18 November 2007

Hell hath no fury like a phone company scorned

When I moved to the USA, one of the first things I did was get a cell phone. I was going to be living in a big city, rothko was working in a different part of town, we needed to coordinate things–it seemed to make sense. We went to Omnipoint, got a couple of phones, everything was good.

A few years later, Omnipoint were purchased by Voicestream. We got a phone upgrade. Still no trouble. Later still, Voicestream were purchased by T-Mobile. Another phone upgrade came and went.

Finally, we moved to Austin. I started looking for new phones, as ours were a couple of years old. The requirements were simple enough–quad band, Bluetooth for the car and for sync with the Mac, iSync support.

T-Mobile had zero quad band Bluetooth phones. None at all. On the other hand, IBM had a discount deal with Cingular, who offered some good phones. So, we were seduced to switch providers after 7 years with T-Mobile and its ancestors. This time a contract was involved. And before long, Cingular was purchased by AT&T.

Our contract finally expired last week, and we decided that on balance, we preferred T-Mobile. For starters, AT&T’s bills are utterly incomprehensible. You’ve probably read stories about iPhone users getting 200 page bills. Well, ours aren’t quite that long, but they’re just as impossible to decipher.

Then there’s the pricing. With discount, AT&T isn’t ludicrously expensive; but they really, really overcharge for SMS, web and e-mail. Plus, rothko has perpetual problems with dropped calls.

I saw a good deal at Amazon.com on the BlackBerry Curve. It meant a 2 year contract with T-Mobile, but I was willing to take that risk to get a good deal. I ordered two phones, 2 years of family plan service, 2 years of unlimited e-mail and web. I wasn’t expecting any problems.

A while later, I got an e-mail from Amazon saying that I needed to call T-Mobile to confirm my information. I did so, and was told that I needed to fax them a copy of my Social Security card, driver’s license, and a recent utility bill.

Fax? In 2007? Apparently, yes, a company that sells e-mail and Internet access doesn’t actually have e-mail itself. I scanned the requested documents, found an online fax service, and sent everything off.

A few hours later, I got another call. The woman on the other end of the line explained that I had been misinformed. What I actually needed to do was travel to the nearest T-Mobile store and have them fax in the information.

Annoying, but no big deal. I figured they were just being extra careful. So that evening, I drove to the nearest store and had them fax everything in. I took the transmission receipt home with me. The next day, I called back to check the status of my order. After a few minutes on hold, I was told that I had been misinformed yet again. A fax wasn’t enough; I actually had to go to the store and have them confirm the information in person.

By now, I was starting to get annoyed, but I decided to humor them. I drove to the store again, and explained the situation. The store called T-Mobile, who told them to fax the information. So they faxed it again, and confirmed that the fax had been sent.

An hour later I called to check on my order. After a few minutes on hold, I was told no. They were refusing my order. If I wanted service with T-Mobile I would have to pay full retail price up front for the phones, and then pre-pay for service.

So basically, all that jumping through hoops had been a total waste of my time, as they had never been going to give me contract service in the first place.

I explained that I had been a T-Mobile customer for 7 years, and could prove it. (I still have copies of old paid bills, because I’m that kind of person.)  No dice.

So, I’m still with AT&T, and I’m wondering what to do next. Part of me still wants to switch, but part of me wonders if I should, given the amount of dicking around I’ve received trying to become a T-Mobile customer again.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a third option. Thanks to industry consolidation, the US only has two GSM providers. So I can’t say “Screw you, I’ll go with the good guys”, as there aren’t any good guys.

I wrote a letter to T-Mobile customer service, but I haven’t sent it yet. I don’t honestly know if I want a 2 year contract at this point. Maybe the best thing to do is to buy a couple of unlocked phones from somewhere else entirely, then go to T-Mobile and just get a couple of SIMs and sign up for service with no contract.

© mathew 2017