Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Name Rings a Bell

According to Fred Grimm in the Miami Herald, my on-going issues with Comcast pale in comparison to the trouble Helene Pancoast is having with her telephone service. And she’s got some connections.

”My grandmother Marian Bell Fairchild always told us that we should never ‘use the connection’ of the Bell Name to get special attention,” Pancoast says.

A few days ago, in the midst of trying (and failing) to convince a telephone repairman to reconnect her to civilization, she violated grandmother’s edict. ”I did mention as well that, as the last remaining Bell descendant living in Miami, I felt their service was beyond terrible.”

The very great granddaughter of Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, father of the Bell communications conglomerate known lately as AT&T, can only rage against the machine.

Bell himself couldn’t call to say, ”Mr. Watson, come here. I want to see you.” The damn phone’s dead.


Back on May 27, the utility pole outside her house caught fire. FP&L did a temporary repair job — it was the electric company’s pole. But three weeks ago, the telephone wires tore loose in the wind.

Since then, the two utilities have blamed one another for her continued outage.

AT&T linemen refuse to climb FP&L’s damaged pole.

FP&L is in no hurry to replace it.

”I’m in a pissing match between two pole cats,” she said.

And not even a direct descendant of Alexander Graham Bell can cajole a telephone repairman to climb the electric company’s pole. Nor does it help that Pancoast is also the granddaughter of famed botanical explorer David Fairchild, namesake of Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, or that her husband was the great grandson of John Collins, a pioneer developer of Miami Beach. Pancoast, an artist, has been a longtime civic activist herself and was a founder of both the Grove House artist cooperative in Coconut Grove and the Bakehouse Art Complex in Wynwood.

Yet she has no dial tone.

What is ironic is that in an age of so many methods of communication; land-line phone, cell phone, the internet, and probably some other things I haven’t thought of, they all rely on the good old-fashioned telephone pole out on the street, even if at some point the message bounces off a satellite. And even in a time when we’ve gone to the automated customer service to the point that they know who you are when you call in thanks to Caller ID, we’re still relying on the human connection. In my case, the customer service — once you get past the droids answering the phone and telling you which button to push — has been very helpful. But I can’t help but think that if I hadn’t gone onto the internet and regaled you with my tales of long waits and frustration, I might not have gotten the attention. And like Ms. Pancoast, I shouldn’t have to drop names or get frontsies because, ironically, I used mass communication to get the word out about my adventures in Cableland.

Ms. Pancoast’s situation is different than mine in that she’s caught between two utilities; I guess you’d call that a power struggle. And in her case, AT&T and FPL have forgotten that regardless of who is responsible for fixing the problem, there’s still someone without the service that they are paying for.