T-Mobile was the Guantanamo Prison of Cell Phone Companies

Posted 8 years ago by Evan Tishuk

I almost put T-Mobile in the same category as Charter Communications, insurance companies, and other monopolistic utility companies that maximize profit through, a phalanx of mouth-breathing customer service drones, labyrinthine technicalities, flimsy legal authority and general hassle.

Backstory

My cell phone provider had been SunCom since around 2002 when I was lured to them with the "unplan." This promotional plan provided unlimited minutes so long as I made phone calls from within a predefined area (about a 200 mile radius around Greenville). What if you are outside that radius, you ask? Oh, they had me covered because I was allowed 300 overflow minutes before the regular roaming fees applied. It was almost too good to be true. All for the low rate of $49 per month.

I was truly a loyal customer. Spurning the offers of other companies while my friends hopped from carrier to carrier and gadget to gadget. I swore up and down that I would never change. I was relaxed with the knowledge that I wouldn't get "dinged" with a spike in my bill. It was always a steady $57.00 (once all the taxes and other standard nickel and dime bullshit was added in).

"Hey Evan, why don't you have an iPhone or a Blackberry?"

"Ha! And give up my unplan? PAH-LEEEZE."

Then a few months ago SunCom was bought out by T-Mobile. And I held my breath as several notices from SunCom came in the mail explaining the regime change.

My first bill was paid automatically. I assumed the auto-pay I had setup with SunCom had transferred without a hitch. Good sign. I was thinking, "Hey, maybe this will be a benevolent dictatorship"

Then I received my next bill: $97.15. What. The. Roaming fees? Roaming? I haven't had a roaming charge since I was in college. Which is starting to be a long time ago. There must have been some sort of mistake. I'll just call up the customer support line and see what the deal is...

Entering the asylum

I begin by quickly explaining how the "unplan" works to the representative. The rest is a paraphrased transcript:

REP: "When T-mobile bought SunCom they changed the plan. No longer will T-Mobile offer the 300 spill over roaming minutes per month. And in return we've increased the calling radius to all of SC, NC, GA, and VA."

ME: "Wait. You changed my plan and didn't tell me?"

REP: "We sent you a letter"

ME: "I never received this letter. The first piece of mail I received from T-mobile was a bill."

REP: "We sent it"

ME: "You may have, but I never received it. Can you re-send me this letter?"

REP: "Let me check. I don't think so because you're plan is grandfathered in, we don't have standard mail for those."

A few seconds pass. I start processing the situation. If they can't send me a letter that has the details of my new plan how can I be responsible for the charges? And furthermore, given the hoops that SunCom had jumped through in the past to honor my grandfathered contract, how is it possible for T-Mobile to change terms without me signing a new contract? Doesn't this void my old contract? And most importantly, if I have no clear terms, can't they just charge me whatever they want?

REP: "Sir? I'm sorry we can't re-send you anything regarding the details of your current plan."

ME: "Really? So, as of right now I have no idea what plan I have or what you may have changed. And I have no way of finding out this information short of reverse engineering the bills that you send me?

REP: "Sir. We can can offer you an upgrade you to another plan."

ME: "Can you remove the $50.85 from this bill for roaming charges?"

REP "No, those charges are valid"

ME: "Valid? To whom? Certainly not valid to me. Who should I talk to if I want to contest those charges? Heck, I want to contest this whole situation. Who do I need to speak with to get this cleared up?"

REP: "Me."

ME: "Ok, I'd like to contest these charges"

REP: "They're valid."

ME: "What does that even mean? Valid."

REP: "They're valid charges in the system"

ME: "For one thing, you can't define a word using the same word. For another, you can't possibly be qualified to deal with this situation, can I speak with someone else. Your manager perhaps?"

REP: "She's going to tell you the same thing. We can't do anything about your bill"

ME: "Ok. This is useless. Let me research my options here and get back with you."

She spewed a canned salutation and something about a merry Christmas then hung up.

I decided to call back after a few minutes to get a hold of someone else who maybe didn't suck so hard. So I do that. I'll spare you the transcript. But the next representative was much nicer, apologetic, and seemed to empathize with my situation more. Even still, she couldn't help me.

So I asked if they would cancel my service and I was quickly switched over to a loss recovery person. I gave her my spiel and then gave her time to sell me on a solution. Her sales pitch was pathetic. I told her as much and said, "at this point, even if you offer me the best plan you have in your bag of tricks, I'd prefer to cancel my service on principle alone."

Then she tells me -- and this is like a headbutt to the solar plexus -- "your contract doesn't end until 2010." Evidently, when I bought my new phone in June (which I hate by the way) it auto-renewed my contract for two more years. If I want to break the contract it will be $200.

At this point now, I'm simultaneously mourning the loss of the "unplan" and seething with anger at T-Mobile, at the ignorant customer service representative, and my own naivety for thinking T-Mobile might not be a team of vampires. I can't do anything but laugh and hang up. This is like something out of the Twighlight Zone. Guantanamo Prison for cell phone service where I don't have rights, I can't see a judge, and the prison guards poke at me with snarky comments about the validity of roaming charges.

Now what?

My current plan is to go to a T-Mobile store location and see if a sales manager will/can:

  1. Produce a copy of my contract;
  2. Provide documentation regarding the details of my service package, and
  3. Remove the roaming charges from my bill

But if the outcome of this meeting is not positive, then what should I do?

Shouldn't I have had to literally sign a new contract with T-Mobile if they couldn't honor the previous contract I had with SunCom? Do I have a legal leg to stand on? Is it worth pursuing with the FCC or BBB? Should I pay the $200 to break the contract and get away from this situation? Should I just keep calling customer service until they are tired of hearing my voice? Should I scrap my phone and start using a HAM or CB radio?

Update

Hooray! I made some progress. Short of it is: T-Mobile wiped the $50 of erroneous roaming charges from my last bill and upgraded my account to "preferred wireless," essentially dropping my roaming rate from $0.45 / minute to $0.10 / minute. I wrote the long version of the story in the comments below if you're interested..

10 Comments

Joshua ~ 8 years ago

Ouch. Real quick check, your bill was $9715? Or $97.15? I was thinking $50.85 in roaming charges was bad, but $9664.15 in other miscellaneous charges is even worse... ;-)

Adam Gautsch ~ 8 years ago

I think Evan missed a decimal point the first time. I added it. Though it does make a more exciting story get charged $9,715.00.

Ross Graham ~ 8 years ago

I swear I remember people jumping ship when providers would raise the cost of some service ... stating it was a breach of contract and a way they could get out without paying the release fee. Look back a couple years in blog posts to when the iPhone was coming out and people were breaking their contracts to get ready for it. I think I remember conversations around that point.

But ... all that aside, that $200 is a lot cheaper than paying two more years of service to T-Mobile. I've been a T-Mobile customer since they bought Voicestream some years ago (and got grandfathers into Voicestream from Aerial ... per second billing back in 1995 was pretty sweet!)

I've found their support to be hit and miss. One person useless and idiotic; next phone person helpful beyond all belief. I'm shocked that there isn't anyone else that can help you with this on the phone, however, and that they would not remove ANY of those roaming charges.

But yes, you might get better mileage at one of the stores. Be sure to go to a company store, and not just a mall kiosk. Those kiosk guys won't be of much help.

Nobrainer ~ 8 years ago

As you've probably noticed, I've often complained about Sprint. Everything with them is fine until I have any reason to call customer service. But after something like 8 years, I'm still with them. The reason is that I'm convinced that the grass is the same brown color on the other side.

But I was wondering if you had logged into the Tmobil website to see what documentation they have online? I'd expect that they should have some documentation on their website.

Adam Gautsch ~ 8 years ago

I'd also point out there are events on Evan's calendar for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday related to bitching at T-Mobile in various ways.

Hell hath no fury like an Evan removed from his Unplan. He loved that plan more than he loved himself.

walford ~ 8 years ago

Try going to Verizon or AT&T. Their plans are cheaper and the reps are SO much nicer.

Chris Moore ~ 8 years ago

I agree with nobrainer - it's just as bad everywhere else. In the past six or so years, I've been through TMobile, Verizon, Sprint, Nextel, back to Sprint and I'm now with AT&T (only because of the iPhone).

I have to say, AT&T has been more responsive than the others combined and the coverage in the upstate is better than Sprint's, but they're all the same when you try to leave.

Good luck!

Dylan ~ 8 years ago

Evan, I would suggest using the website www.fixmycellbill.com (by a company called Validas) to you and anyone reading to combat the kinds of unwanted T-Mobile charges that you wrote of. In my own case, I saved over $230 per year off my Verizon Wireless bill by working through Validas. My savings are no exception here given that the average Validas customer saves $487 annually. In fact, I was so impressed with these results that I took a job with the company.

Here's a quick breakdown of how it actually works. Validas analyzes your online cell bill for free and calculates how much money you could be saving. It turns out that eight of ten wireless customers are paying more than they need to for their plans. Validas fixes these discrepancies by tailoring a customer's plan to fit their specific needs. If you choose, Validas provides your personalized cell bill adjustment report that is emailed, for five bucks, to your wireless provider in industry specific format so you can actually implement these cash saving changes. If Validas can save you more than $5 on your bill, this obviously provides a very cost effective solution.

Validas is rapidly becoming known as an advocate for the wireless customer. Check out a feature about the company on The Big Idea with CNBC's Donny Deutsch at http://www.cnbc.com/id/22782456/. Any cell subscriber who wants to cut costs should consider Validas. It’s free to consult and you only stand to save.

Happy holidays and good luck in reducing your wireless expenses.

Dylan

Evan Tishuk ~ 7 years ago

I went to my local T-Mobile store and pleaded my case. The man there basically told me that once T-Mobile purchased SunCom, they stripped much of the powers away from the in-store sales people. And you could tell. I sat in line there for close to an hour and relaized that store people would just relay customer requests through the phone to someone back on the mother ship. Bet there's a lot of turnover in that job.

However, with all that time I spent standing in line I started soberly assessing my negotiating position (1) T-Mobile never notified me with a certified letter and have no assurance that it was delivered to my address. It was probably lost in the mail, which is not my fault and T-Mobile should have a policy to account for such possibilities. (2) Without my name on an amended contract, T-Mobile is on very thin ice to expect anything from me at all. (3) The fact that T-Mobile cannot produce a document stating the details of my plan puts a further nail into their argumentative coffin.

So with all that, I decided I would once again call customer service and, this time, immediately ask to be put in touch with their legal representatives.

That changed things.

The $50 of roaming charges were removed. I now have a plan that allows me to make unlimited phone calls from anywhere in SC, NC, GA, VA, and TN. And if I call from outside those regions, it's 10 cents per minute. And this is at a rate of $39.00 / month.

I don't get the 300 anywhere minutes per month, but if I were to use 300 minutes outside my area, it would only be $30. It's not exactly what I had before, but considering it's 20$ / month less than what I was paying per month, I think it's a fair compromise.

Congrats to T-Mobile for getting it right after several weeks of getting it very wrong. Now I kinda feel like Ike Clanton about 3:50 into this video (the first 3 minutes are also worth watching if you liked Tombstone).

Michael McGehee ~ 7 years ago

Evan -

I'm a former SunCon customer, and I have exactly the same problem you had, and am even in the same zone (SC, NC, GA VA and TN), but T-Mobile has refused to make the same deal with me that they made with you, assuring me that they have no plan which fits that description. I explained that I didn't think it was a "plan," but rather a compromise which was reached in regard to their legal obligations, but I got nowhere. Any suggestions?

Mike
mhmcge@gmail.com

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