Monday, March 21, 2016

Bell Canada

Telling your story, whether it's to friends at the pub, or a story on your blog, is horribly inefficient. An incident of mere seconds takes way longer than that to explain.
The water was suddenly upon me. It was as if an invisible bus had thundered silently through a curbside puddle, sending a wave over my head. My mind failed to keep pace with the events unfurled in that instant. I realized within the next minute that I was a victim of random negligence, perhaps the victim of a prank. The water, it might have been the contents of a bucket, had come silently from high up in the building that rose many stories to my left. I stopped, surveying the water that adorned me, beads on my raincoat, trickling icy pearls on my scalp, refracting droplets on my glasses. I looked just like someone who had been splashed: suddenly undignified, indignant, dumfounded. The suddenness of the change was appalling, I was a casualty without consequence. Most other objects that might have taken the same path could have had more impact on my life, perhaps ending it. In a flash. No time to blink. Here, then not. Not much pain. Senseless. Irrevocable.
Getting splashed on the way to work took less than a second yet took me at least five or ten minutes to record. It has taken another five minutes or so to share it here. This inefficient ratio between experiencing something and sharing it with others has consequences for all of us. Let me explain.

Our move to Toronto doesn't rank very high on the list of life's adventures. It's nothing like canoeing or kayaking with alligators, riding a motorcycle to Alaskariding a Vespa through all forty-eight states, or riding from Capetown to Jerusalem, but still presents some challenges.

For instance, you have to deal with utilities. That word 'utilities' makes them sound like something 'useful', which indeed they are. I depend on utilities for heat in the winter, cool air in the summer, light to read by, as well as internet, television, and telephone service to keep Susan and I informed and entertained.

Unlike all my other possessions, I can't take utilities with me. They have to be cancelled and re-activated. It's not really complicated. "Hi, it's David." "How can I help you David?" "We're moving away." "I see. When are you moving, when do you want to cancel your service?" So I provide dates, indulge in a little chit-chat, get an e-mail confirmation, and then move on to the next. "Hi, it's David." "How can I help you David?" "We're moving to Toronto." "I see. When are you moving in, when do you want to start your service?" So I provide dates, we exchange pleasantries, I get an e-mail confirmation, and I move on to the next. And so on.

Then I called Bell Canada, who provide us with telephone, internet, and television services. It sounds lofty, but really it's just a wire, a modem and two digital TV boxes. Not even any phones.

Susan was leaving for work. "Good luck, and be careful, the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing" she said, heading out the door.

And then it started. You see Bell Canada thinks that it is keeping its costs down, and its profits up, by outsourcing a large portion of its so-called 'customer care' personnel to India and the Philippines. I was about to test that theory. Here's where the ratio between the time it takes to experience something, and the time it takes to explain it, becomes punishing for all concerned.

My first conversation with a person who identified himself as Harvey started going poorly when he said matter-of-factly "I'm sorry mister David, there is no internet available at that address." He was Bell Canada Person Number One. I couldn't help myself. I laughed. "I see, thanks, I'll call back. Bye now."

I called back. I got to speak to Bell Canada Person Number Two. This young lady was very pleasant, but seemed to understand absolutely nothing beyond my desire to cancel my phone service. No, there was nothing she could do about television or internet service, much less understand my concern about Susan's shows recorded on our PVR. "May I speak to your supervisor please?" If only I had a nickel for every time Susan or I would utter that phrase of the course of the next week.

The supervisor, Bell Canada Person Number Three, was unhelpful. Believe it or not, as I tried to follow him down a rabbit hole of gibberish about cancelling services in one city, and an explanation of why it was impossible for him to deal with setting up equivalent services in Toronto, he just hung up on me. Poof! I guess his headset overheated, burning his ears, so he dashed it off his head, it crashed onto his desk, spilling his water on his keyboard. Yes, that would explain it. It wouldn't be the last time.

I called back. This time I asked to be served in French. This is a tactic that can work well, even if you don't happen to speak French. It means that you get shunted to a Canadian call centre, likely in Quebec or New Brunswick. The odds are pretty good that if the person you get doesn't speak English, one of their buddies does. Bell Canada Person Number Four seemed, finally, to be on the ball. He understood what I was trying desperately to do. Move.

By now I had spent an hour or more on the phone with Bell Canada Person Persons One to Three. I was about to spend two hours on the phone with Bell Canada Person Number Four. But it was OK, because I was finally getting somewhere. He was rattling off the cost of the services at the new address which seemed alright (Susan handles the bills, only she would know), and he seemed able to make an exception so that we could keep our PVR to avoid losing all our recorded shows.

All in all, though I had spent about three or four hours on the phone, speaking to four different people, I felt I had accomplished something. Although, the fact Bell Canada Person Number Four left us a voicemail message saying we would have to call back just before the move to cancel our services, left me wondering why that might even remotely be necessary. Even so, I managed to fake a sense of accomplishment and well-being. Until Susan came home.

She looked at the pricing proposed by Bell Canada Person Number Four and just shook her head in disbelief. I'll call them back she said, somewhat annoyed that I delivered nothing but a headache.

Susan called Bell Canada and she began chatting with Bell Canada Person Number Five who told her things about our move that I guess she was making up as she went along, because it bore no resemblance to the e-mail that Bell Canada Person Number Four had sent us following my inept attempt to tame the beast. Bell Canada Person Number Five said flatly there was no way we could keep our fully stocked PVR (which incidentally, in a matter of a few months we will actually own).

"May I speak to your supervisor please?" I heard Susan say. After spending an inordinate amount of time trying to watch TV on our fully stocked PVR while monitoring the phone on speaker mode ("Your call is important to us. We apologize for the wait. Please stay on the line to maintain your call priority. One of our agents will be with you shortly") followed by five more minutes of insipid music that I am sure Bell Canada bought from the US prison at Guantanamo for peanuts once the terrorists developed the ability to sleep through it, Bell Canada Person Number Six joined Susan on the phone.

The next ten minutes were taken up largely with Susan confirming all our personal information including address, postal code, country of residence, birth date, shoe size, colour preferences, and then explaining how Bell Canada Persons One to Six accomplished little other than booking services at astonishingly high prices. Susan needed to hydrate. At one point she said something that she would also be repeating in the course of the coming days "Wow, dealing with you Bell Canada people is like a full time job." After all that, Bell Canada Person Number Six was unable to get us even to the point that Bell Canada Person Number Four had done earlier. Susan eventually gave up on Bell Canada Person Number Six when that person claimed that she had no supervisor.

Susan did the only thing she could do. She bid Bell Canada Person Number Six goodbye and called back asking to be served in French. Bell Canada Person Number Seven couldn't speak English well enough to communicate efficiently with Susan, so... after more insipid music and pointless waiting ("Your call is important to us. We apologize...") Bell Canada Person Number Eight took a crack at our predicament. Yes, Susan took even longer retelling our story and the rather sordid performance of Bell Canada Persons Numbers One to Six, including, to complicate matters (as if that were even possible) Bell Canada work orders, dry loop numbers, 15 position alpha-numeric serial numbers for service cancellations, service initiations, and heaven only knows what else that were littering our inboxes and filling the virtual space between Susan on the family room sofa and Bell Canada Person Number Eight at some undetermined location. The whole escapade was threatening to become like a sickening scene from Alice in Wonderland with strings of numbers, letters, addresses, and dates floating through the air to the tune of that damned insipid music.

Against all odds, Susan remained cheerful and optimistic, no four letter words were uttered (that would come later), and Bell Canada Person Number Eight actually delivered everything to Susan's satisfaction. It was now bed time. Susan looked at me, smiled, and said "Can you believe that?"

Well at least the saga seemed to have reached a happy conclusion.

The next day the phone rings. It's a 1-866 number. I answer. "Hello?". Nothing. I hang up. This happens a few more times. Mid-afternoon, same thing. "Hello? hello? hellooo!". Just as I am about to hangup I hear a girl's sweet voice. "Are you Mr. Masse?" "Yes I am" I say, my tone tinged with suspicion. "Mr. Masse, I am from Bell Canada..." Oh dear lord it's Bell Canada Person Number Nine, I think, my heart sinking. "Mr. Masse, I see that you have cancelled your service, I wonder if you could tell me why you have cancelled sir."

I confess that I failed to exhibit any of Susan's good cheer. "You're joking right?" "Well no Mr. Masse, I see you have cancelled you service and we were wondering..." I explain to Bell Canada Person Number Nine, as politely as I can, that Susan and I have spent what I tally to be the better part of five hours on the phone with Bell Canada and that it's impossible for Bell Canada not to know precisely why we have cancelled our service, and that I have no intention of providing any further explanation.

That afternoon, I take a ride on my bike to see some sights and test the heated grip installation, that is still working flawlessly, by the way. Part of the ride is taking in sights that will soon no longer be within easy reach. I ride to the military cemetery where my grandfather is buried. Just as I'm wrapping up my solemn little visit, the phone rings in my helmet.

"Hello?" "Am I speaking to Mr. Masse?" "Yes..." "Mr. Masse this is the Bell Canada order verification department." "And you are Bell Canada Person Number Ten" I tell her. She doesn't get the obvious humor. "Mr. Masse we have two orders here, one for an installation on April 11, and one for installation on April 14, and they are different rate plans, I just need to know which one is the right one and I'll cancel the other."

I spend, I kid you not one bit, one and half hours pacing in the cemetery trying to impress upon Bell Canada Person Number Ten how completely, incomprehensibly, inexplicably messed up Bell Canada's convoluted fulfillment process is. She sympathizes and tells me she can't believe it, and suggests how I should go on the customer care web site and tell them just how bad it was. I tell her completely frankly that I am speechless and that I have no interest in investing more time so that Bell Canada can untangle their mess of cold spaghetti. I also tell her that only my wife has the rate information and while I know the right date, I don't dare tell her for fear that anything she could possibly do can only make matters worse. My wife will have to call you, I say. "Well let me give you a phone number to reach the Bell Canada order verification department..." I remind her that I am riding a motorcycle and am not in a position to write anything down. She says she'll call back and leave me a voicemail message. Why she resolutely refuses just to send Susan an e-mail I can't fathom. I feel like we're drowning. We've met our match, we'll have to call off the move.

It takes me a good fifteen minutes to relate the salient points of the day's events to Susan. Now I will freely admit that there are four-letter words shooting out in all directions from Susan and I, from me as I tell the story, trying to convey just how messed up this relatively simple thing is, and from Susan, as she tries to convey her incredulity. "If I were given the job to design a system that would yield this result, I wouldn't know where to start" I say.

Susan decides to postpone the next round of calls until after dinner. Then she takes a deep breath and calls the Bell Canada order verification department armed with the ten digit number that Bell Canada Person Number Ten gave us as a reference when we would call her back. Bell Canada Person Number Eleven, while she claimed she was in the Bell Canada order verification department, in the Philippines, had no clue who Bell Canada Person Number Ten was, or how we could reach her. She also clearly had only the vaguest idea about our outstanding order numbers. I implored Susan "do not give her any information beyond our account number, get her to tell you what she sees in the system", advice that Susan more or less accepted. After an hour on the phone with Bell Canada Person Number Eleven... Susan asked for her supervisor.

After another dose of musical torture and indoctrination about just how important our call was, and just how sorry Bell Canada was about making us wait, Bell Canada Person Number Twelve admitted defeat, was unable to determine if there was a problem, or what that problem might be. Bell Canada Person Number Twelve apparently had no supervisor we might talk to. Imagine that? Not having a boss! I would kill for a job like that, even in the Philippines.

Susan wasn't giving up, but it was too late to do any more. Exasperation and exhaustion had taken their toll.

The next morning Susan, undaunted, took another run at the beast. Bell Canada Person Number Thirteen... well let's be generous and say that Bell Canada Person Number Thirteen dropped the ball and cut off the call. I'm sure that the person reached for their coffee and their fingers tripped on the disconnect button. Yes, that would explain it.

Susan called back and asked for service in French. So it was that Bell Canada Person Number Fourteen eventually answered our call after twenty or thirty more minutes of aural torture. We were now, let's see, in hour ten I think, yup that must be within spitting distance of the truth. Bell Canada Person Number Fourteen offered to hand off to a colleague whose English was better.

Susan asked Bell Canada Person Number Fifteen where in the world she was. "New Brunswick" Rachel cheerfully answered "What can I do for you?"

Now I use Rachel's name because Rachel satisfied the law of averages, making up for all the excruciating pain inflicted by her colleagues Bell Canada Persons One to Fourteen. Though it took about another hour and a half, Rachel sorted out the mess, confirmed the right information, the right rate plan, the right dates, the correct cancellations, the right everything in fact. While Susan was wrapping up her conversation with Rachel, an e-mail came in from Bell Canada, from '2100 Team'. The only indication that it was from Bell Canada was that when I inspected the sender it said 'cust.care@bell.ca'. The email said
Hello Susan,

Thank you for your recent order [redacted]. The installation date is on April 11, 2016, between 8am-10am.

We appreciate your business.

To complete your order we require a bit more information.

Please call us at 1 866 605-2171 (in Canada) by March 20, 2016. Our representatives are available from 8 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Monday to Friday and 8 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on weekends.

Or, if you prefer, you can reply to this email to tell us the best date, time and phone number to reach you.

Thank you for choosing Bell
Susan asked Rachel "really, what more information could you possibly need???" Rachel had no clue why we had received the message, or what the message meant. She also told us neither she nor her supervisor had ever heard of the Bell Canada order verification department or the 2100 Team. She confidently told us to ignore it and offered to cut off future automated mail messages for our account.

We weren't quite done. We asked for compensation for having had to waste what was now upwards of twelve hours on the phone to arrange a simple move that Hydro-Quebec, Toronto Hydro, Gaz M├ętropolitain, Enbridge, our insurers, the government health plan, and other service providers and government agencies had each managed to do, on average in well under 30 minutes.

Rachel and her supervisor managed that too. We got a discount on our services that left Susan and I feeling vindicated and adequately compensated for the unbelievable circus we were subjected to.

As Susan often says "you don't ask, you don't get."

And that dear friends is how the painful little truth that it takes longer to tell a story than to live it, bit us in the back side.

Finally, in what world do you save money by having 15 people (16 if we count Rachel's supervisor who also contributed to the solution) do the job that one person and a computer do at all our other service providers? Consider that at least four of those fifteen people work in Canada, not India or the Philippines. Plus they had to cough up a discount to atone for the poor treatment, when you factor that in, the math just gets more complicated.

Ouch!

27 comments:

  1. All that top quality user support costs a lot. They may have to raise your rate...

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  2. Besides Toronto (*grin*) Bell Canada is the entity Canadians love to hate the most, so you're batting 1000. As the actual work hasn't actually taken place yet I expect that will result in another long post mid-April. But I have to hand it to you and Susan - I would have been an ex-customer by about representative 4 or 5.

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    1. Susan has much more patience than I do, I credit her with ultimate success.

      And you're right, the beat goes on.

      I came downstairs this morning to find Susan on the phone with Bell Canada person 17. Apparently, the promised credit was $15-$20 shy of a full load. Now, it's supposed to be just ducky.

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  3. David: I can feel your pain! I've had similar experiences with the likes of HP, and a few others. On the flip side, Moen plumbing fixtures was so outstanding and sent free replacement parts for a faucet in the motorhome that was 25 years old that I wrote the president and got a note back and a discount coupon should I ever wish to purchase any of their items for the home! Now to complete your day I suggest you watch the following and feel better - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wf-aMZmDCvA. Cheers, Jim

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    1. Jim that YouTube parody is right on the money, and... I wouldn't be in the least surprised if that portrayal wasn't so far off the mark. It would explain a lot.

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  4. I felt every moment of anguish. My move two months ago proved to offer almost identical anguish, countless hours on the phone, which people who seemed to have no idea what the other person prior to them had told me however in my case it was with Cogeco. It took almost en entire week to sort out. Well, here's hoping that they show up on time and you GET to keep you PVR.

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    1. BTW at the end of it all I did get a good discount. So I felt vindicated.

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    2. Thanks Mike. You just have to wonder how things can get so far out of hand.

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  5. If Bell Canada was the last and only provider of telephone and internet I would choose not to have either service. I can remember when they were charging me 11 cents a minute to the US for long distance in my office and $ 1,300.00/Month for a T-3 line for internet. My bills were close to $ 2,500.00 per month and if they were not paid within 10-days the rude, threatening collection people would be calling. Suddenly I got a call from a cable company offering unlimited phone for $ 45.00/Month between Canada and the United States. At the time the offer held as much validity as the guy down the street who wanted to sell me land in Florida. However I had to try it. Of course it worked.

    After cancelling everything with Bell they persisted to contact me and try to woe me back. At one point they offered me two free HD boxes that record, all the channels, unlimited internet and phone for $ 110.00 per month. I told my friend who was a faithful Bell customer for the last 47 years and she called because her bill was over $ 230.00 for far less services and Bell charged her $ 650.00 for her HD Box. They would not even budge on her price. Go figure, loyalty means nothing to Bell.

    Oh well, Thanks for the opportunity to rant about Bell since I have not done that for years. I am now on a NO CALL list with Bell.

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    1. Peter it's great that you've got a provider that now meets your needs without the high fees and all the dysfunctional drama.

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  6. Wow, we didn't have that much trouble moving to the USA, mind you we weren't moving service, just cancelling and starting somewhere new.

    Remind me never to complain about Comcast. I take it Bell doesn't have any customer service centers where you can go down there and change things over? I guess we are lucky we can drive to the Comcast building, take a number and talk to someone who sets it all up. I sure hope things go smooth for you on 4/11 with Bell.

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    1. Brandy that sounds so 1950's and so plainly efficient.

      Here the carriers seem to favour mall kiosks. The problem with those, is that the occupants, while nice and cordial, and well-intentioned, for anything beyond selling a smartphone and activating it, refer you to the carrier's web site. They are not really any better at dealing with the provider than anybody else.

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  7. Well, and here I thought the Deutsche Telekom was the worst provider in the world. At least you got compensated for your time... what a nerve wrecking procedure.

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    1. Subject to what David said, for the time being, all's quiet. I'm crossing my fingers. That's about as effective as any other strategy for dealing with the situation.

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  8. Hi David,
    WoW that is heavy duty stuff!

    What, why how it's complete total madness, fair play to team Masse for holding their cool.

    I had a driving experience the other morning that does not nearly compare to this.....and I thought I was struggling with a normal simple process!

    On my way to work the road ahead was blocked hence a diversion 2 minutes later a diverted skip lorry would not fit under the bridge along the diverted route....everyone please back up, I see a side street and think I can outsmart my sat nav which was successful until i was half way down a double parked side street on bin day with a refuse lorry only part way up the street with nowhere to go except do his work until the end of the road arghhh!

    I arrive at work late without my passes no more park spaces left arghhh all this lead me to think one thing and I bet you are already thinking it...why oh why did I not take the bike!!!

    kind regards
    Len

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    1. Ah Len... It doesn't matter where you live on the planet, there will always be nonsense. We are blessed, you and I, that we live in places where the nonsense isn't life threatening.

      Just remember, even if you don't believe in angels, a merciful supreme being, faeries, or genies, the law of averages has your back.

      In no time you'll be sailing to work on your bike, on a nice sunny day, the same foolishness will snarl the traffic, and you'll nip by on two wheels all ear-to-ear grins in your helmet.

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  9. Dang David, you make Comcast's customer service look actually efficient.....when compared to your provider.

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    1. Dom they are renowned for their inefficiency. There was a time, in the analog world, when it was all electric, with two-story electromagnetic telecom switches that clicked and clacked as they switched our calls, when Bell Canada was a paragon of efficiency and customer service. Problems were resolved in good time and all you had to do was dial zero.

      Digital messed that all up. Telcos have had a very hard time shaking off their dinosaur skins and the new world order is still a little bit of a mystery to them. The prime culprit is a lack of system wide integration. The telecom, TV, internet, and mobile phone systems are all running off disparate back office systems, with separate reporting and management hierarchies, different fulfillment teams, and the result is a maddening tower of Babel where broken telephone is the rule, not the exception.

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  10. First, sorry about the mess. I've been around a bit with the likes of AT&T in the U.S. and if it wasn't for the necessity/economy of that choice, I'd be happy to march over to line two with the alternate provider...if they would be any more efficient.

    I have to thank you for helping dampen my enthusiasm over escaping to Canada if our elections go south. We'd go to Mexico where my wife and child also have citizenship, but there's that vague threat of a nuclear warhead if the proposed construction project isn't paid for....

    Secondly, it's just a bit exciting to find out that Canadians aren't *totally* patient and polite compared to their southern neighbors. You make us look bad too often the way it is. ;o)

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    1. Thanks Dave!

      I don't think that there's a real chance of an electoral disaster in the US, but things sure are polarized, that's for sure. Yet those republican candidates are something to behold. When Mr. Cruz starts looking good faced with the alternative, things sure are extreme.

      We Canadians do have a reputation for being nice. I think it's just that a) we don't have any big sticks to carry, b) individually, most people everywhere are fairly nice, and c) the really stupid things we do don't get any attention outside our borders.

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    2. ....except that those curved sticks you can't ice-skate without.

      Back on politics, I'd just read an essay on Mr. Ford's death and how we can survive despite bad politicians. Small comfort, I guess.

      Hoping the weather cooperates with you for the Big Ride. Pouring down snow outside my window, GTS nestled in the garage. Spring indeed. :o(

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    3. Thanks for the kind wishes Dave.

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  11. David, you would not like dealing with Rogers (the alternative to Bell) any better. About that loaded PVR ... I had a really nice PBS concert on it. Had listened to it repeatedly for about a year. Then, Rogers decided to update the GUI and whatever on all their equipment. We were warned we would one day have to reboot. After the reboot, my prized Yo-yo Ma concert was gone. No resort. Sigh. And, every year, we have to remind them of the special deal they once gave us to switch from Bell (wanted to ditch the Bell dish when we got the HD tv). Free HD and SD boxes for life. Then, no more need for SD ... you can imagine the yearly discussion.

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    1. I know, most carriers have poor reputations. There are exceptions, so there is hope.

      Did you look for that concert on YouTube?

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  12. When the only provider was "The Bell Telephone Company of Canada" based in Montreal, the only service available was telephone. Over the years and time, Bell has become a conglomerate, as have others including Rogers, Cogeco, Video-Tran, Shaw and myriad others. Cogeco prides itself on its customer service; it can be as frustrating as others trust me and I live in Burlington, Cogeco'c Eastern head office town.
    Bottom line you live in a condominium somewhere, No outside antennas or similar are allowed, cable is your source to telephone, television and internet and the suppliers "know" you have to deal with them. You're screwed, they don't care and in days gone by when Bell start internet they called it Sympatico. The term now rings true ABS: Anything but Sympatico!"

    Canada has the highest rates in the world for mobile telephones, fixed devices including home telephone, television and internet. Some of my friends simply own a mobile phone, no in-house fixed landline for them; it's too expensive. They live where there is mobile service, they use an outside digital antenna on a tower and also receive their internet from a dish (currently Hughes from the USA).

    If you can eventually afford a freehold house in Toronto (the prices sure as heck are not Montreal) that allows outside antennas, go for it.

    In the meantime look for alternate services. I cancelled my TV service a year ago; a book (free from the local library) and a glass of wine relax me much more.
    Oh and with your Vespa, keep in mind Toronto streets and their drivers make Montreal seem like a jungle, most everywhere in the Greater Toronto area, riding anything two or three wheeled can be an accident waiting to happen.

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    1. Thanks for dropping by Bryce.

      I just saw your comment this morning.

      The story above didn't end there. The whole mess haz now been resolved, we think. In the fullness of time it turned out the Bell Fibe programming package was the wrong one, not the package we had in Montreal as requested, the rate for the services was wrong, promised credits hadn't materialized, and there were billing problems to boot.

      At most recent count, we are at Bell Canada Person Number 33, who swears it is all straightened out... and there is " a cheque in the mail" with our promised rebate.

      I need to come back and add the sequel.

      This little rant has been viewed over 500 times and counting. Very knowledgeable and influential people I know have strongly suggested that we file a formal complaint with the CRTC.

      We may yet do that.

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