Picture this, the person that you love has decided that they need to spend six months in a foreign country. If that isn’t enough to break your heart, the phone bill certainly will.

Now in my experience, all countries don’t have a telephone network that is as highly evolved as the US telephone system. You can call and call and call other countries as much as you want to, but the majority of the time, you simply won’t get through. Apparently there are “peak times” when everyone wants to call foreign countries because of the time difference and that prohibits a lot of calls from getting though.

So, in my lovesick state, I often call repeatedly with no avail. To make matters worse, phone card companies deduct minutes from your phone card every time you place a call to an international cellular phone that does not go through. I’ve gotten every message that you can possibly imagine including weird beeps, messages in foreign languages, odd clicking noises, busy signals or dead silence, which should be called deadly silence because I’m paying to hear it. Now once I found out that my precious minutes to talk to my honey were being deducted, I frantically called up the phone card company of each card that I tried. Some companies proved to be far more understanding than others of my tragic plight.

Verizon was by far the best phone card company that I encountered. Every time minutes were deducted from my phone card I called up their 24-hour customer service number and tearfully explained my loss. Every time they graciously returned my minutes to me. Sometimes they would even assist me in dialing and try to find out what was preventing me from getting through.

Once a late-night operator even took pity on me and returned two entire minutes of talk time that I had actually already used to talk to my sweetheart.

USA Datanet also proved to be an incredibly user-friendly service that didn’t deduct minutes at all for call attempts that didn’t go through. This company offers a great domestic plan as well. However, you cannot call international cellular phones using this service.

OneSuite.com was very good at not deducting minutes unless an actual connection was made, even when calling a cell phone. In fact, only once did they actually deduct one half of a minute when a connection was not made, and they were quite understanding about returning my rightful unused minutes to me.

Qwest was also quite helpful in returning minutes wasted in hopeless attempts to reach my long lost love. They also assisted me in dialing and tried to see what was preventing me from getting through. However, they stopped refunding the minutes I wasted in my frantic attempts to call when the amount refunded neared the value of the entire phone card. Qwest also charges a pretty hefty connection fee for international calls.

MCI Worldcom also managed to return my minutes with only a small amount of nagging. However, if there is an evil stepmother to my story it would have to be AT&T. They were the first phone card company that I tried, because I thought that they were a well-established company. They deducted a full minute for every call attempt that was not connected, and they refused to return any minutes to my card for calls that did not go through. At 16 cents per minute, those minutes do not come cheap. But AT&T feels that it has a right to steal consumers hard earned dollars for calls that don’t go through.

They even tried to tell me that I should have known not to call an international cell phone with their service and that their service was not designed to contact international cell phones, although nowhere was there any mention of this on their phone card. But why should I be punished for their poor service? And no matter how much I begged and pleaded with them to connect me to my love, there was no avail. Who cares about customer satisfaction? AT&T could care less if I get to speak with my love so long as they get my money.

I wrote AT&T an e-mail, to which they did not have the decency to respond. I talked to the most insensitive operators and supervisors that I have ever encountered. Twice in my rush to call I dialed “4” – the first number of the country code – before dialing “2” for international calls, and “4” connected me to directory assistance, which I did not use, but I was charged for it regardless of use simply because I pressed the number “4” by accident in my haste to speak with my love. The AT&T representative that I spoke with told me that I should have known better than to press “4.”

So, at the end of my heartbreaking journey, I am a little weaker, a little poorer and a little wiser, at least about phone cards that is. If your love should ever leave you, remember to use Verizon, OneSuite.com or USA Datanet. They work and they’re good people. But whatever you do, please don’t use AT&T. Having your love leave you is bad enough, but that’s no reason to have all your long distance money leave you as well.

Brandon can be reached at ebrandon@campustimes.org.

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