Rural Internet Access: Still Elusive for Many Americans

Internet access in rural America has improved but remains pretty rudimentary as far as speed goes.

This discourages a lot of rural Americans from investing in it at home. Those who are on a fixed income (especially elderly retired people) would rather get DirecTV and I can’t say I blame them.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is busy dismantling Net Neutrality even as nearly 40% of rural Americans still lack internet access according to its 2016 Broadband Report. You can read more about this in an article by Sharon Strover, an internet access researcher at the University of Texas – Austin published on The Conversation, an online journal supported by universities and foundations.

Rural Internet Speed Probably Won’t Improve

Writing about “reaching rural America,” Strover says the FCC is thinking of reducing its current minimum standards—25 Mbps for downloads and 3 Mbps for uploads—in order to achieve a more robust statistic (at least on paper) for acceptable Internet access.

What about those ads claiming to provide fast downloads no matter where you live? Well, the equipment might be able to handle high speeds, but the actual infrastructure can’t because, Strover explains, providers don’t upgrade rural wiring as often as they do for urban areas. It’s a matter of economics: urban lines will reach thousands of customers inside a few square miles but it might need hundreds of miles of wiring to reach a few dozen rural customers.

Because the internet isn’t considered a utility, there’s no support for ISPs to extend more and better service to rural areas.

Most poignantly, Strover relates conversations with people who can’t even get DSL because they’re too far from the local cable company’s reach. They aren’t living off the grid—they have electricity, water, phone service—but since the internet isn’t considered a utility, they’re basically left out of the conversation. Satellite access, which is universal, is too expensive.

And guess what? The FCC is considering taking away one of their few options, the Citizens Broadband Radio Service. This broadcasts on a frequency range rural Internet providers might be able to use, but the FCC is thinking of giving it to the larger telecom companies.

Lack of Internet Access Reduces and Can Eliminate Opportunity

You don’t need me to tell you that lack of internet access compromises opportunities to find jobs, apply to college, and even turn in an impressive homework assignment.

Back in the pre-internet days, research meant going to the library. Luckier kids like me had encyclopedias at home to consult, at least for historical perspectives. The single library in the town where I grew up was open on nights and weekends, something that’s been curtailed in recent years across the nation as municipalities scramble to reduce costs. This obviously affects lower-income people who can’t afford internet access at all the most.

You need internet access to apply for jobs, particularly minimum wage jobs at national franchises from McDonald’s to Wal-mart. They’ve heavily invested in internet recruiting even if many of their target employees can’t get in.

The federal government has been trying to expand internet access through the FCC’s Connect America Fund. This was launched in 2011 to bring internet services to rural America. It’s had some success, but as FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel has noted, there’s still a lot of work to be done, particularly to deliver high-speed connections.

The Fund works by auctioning opportunities for ISPs to expand into rural areas, bolstered by a grant program that will distribute almost $1.5 billion over ten years. According to its auction overview page, 103 bidders were selected in 2018 to provide fixed broadband services on four tiers. The Minimum tier falls below the FCC’s current standard and accepts 10/1 speeds.

This leaves one to wonder if low-speed internet even worth the reduced cost. If data can’t download, what’s a student or job applicant to do?

Many Rural Americans Get Internet Access At Libraries

Internet access available here.

Rural Americans turn to their libraries for internet access.

Of course, not everyone can get on the net during library hours. And most libraries limit the time spent on shared computers. Libraries in New York and Chicago, cities that both have leading universities and sizable low-income populations, began lending hotspot devices a few years ago that people could use at home to connect to the internet, usually through their own smartphones.

Strover and researchers Brian Whitacre of the University of Oklahoma and Colin Rhinesmith of Simmons University (Boston) have studied mobile hotspot loan programs operating in rural libraries in Oklahoma, Kansas, and Maine and in Boston. Their overall assessment found that the mobile hotspot device lending is useful to people who can’t afford, or can’t get the internet at home, but is certainly no substitute for regular, 24/7 internet access all the time.

Hotspot Device Loans: A Bit of Normalcy for People on the Wrong Side of the Digital Divide

You’ve probably heard of the Digital Divide that describes what amounts to the haves versus the have-nots in terms of internet access and resources.

Across all the sites, researchers learned that hotspot device loans eased this divide just a little bit, for a tantalizingly short time:

  • High internet costs is a major reason rural residents sought out hotspot devices from libraries.
  • Many used hotspot devices with prepaid phones because they couldn’t afford a regular cellular plan.
  • People want internet access not because of so-called FOMO (fear of missing out) but because they understand it’s about KOMO, or knowledge of missing out.

Users who filled out surveys rated the devices a 9 out of 10 90% of the time. The tiny number who gave a rating of 5 or below turned out to have received devices that malfunctioned or had unsteady cellular connections at home. Parents commented on how helpful the devices were for their kid’s homework. This echoes Commissioner Rosenworcel’s comments about the “homework gap,” a phrase she coined to describe the barriers faced by students with insufficient or no internet access at home.

Low Internet Access Generally Indicates Low Income

Even though it’s not a hot topic among politicians, rural internet access is something our elected leaders should care about it.

Why? Because being on the wrong side of the digital divide aggravates conditions that were already there. Americans on the wrong side of the digital divide live in older homes that haven’t been wired for internet access, and often in communities that don’t have easy access to libraries. That’s one reason why the hotspot device loan program was so popular: they could take it home!

A 2017 study by the U.S. Department of Education‘s National Center for Education Statistics looked at data from 2010 and 2015 and found modest increases in internet access among children ages 3 -17. Still, the news wasn’t good for rural children, especially those from minority backgrounds. Many still had no internet access or dial-up in 2015:

  • 41% of Black students
  • 26% of Hispanic students
  • 13% of white students
  • 11% of Asian students

Overall, 13% of all rural children had no internet access at home in 2015. Among those living in remote areas, the average was 18%. Interestingly, 13% of urban children also had no internet access at home. Looking at children from families at or below the poverty level, the report found:

  • 30% had DSL or cable dial-up or no internet access at home
  • 49% had fixed broadband of any sort
  • 12% had mobile broadband, including mobile dial-up
  • 9% had “access without a subscription”

Low-Income People Live in Older Homes Passed Over by ISPs

Cost may not be the only factor blocking internet access: older buildings in urban or suburban neighborhoods that have not (yet) been gentrified aren’t wired for high speed. And like their rural counterparts, they probably aren’t putting up satellite dishes either due to cost or landlord restrictions.

Michael Martin of the Census Bureau looked at data from the Bureau’s five-year American Community Surve released in 2018. Although he focused on access to high-speed internet, he couldn’t help notice that communities not receiving these services had a high concentration of Black or Hispanic residents. Native American reservations also show low rates of broadband access.

Martin notes that counties with just one high-speed provider had fewer subscribers, possibly because the lack of competition kept prices too high for consumers. Or maybe the speeds weren’t high enough or consistent enough.

It’s hardly shocking that access to high-speed internet connections are lowest where poverty is highest. Martin’s chart on page 28 of his report shows a light green sea of low access communities just where you’d expect them: in large swaths of rural America. West Virginia and Nevada, for example, really stick out from neighboring states. Eastern Arizona, where the Navajo Nation is located, is a swatch of white, meaning there is no or very low high-speed access.

School Districts Get Creative

As usual, it may be up to the school districts to figure it out.

The DoEd report highlighted a couple of creative ideas to deliver internet access that would work (assuming there’s funding) particularly well for rural students:

  • WiFi on school buses; many rural students spend an hour or more on school buses each day
  • Providing mobile hotspot devices for home use (similar to the library program)
  • Funding digital learning at home to obtain internet access (and avoid long bus rides)

Reinstating Net Neutrality could bring down costs, but not necessarily access. Redefining internet access as a utility would probably do a lot to narrow or even eliminate the digital divide. After all, “only” 600,000 American homes lack indoor plumbing!


Want to learn more about rural access to the internet and other key services? Check out this report from NPR’s Science Friday on Bridging the Digital Divide in Texas.

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My son recently treated me to a much-needed pedicure at the neighborhood nail saloon–er, salon–which was much calmer than an earlier visit a few years back! So I thought I’d repost this older blog. The salon has new owners and employees who were alternately shocked and amused when I mentioned the events below!


Every now and then, I have a manicure or a pedicure.  So it was exciting for me and my neighbors when a nail salon opened right around the corner from us.

Not long after they opened their doors, I went in to ask if they were interested in getting a website. The staff didn’t seem to understand, or maybe they weren’t interested so I didn’t employ my usual charm and persuasiveness. But I took a brochure.

The Nail Salon Owner Likes My Dogs

Some weeks later, a woman who I think is one of the owners stopped me as I was walking by with my dogs. She fell in love with them. Not enough to get her off her mobile phone, but enough to shoot questions like “what kind of dogs are these?” “where did you get them?” and my all-time favorite, “how old are your puppies?”

Most impressive was that while petting them and making personal comments about Dino and Bella (“he’s kind of fat, isn’t he?”), she continued a lively conversation with someone in, I think, Vietnamese. I was impressed with this display of bilingual multitasking. I mean, I can’t even chew gum and write at the same time.

The Nail Salon Became the Nail Saloon

This past Good Friday, I decided to get a pedicure. My boyfriend asked if I’d accompany him, his mother, and his brother to Good Friday evening services. Since I’d never been to a Greek Orthodox service, and he’s been diligent about attending my Sedars, it sounded like a great idea and nice thing to do with his family.

But my feet were a mess, the weather was warm, and I wanted to wear my cute Tommy Hilfiger chunky sandals. It was time to visit the nail salon.

For the record, the service was great. It was more than half-full when I arrived but there was enough staff for someone to take me right away. The pedicure chairs were leather (maybe fake, I really don’t care), comfortable, and had all those kneading and rolling settings. The attendant brought me a cold bottle of water–a nice touch. I chose a pedicure spa treatment that included…well, you don’t need the details but let me tell you, that cheese grater thing took off about an inch of dead heel skin and my feet have never felt so good.

Enter the Nail Saloon Battlers

I had barely noticed a rather large woman on her cellphone when I entered the salon. But about halfway through the treatment, I heard her loud and clear and trust me, I wasn’t listening for her. I had my earbuds in, listening to the classic rock station on my own smartphone. I may even have closed my eyes for a minute or two. Until I started to hear snippets about a problem at work, something about a lawsuit, and a lot of talk that really shouldn’t be out on the public airwaves:

  • “I will send you a memo with bullet points detailing everything that happened.”
  • “I understand they intend to sue. I have a defense.”
  • “That just isn’t true!”

And on and on. And louder and louder. I looked at the woman working on my pedicure, and she looked at me. She and her coworkers looked at each other.

Drawing of a mobile device with a slash through it - turn it off!

Turn it off dammit!

Finally, a tall slender woman who’d walked in maybe five minutes earlier got up and said, loudly, (I’m still wearing my earbuds) “I’m sorry, I just can’t relax in here with her shouting.” And off she stalked to the front, stopping at the cash register and adding “I will still pay for your time.”

At that point, Loud Woman finally ended her conversation. I returned to listening for tickets to see Heart at the Celebrity Theater. Then the shouting started. Thin Woman yelled at Loud Woman for being selfish. “You’ve ruined everyone’s afternoon. No one here wanted to hear you on your cellphone. This is not the place to take calls like that.”

“I had to take that call. You have no idea why.”

“Oh yes I do. I think everyone here does. And no one wanted to hear your sorry-ass business problems.” She looked at the rest of us gaping at them. “How many people here think she’s behaved selfishly?”

We all raised our hands. The employees froze.

The Fight is On – Words and a Big Gulp Fly!

Loud Woman did look embarrassed for a moment as she turned to look back and saw everyone’s hands in the air. “If I behaved inappropriately I apologize.”

Thin Woman was on a roll. “You behaved like a real asshole. I came here–we all came here–to relax. No one can relax with you shouting your shit all over the place.”

“You can’t talk to me like that!”

“I can and I am–because you are an asshole! What kind of example do you think you’re setting for your daughter over there?” (points to a girl of about 11 or 12 who was sitting quietly on the other side of the salon. I had noticed her texting through a manicure).

Now I know, and the owners should have known, that when you start dragging someone’s kids into an argument and comments on how you’re raising them, that’s fightin’ words. And sure enough, a fight broke out.

Thin Woman stepped around the cashier, who was trying to block her way, to face Loud Woman, whose feet were still in a tub. There was another exchange, a dare to repeat something that was duly repeated, and Thin Woman lunged toward Loud Woman.

By then, the single man working there–possibly a co-owner–raced over and physically separated them. A second later, the cashier–the same woman who had admired my dogs– jumped behind Thin Woman to pull her away. At the same time, Loud Woman threw her Big Gulp at Thin Woman drenching her and the owners.

More shouting, and Thin Woman departed.

We customers all looked at each other. “Well,” someone said, “not what you see every day at a nail salon.”

Photo by Mike “Dakinewavamon” Kline

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I spent a couple of years living in Cambridge, England where I learned to speak British English and quickly came to realize Americans speak an entirely different dialect. I came to enjoy noting language differences and sharing my discoveries with my supervisor at work, Dr Andrew Lacey (the Brits don’t use periods or “full stops” after titles) who patiently listened to me and even smiled a few times.

Full disclosure: Andrew was completing a Ph.D. in history at the time. He wanted to dedicate his first book, about the religious cult that sprang up after Charles I was executed, to his wife. But she made it understood that she wasn’t interested in getting some bugger-all dedication “to my supportive loving wife” etc. However, she reportedly enjoyed the dedication I constructed for Andrew:

“To Vanessa who, unlike Charles, did not lose her head.”

I am extremely proud of that dedication and the idiom behind it.

Book: The Cult of King Charles the Martyr by Andrew Lacey

Charles I, who lost his head.

It’s not that Vanessa wasn’t supportive of the book, which came out of Andrew’s dissertation on poor King Chuck. It’s just that she didn’t have much to do with the research other than accompanying Andrew to many, many sites throughout England Charles had visited, and consumed a lot of tea and pudding along the way. (The things people do for love.) Also, she hated the little wifey image so many academicians’ spouses still had at the time. Fair enough, as Brits say.

Brit Speak is Fun!

At times, everything sounded like an idiom I didn’t understand. Very often I got a little hung up trying to comprehend what people were saying to me.

A good example is a waiter who asked if I would like spotted dick for dessert. I’m sure I gaped at him until it became clear that spotted dick is what Americans call cake (“pudding”), with raisins and served with cream. It’s actually quite delicious in spite of having a name that sounds like an STD.

There was also the time when a colleague asked me if I had a rubber. “What makes you think I have rubbers today?” I asked, thinking he wanted what, my galoshes? (I was pretty sure he wasn’t asking for a condom.) It was sunny that day. Turned out the guy needed an eraser. To, you know, rub out what he wrote.

Memorable words from the Brit dialect

There are many Brit-words I enjoyed, in no small part because they were so interesting to me. Here are a few:

  • Bolshie, meaning uncooperative like the Bolsheviks.
  • Bonnet, the hood of a car. My first trip to the auto repair shop was interesting, to say the least, when the mechanic asked me to open up my bonnet. I wondered if this was some kind of odd way to proposition a person.
  • Boot, the trunk of a car. Vanessa once invited me to a boot sale, where I thought I’d get some real Wellies but it ended up being a kind of swap meet.
  • Bugger, which can be used in any number of situations where cursing is needed.
    • Buggering” refers to anal sex. While I was in England, there was a huge debate about decriminalizing gay sex. I listened to a debate over this on the radio. One outraged MP (Member of Parliament) kept yelling at his opponent that “buggering is illegal!”
    • Bugger all” means nothing.
  • Duck, or dearie. Andrew sometimes came to work and called out, “Good morning, ducks!” (This was not a #MeToo moment.)
  • Infant school, or early elementary and preschool. Whenever I heard this, I pictured newborns sleeping in their car seats in nice, neat rows. Actually, “infant school” would make an excellent idiom for people training to work for the Trump White House.
  • Pissed, meaning drunk–nothing to do with mood.
  • Piss and wind = all talk and no action, a clever idiom.
  • Tea often refers to a snack. You don’t even have to drink tea to have tea.

Arizonan English, a Mini-Dialect

I didn’t have too much trouble with the dialect here in Arizona, which gets winter visitors from all over North America who want to escape cold weather and baseball fans who want to see their teams play in the spring training Cactus League. Phoenicians sometimes find themselves puzzling over what East Coasters are saying to them.

Arizona is home to cricks and lots of ruff repairs

My own experience includes wondering why a friend was talking about replacing the “ruff” on his house.

The ruff? A ruffle design? Is he talking about his dog? No, he was talking about the roof.

And people here love the “cricks” that appear after a storm. Crickets? No, creeks.

Here’s how I keep it straight:

“It rained so much, the crick nearly reached the ruff!”

But it doesn’t rain in Arizona, right? Well, it does when we have a monsoon season, which happens during the summer months. And it gets humid–it’s not always a dry heat. In fact, it’s humid when the temps are highest.

The ruff guy also used to talk about mini-monsoons during the winter months and we did have a particularly rainy January this year. Bless his heart.

Haboob or dust storm

Big haboob over Loop 101

One word that was entirely new to me when I moved here is haboob, for the dust storms that often kick up during dry monsoons. The word comes from Arabic and means “blowing furiously.” As I once put on Facebook, we have big haboobs in Arizona. Heck, they make national and international news.

Bye, bye pizza pie

My son worked for Dominos during his senior year in high school. One night, someone called in an order for a “pie” from a customer, who I’m told had a “heavy Philadelphia accent.” The call was taken by the assistant manager on duty, a young woman who grew up on the Navajo Nation. She completely misunderstood the caller, whereas my son was mystified by the request. Dominos, of course, makes pizza.

“Oh, I’m sorry, we don’t have pies here,” she sweetly explained.

“You don’t have pies?!”

“No, I wish we did. I’d love to spend my days baking pies!”

Clearly, this generation doesn’t know the song That’s Amore, featured in the great movie Moonstruck.

That’s OK. I don’t watch PewDiePie — I’m way too old to be with the Squad Fam.

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I’ve become pretty familiar with phone trees since I started providing phone captioning services for people with hearing disabilities about a year ago.

A lot of our fellow citizens who use this service, which is provided free from the Federal government through phone service taxes, are falling off the phone trees many businesses use to reduce the number of live customer service agents. Here in Arizona, “customer care centers” (aka call centers) used to be a thriving industry that’s rapidly being replaced by this type of phone automation.

Phone trees are programmed to force people to go online for their customer service needs. This is a problem for many elderly customers who can’t, or won’t use the Internet for a myriad of reasons. For many, a phone is their main connection to the outside world.

I’m seeing two trends, neither of which are good for elderly internet abstainers:

  • Long hold times interrupted with messages to visit a website
  • Complicated phone instructions requiring several inputs

Both include automated messages of varying speeds and at different volumes. This is definitely not senior-friendly.

The Phone Tree System: Internet or Else!

I’ve been amazed at the patience people have who remain on hold for a half-hour or more to settle a problem with credit cards or bank accounts. In many cases, they have no choice because they have trouble navigating Internet sites or they don’t go online at all.

Yes, such people exist and they still deserve to be served. Pushing everyone to use web-based solutions is not just short-sighted, it’s downright rude to those can’t access the Internet or simply don’t understand it. Or who, like one of my clients, refuses to “learn computers” but still runs a thriving business as offline as possible. I handle her Yelp and Google business accounts, which we agree are too important to allow someone to infringe upon.

Some phone trees are real hornets’ nests.

Older people take longer to process information and phone trees tend to be very rushed. Add in the inevitable two-second or so delay for people who read captions generated on their phones and they are quickly put in a vicious cycle of repeat-wait-repeat-wait-disconnect.

Customer-facing businesses need to understand that there are times when live, fluent customer service agents are necessary, even for the non-elderly or not-yet elderly. There are times when I opt for a live agent simply because the company’s online customer service process is so onerous it’s easier to put the phone on speaker and do something else while I’m on hold.

I’m fairly internet savvy so if I find a website to be burdensome, I can only imagine what it’s like for someone who retired around the time the internet took off.

Sometimes an older person will ask for the automated system to repeat something and are put on hold, where they get helpful advice to “resolve the problem faster” by going online to visit:

“www.VERYLONGBUSINESSNAME.com/customercare and click on the Help Me tab at the top right-hand side of the page.”

A person who doesn’t want to go online, or can’t, may get an estimated wait time as long as 40 minutes. Seriously.

I’m glad to report that most people who wait for a live agent are gracious to them. Agents are usually (but not always) polite as well, even if they have to be told to speak more slowly.

Some Phone Trees Force Callers to Distant Branches

Phone trees that force extensive interaction with the phone are the worst. And again, much of the problem is with instructions spoken too fast plus extremely limited time for callers to respond.

I’ve been surprised myself when I’m about to respond to a phone prompt only to hear “invalid response” because I haven’t entered the information yet. I’m still pretty spry but sometimes I have to take off my glasses to read an account or credit card number. This nanosecond of activity is apparently too long for some phone automation systems.

Now think of older people who move more slowly to put on or take off glasses or reach for a pair. They will never make the automated system happy.

Those who are waiting for a caption to come through often have their reading interrupted the command “invalid input please try again” which often flusters them. So they either press zero for an operator to be put on a longish hold, or just hang up. I’ve noticed that men hang up much more often than women.

Then there is poor-quality voice-recognition technology. Aging can affect a once-booming voice, but I’ve heard people quite clearly speak their account numbers only to be told, or interrupted before they finish, that “I did not understand you. Please try again.” If there’s a problem, put on a live agent on, preferably within a minute or two.

Calling the doctor? Be prepared to memorize a long list of “options”

numbered buttons

Press one if you’re calling from a physician’s office…

Physician offices have long phone trees with a lot of  “options” to remember. Here’s a typical example:

  1. If you are a physician or calling from a physician’s office, press one.

Do their calls go to some special Bat Phone that’s answered right away? Why do physician offices get priority anyway? Shouldn’t patients be the center of the medical universe?

2. If you are a pharmacist, press two.

3. If you are calling for a prescription refill, please hang up and contact your pharmacy.

4. If you are calling to schedule, change, or cancel an appointment, press three.

5. If you need to speak to a nurse, press four.

  • If you need to speak to Dr. Dre’s medical assistant, press 127594.
  • If you need to speak to Dr. Oz’s nurse, press 460367.
  • If you need to speak to Dr. Gupta’s PA, press, 9904523.

Actually, my sample names are too short. Many doctors seem to have really long names. To continue:

6. If you are calling for a referral, press five.

7. If you are calling for a medical records release, please fax your request to 212-555-4593.

8. If you are calling to speak to our billing office, please hang up and dial 888-555-4529 and dial extension 460285.

9. To repeat these options, press six.

Is this really necessary? How about offering a short menu like “Patients and their representatives press one. All other calls press two” and go from there.

Phone Trees Don’t Have to Be a Burden

I get it. Companies like automation and there probably is no going back.

Going forward, more seniors will be perfectly fine using the web to schedule doctor appointments, check their financial statements, and order take-out. My teenager, who works for a pizza chain, tells me how much people at work hate answering the phone because it removes someone from the “make line.” Phone orders often take several minutes, while online orders simply pop up a large order screen.

Too many phone trees expect too much from callers. If hiring someone to answer the phone isn’t an option, businesses that rely on this technology can make a few changes that make them easier to live with:

  • Drop the long-winded menus
  • Use the same voice throughout the menu
    • Slow down the tempo
    • Keep an even volume
  • Don’t bother with messages to entertain or inform people on hold. They can confuse callers who think they’ve been connected to a sales office. When a live person does pick up, the person waiting may not realize he’s no longer on hold! This sometimes results in the call being disconnected.

It’s OK to offer an online option to take care of customer service issues, but it should never feel like waiting for a live agent is some kind of punishment. Use a creative solution like an automated callback or a voicemail message that will be returned.

Remember, seniors talk to each other about how they’re treated not only by their children, but by doctors, financial advisers (who usually have excellent phone skills), and the customer service they get from services like credit cards, banks, and cable or DISH.

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How often do you read the fine print when you sign up for a new membership, open an account, or subscribe to a newsletter?

Unless there’s a credit card involved, I don’t even skim the fine print. And if there’s a lot of fine print, I cancel out.

But what do you do if you can’t even find the fine print?

With No Fine Print, I “Signed Up” For Amazon Prime

Just this morning, I discovered I signed up for Amazone Prime.

This isn’t the first time I’ve unintentionally signed up. It happened a few years ago and I didn’t know about it until I saw a $100 charge on my bank account. I couldn’t figure out how to cancel online so I called Amazon and got a refund.

The second time it happened, I had received a lot of Amazon emails but I thought they were simply marketing to me. I didn’t realize they were telling me about all my great benefits until the emails started asking why I wasn’t watching Amazon Prime TV. Didn’t I know what I was missing? After watching a few episodes of Sneaky Pete, I was hooked and kept the membership for a year until I received a renewal request and canceled.

Sad box person a la Amazon

You don’t want me? (Pixamaby/aixklusiv)

I suppose Prime would make sense if I was a constant Amazon customer but I’m not. I prefer to buy from local stores, even if they’re chains because most are independently owned. Plus, as a freelancer, it’s healthy for me to get outside the office once in a while and interact with real live people.

This morning I checked my emails and saw updates from an order I placed last night. My boyfriend gets a fair amount of Amazon gift cards where he works, and generously gives them to me when he needs to order something. My fee: I order stuff I need or want. So last night, we used up almost all of the remaining balance from the current card to get:

  • Dog food for his two dogs and
  • A beauty product and pickleball racquet for me

And there was a second email congratulating me on my Prime membership!

Amazon Tricked Me into Prime!

I know I didn’t sign up for Prime during this last purchase.

I think the problem is we ordered using my tablet, which is old and a bit slow. Maybe I missed the box to uncheck for Amazon Prime and signed up by default for a free 30-day trial. I noticed that whenever I added items to my cart the shipping changed to two-day shipping with a fee from my earlier request for free shipping. I always use free shipping because there’s a major Amazon warehouse in Phoenix and my stuff almost arrives within a couple of days anyway.

In this case, there wasn’t fine print but a default action to sign me up for a service I don’t want or need. Technical fine print, if you will.

Lesson learned: If you see an email from a source you know wants your money, open it. This time, I figured out how to cancel my Prime membership online and yes, I now have a confirmation email.

The Phoenix Suns and the Fine Print About Brooks

My boyfriend gave me the idea to write about fine print after we placed our Amazon orders. He had been talking about how the Phoenix Suns nearly traded for the wrong player last week.

“Wait…which Brooks Brother are we trading?” (Pixabay/sonomabcd)

For those who don’t follow sports, the Phoenix Suns are our disillusioned local NBA franchise. (That’s basketball.) I say this because they never recovered from losing Steve Nash to the LA Lakers, where an injury promptly ended his impressive career.

The Suns have never won a championship. They reached the NBA Finals twice and lost, first to the Boston Celtics and later to the Chicago Bulls.

Their record is surprisingly similar to the Phoenix Cardinals, who lost their single Super Bowl appearance to the New England Team That Shall Not Be Named.

Anyway, it seems that the Suns were prepared to do a three-way trade with the Washington Wizards and Memphis Grizzlies. Don’t ask me to explain three-way trades. What I do understand is that the Suns wanted Memphis’ Dillon Brooks but Memphis thought they wanted MarShon Brooks, and somehow, Washington’s Austin Rivers was left hanging between the two other cities.

At the time of the deal, Dillon Brooks was injured and not even playing so that would disqualify him from a trade. You’d think that these highly valuable professional franchises have attorneys and spokespeople would know this and be able to distinguish between two players with the same last name.

Friday Night Tweets

Over several hours on a Friday night as the NBA trade deadlines approached, reporters from all three cities–Phoenix, Washington, and Memphis–and the national media repeated different stories about which Brooks was going to Arizona and who was claiming Washington’s Austin Rivers. Arizona’s sports radio station provided a helpful Twitter timeline for all this from no less than seven sportswriters reporting divergent stories from the three teams. It’s a pretty entertaining read:

  • “A [Memphis] Grizzlies source confirms it’s MarShon Brooks in the deal.”
  • “It’s Dillon Brooks coming to the [Phoenix] Suns. Reports of it being MarShon are wrong.”
  • “Two sources told me it was MarShon, not Dillon, after initial Dillon Brooks report, but then I was told deal was not complete.”
  • “Memphis ‘never’ discussed Dillon Brooks.”
  • “Washington believes it was told Dillon Brooks in conversations with Memphis. The Grizzlies insist they told Washington it was MarShon. One rival GM texted me and said: ‘Maybe Washington can put Scott Brooks in if there has to be a Brooks in the deal.’ “

My personal favorite: “Austin Rivers consistently repeated: ‘I don’t know where the hell I’m going right now.’ ”

According to the Twitter feed, Washington was supposed to be brokering the deal but hey, it’s Washington. Perhaps Javanka were involved with this. They get a lot of things confused.

As of this writing, Washington sent Austin Rivers and Kelly Oubre Jr. to Phoenix for Trevor Ariza who I’m not sure was part of the original deal. The “Brooks Brothers” remain in Memphis. Most importantly, my boyfriend seems pleased with the deal.

Side note: There is a Memphis Brooks Museum of Art in Memphis. It looks fantastic.

Lesson learned: get an independent broker for any business transaction involving more than two parties. And speak slowly so people can understand what you’re saying.

Should You Read the Fine Print?

There are a couple of takeaways I see from these two episodes.

  1. If you’re personally invested in a financial sense and you don’t see fine print to skim, look for it in places like email and Twitter.
  2. If your reputation is invested, get a skilled team to double-check everything, everywhere!

 

 

 

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