Keeping Fios while porting out a landline phone number can be tricky

For years, my secret shame has been that we still have a landline phone at home. Why? The number dates to 1997, so all my relatives know it and some of them still call it. Besides, I find the robocalls it attracts in campaign seasons weirdly fascinating.

Those things, however, weren’t worth the $15 Verizon charged us for the most minimal level of phone service. The obvious fix, one I endorsed in a 2015 USA Today column, was to port our number to an Internet-calling service. But months after third-party reviews and some testing of my own led me to pick Ooma‘s free service as that VoIP alternative, we were still wasting $15 a month–because I am sometimes slow and always easily distracted.

Finally, a Costco sale on a bundle of Ooma’s Telo VoIP adapter, a WiFi/Bluetooth module for it, and Ooma’s cordless handset got me to get moving on this transition.

After I put in the order on March 18 to port out our number (for which Ooma charges $40), it was active in Ooma’s system on the 22nd, allowing us to place and receive calls through the Telo. The next day I logged into our Verizon account to confirm the transfer.

That’s where things got interesting, as that site said our account had been disconnected.

Prior reports from Ooma users in various forums as well as Verizon PR’s own statements had led me to expect an industry-standard porting experience: You start the port with the new service, and there’s no need to talk to the old one until your number’s out of their grasp.

Perhaps I was wrong? I called Verizon to find out. That March 23 call was a model of how phone customer-support should work–I only had to provide my account number once, I wasn’t left on hold, and the rep said my Internet service should be fine.

Alas, other parts of Verizon had other ideas. A day later, a recorded message advised us to contact Verizon by April 14 to discuss new service options or risk disconnection a second robocall a week later cited the same April 14 deadline.

On April 4, our Internet went out.

The error page that interrupted my Web browsing told me to set up automatic payments to reactivate my service, but each attempt (using the same credit card as before) yielded a generic error message. It was time to call Verizon again.

Thirty-one minutes later, another pleasant rep was as confused as me, saying she couldn’t get the auto-pay setup to go through either. She said she’d get a specialist to work on my case and would call back with an update.

In the meantime, I enjoyed the unfair advantage of having two LTE hotspots in the house–required research to update a Wirecutter guide–that I could lean on for free in place of our inert Internet connection.

By the next evening, our Fios connection was back online, in keeping with the second rep’s “you should be all set” voicemail that afternoon. But Verizon’s site still listed our account as disconnected.

A third call Friday deepened the mystery. This rep said she saw two account numbers–and the one she could access listed our service as pending disconnection. Then I took another look at the e-mail Verizon sent after the second phone rep had pushed through my auto-pay enrollment: It cited an account number ending with seven digits that did not match my old one.

My best guess here, based only on my dealing with Verizon since it was Bell Atlantic, is that Verizon’s system has created a new account for me because the old one was somehow too intertwined with the phone number to keep around.

If so, I should be getting a letter with the new account number in the next day or so, after which I may or may not need to set up a new account online. Sound right? Or am I in for another long phone call?

Either way, I suspect I have not written my last post here on this subject.

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The video-calling mess

I’ll be on WAMU’s Kojo Nnamdi Show at 1 this afternoon to talk about Microsoft’s impending purchase of Skype for the you’ve-gotta-be-kidding-me sum of $8.5 billion. Like, I suspect, all of you, I agree that the folks in Redmond are spending a ridiculous amount of money. But I also think that Microsoft–which can clearly afford this purchase–just might be able to knock some sense into Skype and possibly even the broader market for Internet video calling.

I start with the features I’d want to see in an ideal video-telephony system: It would work not just on computers running multiple operating systems but also such gadgets as smartphones, tablets and even HDTVs; its mobile version would support both WiFi and 3G; it would allow free device-to-device calls (I can live with charging for premium services like video-conferencing or international voice calls); most of my friends wouldn’t need to get a new account to use it.

The choices we have now don’t match up that ideal, and Skype is the leading offender. While it’s long been available for Mac, Windows and Linux machines (setting aside the much-disliked interface of its new Mac version) and can be used on a wide variety of HDTVs, its mobile support has been far spottier.

Skype works well on the iPhone over either 3G or WiFi, but there’s still no iPad-optimized version. That seems a little dumb at this point.

Skype’s Android support looks a lot dumber. Voice calling is was until recently limited to WiFi connections only (if you don’t didn’t have a Verizon Wireless phone) or and remains 3G only (if you do subscribe to VzW). That last limit comes courtesy of a weird little partnership Skype saw fit to ink with that carrier, combined with the Skype Android developers’ apparent inability to support two flavors of bandwidth in one app. Oh, and video calling on Android? That’s “coming soon”–but only to Verizon 4G phones.

Apple’s FaceTime seems to have been developed with the same ignorance of the term “network effect.” Notwithstanding Steve Jobs’ promises that Apple would make this an “open standard,” FaceTime remains confined to the iPhone, the iPad 2 and Macs–make that, recent Macs running an Intel processor.

Apple’s “open standard” pledge looks as devoid of meaning than the average campaign promise–almost as if Jobs just made that up on the spot.

Oh, and on mobile devices FaceTime only runs on WiFi–even though it will gladly use a 3G connection laundered through an iPhone’s Personal Hotspot feature.

Finally, there are Google’s intersecting Internet-telephony options. Gmail provides great video calling from within your browser (available for Windows, Mac and Linux). But on your phone, Google Voice doesn’t provide Internet-based calling–you still need to use your standard phone service to open the conversation. Google Talk video calling is confined to a handful of Android tablets. Although Google just announced that it will bring that feature to Android phones, it will require the 2.3 version of Android–which Google’s own stats show has only made it to 4 percent of Android devices.

There are other options, such as the Qik app bundled on some front-camera-enabled Android phones, but they all suffer from a far smaller installed base and the subsequent problem of getting relatives to sign up with yet another new video-calling service.

Microsoft has its share of issues, but it does seem to understand the relevance of market share. I would expect that the company that’s shipped capable, well-regarded versions of its Bing search app for the iPhone, the iPad and Android would at least try to get Skype to feature parity across those platforms–and, in the bargain, bring it to the Xbox. And if Apple and Google finally take notice and step up their own efforts, so much the better.

Besides, would you rather have seen Facebook buying Skype?

(Edited 5/26, 10:09 a.m. to correct an errant description of Skype’s Android client.)