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David Post: Never too late for an identity crisis

I’m a deadbeat.

Got up this morning to take a shower and had no water.

No Internet. No TV. No notice.

Salisbury was mad at me for not paying my bill.

Most of my bills arrive and are paid online. My bank account showed that Salisbury’s bill had been paid about three weeks ago, so off I went to the city offices to figure this out.

Somehow, I managed to pay last month’s bill but not the accumulation for the previous two or three months.

Salisbury is my only bill that is not sent electronically. The bills for my house in DC are sent and paid electronically. But Salisbury, with Fibrant on the cutting edge of technology, only sends paper bills. (As a loyal customer, I want to plug Fibrant. Great product and service. Friendly people you bump into around town. Go find your Time Warner or AT&T service professional at Lee Street Theater. No way.) 

Why does Salisbury spend tens of thousands of dollars each year to mail reams of paper? E-bills cost nothing to send.  For the cost of a few months of stamps, couldn’t Salisbury could program its computers to send ebills. It’s not a new technology. My little company uses QuickBooks. It cost $200 and sends monthly e-bills or can automatically charge a bank account or a credit card.

As I stood there writing a check, needing to take a shower and brush my teeth (maybe that was the problem), I was told that Salisbury can’t send an e-bill or a bill via email. Maybe later.

I also paid the bill (current!) for my office building, nervous that I might miss the paper bill due this week. That bill was in the name of a company I closed four years ago without ever using that building. How that happened is a complete mystery, but Salisbury said it would accept money from anyone.

Naturally, I asked to change the name on the account either to me (the owner of the building) or to my company, the name on the check. Salisbury said that was not enough. It said it needed a tax ID number. I offered both my Social Security number and my company’s number. Salisbury said that was not enough. It wanted to see a deed proving who owned the building, a copy of my company’s incorporation, and a copy of the lease if my company was to pay the bill.  I offered to show ownership and the incorporation online (via Fibrant!).

No, it had to be a real deed, a real corporate charter, and a copy of the lease. I’ve never taken any of that anywhere to pay for water or Internet.

With Fibrant TVs all around me, I wondered if I was on Candid Camera or in Lily Tomlin’s comedy sketch when she says to a customer: “We’re the phone company. We don’t care and we don’t have to.”

I could only smile and remember my cousin who was driving through a traffic jam recently when a driver in front of us began honking angrily at another car. He said, “Once you honk, you’ve already lost.” I don’t honk.

I thanked Salisbury and left, wondering if I should gather all that paperwork or let a dead company remain responsible for the bills.

Salisbury does a lot right. When I moved my company from D.C. to Salisbury 12 years ago, the hurdles to merely occupy a building were almost enough to convince me to locate somewhere else. Today, most Salisbury personnel have a “can do” attitude and try to help.

The cost of sending paper bills is expensive and savable. The cost of a smile and a “let’s-fix-this” attitude is free and buys a lot more.

Now I got to go fix my credit rating. That’s going to be fun.

David Post lives in Salisbury.


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