Stay Free! | 11 June 2002

Carrie McLaren carrie at
Mon Jun 10 18:56:34 EDT 2002


A little paper out of Queens, "Three Weeks," is one of those things 
that makes me glad I'm in New York. Published every 21 days (for "two 
cents, voluntary"), it's a simple, newsprint circular resembling 19th 
century elite magazines in design and prose-style.... like 
McSweeneys, I guess, but without the suffocating irony. It's very 
sincere and sweet, in fact. Funny, too. I was so taken with the most 
recent issue that I contacted the editor for permission to reprint 
the following piece. Hope you enjoy it. --CM

"An Open Letter to Verizon"

(from "Three Weeks," available in finer book stores throughout NYC. 
Or try sending a self-addressed, 9-inch envelope with a 57¢ stamp to 
Three Weeks, PO Box 1784, Long Island City, NY 11101.)

April 23rd, 2002

Ivan Seidenberg
Chief Executive Officer
Verizon Communications

Charles R. Lee Chairman
Verizon Communications

Lawrence T. Babbio, Jr.
Vice Chairman and President
Verizon Communications

My Dear Sirs,

It has not escaped my attention that the Verizon Communications 
Corporation has embarked upon a novel experiment, videlicet, raising 
the cost of a local pay-phone call in New York City by 100%, from 25 
to 50 cents. Calls for Information, formerly offered free of charge-- 
a gesture which did your conglomeration much credit, as did the free 
use of pay-phones during the city's tragedy last September--now cost 
50 cents as well. Given that your pay-phones offer no alternative 
method of obtaining information, such as a Yellow Pages directory, it 
now costs 85 cents (50 cents plus a further connection fee of 35 
cents for the call itself) to determine the opening hours of a local 
restaurant or the nearest gun-shot clinic from a Verizon pay-phone.

I applaud you on the audacity of your decision. Your rate-hike, by 
defying every law of economic competition, is a naked assertion that 
your company does not operate in a free market. During a 
recession--which, gentlemen, I needn't tell you this city is surely 
experiencing--companies typically consolidate their market share by 
lowering prices in order to drive out competitors. By raising them 
instead, you are tacitly acknowledging that you do not, in fact, have 
any real competitors. When it comes to pay-phones, New York, on its 
streets and more especially on its subway platforms, is Verizon's 
company town. The few scattered, downtrodden remains of your 
competitors' 25-cent pay-phones are, as you yourselves must know only 
too well, a force insufficient to pose any serious threat to your 
stranglehold on this most captive of markets. If all Hondas suddenly 
doubled in price overnight, would that company not be driven out of 
business within days by Toyota, GM, and other automobile 
manufacturers? But here there are not enough Toyotas to matter.

May I also congratulate your deft attempts at cloaking your greed by 
pretending that the 50-cent phone call is actually a new service? 
Here, I am referring, of course, to the fine print on your new phones 
that offers the consumer "unlimited" time for the extra quarter. As 
an "unlimited" local call is a service that nobody using a pay-phone 
requires or desires, the new terms appear almost marvelously 
insulting. Indeed, gentlemen, is it not the essence, the very 
definition of a pay-phone qua pay-phone, that one uses it "on the 
go," and, therefore, for an inevitably brief and limited period of 
time? To offer New Yorkers "unlimited" calls on a subway platform, 
for example, where the call's maximum duration is obviously limited 
to the time that elapses between trains, is but a hollow gift, a 
shell game. On a deeper philosophical level, one might well ask if 
such a thing as an "unlimited" phone call is a logically coherent or 
empirically verifiable phenomenon. Strictly speaking, would the 
caller not need to be immortal in order to live up to the possibility 
of a limitless call? I see nothing in your equivocations except 

I am willing to grant that, as longstanding beneficiaries of 25-cent 
pay-phone calls, New Yorkers were being granted an especial 
dispensation, not enjoyed by the rest of the nation, that could not 
be expected to endure forever. Indeed, local pay-phone calls, like 
haircuts, bleacher tickets to Major League Baseball, and dim sum, 
numbered among an unusual list of goods and services that, in clear 
violation of the general rule, could be had cheaper in this city than 
elsewhere. Nevertheless, if this micro-economical climatic inversion 
had, inevitably, to end, I see no reason why the punishment for our 
days of grace need be so extreme and patently unfair.

One hundred percent price inflation is something most of us associate 
with war-torn nations, third-world regimes in hock to the IMF, black 
markets such as the drug trade, or Weimar Germany. If other 
industries followed your example, the United States would be on its 
knees, economically speaking, within days. Were rents doubled, or the 
price of a bus ride increased to three dollars (with information 
about their schedules an additional three dollars), protests and 
riots might ensue, governments could fall. Should you argue that 
pay-phones are a luxury, not vital to the sustaining of city life, I 
might pose this question--if the price of diamonds increased by 100%, 
would there not be fewer marriages, less joy in the world? Is the 
case not similar with conversation? A fellow returning home to his 
dearest in the dead of night may be less likely to call ahead while 
waiting for his train--does the possibility not intrude on your 
dreams? Why would anyone pay the new tariff when so many other 
companies continue to operate their phones at the old price? Beloved 
consumer, Verizon is saying, We know you are too lazy and stupid to 
bother walking the extra block or two required to save a little 
change. Oh, you may think that you will resist us, and perhaps you 
might make the effort once or twice. But perhaps you will not save 
much money after all. Perhaps your call will go longer than expected, 
and, having no smaller coins, you will have to use that second 
quarter anyway. In time, you will relent.

Yet I submit that something more than the inevitable outcome of 
deregulated cartel piracy is at work in your double-or-nothing ploy, 
something far more subtle and calculating. Can the 50-cent pay-phone 
call be regarded as anything but a form of psychological torture and 
economic intimidation aimed at that sector of the population who as 
yet have refused to succumb to the increasingly tyrannical 
"necessity" of owning a cellular telephone? Your logic, doubtless 
supported by an array of graphs, pie charts, and wistful sales 
projections, dictates that thousands of consumers, bewildered and 
indignant at the new price, will finally "give in" and invest in a 
cellular phone. Ideally, gentlemen, would it not be a Verizon 
cellular phone, with a multi-year calling plan and all the fixings? 
While you take with one hand, you can offer solace with the other, 
and thereby hope to become the beneficiary of your own bad deed. What 
you are forgetting, my dear sirs, is that many of us are, at present, 
too impoverished even to contemplate your cellular brinkmanship. We 
live in a bankrupt city, gentlemen, a city that has seen better days. 
According to a recent report by the erstwhile consulting firm 
Appleseed, 110,000 of us have lost our jobs since last September. The 
United Way says that evictions are on the rise and the lines at food 
pantries are up. Many younger people, whilst vastly more fortunate 
than many of their fellows, are, as one report in The New York Times 
put it, "Educated, Experienced, and Out of Unemployment Checks." 
Although my own personal experience can only be a matter of anecdote, 
I can assure you that indulging myself in a cellular telephone has a 
rather low priority, coming long after potential investments in 
health insurance, a long-overdue visit to the dentist, Afghan 
land-mine charities, and other such small matters. In short, 
gentlemen, much as I might like to oblige your lust for profits, 
shore up your growth projections, and contribute to the buoyancy of 
your stock, I can afford neither a cellular phone nor your 50-cent 
pay-phones. No quarter will be given. Your actions strike me as 
dispiriting, not to say a little unpatriotic. And their effect is bad 
for us both: now, I shall simply not call.

Pay-phones were already an indicator of one's lack of social 
standing, a fact apparent to anyone who would examine the 
demographics of their use. Talking on the new phones will be an 
exercise in further public humiliation, ocular proof of one's 
inability to participate in the wireless world. Just as the uninsured 
pay more for identical medical care, so too will those least able to 
afford it suffer most from the price hike. Paradoxically enough, the 
poor, in this case not so much nickel-and-dimed but quartered, will 
be double-charged to advertise their poverty to the world.

I am, Gentlemen,
Your Humble Servant,

J. M. Tyree, Esq.


"U.S. Is Icing Our Warming Report"

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