I spoke with a woman on Pine Ridge Reservation today. She has recently received a sponsor and needed some information. She also advised me that she is trying to get her landline phone reinstalled because of the cell phone merger.
I asked why that would make a difference to her. She told me that most of the rez originally had Verizon with flat rate plans, unlimited calls. Then Verizon customers in that area were “bought out” by Alltel.
Now a merger has taken place between Alltel and A T & T. According to the information I have located subsequent to our conversation, the contracts were supposed to remain unchanged for a year. However, she told me that people on the rez had been told that they had to switch over. She said that A T & T began shutting off extra services first – e.g. caller ID. Then she said they were told that they must pay any outstanding bills immediately or have the phone service shut off. That is being done, which may explain why I am having trouble reaching so many people recently. She told me they were told that, once any outstanding bills were paid, they would then be told if they can obtain a new phone and service.
As I’ve indicated before, in the winter on the reservation, heat and food often win over paying for phone or even electric bills. Many, if not most, of the residents have gone to cell phones rather than landlines. Now they will be without any service for some time. They will either have to find the money to pay outstanding bills or to pay for the installation of a “new” landline. It’s an untenable situation either way.
All of this, whether legal or not and whether good business strategy or not, really frosts my butt. First of all, we are not talking about people who are extremely sophisticated in either of those areas. But secondly, the phone is an important means of keeping in contact with others on a reservation of 2 million acres. It can mean the difference between life and death literally.
I have nothing to go on for my next statement except my gut instinct. It’s usually fairly reliable, though.
I suspect that cell service, with unlimited minutes and long distance, was heavily marketed with discount plans to the residents of Pine Ridge, with the intention of convincing everyone that there was no longer a need for a landline. Obviously it is good business strategy for wireless providers to convince you that your landline is no longer necessary. But what is good for a company may not be good for the consumer. We’ve all heard that caveat “Buyer beware.” I’m not so sure the trusting people of the rez had all heard of this however.
So I wonder how many will opt back for landlines when they can afford to have them reinstalled, how many will try to maintain a cell phone plan and how many will just go without.
It sure won’t make it any easier to reach people on the rez!