Would Verizon really publish my unlisted landline number?

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The question occurs: What will happen if I cancel Verizon’s “Non-Published Service,” which for a ridiculously unjustifiable fee of $5.25 a month keeps my landline unlisted and my time at home almost entirely uninterrupted by scammers and robocalls.

If I cancel this alleged “service,” will Verizon really punish me by publishing my number – unlisted now for 10 years – against my will and even if I first ask politely that they not do so?

I know what you’re thinking: Of course, they will, they’re not only a cold-hearted corporation, they’re a carrier, for crying out loud. I, too, figure they will treat me like a shop owner who refuses to pay protection money: “Nice quiet dinnertimes you have going there; would be a shame if something happened to them.” But you never know for sure until you ask, right?

Before I ask, a little background. About five years ago – after paying Verizon’s  privacy extortion fee for five full years – I asked the company’s public relations department to explain to me exactly why it charges customers for not providing a service, namely publishing a telephone number in telephone directories. Realtors don’t charge for not listing homes for sale. Here’s the answer Verizon provided:

"The cost charged to offer unlisted phone numbers is chiefly systems and IT based.  Specifically, the costs we incur and factor into the monthly charge involve three things: quality control, data integrity and the interface we have with other carriers and directory publishers.  These activities help us protect the feed of customer information we have, and must protect, when customers request that their telephone number remains private when requested."

That’s 69 words worth of bullpucky that could have been boiled down to six simple words of truth: “We do it because we can.” Verizon charges $5.25 per month to not put my number in telephone directories because that’s apparently how much people like me are prepared to pay in exchange for a little peace and quiet. (Actually, it’s a lot of peace and quiet: I get maybe two or three junk calls a month, whereas a colleague of mine whose landline number is published says that’s an average day in his household. This is why I have continued to pay Verizon its protection money.)

Anyway, back to that bullpucky explanation. I knew it was then and remains bullpucky not only because that’s obvious, but because Network World readers were quick to chime in, including this from Jeff Wheeler, a former vice president of technology for National Directory Assistance:

“At a previous job, I developed directory assistance database software from scratch.  … It took me a few weeks to develop all the necessary tools and software to interface with what is today about 90% of independent telephone companies in the U.S.  The company is unquestionably an industry-leader in directory assistance data (as well as look-ups, etc.)

“So I've got a lot of expertise in this matter.  I can tell you with 100% certainty that there is no reason for Verizon or Mom & Pop Telephone Co. to have any more expense for handling an unlisted, or unpublished, phone number than a listed one.”

Verizon charges the fee because they can (regulators allow it, Wheeler noted) and customers like me pay because not paying would result in a metaphorical brick being tossed through the tranquility of our home lives.

It doesn’t have to be that way, though. Perhaps I can cancel the nonexistent “service” and Verizon will nonetheless honor my request to leave my unlisted number unlisted. After all, all I’m asking is that they do nothing. Maybe.

I dial Verizon’s customer service department. Steve answers. I ask him what will happen if I cancel my “Non-Published Service.”

“Your number will get published.”

I explain that I don’t want that to happen and ask if there’s some way around it.

“No.”

I mention that I’ve already paid $600 to Verizon for the privilege of keeping my telephone number private. Surely that must count for something? I even mention that my roughly $200-a-month total Verizon bill means I’ve contributed roughly $24,000 to the company’s coffers over the past 10 years.

I don’t remember Steve’s exact reply to that gambit, but the gist was, “Sucks to be you.”

Actually, Steve was unfailingly polite.

Yet if I had asked that he cancel my “Non-Published Service” he was sure as hell going to throw that brick.

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