandon that idea.

In any event, instead of using that wealth of information about who I am trying to get in touch with to actually, you know, help me get in touch with them, the phone company in its infinite wisdom instead uses their massive computer system to route me to a pre-recorded phone message telling me what I should have done, and then telling me to hang up and try again!

Why can't landline companies be like my cellular service? Cingular doesn't care if I'm calling my wife in the same room, or if I shouldn't have dialed a 1 or the area code, or if I need the area code AND the 1, or anything else -- I dial all the numbers the same and they figure it out, connecting me to the person I'm trying to call.

I don't understand why landline companies have gone through so much trouble to tell me what number I should have dialed, yet don't take the extra step to just dial it the right way for me already.

Maybe if I promise them I'll shock myself with a live electrical wire every time that message comes up they'll give in. It's worth a try.


carlsonjok said...

I think it has to do with how landline calls are routed. Specifically, I believe that they are routed digit by digit and, by virtue of having dialed "1", the call has already been routed to a long distance gateway before you have completed dialing the number. Wireless calls, on the other hand, are dialed in their entirety before being sent from your phone into the network.

That is my speculation, anyways. I do know a number of people on a Yahoo discussion group who used to do switch architecture and programming before they retired. I've already posted the question.

Jeff Hebert said...

Thanks carlsonjok! I'll be interested to hear what the real reason is. Of course then I might not be able to hate the phone company with the full power of my righteous indignation. Curse reason and knowledge!

I do realize it's easier for a relatively newer technology like cellular to improve on the quirks a long history has saddled older technology like landlines with. You get to sort of skip the bits that are annoying without having to worry about billions of wasted dollars in infrastructure or upgrades needed. I suppose that's one reason countries like India and developing African nations are skipping whole generations of technology like land-based phone lines and such and skipping right ahead to the newer techniques.

Still, it's really irritating, especially given that I live out in the country and so there are three different area codes close by, and all three are sometimes dialed with a 1 and sometimes not. There's no good way to know what you're supposed to do until you get that computer voice.

I wonder if the woman whose voice that's based on gets lots of angry reactions from people in real life when she speaks, without them even knowing why the sound of her voice is driving them mad. Hmmm ...

carlsonjok said...

Well, I got more than I bargained for. I got several responses that essentially talked about the oddities of dialing various numbers in the commenters area. 7, 10, and 11 digit local calls are apparently all common and resulting from local company conditions. Additionally, there is generally no physical impediment to routing calls intelligently based just as you describe. There are, however, more important issues than technology at work here. Namely, money! I reproduce one paragraph that I think specifically addresses your point:

"In jurisdictions where "1+ means a toll call", the state authorities
prefer to "train" callers by providing the announcement (so in future they will know the call is NOT a toll call and not use "1+"). In areas served by some electro-mechanical switches in rural areas, dialing "1"
selects an outgoing toll trunk. This presents complications in revenue tracking and sharing if the call was be completed as a local call. So the authorities don't want folks routinely dialing local calls with "1+". (There are other billing and equipment engineering issues involved, but this isn't an engineering forum.)

So, there you have it. You are free to continue to rant at the phone company!