December 14, 2003

My Nightmare with AT&T Wireless

I have had a terrible experience with AT&T wireless, and now have tried to change to Cingular. Cingular does not require a contract (month-to-month service) if you bring your own phone (my Treo 600 is my own) and otherwise, they have wonderful terms, as well as reportedly three times the data transmission rate over any other GSM carrier in the Bay Area. To date, AT&T has rejected four requests for porting the number.

The first rejection was Friday night, apparently because I had not prepaid the early termination fee of $175. Note that I have been a digital customer for 2.8 years (along with 2 other years of AT&T analog service), and do not consider myself under contract, though they do, most recently because in the process of correcting a billing error they made last Thursday, they reset my contract to December 10th, 2003. I then paid the early termination fee upfront, and had all other bills paid, over the phone with credit card, upon which they rejected three more Cingular requests to port the number, two while I was on the phone conferenced together with Cingular and AT&T port administration guys for over two hours.

This morning, after an hour on hold, Peg in AT&T Port administration told me that they would reject any subsequent requests, because I was under contract until March, 2004, and couldn't leave until then. I said no way, I'm leaving, and I paid an early termination fee yesterday for this purpose. She told me that was for billing fees, and that until I prepaid my early termination fee with billing, I would continue to be rejected. I said my bill was paid in full, and I'd paid the early termination fee yesterday, and I didn't see why I had to pay the early terminiation fee twice. She insisted on putting me through to billing, who told me my bill was paid in full, with an additional $175 early termination fee showing as paid. The billing person and I together waited on hold for an hour to get Peg back, to discuss this together, will all three on the phone to confirm the fully paid bill, with the additional early termination fee paid in advance.

Meanwhile, my AT&T phone is "active" in that I can make outgoing calls since Friday night after the first Cingular request, but I cannot receive incoming calls, though AT&T has told me that I am "required" to pay the bill through December and cannot terminate the bill mid-month. So I am still paying for this half-way cell phone service.

According to the FCC, when leaving one cell company for another:

See the letter I sent to AT&T Billing Disputes and the FCC below under more.

UPDATE 121503: Apparently AT&T has had to explain itself for this kind of behavior to the FCC, today.

Mary Hodder
[my address and phone number]

AT&T Wireless Billing Dispute Team
AT&T Wireless
P.O. Box 79075
Phoenix, AZ 85062

RE: wireless account #********** under Mary A. Hodder: payment dispute over the forced pre-payment of Early Termination Fee and payment for service to the end of the billing period while the number will be moved midmonth to another carrier.

I have had this wireless digital account with you, from 02/16/01 until today, 12/13/03. Before I had digital with you, I had analog service for about 2 years under a different phone number. The first year of both the analog digital service, I was under a one-year contract. During the analog era of my cellular service, I used AT&T service such that, in any particular month of service, I could call, while still within the month, and based on the timer on my phone showing the usage, change the type of plan or level of plan, without extension of any contract, as part of the good customer service you offered then. Subsequently, my digital service worked the same way. At some point, while under the digital plan, I changed the billing to have Adobe, my former employer, pay the bill directly, instead of reimbursing me. When I left the company, I changed the service back to personal billing on December 12, 2002.

Up until that time, I experienced nothing but wonderful customer service from AT&T wireless, and would constantly tell people that while your service cost $5-10 more per month for comparable service over any other wireless company, that you were so wonderful to deal and flexible in moving the plans around month to month without resetting the contract, that it was worth the extra money. You terms were reasonable, in that any month my situation changed due to travel, personal or work usage that was extra heavy, or whatever, I could change the type and number of minutes in my plan, with no hassles, as many times as I wanted, and you were wonderful about changing, with no strings attached. I encouraged dozens of people to change to your service over the years, and was one of the people strongly encouraging [my company] to use your service as the corporate plan.

Come to find out about 4 or so months later, that after putting the bill portion of the service back into ONLY my name, from the jointly held [my company]/Mary Hodder Account, that you had changed me into some sort of one year contract. Why? I asked. You responded that because I had changed the billing, I was
"required" to have a contract. Why? I asked. Well, it's in your terms of service agreement. I said, I agreed to a contract for the first year of original service, but DO NOT agree to a contract now, simply because the billing has changed. Subsequently, during the late winter and early spring, the same period where I was unaware that I was under contract due to the billing change, I had been changing around the types and levels of service as I had always done with you, and as per our original agreement, that I could do. I also subsequently found out that that you placed me, for some inexplicable reason under contract due to these plan changes. In other words, you had unilaterally changed our agreement, putting me under a contract I had neither agreed to, nor signed, nor ever saw in the mail nor was aware of as the services were shifting each month. However, when I found out, I would tell this to various representatives in subsequent phone calls in the late spring and summer, and asked them to note this in their notes. They told me they would, though Friday on the phone with one of your representatives, I was told that those notes didn't exist. However, THERE WERE NOTES that said I had agreed to a contract. Again, I repeated, I neither agreed to nor signed a contract, and had never received anything in the mail with any new contract language, since the original information in February 2002, other than the bills.

Eventually, I found out that "promotions" as you call them, or "offers" as they were communicated to me, such as "nights & weekend free minutes" (BTW, you offer those "free" with every plan) was actually a "promotion" and that using the word "promotion" allowed you to put my account under a new one year contract. Since changing the service from say, a national plan at $39.99 to a national plan at $59.99 on your website shows that nights and weekends are included, I assume this is just part of the plan, as I slide up and down the plans, adjusting for usage each month. You apparently consider this a "promotion" event, and therefore, reset my contract. Also, you consider an "offer" of "300 anytime minutes" just randomly offered one day last spring while I was on the phone adjusting my plan with you, to be a "promotion," again resetting my contract rate, though the word "contract" was never used in the conversation.

In fact, in the month of November, 2003, based on your reporting of my minutes used on your website (which is a service I signed up for from you), I adjusted my plan down to $29.99, and then found in December on the bill, that actually you had not reported most of the minutes I'd actually used for the whole month, causing an overage at $.40 a minute, totaling hundreds of dollars. Since I had relied on your reporting, and confirmed this with your representative on November 30th when I called in to slide the plan level down, I assumed you were right, and relied on your information. Therefore, the choice of a plan for $29.99 was made based on your erroneous information (and your bad software, according to one of your customer service reps told me over the phone later), meaning that I did nothing wrong, and in fact, you were at fault with the reporting. No less that 98 minutes (per my phone timer) were spent with six AT&T representatives, on 12/10/03, arguing about getting you to fix this problem. In the meantime, in fixing the problem, your representatives managed to RESET my contract yet again, even though the billing error was YOUR fault (see the attached print out of the AT&T plan for my account).

You reset me to my original plan level in November, at $59.99 for the month, and fixing your error, which had nothing at all to do with accepting anything or getting any "promotions," my contract was reset to December 10, 2003. However, those 98 minutes did give me the opportunity to find out from your representatives that "offers" such as the "offer of 300 anytime minutes" as well as the "offer of free nights & weekends" ARE technically considered "promotions" and therefore reset the contract, which is why you have baited me in the past with an "offer", and then "switched" my month-to-month status to a one-year contract based on this "offer" which was really a "promotion". Though you should know that the word "promotion" doesnít mean anything to me either, and I had no idea that this CODE WORD meant you were referring to RESETTING my CONTRACT. It is clear from my conversations with you in the past few days that you use these words intentionally to confuse customers, so that they agree to "offers" or "gifts" without knowing there are heavy penalty strings attached. If I had know the strings had anything to do with the contract, I NEVER, NEVER would have agreed to the offers.

In fact, in the phone calls the past few days, your representatives have deceptively "offered" a free month of service, and when I ask what the strings are, they say, well, we would reset your contract for another year. Itís a scam.

I have been with you for 5 Ĺ years. I had enjoyed your service, until the last nine months, when you started screwing around, weaseling around, trying to trap me into a contract without my knowledge, letting me know way after the fact of a new contract date, and only when I was complaining about something else that appeared to be causing a problem, when in fact it had to do with the contract status. I donít appreciate paying a service provider $800-900 a year for this kind of treatment.

This bait and switch method of yours, where you UNILATTERLY change the terms of our original agreement: one year contract, month-to-month after that, change the service type and level whenever I want as long as we are still in the service month getting changed, into some other plan, where EVERY event, including a change of billing payer, and including fixing your own billing/reporting screw-ups, causes the contract to be "reset," even though I am not aware of it until subsequent calls and DO NOT AGREE TO RESET THE CONTRACT is a scam.

I cannot stomach the bad service you have given over the past nine months. It has been awful. So, as of purchasing at Treo 600, and needing GSM service, I have decided to go with Cingular. They WILL NOT put me under ANY CONTRACT, they WILL NOT force me to reset the contract as I change levels of service, they WILL allow me to roll over minutes which means I won't need to change the service level much anyway, they WILL have inexpensive text-messaging and data (unlike your expensive $.10 per message charges and $.01/k or $10/mb data charges, Cingular offers TM for $.02 per message and data at $.007/k), and they will give me all other services for free. It's ALL MONTH-TO-MONTH from day one. In addition, a new major university research paper I just read that compared GSM and data transfer rates for cell phones shows that Cingular has three times the rates of data transfer, and significantly better GSM service, for the Bay Area. I want to be with a company that is confident enough in it's own service quality as well as customer care quality, that it knows it doesn't have to lock me in to keep me, or scam me, in order to trap me a customer.

In fact, in order to move my number to Cingular, I found out this afternoon that AT&T had rejected Cingular's 10/11/03 request for porting the number, because I had had to PRE-PAY the contract cancellation fee of $175.00, which I did after calling into AT&T on 10/12/03, and finding out about the rejected request, and the required prepayment for cancellation fees. I then immediately paid via credit card under duress, in order to get the number ported. Since I am no longer under contract, since February 16, 2002, nor do I agree to any of the machinations you have unilaterally imposed via bait and switch mechanisms used to force me under contract, though I have not signed any new contracts, nor have I agreed verbally to any contract, I DISPUTE this fee I was forced to pay, in order to get away from your company.

You should know, that in keeping with your lousy customer service, you have managed to reject the porting requests made by Cingular, THREE ADDITIONAL TIMES yesterday, 10/12/03, AFTER I paid the required pre-pay early termination request. You should also know that your representatives have told me on the phone today, after paying the pre-pay early termination request, that I will also HAVE to pay the service through the end of the month (yet another person even said that in the notes yesterday, they saw that I had requested an end to service on January 4, 2004??? I never requested this. I want to get away now!). This is despite the fact that in looking at your written contract, provided at the beginning of my digital service in February, 2001, I can find nothing in it that requires payment to the end of the month upon cancellation, and believe that you made this up arbitrarily. Therefore, I dispute paying to the end of the month as well.

As of the posting of this letter, my phone number, 510-701-1975 has, for two days, blocked INCOMING Calls, with the recording on your system saying, "you have reached a number that is no longer working" while allowing me to make outgoing calls. In the meantime, you have neither allowed the number to go to Cingular, nor have you kept it turned on so that I have a functioning digital phone. I even called into you Port Administration 800 number at 8am PST on Sunday morning, and was kept on hold for an hour, in addition to the three hours on hold with them on Saturday. I spoke with "Peg" in Port Administration, and she told me that I the $175 I paid you Saturday was for billing payments, not early termination fees (though my bill is already paid in full) and that I had to pay ANOTHER, SECOND early termination fee for $175, before a 5th request from Cingular would be accepted, to port my number. She also told me I the four previous requests had been rejected because I couldn't leave until my contract was up in March, 2004. I responded that I COULD, and would, and had paid the early termination fee in advance of cancellation on Saturday for this purpose. I was then sent to billing who told me I owed nothing, and in fact they had a $175 early termination fee credit on my bill waiting for the end of service. Billing sent me back to Port Administration, where I waited on hold again, for an hour, only to be told by "Kalandria" that in fact the request had been accepted by AT&T, and so we together conference in Cingular to see what was going on. The upshot: Cingular had to resend the request again. So we are now waiting for this to go through, and I will check with Cingular and AT&T later tonight to confirm the status of the new request, which will again have to come from the Cingular store, to Impact, the third party vendor for porting numbers, and then onto AT&T.

As an early adopter, I often am asked by others about what technologies I use and will continue to report your bad service, and the terrific service offered by Cingular. Your customer service is so bad, and your people so ridiculous, working without logic or consideration, lying to me in some cases, that I will do everything I can to keep people from your service.

I hereby make this letter my 30-day request for return of the early cancellation payment of $175.00. If you do not repay me for the early cancellation fee, I will take you to small claims court, and you will receive service of that court action in about 35 days.

Mary Hodder

cc: Federal Communications Commission
445 12th Street SW
Washington, DC 20554

attachment: web copy of AT&T service statement showing reset contract date to 12/10/03.

Posted by Mary Hodder at December 14, 2003 09:45 AM | TrackBack

Mary Hodder , Eye opening message for all customers like us.I haven't had any experience with cingular but have dealt with at&t , sprint and verizon wireless. They are all the same in one way or the another.Its just that we, the customers have to be alert and be aware of little things so that we can bring these Big Companies down to their knees .Some simple things could be to write down the name and extension number of the agent you are talking to and best thing to just have a digital or a tape recorder hooked up with the phone line and record that when we talk to them,My one year contract just ended with sprint, They were telling me that i agreed to a new contract while talking to a customer rep. which has already begun and i was not aware of it. I argued i didn't and i was talking to them to for about 50 minutes about this and a billing dispute , they charged me for some calls i never made .Those calls were only in the newer version of the bill they sent me and weren't in the previous bill and the fact is both the bills were for the same month !!!!! . I asked if they have a recording as a proof that i agreed to a new contract and they didn't .... and so finally they agreed to it .

Posted by: at February 27, 2004 09:03 PM

Know anyone I can go to help me in a dispute with AT&T over bogus roaming charges? Will pay reasonable percentage on reduction in fees. Looking at a $1400.00 charge right now. Any help appreciated.

Posted by: Tom Van Aman at April 15, 2005 08:20 PM