Activation fees are charged to VZW when a new line is activated. They pass that cost on to the customer. Activation fees have been art of cell phones forever. They aren't new.
Also, you have been a regular member of this community for a while now. You should understand that this is how it is. If there isn't a specific promotion from VZW for activation fee waivers then you're not likely to get it. As far as what a rep said, remember the last paragraph in your customer agreement.
This Agreement and the documents it incorporates form the entire agreement between us. You can't rely on any other documents, or on what's said by any Sales or Customer Service Representatives, and you have no other rights regarding Service or this agreement.