Verizon won't let me go
On being trapped by a corporation
It’s funny how mundane our nightmares can be. My personal hell is being stuck, trapped, helpless. And that’s where this angry newsletter about Verizon begins. The other night I was trying to cancel the wifi for the apartment I just moved out of. I had the audacity to attempt to cancel the internet my partner and I had set up with this illustrious company. But little did I know such a monumental task is not something for one man to accomplish in one night. First, the website is horrendous and nearly unusable. So it’s hard to sign in. Then, it’s hard to figure out how to move (slowly) towards cancellation of the service that they’re so kind to provide you with for an exorbitant fee. Turns out you need to use their “chat bot” which connects you, in time, to someone who has been given a set of instructions that revolve around throwing 74 hurdles along the path to canceling your wifi. Here’s just a little snippet of that delightful conversation:
After ignoring my request, asking several more personal questions, and trying to use about six other transparent ruses to get me to delay my cancellation, they still weren’t done:
About five minutes after that, we were disconnected. The chat feature kicked us out, before getting any formal message like “Yes, we’ve terminated your wifi. Thank you for your immense patience.” So at this point I’m probably still a very loyal customer of Verizon, at least according to some digital record somewhere.
You might get the sense that I’m writing this just to vent, and you’d be right. Well, in part. The anger I felt at being unable to accomplish what should simply be a one or two-click process on the website of a giant corporation was definitely what kicked off this piece. But it quickly became a lot, lot more. For one, this feeling of being trapped is really much more than just an unpleasant sensation. It’s an extremely pervasive reality. In capitalist economies, one aspect of monopolies is that they have the power to bind consumers. Especially when the monopoly corporation controls the distribution of an essential good, which is exactly what we see in countless local markets where one company has cornered the market on a utility, customers are trapped. We can’t go without heat, or internet, or water. So we’re forced to pay whatever the monopoly wants us to pay.
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In Pennsylvania, a state law started incentivizing towns and cities to sell their public water system to private companies a few years ago. The result was exactly what you’d expect. Residents' water bills have gone up as much as “68 percent in fewer than three years” according to More Perfect Union. And in state legislature hearings one Pennsylvania representative even talked about a senior citizen urinating in her backyard because she could no longer afford her water bill, and couldn’t afford to flush the toilet.
What I’m saying is that being trapped, by monopolies in particular, isn’t just this painful feeling of frustration, it’s a very real and pressing issue of being locked into untenable relationships with corporations. Around the country heat bills are going up, water bills are going up, the cost of housing in general is going up and therefore evictions are going up. In the end this is the core of the trap. I might hate struggling to cancel my wifi, but what I really hate is the massive imbalance of power I’m being subjected to, that we’re all being subjected to.
This imbalance might seem insignificant when it’s Verizon, as frustrating as it is, but when it’s your landlord or boss, or even more so the capitalist system as a whole that forces you to work if you want healthcare or housing, the trap feels a whole lot more pressing and intense. And that coercion, that requirement that you sell your labor to survive, is the fundamental underpinning feature of the capitalist system. It’s heightened and extended to an even more sinister place when the consolidation of many companies into monopoly corporations inevitably takes place in a capitalist system. When you’re forced to turn to one company for an essential good, and that company steadily hikes up the price of that thing you need to survive, that is the nightmare. That is being truly trapped. That is your life being at the mercy of endless greed.
There are rules and laws to stop this behavior from corporations, of course. Antitrust laws exist to break up these monopolies, they just haven’t been enforced much for decades. Right now the FTC is doing more than has been done in many previous administrations. They’re suing Amazon and Google and Apple and more, but it’s just the beginning. They’re even proposing a “click to cancel” rule, that would theoretically make Verizon and countless other companies end this scam of making it so damn hard to get away from them. But much more is needed. Consolidation and corporate overreach are inevitable under capitalism. We need to think beyond a system where companies have the ability to trap us, to hold us hostage, to dangle the means of our survival over our heads.
The horrendous conversation with that Verizon rep, or some AI or whoever I was talking to, reminded me of a Blink fitness saga I had not too long ago. The cheap gym chain served me well enough for two years or so – but then I tried to cancel. And they were not having it. I couldn’t cancel online, couldn’t cancel on the phone, and had moved away from the location they wanted me to go to for their lovely cancelation processing. Eventually, I just got my bank to stop paying them. Then the robo-calls started, asking me about my membership etc etc. Maybe the frustration I felt today, writing this, started back then. It probably started long before. But the fact that these companies feel entitled to my money, to me, combined with the way they disrespect us and treat us as though we have no choice or power in our interactions with them angers me at a deep level. The fact that we do in fact have such limited power angers me doubly.
It should not be too much to ask for autonomy, for respect, for real freedom from being lorded over and controlled. But under this current system that is apparently much too much to ask. We are only economically exploited and politically oppressed, but our very dignity and liberty are also under constant attack by corporations. They encroach further and further every day in the pursuit of greater profits. So we have to push back, organize, and reject this system. Not just for our wallets but for our pride, our freedom – real freedom – and for our futures. I don’t consent to being trapped, and I hope you don’t either. I hope we work to break out, together.
Thank you for reading! If you’re able to become a paid subcriber it helps me spend more time writing for you. - Josh