Fi Fight


There are some industries where poor customer service is practically expected, and the notion of having a good experience with a company is all but laughable. Cable television providers are kind of the classic example of this, and although living in Toledo most of my life meant dealing with a local company rather than the big national cable providers, the said company in Toledo is a putrid puddle of acidic excrement that has helped me empathize with people who constantly struggle with big-name cable providers. Having rarely needed all that much from my cell phone provider at any given moment, I guess that I’ve largely been able to ignore all the messages around me about cell phone companies being a steaming hot pile of flaming garbage, but as I’m being forced to transition to yet another provider here, and I can’t even give one company my business, I’m quickly coming to realize that the whole cell phone industry is one big never-ending habanero-lubricated colonoscopy.

I last changed cell phone providers about four years ago, and while I blogged about the whole affair at the time, I’ll give a short version of that experience here for brevity’s sake. Virgin Mobile, which had been my provider for nearly a decade, screwed me over by permanently jacking my bill up $10 a month after a customer service “mistake,” and I intended to switch to T-Mobile, but then T-Mobile tricked me into buying a phone and then telling me that the reduced-fee service they’d advertised on their website wasn’t offered by them, but by Walmart. I wasn’t about to give my business to Walmart, so I went to AT&T, and even they made me pay an extra $40 by trying to force a new phone number on me the first time I visited one of their stores. I finally got that settled, and even though I’ve been paying more for monthly service than I’d thought I would, I’ve just given my money to AT&T every month for a while now, putting up with their relatively low level of nonsense while dealing with more important matters.

Fast-forward to this past August, and my move to Wisconsin to start my new job . I knew that I was moving to a relatively remote part of the state, but I’m not exactly out in the middle of nowhere here, and I figured that AT&T would surely have decent service in a city with this many people around. Instead, I quickly found out that my phone can neither make nor receive calls when I’m on campus, and reception is so poor that I often can’t even send or receive texts for hours at a time. On those rare occasions when I get a notification about a voice mail in my inbox, I have to dial into my account with my office phone in order to listen to it. Needless to say, this is not an acceptable state of affairs.

I was willing to give AT&T the benefit of the doubt — even after my previous experience signing up with them, and even after finding out about their exploitation of prison labour — so I sent them a friendly message about how they need to get better reception out in this part of Wisconsin, especially after hearing from nearly everyone in this region that AT&T has sucky reception out here. The customer service representative who responded to me immediately insisted that my lack of reception was my fault, and that there must be something wrong my phone that I needed to diagnose. That was the last straw for me (don’t ever tell me that I’m the one with a problem when literally every piece of evidence indicates otherwise), and the only reason I’m still on AT&T right now is because I haven’t yet been able to complete a transfer to another provider.

Even though Google isn’t a perfect company by any stretch of the imagination, I already do a lot of business with them, and the low price of their Google Fi (formerly Project Fi) service intrigued me. After asking a friend to help me pick out one of the prepaid phones they offer (my current phone is having battery problems), and waiting for holiday sales to begin, I started the process of buying a new phone through Google Fi and setting up service with them.

I didn’t get very far. As I started inputting my billing information, Google stopped me dead in my tracks by claiming that they don’t offer service where I live now, and then preventing me from going any further in the signup process. Given that their coverage map indicates that they do offer service where I live and work, this confused the heck out of me, so I opened up a support ticket with Fi to try to figure out what the issue was. At first, I received very helpful and informative messages about the steps I needed to take in order to help them help me, and I responded to them promptly, but then I started having to wait two to three days for responses. In the meantime, those holiday sales on their phones that I’d been hoping to take advantage of wound up expiring, but I was still willing to pay more for my phone, just as long as I could get something reliable out here soon.

The “try this” messages — in increasingly broken English — kept coming to me every few days from Fi’s support team, until a few days ago when they asked me to send them my address so they could determine whether or not they actually offer service here (or, I assume, if the coverage map on their own website is lying). This wouldn’t be that much of a problem, except for the fact that they’d sent me literally the exact same message, word for word, weeks earlier. I know that customer service tasks at mega-corporations often get handed off from employee to employee, but if Google, of all companies, can’t keep track of the address I’ve sent them in the exact same support ticket, then how can they expect me to trust them with any of my information?

I sent my address to them for a second time, and I finally got a semi-acceptable response: Google Fi uses several different cellular networks, and its signup process uses address information from one particular provider that doesn’t offer service where I live, but I can still get service here. However, I was then told that I should just sign up for service using someone else’s address, and that really unnerved me. I’ve made a lot of friends here in Wisconsin these past few months, but I’m not close enough to any of them that I could possibly feel comfortable asking them if I can get my cell phone bills sent to their houses. Beyond that, I should think Google — again, of all companies, Google — could do something to fix their signup process to prevent people like me from having to go through this step.

Feeling like I was running out of options, I used another address for a billing address, and Google Fi finally let me go further in the signup process. When I got to the part where I was supposed to type in the shipping address for my new phone, however, I got stopped again. I put my apartment’s address in as the shipping address (because where else am I supposed to get my phone shipped to?), and was told that my address was “not a valid address,” and once again Fi blocked me from going any further.

In and of itself, this would have been bad enough. The thing is that not only is my address a “valid address,” but it’s one that Google has already shipped stuff to on several occasions in the past four months. I’m a frequent user of the Google Express shopping service, and they’ve sent me more than a dozen packages since I moved to Wisconsin, at this very address I’m typing these words from right now. I double-checked and triple-checked the address I was using to try to get that Google Fi phone to me, and even used the USPS’ address-checker tool that I’d been told to use by their support team in a previous correspondence (in order to get a letter-perfect copy of my address), but Google Fi’s website was still blocking me from signing up with them because it doesn’t think my address is a “real address.”

It gets worse. A few hours after I closed the tab where I’d unsuccessfully tried to sign up for Google Fi, I got an email saying that I had signed up for Google Fi, and I was about to get all kinds of wonderful Google Fi emails letting me know about all the lovely Google Fi things I can do with my new Google Fi service and Google Fi phone. I hadn’t even gotten far enough in the signup process to give Google my credit card information, so I knew damn well that I hadn’t signed up with them. Since my support ticket was still open, I sent another message to inform the Google Fi support team that I’d used a different address to get past its broken coverage check, but now I was being told that my apartment address wasn’t a “real address,” and I’d gotten an email telling me that I’d signed up for their service when I’d literally been stopped from doing so partway through the process.

About a day later, I got a response from Google Fi. Not only did they insist that I had signed up for their service, but they said that I should order a SIM card from them as the next step in the diagnosis process. A SIM card. Never mind that I still can’t get the new phone I need; how am I supposed to get that SIM card shipped to me when Fi doesn’t think I live at a real address, and how the fuck is that supposed to fix all the fucking problems with Fi’s fucking awful website?

I am so fucking beyond dealing with Google Fi and its bullshit that I don’t trust myself to put my anger into words right now. Despite all the roadblocks I’ve dealt with on their website, despite all the nonsensical and barely-understandable responses I’ve gotten from some members of their “support team,” I have tried my damnedest to give Google Fi my business, and I’m fucking sick and tired of trying any longer. A few days from now, I’m probably going to get one last email from them saying that they’ve closed my support ticket due to lack of response, and they’re glad that they have another satisfied customer.

When Virgin Mobile and T-Mobile and AT&T jerked me around back-to-back-to-back, I blogged on here that my experience was a perfect example of how poorly-regulated capitalism victimizes all but the ruling classes, by allowing companies to get away with shitty products and service as long as they find a way of being perceived as the least shitty option. After what I’ve just been through with Google Fi, I would love nothing more than to throw my cell phone into the river and never deal with another fucking cell phone company again, but I’m at a stage in my professional career now where a cell phone is a literal necessity. (Besides that, I’m not sure if I can even get landline phone service at this apartment.)

In short, I’m pretty much stuck now trying to find yet another cell phone provider that, if all the moons of Uranus line up with each other and I offer an animal sacrifice to the cell phone tower behind campus during a full moon, might allow me to sign up for their service. I can’t do that research right now, though, because finals week just started here and I’m being inundated with my students’ final portfolios, and in the meantime I’m going to blow through another billing cycle with AT&T and have to pay for another month of “service” where I’ll get a notice about new voicemail about forty-eight hours after it’s left on my account (if I’m lucky), and all the holiday sales will be over by the time I get to research and pick a phone to order from this new provider and I’ll pay a lot more for that as well, and I’ll probably have to go through this whole execrable process all over again in a few years when something else happens that forces me to change providers, and no one will give a shit because companies treating people this way is not only to be expected, but the people with all the power here fucking applaud it.

But hey, how about that Google stock price, huh?

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