Talk to a random sampling of wireless phone users and you are sure to find one thing: dissatisfaction with their provider. Seemingly everyone has a horror story about two about “how bad Verizon is” or “what terrible signal strength AT&T has” or how “so and so has the worst customer service ever.” In fact, it would be tough to visit just about anywhere in the U.S. and fail to dredge up similar stories from just about anyone you met. All of this begs the question: why are people are so universally unhappy about their wireless providers? Here are 11 reasons.
Text Message Markup
According to Consumerist, several wireless providers (including Verizon) “mark up the cost of text messages by at least 7,314% when compared to their rates for data transfer services.” Assuming a max text size of 160 characters and a transmission of 7 bits per character, that’s 1120 bits (or 140 bytes). Without a text messaging plan in place, you will find yourself paying 15 cents. Conversely, the very same phone can transmit 1024 bytes for just 1.5 cents via its data plan. As Consumerist puts it, “that’s $.015 per data kilobyte versus $1.09 per text message kilobyte.” Put another way, it equates to an eye-popping 7,314% markup!
Requiring Security Deposits for New Phones or Contracts
Amazingly, wireless providers have begun pulling credit reports and demanding security deposits prior to handing out new service contracts to applicants. We addressed this in a recent Billshrink post and found that AT&T, in particular, “charges iPhone users with bad credit up to $800 as a security deposit!” Needless to say, requiring security deposits and pulling credit scores for services that impose no risk on the other party is incomprehensible. As one Billshrink commenter astutely lamented, “it would be like Home Depot asking what your batting average was before selling you a skill saw.” Making matters worse is how militantly strict the phone companies are following the collection of the deposit. Being late even a single day on a single payment is reportedly grounds for them to keep your deposit forever.
Enabling Paid Features or Services by Default
A particularly sneaky tactic some wireless companies use is to enable paid features or services by default, whether or not you explicitly authorize them or even know about them. For instance, an individual who visits a store to sign up for a new contract may be told that various features are “standard” when in fact they are optional and enabling them increases the monthly price of the bill. Features commonly “stuck under the rug” in this manner include early night and weekend times (say 7PM instead of 9PM), extra texting capacity and in-network calling. For this reason, you should ask any sales rep you encounter to go down the list of features one by one, verifying which are truly standard and which cost extra.
Tying Certain Phones to Certain Providers
One of the most frequent complaints heard among wireless users is how certain phones are locked down or tied to certain providers. Many people would love to own an iPhone, for instance, if it was up to them to choose providers. Most of us would find it outrageous if a TV we bought only worked with Comcast or a new laptop only got Internet access via AOL, but this very policy is alive and well in the smart phone industry. Fortunately, there has been talk in recent months about opening up the iPhone to other carriers such as Verizon.
Poor Signal Strength
While wireless service has undoubtedly improved, the number one complaint remains poor or spotty signal strength. Even companies that claim to have fewer dropped calls are suspect, according to a Boston.com article analyzing their claims. In the article, Bruce Mohl points out that Cingular (now AT&T) Verizon and Sprint do not actually offer “any backup in its ads” which claim to have top network reliability or low dropped call rates. In fact, it is often unclear exactly what these companies are even claiming – is it claiming the fewer dropped calls “by a wide margin or a tiny margin?” These questions remain unanswered amidst a sea of poor signal strength complaints from customers of just about every service, depending on the area you are in.
Retaining the Previous Owner’s Information
Wireless service is expensive these days, ranging from $50-$100 per month and in some cases much more. Given the hefty pricetag, one would think that having their own name show up on outgoing caller IDs was not too much to ask, but some providers think differently. According to a rising number of complaints on support forums, it is now common for phone numbers to remain associated with their previous owners, even after someone else has been using the number in question for several months. While this may seem like a minor annoyance, imagine the frustration of the people you call seeing someone else’s name on their caller ID when you are paying over $1,000 per year to use that number.
Mysterious Headset and Upgrade Fees
Wireless companies lure people in time after time with “free upgrade” offers that promise newer phones in exchange for re-upping on their service contracts. But according to MSNBC, this often comes with strings attached, in the form of mysterious fees. As MSNBC’s Bob Sullivan explains, it works in the following manner: “You decide to stay with your mobile provider, upgrade to a new phone and think you’ve got a good deal, but two months later a $36 fee is slipped into your bill.” The size of the fee varies depending on your exact provider, but it goes without saying that any fee you discover after the fact, on a bill, rather than up front has screwjob written all over it.
Huge Disconnection Fees
Perhaps the most heated outrage toward wireless companies is felt by those who get stuck with gigantic disconnection fees. No matter who your provider is, getting out of a wireless contract before the specified end date is not cheap. In some cases, cutting the cord with your current provider can set you back as much as $250! To be fair, it should be noted that these fees are spelled out, albeit in fine print. However, it is also worth noting that many wireless sales reps fail to mention them verbally to new customers, many of whom are too young or inexperienced to examine contractual language. Furthermore, the astronomical size of these fees suggest that they are not simply covering costs of termination, but serving as a separate revenue source in and of themselves.
A growing number of wireless customers are reporting suspicious and unauthorized charges to their monthly phone bills. According to ClassActionConnect.com, the charges in question are “never authorized, for mobile content services and subscriptions they never heard of, from mobile content companies and merchants they often never knew existed, and for products they never wanted nor ever even received.” Making matters worse, ClassActionConnect has found that wireless companies are generally apathetic and unhelpful when their customers call to investigate the charges. In some cases, companies state flat out that the customer “simply must” have made the charges, even when it is blatantly untrue. Only after repeated calls and threats of legal action do some customers get refunds, which are usually only partial.
Dishonest Service Reps
We already discussed how some wireless service reps misrepresent optional features as being standard. However, some take deceit a step further by promising wireless coverage to residents of areas that do not have it. TrumanIndex.com tells the story of a young college student who signed up with AT&T on the understanding that she could use the phone where she went to school in Kirksville, Missouri. To her astonishment, however, her phone bill claimed that half her calls were being made outside the area – apparently due to the fact that AT&T did not, in fact, extend coverage to Kirksville. Slapped with roaming charges and and then left without a phone for an entire semester at school, the young girl was told that she could either give up the phone or switch to a new provider – while remaining on the hook for the contract she signed under false pretenses with AT&T.
Finally, no discussion of wireless provider shortcomings would be complete without mention of misleading ads. It has become almost axiomatic in wireless that what the commercials giveth, the fine print and customer experience taketh away. My3Cents.com, for instance, dissects misleading statements made by MetroPCS, such as its promise that you can try their service free for one month when, in actuality, you have “less than one hour (including incoming and outgoing calls billed in unknown increments) to evaluate their service.” Despite claims of allowing consumers to “unlimit themselves”, MetroPCS is reportedly unavailable or spotty in several major cities, producing skepticism about just how “unlimited” they truly are.