Rant: Evil Cell-Phone Companies (T-Mobile)

I got very angry today when I opened my phone bill to discover that T-Mobile has billed me $128.34 for last month's usage. That is more than double my normal bill ($48). This is because I used 721 minutes during "peak" times rather than the 600 allowed in my plan. T-Mobile charges $0.40/minute of airtime - calls going in or out.

250 minutes were used calling another T-Mobile customer.

60 minutes were used calling my own voicemail.

At first I didn't understand this. It just didn't make sense. The woman patiently explained that I had just been raped by her company. Oh, and did she forget to mention that I am currently over-limit this month as well? Oh, you don't know how to typ 3829# to check your minutes?

Then this woman had the gall to do me the "favor" of offering a new plan - 1000 minutes for $50/month. She would even do me the "favor" of applying it to the current bill. Sorry, can't be applied to the actual bill I was calling about. Just can't be done, sorry.

I mentioned something about extortion, and she cooed sympathetically. I finally agreed to the change. Then she drops the bomb - oh, changing your plan means renewing your contract.

The anger at that point was overwhelming. It came like a wave of heat or a flash of lightening. I said something like "F--- you you f---ing b---h" and hung up the phone.

It took a while for the anger to subside. I walked on the beach, trying to think about something besides this petty injustice. But my mind kept coming back to it. The situation sucks because if I refuse to pay the bill, it will just go to collections and then on my credit report. Obviously there is no way T-Mobile will reverse the charges. There is no hope for this situation - but is there hope for the future to prevent such things from happening?

What is the nature of this problem? How did cell phone companies get to be this way? Why is good wireless phone service so problematic?

Of course, this is just a variation on a theme: big companies use automation (computers) to enforce impossible-to-follow rules on fallable humans. The humans are, to a man, too stupid to realize what they are agreeing to in these contracts, and that it will be impossible to comply.

In this case, there are two problems: first, the contract between me and T-Mobile is completely written by them, and modified by them without my consent. *Of course* they're going to manipulate it to maximize profits. In addition, I am set up so that I don't know I'm in the danger zone until it's too late: my phone doesn't let me know I'm over my limit, or even approaching the limit. My phone doesn't tell me whether I'm in peak or off-peak periods. Wouldn't this be a simple change that would protect consumers in this asymmetrical relationship? Wouldn't it be a touch of automation for the little guy?

If these features are so valuable to consumers, why hasn't the market responded? Speaking of which, why is it that all cell-phone companies seem to have exactly the same terms and conditions?

There are several problems that I can see. First, people don't like to change phone numbers, and because of this they don't change carriers. A long, stable phone number is a good thing. Changing numbers can be a sign of flakiness. If that number is associated with a single service provider, then you have a huge barrier to overcome to change carriers. Therefore, phone numbers should be carrier independant.

The end result of these barriers-to-switching is that companies can "turn up the heat" and whip their own customers several times (and quite severely) before they actually leave. (If they were to rape a customer too hard though they'd leave immediately.)

What can I do? I really want to dump T-Mobile like a bad habit. They absolutely suck. And yet, the competition isn't any better. So really I want to dump my cell phone. This would be inconvenient. Ideally I would continue having my cell phone and a) reverse these beatings and b) prevent the beatings from occuring ever again to anyone.

Or, start a company that will obtain city money to run a public wifi network over which specially designed wifi phones could operate, free.

No comments: