Any Port in a Storm
Have you ever done something so stupid, so irredeemably inane that not only do you not expect sympathy from anyone else, you really don't even have sympathy for yourself?
That's exactly the situation I'm in right now with regards to my cell service.
On November 24th, 2003 the FCC decreed that all cell phone companies had to release their phone numbers for customers to bring to other companies if they decided to switch. What I just so poorly explained is called Local Number Portability, and the companies do not like it. They do not like it so much, that they spent a minimal amount of time and resources making sure the technology was in place for the deceptively complicated transfer of numbers from one company to another to successfully take place. They spent their time and money instead working on ad campaigns to lock their customers in to long contracts before Nov. 24th hit. They hate it so much, that few aggressively went after their rivals' customers, knowing that beating the drum of LNP would lead their own savvy customers to release that they could indeed leave that company and go to their competitor as well.
And I knew all this. I told everyone the situation, as it stood in late November. I read the New York Times articles and the tech forums and stood on the corner and told everyone who passed, "Dude. You can take your number with you. But don't do it right away. Wait a couple weeks for them to iron out the inevitable first-few-day snags they'll soon discover. Everyone will want to do it the minute the symbolic cell gates are opened, and their insufficiently-tested systems will be overwhelmed and they'll be forced to work things out. Wait for that to happen and then go switch the shit out of your phone." Well, I didn't say it in exactly those words, but more or less.
And then what did I do?
I called on the friggin' third day, Nov. 26th, and switched from SprintPCS to AT&T.
In my defense, my Sprint phone broke at the end of October; the screen went blank one day, so I had no idea what I was doing. The phone still worked, but I could not see who was calling, what my phone was set to. I couldn't access phone numbers in my phone book or set the phone to vibrate in the movies without having to Helen-Keller the series of buttons it took to do so by memory.
What day is it now? January 8th, 2004? About six weeks after I initially called.
Has my phone number successfully "ported" from my broken SprintPCS phone to my new AT&T phone?
No. Why would it?
Yes, the porting which is supposed to take 2 days at the max, has taken over six weeks, and is no where closer to being successfully completed. The last six weeks has been a long lesson in phone centers, hold music, and Dante-esque curlicues of administration where employees spend their days on hold, waiting to get in touch with the group in their own company that is actually dealing with the porting. Yes, AT&T currently employs people to come wait on hold with the Porting Group (who have stopped answering emails from their own company altogether) for up to 8 hours, before trying to go through "stuck" porting numbers one by one. All I've been told, the 20 times I've talked to AT&T in the last six weeks, is that they will walk over and hand my information to one of the people on hold with "PAG," and they will see what the problem is. And then I will get a call back.
I never do.
Indeed, AT&T has basically just given up. They just stopped caring around, oh, mid-December. "Shit's fucked," they have decreed. Sure, they've worked it out for people who now call to port to AT&T, but for those who were stupid enough to be eager puppies and do it right away: "Uh." (I should add here that SPRINTPCS no doubt deserves some of the blame. They have even less invested in making sure the ports away from their company go through. And indeed I've been told that Sprint may not be responding at all, holding up the process indefinitely. However, the FCC released a statement way early on that of all the companies having trouble porting, and indeed they all were, AT&T was the fuckest, and demanded an explanation from them.)
I have yelled. I have pleaded. I even offered someone a 20 dollar bribe if they could just get my new phone to come to life.
My old Sprint phone still gets the phone calls placed to the number. (Meanwhile, my cool new AT&T Nokia 3650 sits silent.) The problem: not only does the display not work, but in the last couple weeks, the battery latch has cracked, which means that the phone is off most of the time. I have to jam the battery in, hold it as I turn off the phone and carefully dial. Oh, and also, the really special part: in order to get your phone ported from one company to another, you must keep your account open for both companies. So I've paid for both AT&T and SPRINT for one extra pointless month, and my Sprint contract is up in a week again!
Today I finally got through to a supervisor who was both candid and kind. She told me that indeed my number may be stuck in some unreachable computer hell -- the place where the Sprint and AT&T porting systems just couldn't quite meet in those first few days (the first few days I warned all my friends against running into) -- and it may again be a while before some rogue Neo figure can brainstem down into the system and fish out my 10 digits like the fireman pulling Baby Jessica from the well.
In the meantime, Pam (my maybe-savior from the North Florida AT&T call center [all saviors are named Pam, I'm now convinced]), has made sure I have 3 months credit on my account, is furnishing me with a temporary AT&T number as close to my old number as possible (why she thinks this is important, I'm not sure -- so maybe if someone misdials my old number, they'll find me), and will work her ass off to contact PAG herself (she claims to have an email in to one of the guys; who knew such surreptitious things had to go on for anything to get done?) and try to get this port of doom finished in the next few days. If not, I finally told her, nearly in tears from finally getting a kind AT&T voice, just give me a new AT&T number and let my Baby Jessica number die quietly in the double helix grave of 0's and 1's where she quietly slumbers, her breath getting more and more shallow as the weeks drag on.
I probably should have surrendered a while ago, and just taken a new number. I can email everyone I know that I have a new number. Sure, some people will find my old number on a script or a headshot somewhere down the road, but if they want to bad enough, they can find me. I'm not that hard to reach. That's why I pay agents and managers and lawyers: to be there in case an ex-girlfriend needs to invite me to her wedding.
So God's speed, Pam. Wherever you are.
Oh, and next time I warn you guys away from something, please gently remind me a few days later to watch out for it myself.