|One of the first things I needed to organise was telephone service. My initial requirements were:
all from anywhere in the US at a reasonable cost.
- to be able to call out in an emergency
- to call ahead to the next campground/friend
- to be able to call base in Springville once in a while
- to call England once in a while
- and to be contactable by all the above
- to be able to access my EMail as a client (ie not web based mail)
- To be able to surf to find points of local interest
- to be able to update my website
I did not anticipate that my calls would be many in number but I did not want to incur huge roaming charges. After much investigation last time we were here I determined that the greatest non-roaming coverage was available with Verizon.
Now we do not have a mobile in England. I spent many years with one attached to my ear for work and I had gratefully found no need for one since. I reviewed my specification with my daughter who advised me that my coverage was far from normal - but then we are not part of the younger texting generation who spend their lives on the phone texting their friend at the other end of the row. Texting had actually passed us by.
I then found an internet group called InternetbyCellphone (with matching groups for WiFi and satellite) and I monitored their messages for about a month. I also read some very good "how to" postings.
They advised that the Verizon America's Choice plan was what I wanted and that I needed a tri-mode phone and a mobile office kit (MOK). There were also threads about antenna boosting and other things which I left for now but were obviously going to be useful when I reached the more remote areas with more limited cover. Coming from an environment where national coverage means national, the often patchy service referred to in the US as national came as a bit of a shock. They gave two other pieces of advice, one was to only go to 'company' stores and the second was to try a different store if the first one didn't have what we wanted. That was to stand us in very good stead,
The first Verizon store I went to was very helpful, understood what I wanted and advised on phones. I only needed a simple phone not one with camera features since I have a perfectly good camera. It just needed to be trimode and with an MOK. The obvious candidate was an LG VX3200.
The obvious contract was America's Choice which now comes with free evening (2100-0600) calls and access to the enhanced national access service which gives internet access at up to 144kb/s. There were also no roaming charges for over 90% of the country. This seemed perfect.
The problems came when we tried to set up the contract. The first question was what our social security number (SSN). Without that you cannot do a credit reference and the whole process stalls. Despite the best efforts of the local manager this proved to be a brick wall. This scenario was repeated with variations in every store we visited. It was also repeated at every supplier and for a while it looked as though obtaining service would be impossible.
This had happened when we first started the research last year and had happened in several states so it was not peculiar to New York. We had even written to Experian (the main credit reference agency in both the UK and the US) to ask if our credit records both sides of the pond could be linked. The UK said that the Data Protection Act prevented it and the US could not do anything without a US SSN. One presumes there is a whole industry servicing the illegal immigrants but we did not want to go there, neither did we want to fudge the issue by getting our US friends to take a contract out on our behalf. We want in through the front door please.
Several of the managers were very helpful in trying to find a way round. Our bank manager had offered to provide a credit reference, we have a US bank account, we even have a US credit card with a US billing address but all to no avail.
Then we were told about a new package which enabled us just to buy the minutes on a pay as you go basis which did not need a credit reference. For a while we investigated this, but international access was barred unless we made a $400 deposit, and examination of the coverage suggested that roaming charges of 99c/minute would apply to 60% of the country (including free periods) thus crippling our internet access. This was a low point.
Then we found a corporate store. These are subtly different to a company store. So where was the problem? You just put in your passport number, it asks for $125 deposit and bingo you're in. The rest as they say is history. We got all the service we wanted and the phone and were done in about 20 mins.
There were a couple of wrinkles in that you have to take out a one or two year contract and the price of your phone and activation fee depend upon which you choose. However it is possible with the two yearcontract to take a holiday from service for up to six months which extends the contract period a little. After some consideration this did not fit our future plans so well so we opted for the one year contract. I understand that for a minimal monthly fee we can then suspend service and reactivate it when we return.
I installed the CDs with the MOK and the associated data cable and tried out service over the internet. Verizon automatically becomes your ISP but does not provide EMail accounts. However my existing EMail account in the UK is accessible so I can use that or I have accounts with my Web Service account which is based in Wisconsin. I tried a download to update my virus software and got speeds three times those I get from my landline in the UK, and six times those my hosts achieve on their landline. When not in the enhanced services area this will fall to only 14.4kb/s (instead of 144kb/s) but it will still be free after 2100hrs and at weekends.
So it can be done with a passport (and I94 visa stamp) with a small deposit but only from a corporate store.
On to the next problem!