Verizon Won't Verify Calls On My Bill

Brad can’t bring himself to drop his landline because he sees it as a security blanket, but Verizon is making it a tough choice for him, because it’s charging him more than he thinks he owes on his pay-per-call plan. He’s asked Verizon for an itemized bill, but the company refuses and says it would only give up the information if subpoenaed.

He writes:

I’m having a bit of a problem with Verizon’s billing department and I wanted to share it with all the consumerist readers out there. I still have copper-based landline phone service from Verizon and I’m not ready to ditch that service yet. I have a 9-month old daughter and I like the peace of mind provided to me by having a copper phone line that transmits my exact location if I call 911 and doesn’t lose service in the event of a power outage. That is the one and only reason that I still have a landline.

So I recently switched from a regional, flat-rate for unlimited local and long-distance calling plan to their economy message rate plan. Under the new plan I pay a flat fee each month for dial-tone and I am then charged $0.10 per call. No problem. We rarely use the phone anyway since we use our cell phones most of the time. Well, I get the bill for my new service and it shows that I am being charged $5.90 for 59 local calls. Nowhere can I find a breakdown of what those calls were, what numbers were called, when the calls were made, etc. So I call up Verizon’s billing department and tell them that I don’t think I made 59 calls last month, but that’s what I was billed for.

Can I please have an itemized list of the local calls for which I was billed. The rep I was speaking with told me, get this, Verizon doesn’t have that information. After several pointed questions from me regarding what they would do if the police showed up with a court order asking for my phone records, she finally admitted that they do, in fact, have that information, but they can’t give it to me. They will only give out that information in response to a subpoena.

So I asked what would happen if I got a bill for calls that I didn’t make and was told that I could start a dispute and have that escalated. To which I responded, “Fine, I didn’t make 59 calls last month, but I got billed for them. Where do we go from here?” She said she would open a dispute and I would get a call back within 48 hours. The person calling me back would give me an address where I can send any further correspondence necessary for this dispute.

Great, I now have an avenue in which to address the issue. The problem is, I currently have a phone bill that is due in two weeks. If I don’t pay that bill, based on the information I’m disputing, they’re going to charge me late fees and interest on the unpaid bill. Apparently, I’m supposed to just send them my money and then wait until whenever they get around to looking into this issue. At that point they will issue me a credit, if necessary, on the next bill.

So here’s where we’re at. Every month I will get a bill from Verizon with a single charge for calls made on my line with no way of verifying that the number is correct. I will call Verizon and dispute that number. I will have to pay my bill and then wait several months while they hold my money, try to determine if they billed me correct and eventually, possibly issue a credit. Lather, rinse, repeat.

My question to the Consumerist is this: I need the 911 reliability of a copper landline, but I am absolutely incensed that Verizon can charge me for a service and then refuse to verify my usage of that service when I question my bill. What are my options here? Am I stuck in the world of “Take what they’re offering or do without landline emergency service?” Are there other options? Should I complain to the FCC (or some other agency that may have regulatory power over Verizon)?

One idea would be to keep a running tally of how many calls he makes, so Jon can know for sure whether or not the bills are fair. Any other suggestions?