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Author Topic: Customer Service is Dead
Kwea
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I have a cell phone, and my service is with Sprint. I have friends who work at a Sprint kiosk, and they set me up with a decent deal for 2 phones. It isn't the best deal compared to some of the plans that have come out in the past year and a half, but it was a really good deal for back then, and a decent one now.

I just got a letter from Sprint saying that they are going to start charging us a $4.99 fee monthly unless we set up an automatic bill pay with them. I guess we have a $1000 spending limit with them... which is funny as both our phones coast $87 total a month, with unlimited talk and 1000 texts per phone a month. We have internet blocked on both phones too, so we can't "accidentaly" use the internet. [Big Grin]

We have been on time for the 3 years we have been with them, and have a total balance (which isn't due for another 2 weeks) of $87.

I called, and they basically told me to go screw myself. They lied about the costs of other providers, and basically tried to bully me into setting up a payment deduction from my bank account. They say that the fee "covers their cost of doing business with people who have an account spending limit".

I pointed out that we have never had a balance of over $100, never been late, bought new phones and renewed our contract with them.......and that the "cost" of doing business with us is a freaking PROFIT! It's called having our business.

I am now looking for a new provider. I don't even care if they also charge a fee. That wasn't my point.


By adding this fee to our account after 3 years of on time payments, Sprint basically told us that we weren't good enough customers, and they want to charge a FEE for granting us the PRIVILEGE of paying them each month.

They can go screw themselves.

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Stephan
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I have always received outstanding service from Cingular. I had some severe problems with the agent that put me on the initial contract, and they fixed everything and gave me two months free. Haven't needed to call in since AT&T took over yet though.
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MattP
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quote:
I am now looking for a new provider. I don't even care if they also charge a fee. That wasn't my point.
I wonder about this bit. The change to paperless/automatic billing is happening all over the place, as is the fee for not participating. Presumably you'd have been just as pissed if AT&T had done it, yet it's quite likely that AT&T already has or is about to and you are willing to consider their service now instead.

It's like you're saying "I'm so mad at this industry trend that I'm going to abandon the first company that I experience it with and go to another company even if that company does it too!"

Customer service has always been crap. The employees aren't paid much nor are they generally well trained. Personally, I try to let that stuff wash over and go with whatever gives me the best value over time. If it's your current carrier with or without the annoying fee, I'd just suck it up and stay with them. But I put a value on, uh, value. [Smile] Perhaps customer service is more important to you. In that case, good luck finding decent customer service in the cell phone industry. My experience is that it's pretty universally poor.

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Alcon
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Yeah, AT&T has been good to me and Cingular was before them. But I don't handle the bills - so I can't report anything there...

That's absolute crap though.

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MattP
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quote:
Originally posted by Stephan:
I have always received outstanding service from Cingular. I had some severe problems with the agent that put me on the initial contract, and they fixed everything and gave me two months free. Haven't needed to call in since AT&T took over yet though.

And I had absolute crap service from them. I signed up for a new account, found that coverage at my home was very poor, and took advantage of their "full refund within 30 days" return policy. Several months later I got a call from a collections agency letting me know that I had a delinquent bill for something around $200. Cingular was unwilling to do anything about it and I paid it rather than have it harm my credit.

A couple months later I found the delinquency listed on my credit record even though I had paid it immediately when the collections agency called. It took me two months to get that cleaned up.

...and today I have an AT&T phone because it's the provider that I needed to use for a project I was working on and because all the cell phone companies have similar horror stories.

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MattP
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My one other comment is that changes like this are not personal. They aren't attempting to insult you by charging a fee for automatic billing. It's relatively easy to implement a broad policy change that applies to all customers. It's substantially more difficult (and expensive!) to make exceptions based on subjective criteria about how good of a customer a given person has been or is likely to be in the future.

Given that a single dead-beat customer can easily cost $100 or more, depending on the variety of subsidized phone they have, it could very well be that the average customer costs a few dollars a month and, in a real way, it is the "cost of having you as a customer" where "you" really means our "average customer".

Personally, I suspect the "cost" is probably well below the $4.99 they are charging, but perhaps the customers that are unwilling to pay that much are statistically more likely to default, making them more expensive, on average again, than other customers.

There's certainly an element of money-grubbing going on as well.

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Itsame
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Are you sure you didn't drop your computer (voiding the warranty)? Yeah. Pretty damned sure. Let me explain in excruciating detail how your cheap plastic hinges led to a chain reaction that destroyed half the computer through no fault of my own.
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Kwea
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You have it backwards. They aren't charging me for automatic billing. They are charging me for paying, on time, manually.

Or they are trying to, anyways.


Part of what pisses me off so much is that they are adding a fee, but not adding any services.


Also, I can get unlimited text, phone AND internet for $50 around here. $100 for 2 phones. That's about what we pay now for 2.


At a time where all of the companies are LOWERING their rates, Sprint wants to screw some of their most loyal customers?

Screw them.

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scifibum
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quote:
And I had absolute crap service from them. I signed up for a new account, found that coverage at my home was very poor, and took advantage of their "full refund within 30 days" return policy. Several months later I got a call from a collections agency letting me know that I had a delinquent bill for something around $200. Cingular was unwilling to do anything about it and I paid it rather than have it harm my credit.
I had nearly the same experience.
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MattP
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quote:
You have it backwards. They aren't charging me for automatic billing. They are charging me for paying, on time, manually.
No, I understand that. I'm sorry I was unclear.

Regardless, many companies are doing this. Most of the monthly services that I pay for have implemented a "use auto-pay or pay a fee" policy, long after I became a customer and despite the fact that I've never missed a payment. Getting annoyed and jumping to another company that has done the same thing, just because I wasn't a customer when they did it, doesn't seem to make sense.

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zgator
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But it also doesn't make sense that Sprint would risk losing a good customer who always pays on time over this fee. I'm sure it would be very easy for someone to cancel the fee on Kwea's account after he has called to complain about it. It's good (and easy) customer service.
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rollainm
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I've experienced pretty decent customer service with Cingular/AT&T over the past 9 years or so (and their coverage isn't half as bad as critics say it is btw). Now Powertel/Voicestream back in the day? Oh man have I got some horror stories. I think T-Mobile bought them out.

As for the fee, I'm not sure if AT&T does it since I've had autopay set up for years.

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rivka
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quote:
Originally posted by MattP:
Most of the monthly services that I pay for have implemented a "use auto-pay or pay a fee" policy

Interesting. None of mine do.

I use billpay through my bank to pay all my bills, rather than their autopays, and not one company is charging me for this.

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theCrowsWife
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quote:
Originally posted by scifibum:
quote:
And I had absolute crap service from them. I signed up for a new account, found that coverage at my home was very poor, and took advantage of their "full refund within 30 days" return policy. Several months later I got a call from a collections agency letting me know that I had a delinquent bill for something around $200. Cingular was unwilling to do anything about it and I paid it rather than have it harm my credit.
I had nearly the same experience.
Me, too, only it was with Verizon and was closer to $500. They also never refunded our money for the equipment we sent back. We decided to take the credit hit instead of paying it.

--Mel

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scifibum
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I wonder if you can dispute the debt with the credit reporting agency, Mel. I'd guess in that situation you might have a chance of success.
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Orincoro
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quote:
Originally posted by MattP:
quote:
I am now looking for a new provider. I don't even care if they also charge a fee. That wasn't my point.
I wonder about this bit. The change to paperless/automatic billing is happening all over the place, as is the fee for not participating. Presumably you'd have been just as pissed if AT&T had done it, yet it's quite likely that AT&T already has or is about to and you are willing to consider their service now instead.

It's like you're saying "I'm so mad at this industry trend that I'm going to abandon the first company that I experience it with and go to another company even if that company does it too!"

It's not like he has any power to punish other companies for what he considers to be a general wrong. He can only voice his disapproval to the people he has already been doing business with. If more people did that, maybe the fee would disappear, or a grace period would be given for those with long standing contracts. American telecom has suffered for so many years from being a seller's market where people are willing to put up with enormous BS, that I personally think nothing short of congressional intervention and stronger regulations will stop the kinds of abuse that go on.

Issue number one for me is factory-locked mobile phones tied to providers. This practice is illegal in much of the rest of the world, for obvious reasons. Why consumer groups haven't had the sand to tackle this abuse in the States is beyond me. Part of the issue is that the mobile companies spend a lot of money making sure that their abusive and hurtful practices continue because they are very profitable. This is why apple and at&t can mask the cost of Iphones by tying them to long term contracts that recoup the actual price of the phone, and some profit. Here in Europe, you pay the price of the phone up front, or a subsidized phone plan with a deposit, but never are you bound to a two year agreement with one provider, unless you choose to be. The wide availability of per-minute plans have driven costs down, and been very good for consumers- especially light users. The typical cost of phone service in most of Europe for a month is less than 20 dollars, and often closer to 10. Last year I payed 2,500 CZK, or about 130 dollars, for an entire year of moderate service, plus the cost of the phone (which was cheap).

An added benefit to this system is that users are more aware of their phone use, and generally use texting more, which is a benefit to everyone. Seeing someone with a phone stuck in their ear in public is not as common here, and conversations are shorter, as people mind their use of minutes more closely.

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LargeTuna
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*adding to oricoro's point*
The very few good providers who constantly focus on attacking the other, and the locked provider phones makes the competitive moble phone market so much worse too.

There's way less incentive to make an advanced new phone to sell in the usa market and competitively price it for the buyers because a person can only get the phones on their network. I'm pretty sure most good phones are released in Europe before they come out here.

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scifibum
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"but never are you bound to a two year agreement with one provider, unless you choose to be."

Nobody is forced to sign these contracts in the US either. There's a healthy aftermarket for 'unlocked' phones as well, if that's what people want.

And the cheap phone + pay-as-you-go is on the shelf at Walmart and all the other big retailers as well, which is about as widely available as it can get.

One thing that DOES make me mad is deliberately locking down the features in the phone in an effort to make users pay extra to do useful things.

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Kwea
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MetroPCS has $30 all talk and text, with no contracts. Their service doesn't work everywhere, but it works everywhere I live, and am likely to visit.

They aren't the only ones.


I can't wait until bank reform hits too. These overdraft charges are a pain. I wasn't at fault....they posted my rent check twice...but I almost had a heart attack when I saw 38 overdraft fees and a balance of -$2000.

Took forever to fix too. YOU make a mistake and they screw you, to the point of taking transactions out of dated order, but THEY make a mistake and it takes 3 business days?


Bullcrap.

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theCrowsWife
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quote:
Originally posted by scifibum:
I wonder if you can dispute the debt with the credit reporting agency, Mel. I'd guess in that situation you might have a chance of success.

That's probable. I suspect we would have to keep disputing it, though, because it would keep getting put back on. We pretty much don't use credit anymore, so it hasn't been a priority.

--Mel

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scifibum
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quote:
Originally posted by theCrowsWife:
We pretty much don't use credit anymore, so it hasn't been a priority.

--Mel

Even better. [Smile]
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Hobbes
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Zgator! How are you?

Ohh, and customer service is beginning to decompose everywhere. At least the future will have plenty of mulch...

Hobbes [Smile]

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Kwea
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How have you been, zgator! I haven't seen you around in quite a while!
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AvidReader
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quote:
Originally posted by Kwea:
I can't wait until bank reform hits too. These overdraft charges are a pain. I wasn't at fault....they posted my rent check twice...but I almost had a heart attack when I saw 38 overdraft fees and a balance of -$2000.

Took forever to fix too. YOU make a mistake and they screw you, to the point of taking transactions out of dated order, but THEY make a mistake and it takes 3 business days?


Bullcrap.

As the guy that has to fix that by hand, I'd like to say, yeah, it really can. Depends on how big the glitch is. We've got a problem now where transactions that were declined at the terminal are posting to people's accounts anyway. And the company that provides the system I usually go to to see what the transaction did didn't tell us our security certificate had expired and spent three days with no idea why our system was down.

So I got to go into a different system that only shows PIN transactions and learn all new codes to figure out what the heck was happening. Then I get to compare it to the account, where I may or may not have been told what you think went wrong, and see if it matches. Then I get to manually post the correction and log it.

Starting today, my reconcilement program will have caught up to the days with the glitches, so I should start being able to post them on my own instead of needing to wait for people to call in. But it will be two days later before I can even get started. If it's like the issue in March where I had hundreds of transactions to post, it could easily take me more than three business days.

Some days, technology sucks. But everyone of my members will get every penny back.

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Lyrhawn
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I've had Cingular/ATT for I think five years. I switched from Sprint to save some money, and I haven't had any problems in all that time. A couple months ago I went to a family plan with a couple family members and we ended up getting texting, which I didn't have before, and all of us are paying less than we were before, and getting more for it. I don't have auto-pay, but I pay online every month. They don't charge me any extra fees for it. Also, when I switched to the family plan, they waived all the fees that they normally charge for switching numbers between accounts, which was quite nice of them.

I too am looking forward to the banking reform bill, and the credit card reform bill (though I think this one has actually already taken effect). I personally have never been hit with credit card or overdraft fees or any of that, but I've heard horror stories.

Most of my money is in a credit union, and I have my one credit card through that same credit union. I have a low fixed rate, it's never been increased, and the credit union automatically extends me a personal loan if I overdraw my checking, which I've done exactly once, by seventeen cents, and was very grateful for the safety net. What's left of my money is in an online savings account that is relatively pain free, though seems like more of an inconvenience to me than anything these days. I put that money away a couple years ago when the interest rate was something like 6%, but it's down to around 1 or 2% now. That's still above my credit union rate, but it doesn't seem like it's worth the hassle for an extra percent on money that won't even be there in a year.

My overall customer service experiences have been rather flawless over the last couple years, with one singular, constantly unhelpful thorn in my side: my school's financial aid office. They're a black hole of helpfulness, where hopes and time go to die.

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Orincoro
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quote:
Originally posted by scifibum:
"but never are you bound to a two year agreement with one provider, unless you choose to be."

Nobody is forced to sign these contracts in the US either. There's a healthy aftermarket for 'unlocked' phones as well, if that's what people want.

And the cheap phone + pay-as-you-go is on the shelf at Walmart and all the other big retailers as well, which is about as widely available as it can get.

Point taken, but as a for instance, Apple's exclusive deal with At&t would be illegal in Europe, and one would not need to seek aftermarket unlocked (and consequently warranty-invalidated) phones.

And anyway, the lack of availability in per-minute plans means higher prices overall. Nobody pays the kind of prices US consumers have to pay, unless they are getting a very premium service- and I dare say even then the prices are lower here. The actual price of equipment in Europe is higher, but only on the sticker price. It may be shocking to see a $900 price point on an iphone, but the truth of the matter is that this is the same price American consumers pay in the longer term- and European consumers are quite free to drop their service at any time, with no penalties or hassles.

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Mucus
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quote:
Originally posted by Orincoro:
... Nobody pays the kind of prices US consumers have to pay, unless they are getting a very premium service- and I dare say even then the prices are lower here

Most likely.
quote:
Canadians may have good reason to be upset when confronted with their monthly cellphone bills.

It turns out Canadian cellphone users are, on average, paying some of the highest rates in the developed world to use their cellphones.

If it's any consolation, at least we can say the Americans are paying more.

quote:
Canadians identified as medium users -- defined as those customers using 780 minutes of voice calls, sending 600 text messages and eight multimedia or video messages (MMS) per month -- spend about US$500.63 per year on their cellphone contracts.

Only users in Spain (US$508.26) and the United States (US$635.85) pay more.

On average, cellphone users in developed countries pay an average of US$11-$12 per month (US$132-$144 per year) for similar service plans, with the cheapest rates being found in Finland, Sweden and the Netherlands.

http://www.financialpost.com/story.html?id=1881530
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scifibum
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I haven't done (or read) any real analysis of the industry, but I think there is at least one solid reasons why service ought to cost more in the U.S. (and Canada!) than elsewhere: Coverage is more evenly spread out than population. Big country with pretty good coverage in sparsely populated areas.

Here I'm getting a little bolder in my speculation, but I also think we in the U.S. probably have a lot of excess network capacity and keep rebuilding the networks excessively. Carriers compete by offering upgraded networks as soon as they can rather than amortizing existing infrastructure first and then making rarer, larger leaps.

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Katarain
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I called Sprint--wanted to know if this would affect me. She said it's only for people who have a spending limit, or for people who don't have any credit, like students.

But then later she said that if I do bill pay, I'll get a $5 discount on my bill.

Sounds like the same thing to me, except a discount for signing up for bill pay is more palatable than a fee for not.

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steven
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The problem with automatic bill pay is that, if you do get some crazy erroneous charges on your bill, either from data, minutes, texting, or app purchases, it's much harder to dispute them and avoid paying for them if you've already paid via automatic bill pay. If you pay manually, you can always just refuse to pay. You can port your number out to another carrier and leave the bill unpaid. One $500 unpaid wireless bill is not that hard on your credit as long as everything else is paid on time and in good standing--and I know this because I used to be involved with financing car loans.


Currently I'm doing wireless customer service for AT&T. If anyone has any questions, like "how can I cancel without an early termination fee?", or "what's the cheapest way to upgrade?", or others, I might be able to help. [Smile]

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Orincoro
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quote:
Originally posted by scifibum:
I haven't done (or read) any real analysis of the industry, but I think there is at least one solid reasons why service ought to cost more in the U.S. (and Canada!) than elsewhere: Coverage is more evenly spread out than population. Big country with pretty good coverage in sparsely populated areas.

It's all of a piece, I think. Bigger coverage areas are in turn covered by bigger companies. But though I see that point too, I think the real issue is that big telecom companies simply exert far too much political power in the United States, allowing them all to collude in ripping off the consumers. If the companies were forced as they are in other countries to separate their service and equipment sectors, competition would drive not only greater market diversity and better quality, but also more efficiency in service and lower prices. It would also force the big companies to provide a far more diverse set of plans.

As a for instance: if it were mandatory for all phones to come unlocked with SIM cards or similar transferable ID tech, companies that didn't provide the desired level of service (such as pay by the minute or lower monthly usage allotments) at a good price would lose business very quickly to those that do. As it is, people are often tied to an expensive phone for two years, and are simply not motivated to switch carriers because of the hassle of changing handsets and transferring numbers, etc. Right now many people are paying $80 or $100 a month for plans that provide them with five or ten times as much service as they actually use, and often that's only because there is no lesser plan available, or that lesser plan is of such diminishing value as to seem unreasonable, not to mention the threat of overages at a usurious rate.

European mobile users are not concerned with any of these problems. They pay a competitive rate per minute, in advance. Even if I *did* use 780 minutes a month (I use closer to 100) the rate I would end up paying would still be lower than the plan rates on offer in the states. European providers also keep you constantly informed of your usage and credit level, and as a result people generally conserve their talk time more.

I understand why US businesses don't want that, but they should have to compete on the open market like everybody else, instead of rooking in consumers by limiting certain phones to their services and demanding a minimum of 8 times the average price of phone coverage. People might be tending more to use their mobiles as their primary phone numbers, and for that reason, there is nothing stopping European companies from offering unlimited coverage plans at a higher price. But those plans compete with minutely plans, and generally steep penalties for ending a plan are not allowed. You get exactly what you pay for, and you are not required to have a business relationship with a service provider. US companies will do anything to stop that freedom in the marketplace for consumers, because what happens is exactly what has already happened in Europe due to diligent government intervention. People use their mobiles less, and employ cheaper means of communication much more- skype, email, etc. Skype is so pervasive in central Europe that addresses are printed on business cards and included in email headers, and many businesses use skype numbers rather than landline phones.

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Katarain
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quote:
Originally posted by steven:
Currently I'm doing wireless customer service for AT&T. If anyone has any questions, like " how can I cancel without an early termination fee? ", or "what's the cheapest way to upgrade?", or others, I might be able to help. [Smile]

I think everyone wants to know the bolded!
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Chris Bridges
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Our family plan with Verizon has gone past the 2-year contract and we just pay month to month now. Kind of annoying, as we can't get breaks on phone prices unless we sign up for another 2-year contract but we're still paying the same rates we were when we were paying off the offset price of the phones. We paid for 2 years, you got your hardware money back, shouldn't our bill go down now?

We checked around for other companies but no one is offering anything close to what we already have, a plan that Verizon no longer offers. It's all either slightly less for much less service/minutes or quite a bit more for services/minutes we don't need or want. So we pay month to month and buy aftermarket phones as ours break down. It works, kinda.

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Katarain
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Didn't mean to bold the whole thing. Just the early termination fee bit.
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Katarain
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We've got a great plan, too. We're also month-to-month. But our phones are dying--have to plug them in all the time. But it's worth it to not have to have another contract.

Customer service rep. told me today that I could get a phone somewhere else (used, ebay, whatever) just as long as it says Sprint on it. (And that it wasn't in the system as lost or stolen.)

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Noemon
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You might be able to get by with getting a new battery, Katarain.
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Katarain
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My display also has a bad spot. No worries. We'll replace them eventually.
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