It wasn’t that long ago, just about one year, when I purchased a nice little Motorola cell phone from and signed up with TracFone. By and large TracFone fit my needs: it was cheap, worked most places (even inside the office), was usable most places, and it was cheap. Though it remained cheap, something happened along the way… I could get no usable service in Hiram, so I was completely out-of-touch at the observatory. As I recall, it used to work great out there but not now and not for some time. Now being unreachable may be relaxing for some but I don’t get many calls and those I do receive are pretty important. What if someone needed to reach me in an emergency while I was out stargazing? More importantly, what if I needed to make an emergency call? I found that, over many square miles around Hiram, I had no service available. I was uncomfortably out of touch. I don’t own a cell phone for personal pleasure and hardly talk on telephones at all. I own a mobile phone for urgent communications wherever I might be! So I researched and shopped and decided I’d try AT&T this time. Verizon Wireless came in a close second but was more expensive and reportedly has shaky coverage not far from Hiram. The AT&T GoPhone Prepay plan and phone(s) seemed to be a good fit and I think I’ve got a good shot at coverage in Hiram: the cell phone tower put up on the college campus was spearheaded by AT&T. I purchased a quad-band world phone, the ZTE-made Z221, for its flip-phone form factor. It’s got AT&T Mobile Music, mobile email, and a Web browser but I doubt I’ll use any of those things. Well, maybe if I can hit Twitter with updates. Really, I’ll be happy if I can just talk on the phone when I need to!
Buying online, direct from AT&T was not easy for me. Selecting a plan and a phone were easy enough. Completing the order and paying were quite another matter! As required, I provided my street address for shipping and service location purposes — all well and good. When it came time to pay, however, their system required that the credit card used have the same address as the shipping address (even though the order form allowed for differing information) BUT NO PO BOXES! I’d been receiving my statements at my PO Box for security reasons. Chat sales support said I would have to go to my local AT&T store if I wanted to buy. Well, why do you have an e-commerce Web site??? To get around the restriction, I logged on to my credit card account, changed to electronic billing, changed my physical address to match my shipping address, and after a couple of hours, tried my order again. Vois là! Order completed! I’ll probably stick with paperless billing for a while and see how I like it but it’s stupid I had to concoct that little workaround. What did their requirement achieve except frustration on the part of their would-be customer? They’re lucky I was that interested because, at this level of business and for me, it’s another day, another cell phone!
UPDATE: The GoPhone works great in Hiram — even inside the observatory dome! I am very pleased. The phone is only marginally useable at home but everywhere else I’ve traveled (so far) I receive good to excellent signal strength.