Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

July 15, 2013

Business Confidential: Internet payment snafu briefly takes City of Jacksonville offline earlier this week

Ben Tinsley
Jacksonville Daily Progress

JACKSONVILLE — Stop me if you've read this one before:

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For those of you who did a double-take Monday when the City of Jacksonville's emails went briefly AWOL, a payment glitch caused the service to go offline until the problem could be corrected. Which it surely was, after a hectic Monday morning.

So … problem solved, right?

Maybe not just yet. Perhaps there's a lesson or two to be learned.

At this point, it is probably important to note that there are many people out there with perfect credit ratings who will never, ever default on payments under any circumstances.

It is these people who should simply move along to the next story because – trust me – there's nothing of value to see here.

For the rest of us, there's that lesson I was talking about: That for every warm and fuzzy saccharine sweet success story about glorious online credit card payments there's a different kind of tale that stems directly from the dark undertow of the universe. One probably better synced with reality than any positive “sunshiny” version of online payment you may or may not hear about.

The credit card – and  its mentally challenged first cousin, the debit – can often seem like more trouble than they are actually worth.

These cards are designed to make life easier for folks, right? Yet, scads of consumers spend hours upon hours of each day talking and arguing to – basically bargaining with – service operators. Trying to figure out why they ever allowed any company the license to automatically deduct payments from their bank accounts when said amounts can be increased by that company so easily and totally without their consent.

Then there's the other side of the coin. What if the company gets it right and deducts the money seamlessly? Is it possible that could be equally problematic?

Maybe so. Consumers who have successfully effected the deduction of payment of bills without worry or concern can grow dangerously content, which can lead to forgetfulness. Charges, subsequently, can be earmarked for a debit or credit card and promptly self-erased from memory.

Indeed, it can often seem to come as a complete surprise to a consumer when a cell phone bill or the workout place bill comes past due. Officials with either company can keep scratching their heads at why we keep defaulting and paying our fees late. But for many, forgetting to pay is a completely innocent exercise. One of those quirks of human nature.

Large problems, especially over the Internet, can come in small packages – caused by something as miniscule as a less than $9 payment.

Who would miss, as they said in the 1920s, a “Fin,” right? Surely, there's no way to default on something that costs less than a Ten-Spot.

Hmmmmmm. No. Not necessarily the case, as Jack-sonville city officials will be the first to tell you.

In and around Monday, one of those aforementioned teensy service bills came due for the city of Jacksonville. And the charge placed to the designated card inadvertently defaulted. Bounced.  

This seemingly small development completely halted early incoming and outgoing Monday email traffic – from the city manager's office to the police department to the fire department to public works.

And for a while, trusty email addresses sending important communications to extremely trusted city officials simply … fell away as if they had never existed.  

The mini-chaos that followed on Monday prompted concerned phone calls. Fortunately, Jacksonville city officials moved quickly to take care of the problem.

A less-than $9 charge seems like such a small bounce, too. A truly tiny amount of money. And yet it caused such a pain.

Turns out, the defaulted Internet charge had been designated to a older, out of commission, city employee card. That particular financial responsibility had simply not yet been realigned to a newer card. Just one of those things.

I wish I could sum up this column with some overreaching, condescending moral such as, “You should only use cash and never credit or debit cards.” But, honestly, I can't.

Seriously? This is the world in which we live. This entire situation was simply a sign of the times.

Credit and debit cards are the venue through which many corporate payments must be made these days. So what are you going to do – other than try to stay vigilant to make sure payments are made on time and from the right source?

However. Although I find myself cautiously resigned to this situation, I don't necessarily fall on the side of those credit card payment fans.

I totally know what it's like to be one of those poor people who start off trying to pay bills through a nifty debit card iPhone app and end up being one of those poor schmoes desperately phoning call centers over and over, trying to make sense of nonsensical charges. Each center has operators so rude they must be French.

So. Not to be overly grumpy or anything, but I'm growing weary of these “online payment” Twinkies who squeal and click their heels in joy while exclaiming,“Life is so much easier now.”

Because it's not really easier. It's NOT. This form of payment simply comes with a whole mess of its own kinds of problems. (Many of which I have just outlined.)

Bottom line, I fail to see how online payments in the Jacksonville Internet situation have accomplished anything – other than to successfully test the ability of city officials to quickly and efficiently address a detrimental situation.

Ben Tinsley, a Jacksonville Daily Progress reporter with over 25 years in the journalism industry,

writes Business Confidential,

a column designed to help promote

and help spotlight the diverse

and growing business community of Cherokee County.

Wish to submit ideas? Simply contact Tinsley by email, btinsley@jacksonvilleprogress.com,

or call him at 903-586-2236.

Tinsley can also be followed on Twitter

at http://www.twitter.com/bentinsley

or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ben.tinsley.12