It's a cruel, yet common, habit among hokey Internet companies struggling for relevance: Milk the confused old folks (who didn't grow up with new-fangled Nets and therefore aren't quite sure how all that gunk should work) for what little they've got left in their retirement funds.

In this sense, elderly Loma Linda resident Betty Howard was Verizon's No. 1 customer. As Howard slowly lost the battle to breast cancer, her daughter-in-law thought the dying woman might benefit from a window to the outside world, in the form of a simple broadband connection.

Not so fast. The company's first count of entrepreneurial skeeze, via the Los Angeles Times:

Several months passed and the Internet connection just couldn't be made. Loveless said she was finally told by a Verizon rep that Howard would need a Verizon phone account as well for broadband service.

So in September, [Marilynn] Loveless ordered a package of services from Verizon on Howard's behalf, including broadband. And still, she said, there was no Net access.

The Verizon victim's daughter-in-law, Marilynn Loveless; Credit: Los Angeles Times via Gina Ferazzi

The Verizon victim's daughter-in-law, Marilynn Loveless; Credit: Los Angeles Times via Gina Ferazzi

By early December, Howard had succumbed to her illness. And, responsibly — though we're sure it was the last thing on her next-of-kin's mind — Loveless called Verizon and asked the company to please stop billing her dead mother-in-law for a service she never even received.

But for some reason, the Verizon chain of command couldn't seem to compute the “dead customer” input:

In March, the bill for $110.80 arrived. Loveless said she again explained to Verizon that its customer was dead. So the company cut the bill to $54.82. When no payment was forthcoming, it turned over the account to a debt collector, I.C. System of Minnesota.

So not only has Verizon been cheating a dying old woman of her first and final glimpse at humanity's digital future, it's now refusing to let her Rest in Peace without dangling illegitimate bills over her head.

Reminds us a little of the AOL business model: Heartbreakingly, $1 billion of the company's annual profits are reaped off subscribers — mostly older, out-of-touch ones — who aren't aware they have any option but to pay AOL $300 per year to get online. (Guess the Patch disaster has to be bailed out somehow. But really? If this is what bold American capitalism has been reduced to, we're moving to Cuba.)

In the end, after some prodding from the Times reporter, Verizon did agree to reduce Howard's startup fee to $42.75, then to drop charges altogether — apparently realizing, at long last, that they were being complete assholes. Their sheepish last words:

“There are circumstances where mistakes are made. No one is perfect.”


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