I'm sad today. This little Pulsar telephone has been a faithful companion for many years. It has traveled with us across the United States on a fantastic 8,000-mile journey; it has been with me in little emergencies, it has worked happily with three different portable computers that have come and gone over this time. Yet today, I decided to cancel my Bell Mobility subscription in anger.

Here is what happened: in a few hours, my mother and I are leaving for a weekend trip to New York City. I knew from past experience that I need to call Bell Mobility to ensure that my phone works in what they call (I think) a high fraud area.

Last night, therefore, I visited the Bell Mobility Web page. It was not easy, but after navigating through a maze of cheerful corporate doublespeak, I eventually found a page containing a toll-free telephone number, which I called. I again faced a senseless maze, this time a maze of voice menus. Eventually, I found the right option (I think), only to be told by a machine voice that I called after their business hours, and customer service won't be available until the next morning. Until now, I was under the obviously false impression that a telephone company is a 24/7 operation...

Okay, so today I started the morning by calling Bell Mobility. This time I did indeed get through to customer service. Or rather, I did have the privilege of being able to listen to a 15-minute dose of cheerful announcements about how great a company Bell Mobility is. Eventually though, a customer service representative answered the call, and I told her my problem.

She said she'll do it, but she explained that it takes 24 hours to process my request, so it probably won't be until tomorrow before I can use my phone down in New York City. I told her that that's not acceptable. She asked if I am in NYC already; I told her no, it won't be until around 4 or 5 PM before I get there. She said she'll check what she can do, and put me on hold.

On hold I stayed for approximately ten minutes. Then suddenly, a click, a ringing sound, and I heard another voice message that informed me that the accounts department is now closed and I should call back between Monday and Friday at such and such hours. Click, busy signal.

Groan. I waited a few minutes in the vain hope that this customer service representative who obviously made a mistake and disconnected my call will phone me back. Needless to say, she didn't, so I phoned 1-800-667-0123 one more time. Once again, a long wait (this time, only about 10 minutes), after which another customer service representative answered the phone.

I told her what happened so far and made it known that I am irate, and for a good reason. I told her that she can either activate roaming for me or she might as well cancel my account. During our discussion, she informed me that roaming could be turned on on a permanent basis, but in that case, any fraudulent charges would be my responsibility. I told her I don't want that, because it isn't my fault that North American cellular companies adopted an unsecure technology. She said it isn't the technology. I told her it is. She argued, saying that hackers can break into anything.

IMAGINE! A telephone company operator trying to teach me about electronic security! Here I am, sitting next to a small fortune worth of radio frequency test equipment. I learned about computer system security probably before even she was born! It was so bizarre, at first I didn't even feel outrage, just surprise. Meanwhile, she put me on hold again.

A few minutes later, she came back and said that the roaming department is closed and she can't do anything until Monday, so according to my instructions she'll close my account. Go ahead, I told her, but I also began to respond belatedly to her earlier attempts to educate me about system security. I told her that she shouldn't try to teach me my job, and I told her that perhaps I should begin to teach her company theirs, starting with customer service. I didn't get a chance; she hung up mid-sentence. (I need to stress that I was irate, but polite. She had no reason to terminate the call, like she would have had I begun to shout, use obscenities, or otherwise become abusive.)

I should have known this of course back when I purchased my poor little telephone. The very first day I was unable to call my wife who was traveling in Europe; I was informed that because of high fraud, overseas long distance is usually not enabled until a customer has an established record. Established record? The preceding months, due to a project that required me to make many long distance modem calls, I regularly paid multi-thousand dollar phone bills to Bell Canada, Bell Mobility's sister company! Ah, but they don't have access to those records. So, why is that my fault?

Then there's the time when I went down to New York, fully expecting that my phone will function. It didn't, and my wife was really worried when she couldn't reach me. Of course I was never informed about "high fraud" areas. I mentioned this to a customer service representative back then, and suggested that instead of advertising flyers, they should perhaps mail this type of vital information along with my monthly statement. She indignantly responded that they can't do that, it'd be too much work to provide up to date information of this nature. Oh, really?

I haven't switched before, because I have little reason to believe that other cellular companies are better. But today, I had enough; so, dear Bell Mobility, we part. Over the years, I paid many thousands of dollars for your service, but I am sure it's just a drop in the proverbial bucket, and you couldn't care less about the loss of one irate customer. Still... I am filled with sadness, as I retire my old analog telephone for the very last time.