Cingular’s One-Way Contract

Beckie is a reader who started out with a cell phone from a small company that got bought by AT&T. As you well know, AT&T was bought by Cingular. A few months later, Beckie received a letter from Cingular asking her to voluntarily discontinue her service because more than 50% of her calls were using competing networks and she was no longer economically feasible for Cingular. In return, Cingular would allow her to keep her numbers. No refund. No apology. No free unlocked phones.

As you might imagine, Beckie wasn’t thrilled at the idea of buying three new phones just to help a corporation save some money, so she called the 1-800 number and said, “No.” They shut off her phones anyway.

Now, we’re no experts, but we’re pretty sure that the idea of the contract is that two people/businesses/whatever agree to something and then they are obligated to do it. Right? Beckie said “No.” Cingular should be obligated to provide her with service. Then, again…

If it wasn’t “economically feasible” for Beckie to continue to pay her bill, we’re certain Cingular would’ve happily let her out of her contract with no penalty. Right? That’s the policy, right?

Now Beckie is asking for your advice. Read her email after the jump:

I just read about this site in reader’s digest. I started out several years ago with wireless company named Sun com which was bought our sometime later by AT&T. I added another phone to my service under AT&T which was later bought out by Cingular. I added another phone for my pregnant daughter-in-law. She talked a good bit on hers on her comute to work approximately 50 miles, in her last month or two of pregnancy. The bill was little more than usual but it was paid on time, no late charges. It seems a lot of this time she was bouncing off of other wireless towers.
Cingular sent me a letter a month or two later saying that over 50% of my airtime was coming off of other peoples towers and it was no longer economically feasible for them to keep me as customer and asked if I would voluntarally let them cancel my contract, in return I could keep my old numbers.(Duh, they have to do that anyway!)
They told me my coverage would end 8/15/06. I called them at the 800 number they provided and complained several times.
I had about 5 months left on my daughter-in-laws phone and over a year on the other two phones.
I sent them a letter explaining, that no I would not voluntarally do this, If it had been the other way around, they would have made me buy out my contract or turn me over to the credit bureau.

Anyway, they cut off my phone service on 8/16/06.
Now I have three phones that are locked by cingular, I can’t use another company’s sim cards in them.
In order to have wireless service, I have to purchase three more phones. What if the next company does the same thing?
There are two cingular stores within 10 blocks of my work place and seven miles of where I live.
Does anybody have any suggestions, or has the sames thing happened to you?
Beckie Edwards
Hanceville, Alabama

Comments

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  1. AT&T Wireless has done this in the past with customers who roam too much. The problem is buried in the language of the contract. I bet their is a termination option “for any reason” by the company. Yet, the individual has to pay penalties.

    Go to the state attorney general and plead your case. Get ahold of your local State Delegates and since it is an Election Year, make a Big Deal.

  2. Vinny says:

    I can just about guarantee you that in the contract she signed it says if you make more than a certain percentage of calls out of your calling area, they have the right to assign you a local number for another area or terminate your service altogether if they don’t offer service in that area.

    I know Sprint and T-Mobile do it (or at least they reserve the right to) so I can’t imagine it’s different for Cingular.

  3. I’m sure there’s some nice weasel clause in the contract that gives Cingular the right to do this very thing. Even so, it’s ridiculous behavior.

    I’m generally a laissez faire kind of guy, but I’d really love to see a few attorneys general give the wireless industry a fantastic reaming for these and other crimes.

    You can probably get a third party to unlock your phones, in any case. Often this is accomplished with a simple code you punch into the device. Sometimes it can be a little more involved, though, so it depends on your phone. Google your phone model and the word “unlock” and see what the scoop is. Might cost a few bucks, but certainly cheaper than a new phone.

  4. pete says:

    Actually, Cingular should offer to unlock the phones for you. They can (and do under some circumstances) provide the “subsidy codes” which unlock the phones. At least push them to do that, it is completely in their power.
    If they won’t, there are plenty of little mom-and-pop cell shops that will.

  5. It’s outrageous how telecom companies buying one another out feel absolutely no urge to honor prior contracts. I’m getting screwed by AT&T having bought out my local telco and not only refusing to honor my prior yellowpages ad contract, but I got to have a CSR call me a liar for claiming to HAVE a contract that pre-dates the buyout. (She was apparently blissfully unaware of the buyout.) I’m not sure she even believed me that AT&T existed in my state.

    As I’ve said before, though — unfortunately, it’ll cost me more to bring the suit than I’d be likely to recover if I sued them (and that’s with me being a lawyer so not having to PAY a lawyer). What we need are an aggregation of several of the same types of cases for a class action suit, which would be a helluva a lot more affordable for consumers to take to court and/or economically feasible for lawyers to take on contingency.

    Otherwise, my suggestion is, contact local media. Even if bad press for the Cingular doesn’t get you anything, it’ll feel so good.

  6. Pssssst... says:

    Well I don’t have a solution to getting Cingular to do right by you, but if you cannot get it rectified then a cheaper alternative would be to get your current phones unlocked.

    Pretty cheap, I have seen stores do it for $15 per phone. Once this is done you can go to Cingular’s GSM network competition (T-Mobile) and get a contract with them.

  7. Anonymously says:

    What’s the legality of unlocking phones like that?

  8. It’s against the law Greg, just like Jaywalking and masterbating in public libraries. But I am sure it can be done.

    I agree – a few lawyers should take the companies to task.

    It’s no wonder people love TracPhones.

  9. Actually, Cingular has every right to do this. I’m not saying they should, but if you read Cingular’s Plan Terms (http://onlinestorez.cingular.com/cell-phone-service/common/legal/pop-planterms.jsp) that every Cingular user has to agree to, it states:
    “Cingular reserves the right to terminate your service if less than 50% of your usage over three consecutive billing cycles is on Cingular-owned systems. Customer must (1) use a Cingular GSM dual-band handset programmed with Cingular Wireless’ preferred roaming database; (2) have a mailing address and live in the immediate geographic area in which subscription is made.”

  10. I had the same thing happen to me in July. I called Cingular’s 888 number and talked to someone explaining that I had just upgraded phones for myself and my wife and I didn’t expect to be stuck with equipment I could not use nor did I expect to have to pay for activation fees for a new provider. They asked what I paid for my equipment and noted on my account to credit me for that and credited me for 60 dollars activation fees. When my account ended I got some final statements and then the check for the money (less my last phone bill because I didn’t want to give them money when I had the credit already).

    I switched to Verizon all on Cingular’s tab.

  11. Mr. Gunn says:

    Just get the phones unlocked. Go into a Cingular store and ask them to unlock your phone, or just get it done. Check howardforums.com for more info.

  12. Overthrow says:

    Greg, Cingular terminated her contract, so she’s not under any binding agreement with them. They’ve effectively broken her previous contracts with other providers as well.

    In fact, in some countries, it is mandatory for them to provide your unlock code. The US, unfortunately, isn’t one of them.

    There are some forums out there where people will unlock your phone for free. The sob story might motivate some rogue Cingular tech to offer the codes. I would begin with Howardforums, though the employees at Cingular may be able to unlock your phones for you.

  13. castlecraver says:

    Does the same thing go for customers that move to a dramatically different area code than the one from where they originally subscribed? I have done so, although it appears nearly all of my calls are handled on the Cingular network.

  14. Vinny says:

    If you move to another area code, they do have a percentage rule but if your calls are handled on the Cingular network, they probably won’t hassle you. Where the problem comes in is during Roaming because those roaming calls cost carriers an arm and a leg but they eat the cost knowing they’ll get it back from another roamer on their own network.

  15. Peter Cavan says:

    Unlocking a phone or having an unlocked phone is 100% legal. It’s up to your carrier as to whether they will unlock the phone for you. But if you have one, you are absolutely within your rights as a consumer to use it. And as a bonus, if you travel to Europe or Asia, you can use prepaid SIM cards with an unlocked GSM phone. I bought an unlocked phone from eBay last year and I’ve had no problems using it on Cingular. I bought it because I couldn’t get a new phone through Cingular due to some contract issue, and the rep I spoke to basically told me to get an unlocked phone if I wanted a new one.

  16. DurhamDrew says:

    I have had a lot of problems with phone companies over the years, and found that writing the FCC is the best way to get their attention. Therefore, I would suggest writing them an e-mail like the one above to the FCC (http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/complaints_general.html). My guess is that you will get a response in a couple weeks from Cingular.

  17. Tom Biro says:

    The question here is whether or not we’re talking about call completion – as in who the person is calling on the other end – or whether the person making the calls is making said calls from areas serviced by Cingular, i.e. not “roaming” or whatever it really is these days.

    Presumably, it’s the latter.

  18. Jonnobot says:

    Putting aside Cingular’s crappy behavior for a moment, it’s worth pointing out that unlocking cell phones is relatively easy to do yourself. There are how-tos and unlock codes regularly posted in the forums at http://www.mobiledia.com, and I’ve also seen Craigslist ads in NY and SF from people offering to unlock phones for $10 or so – though I’m not sure if that would be useful for someone living in Alabama ;)

  19. zam says:

    Pay. As. You. Go. = no contracts, no company telling expecting thanks for their abuse.

  20. Chumley says:

    Well, this is now on FARK.COM, and getting national attention. So, simply call Verizon or another wireless company, explain the problem, and I’m sure they will give you free phones, maybe even free service for a year. In exchange they will issue a press release about how Cingular may not value their customers, but company X sure does, and when they heard about your problem they rushed right in to help. Maybe this can even make the talk show circuit, like the guy who tried to cancel his AOL account and got the run around. Try it, I bet it’ll work.

  21. sdspidy says:

    Go into a Cingular Store, the sales representatives in the store are generally MUCH more helpful than at the 800 number. I have had many problems with Cingular’s customer service 800 number that were fixed immediately at no cost when I went into the store. Good Luck Beckie!

  22. someworkinggirl says:

    I have worked for several different wireless service providers; and while unfortunate, all of them have 50% usage clauses in their contract. At least the ones that don’t charge roaming charges…other companies will just charge that exhorbitant $.79 per minute fee for that. As an employee of Cingular, I feel terrible that Beckie has lost her service; however, I have worked for companies that don’t even give notice that they are terminating their service..they just do it. The customer is not required to pay an early termination fee for this. I also want to squash the rumor that Cingular employees know how to unlock phones…we don’t, so please don’t come into the store asking for it.

  23. sociallyautistic says:

    Cingular did the same thing to me. I was on the road a lot, and got the Cingular service due to their nationwide coverage. I was getting ready to drive from NY to NC thru the West VA mountains when they cut off my contract.

    I will never have another Cingular account for anything, ever.

  24. mariser says:

    hey Consumerists, you’ve been Farked!
    http://forums.fark.com/cgi/fark/comments.pl?IDLink=2302553

  25. polyparadigm says:

    If you weren’t aware of a certain clause in the contract, and had no reason to expect it to be there, it doesn’t exist. It’s like the marriage contract from “The Princess Bride”. You may have signed on the dotted line, but no one could reasonably expect you to read through 30 pages of fine print to find everything you (nominally) agreed to. And a reasonable person would expect that, if one party is penalized for early termination of the contract, the other party should be penalized also. Only a few people are aware of the assymmetry that has been written into the contract.

    This won’t be an open-and-shut case, of course, and IANAL, but it’s worth a try if they refuse to unlock your phones.

  26. AcilletaM says:

    The other benefit of being able to unlock a phone is if you see a cool phone in Europe/Asia that isn’t available here you can still get it and be able to use it here.

  27. raincoaster says:

    Whatever Cingular’s contract, Becky is pretty clear she didn’t sign a contract with Cingular. The contract she actually signed is the one that applies, whatever the terms of that are. It’s a bad mistake to assume the contract is always going to come down in favour of the company; if that were true, you wouldn’t need contracts because there would never be a dispute. Pre-emptive futility has no place in a consumer culture.

  28. lohphat says:

    The contract you sign can be amended at any time — don’t you read those credit card “Cardholder Agreement Updates” that say: Here are the terms of the new contract. You agree to these terms if you make another charge after the end of the current cycle. blah blah blah

    They can change the terms any way they like and you hafve to suck it up. You try to change the contract on them and WHOA THERE! You can’t do that!

    This is why consumer protection laws exists — es those same laws decikmated by the current “business friendly” legislature. Yes the ones who want to build a wall across our SOuthern Border to protect us from “Illegals” but when asked about the “illegal employers” who pay them and why aren’t they cracked down on the scurry away like the cockroaches they are as that would be “bad for business”.

    Level playing field my a$$.

  29. bigwhammy says:

    Frankly, being a consumerist means being well informed. Every major cell carrier has this clause. All of you that are ranting about companies not honoring contracts are ridiculous. Major companies not honoring contracts get sued. If your cell market got bought out, they have to honor the contract. If you pull your terms and conditions of what you actually signed you will find something like this, which I found on your original carrier’s website:

    On regional plans, at least half of your minutes must be used on the SunCom Network. If most of your minutes are not used on the SunCom Network, we may choose to end your agreement. This does not apply to SunCom America plans.

    They were very upfront about it on the website. It is in your original contract. Basically, if they are losing money with you they reserve a right to end the agreement. Your daughter-in-law was roaming all the time and they were paying for it. You were in violation of the agreement as a result.

    So here is my advice. Read and keep your cell phone contract. Make sure you comply with it. Be an informed consumer. Make sure you understand what it takes to get out of it before you sign it, all the carriers have break fees for early termination.

    And…It is not illegal to use competitior equipment on other networks, they just don’t do it because in most cases the phones won’t perform as well or simply are not compatible. Some use CDMA technology, in your case GSM. There are others out there. It is not illegal to unlock them either. Good luck finding someone to do it, if you find a compatible network.

    Cingular may let you back if you agree to not reactivate the offending line or agree to change habits. You are likely better off this way, however, as they are rated first in most consumer complaints to the FCC out of all the major carriers.

    Oh, and yes. You have been farked. See above.

  30. lohphat says:

    Rules change lets AT&T avoid disclosure requirements
    http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2006/09/20/BU

  31. Jimmy says:

    I have had suncom and that was part of the agreement that you must use 50% of the minutes in a home area.

  32. AyeRoxor says:

    It’s all in the contract, people. Yes, there’s a lot in there, and yes, you didn’t read it. That doesn’t excuse you from it. Lesson learned: Read the contract, at least ONCE, and if not when you sign up, at least read it on the crapper over a couple “trips” because you will be held to every word.

  33. AyeRoxor says:

    raincoaster, stupid mistakes are made, but I’m sure when they acquired her company, they sent her a new contract and said that continued use was consent, or something along those lines. Hordes of lawyers rarely miss such a simple step.

  34. Dumbnutz says:

    Everyone who has responded has spoken to the problem specifically. Yes probably everything the company is doing is legal and so they are not required to do anything. Are they doing the right thing, NO, but probably legally accurate.
    Citizens need to wakeup and take back the power that they have given up on their Government at every level.
    The State Public Service Commissions have allowed carriers and utilities to get away with all sorts of plans that do not benefit the citizens.
    If you run a business and are able to create the rules by which you wish to play and the monitors of the rules are those you picked through proxy then you endup with such situations as we have.
    Very few business do the right thing, they always do everything legally, and thats where the discord is.
    Let this be publsihed everywhere and maybe the citizens shall be awakened before it is too late.
    I hope that there is a outcome that meets the needs of this person but I would guess this is not unique to her only.
    It is not just with Carriers but every business you deal with is loosing integrity and the value of that is next to nothing.

  35. portwineboy says:

    How about this?

    Cingular didn’t tell her they were cancelling the contract due to a violation of terms, they asked her to volunatrily withdraw from the contract, effectively they were reopening the terms of the contract for renegotiation.

    Don’t most states have laws saying that if you end a contract due to a violation in terms you must first notify the violating party of their transgressions and cite the relevant portion of the contract?

  36. Mouthpiece says:

    @AxeRoxor: You’d be surprised at the kinds of mistakes “hordes” of lawyers can make. Do a Google search for “Cignular class-action lawsuit” and see what kind of mistakes Cimgular’s lawyer hordes didn’t steer them clear of.

  37. Purplehand says:

    Does it matter what the Cingular contract says? Her contract is with SUN and AT&T. Isn’t Cingular obligated to live up to the contracts that they bought out?

  38. gwhall007 says:

    Actually, she was, most likely, not “really” roaming and that is what makes this so bad. You see, what Cingular did, as part of their “More Bars in More Places” ad campaign, was to let their phones access any compatible carrier’s network, if their signal was stronger. What this means is that she could have been in her “Home” coverage area (and her e-mail reads as though that is the case) but Cingular did not have very good signal coverage there. Her phone would, then, “Roam” on another GSM carrier in the area which has better signal. This is known in the cellular industry (in which I work) as “Home-on-Home Roaming”.

    So, you see, Cingular caused this problem themselves by allowing unrestricted (Home-on-Home) roaming. They are, basically, saying to her “Our coverage is not good where you live and you are roaming on other carriers, even though you are in your home area, because our coverage stinks in this area. We have no plans to add towers, so you’re going to continue to cost us money, thanks to our own policies. So, bye-bye.”

    Doesn’t sound right to me….

  39. happybunny says:

    One thing that Beckie should be aware of: Cingular, unlike other phone companies, alters their network tags so that you *cannot tell if you are roaming*. They do this for marketing purposes–they have the “Allover Network” ya know. So even if you were able to see the different networks, the “Aplha Tags” (the name you see on your phone) all would say “Cingular”. They also disable the roaming indicator. So customers think they are using Cingular when they are not. This is, of course, very deceptive. Your family member had no idea they were roaming.

    I think a big fat lawsuit is in order–go for it!

  40. broadenUrVerizon says:

    Cingular, less dropped calls; more dropped customers.

  41. retired says:

    Actually, over the past several decades the courts have consistently begun to deviate from the some basic principles of contract law, namely, that there must be negotiation and a meeting of minds by all parties to a contract. In the past adhesion contracts (where one party dictated the terms of the contract) were often struck down.

    Case law does change as the courts bend to public opinion. One prime example is case law on warrantless wiretaps–early cases, when the technology, was in its infancy ruled that taps didn’t constitute a search and seizure under the 4th Amendment so no warrent was required [see Olmstead v. US, 277 US 438 (1928)]. Once more people began subscribing to telephone service and the public mood reflected a belief in the privacy of phone conversations, the courts shifted in their opinions and began to requre warrants. Congress didn’t legislate in this area until the 1960s.

    The cellular companies may find themselves in a pickle as more and more young people opt for a cellular phone only. They may find the courts bending to shift in public opinion. Imagine the public’s reaction today to the telephone companies dropping subscribers because they didn’t run up a high enough bill on a monthly basis. In another 5-10 years, if enough people have cellular service only, this type of behavior may be viewed much differntly than it is now. I think most big companies in the US (and the world) have lost sight of the fact that public/customer goodwill is critical for their business to survive. Blatently engaging in behavior that the public views as outrageous may have a significant economic impact and result in the passage of legislation regulating their industries (at least in an election year).

  42. jsnake says:

    “AyeRoxor says:
    It’s all in the contract, people. Yes, there’s a lot in there, and yes, you didn’t read it. That doesn’t excuse you from it. Lesson learned: Read the contract, at least ONCE, and if not when you sign up, at least read it on the crapper over a couple “trips” because you will be held to every word.”

    Any first year law student can tell you that a signed contract clause is not necessarily binding. Of course most people believe they are bound and would rather acquiesce then fight back. My advice, find a local attorney and have him draft a complaint alleging cingular breached their contract, alternatively that the “economic” clause is unconscionable. They might have big guns and plenty in the war chest, but believe me when it comes to “economical decisions” it is a lot cheaper to provide you service or settle on agreeable terms than it is litigate this case. Even if it’s a bluff, show your teeth and see what those corporate fuckers do. Even if you spend some money you’ll be able to sleep without that awful “I’ve been corporate ass raped and am powerless to do anything” feeling…but, that’s just what I’d do.

  43. thefoxbox says:

    Go get each of the phones unlocked at Cingular. Around $20-$30 to do so, then sell them on eBay. Move on to a better company. Be grateful you were able to be set free. :)

  44. quiksilver says:

    Hello I Used to Work for Cingular wireless till about a week or so ago! if anyone has service with them and want the inside scoop or would like to know more about this please email me I could explain

  45. jim_cook says:

    I have a friend who had this same issue with Cingular several months ago. He informed Cingular via their call center that he always used the phone within the area that the official Cingular store sold him the phone and service. Also, he was never notified by the phone or service that he was on a competing network.

    Finally, if Cingular cancelled his service, he informed the call center manager would sue the company in local small-claims court for $2,000 (the maximum small-claims amount). It would cost Cingular much more than their off-network expenses to come defend the case.

    My friend is very skilled at making an argument. He still has his Cingular service today.

  46. croam13 says:

    I left Cingular due to extremely poor service. I too had AT&T and was living in Baltimore. Suddenly my service started to degrade. After about 1 month there were only 2 places where i could go to make a call with my phone. Both were over 10 miles from my house. After 5 months of continuous calls to Cingular I was told that they stopped supporting the network that my phone used. No notice. No options given. Just an ever increasing bill due to roaming charges. When I cancelled my service they immediately turned me over to collection even though there were 15 days left in the billing cycle.

  47. brh986 says:

    I highly recommend you file a better business bureau complaint with as much documentation and detail as possible at http://www.bbb.org.

    It’s free, it’s quick and it’s easy and also surprisingly effective. I would do that in conjection with filing every other written complaint you can possibly think of, state
    attorney general, etc. etc.

    Write some nasty letters to upper management and write some more letters to as many media outlets as possible. You already got this posted on fark so you’re getting alot of publicity.

    I don’t know what you’ll get back in real terms – I don’t know about you but I get a deep sense of satisfaction in screwing someone over when they screw me over. I think you stand a good chance of getting media coverage of such an egregious transgression on their part. Good luck!

    I hope you have a copy of the original contract.

  48. ernieJohnston says:

    Before I would get wired about all this, I’d just go into a Cingular or representative’s office and ask to sign up for a new plan with my current phones. If as I read this post, the activity causing the cancellation has ceased, she may be able to sign on again and not get dumped. She may even be able to get new phones for free. It’s a cheap solution and worth a shot! The trick may be getting her old numbers back, it she wants them.

  49. jkat985 says:

    I used to work for cingular and it is in the terms and conditoions of service that if mor e than 1/2 of your airtime is roaming they can shut off your service. I’m not sayingg its right, I’m jusst saying that they do in fact say it in the contract that you sign. Its because they don’t (or arent supposed to) charge you for roaming. They give you the no roaming charges, so they look at it as if you spend all your time in roaming they aren’t charging you for all the minutes your actually using. My suggestion would be that you check into whoeveder you go with before you sign up that your whole area you’ll be calling in is covered. Its a lot easier than trying to go through all this over again!!!

  50. newuser says:

    I had a similar experience with them – SunCom–> AT & T –> Cingular, but opted to switch to Alltel eventually, after having been with the above three companies for 6 years. The reason being is that Cingular is shutting down the network – (TDMA) network that SunCom used in favor of their newer GSM network.

    Do the three phones accept SIM cards? The phones I used didn’t – I had to hunt on eBay for new ones whenever one started to go …

    Honestly, I cannot say that I necessarily blame Cingular. The situation sucked and so did their coverage, which had started to deteriorate after they took over from AT&T.

    I loved – *loved* my $70/month unlimited (UnPlan) with SunCom, but as much as I hate to say it, don’t think that Cingular should have to maintain an antiquated network.

    But yes, they could have handled it all better.

    My 2 cents.

  51. Ezra_Ekman says:

    SLOW DOWN FOLKS.

    Beckie: FYI, I’m not an attorney. Consult legal council before contining. Your local bar association can usually recommend an attorney who will discuss the matter with you for a minimal fee, then allow you to choose if you would like to proceed further. But here’s my take: unless they can prove you agreed to allow them to cancel your agreement under these terms, Cingular is in breach of contract.

    Check your old contract. Not the one with Cingular. Not the one with AT&T. The contract with Suncom is at this point the most important. Read it carefully. Under what circumstances were they allowed to cancel your contract? Do you see a clause that applies? Most current contracts with cellular carriers contain clauses regarding this specific issue (Cingular’s certaainly does), but that was not the contract you agreed to. And when Cingular (preceded by AT&T) agreed to continue your contract, they did precisely that: CONTINUED your contract. Unless you signed/agreed to a new one, you’re still under the old one.

    Now, there are some exceptions to this. Many carries will now include a clause stating that they reserve the right to change the contract. However, they must allow you out of your contract if you dislike the new changes. Obviously that doesn’t help your current situation, but that’s one way out. Was there a clause regarding contract changes?

    Also, Sun Com, AT&T, Cingular may have sent something to you at some point in the past that said “Hi, the following change/merger/purchase has taken place, and here’s how it affects you. If you don’t like this please cancel.” This sort of thing is also usually allowed. But if you received no notification from anyone (and the carriers can’t prove they legally changed the terms), and if there was no verbiage in the original contract allowing this sort of behavior, Cingular is legally in breach of contract. Breach of contract either means A] that they must immediately enable your service, B] pay you punitive damages or C] both. An attorney would be able to best suggest the course of action based on the situation.

    To close, I would like to mention again that I am *not* that attorney. However, over the last four years I’ve successfully gotten myself and my friends out of over $15,000 in excessive cellular phone charges, and managed to cancel any cellular contract I or they were in without incurring cancellation fees. (I happen to understand the carrier’s methods, rules and contracts quite well, and am able to deal with people in adverse situations much better than most folks I know… so my friends and family usually come to me.) I can’t say for sure how they will respond, but my understanding is this: without a contract or valid paperwork allowing them the right to change the original contract (and depending on your state’s contract law, of course), canceling your service because it isn’t profitable is a breach of contract and thus, against the law.

    If you do NOT want to take the legal route, your only recourse is arguing with Cingular Corporate, or changing carriers. The advice you’ve received about unlocking the phones is correct: Cingular can (though it is a PAIN to get them to do so) provide you with unlocking instructions for MOST phones. If they are unable to do so, many all-in-one independent cellular shops are also able to do so… though you do run the risk that they are unable to do it correctly. (Some phones will permanently SIM-lock to your current carrier if you rty unsuccessfully to unlock it to many times.) However, if you don’t have a particularly complex phone, this should not be too much of an issue. As a final recourse you can also contact the manufacturer. They are not usually sympathetic to carrier-customer disputes, but this is a rare situation: Cingular made the choice to cancel the agreement; not you. The only reason for SIM-locking a phone is to prevent customer churn. (Turnover.) Phones are expensive, and usually provided at a discount to entice users to sign contracts. If not for that, there would be no reason to lock the phone, which is why the unlocked phones are more expensive than the locked ones.

    Good luck,

    Ezra

  52. Cingular did that to me in July. I told the CSR I just bought a new phone for me and my wife costing 300 dollars total. He agreed to credit the 300 dollars for the phones. I also mentioned to him that I didn’t expect to pay activation fees for the new service. Once I found out activation fees they credited me for 60 dollars in activation fees.

    At the end of the month when they ended my contract I had 300 dollars credit less my final bill then another check for 60 dollars to my activation fees. I opted not to keep my numbers since I moved to another state.

  53. Nerraux says:

    That sucks rocks. Want to do an interview on my podcast, The Awful Show (http://AwfulShow.com)? We’ll be recording Friday night between 9PM and midnight, EST. If you want to tell your story to our listeners, I would LOVE to help spread the word.

    If interested, contact me by
    E-mail: nerraux@hotmail.com or AIM: Nerraux


    I also had a phone that was taken over by AT&T years ago. It worked out that I was actually happy with them. Of all the things AT&T never did well, their cell service and customer service for it was always first-rate. Then came Cingular’s buy out. What a piece-of-crap company. I -HATE- Verizon, but I think they’re getting my business the next time my contract is up.

  54. VinV says:

    whoa … before you start advising the customer to delve into their old contracts, she will need to realize that it is only the contract under which each individual line of service is currently operating that is relevant to the situation. if she got a new contract, which is highly likely because wireless carriers always push you for one (discounted phone price, special rate plan promotions) then she very well may be under a Cingular contract. as outlined above that 50% usage on network is included clause is included, and therefore not much can be done except unlocking the phones and going somewhere else. this of course assumes that you are using GSM phones and not TDMA phones.
    as far as unlocking the phones, that is usually a pretty easy process. a form is usually filled out, and after about 1 week you should have the unlock codes. as long as the account is zeroed out, there should be no problem. also, going to the phone manufacturer for the unlock codes would not be advisable, as they normally refer you back to the service provider. be careful with the unlock codes … most manufacturers only give you 5 tries before the device is permanently locked to only accepting a cingular sim card.
    as far as the legal route … under the old at&t wireless contracts, which from the cingular wireless/at&t merger could still be in place for her, because of fcc regulations. she defacto agrees to the terms and conditions the first time she uses her wireless service. this could be important, because within that it states that you waive all right to sue, and your only recourse would be for arbitration. i could not see why cingular would be any different, but again the terms of service would need to be scrutinized.
    there are of course reasons that would exempt the customer from the terms of the contract, but generally you begin to enter the criminal justice realm with gross negligence, etc.
    in response to castlecraver … as long as you are using cingular towers, then they shouldn’t have a problem. they may want to go ahead and get you a phone number change to reflect the area that you now find yourself in, but as long as 51% of your usage is on cingular towers you won’t need to worry about it.
    in response to someworkinggirl … you are completely right, cingular store reps do not have the ability to unlock phones. the only way to go about it the “approved” way is by calling into one of cingulars care numbers and having the representative fill out a request and go from there. other things mentioned like using the internet, or some guys in a van, could very well get you the unlock code, but could also very well get the phone permanently locked to the cingular network, so that only a cingular sim card would work.
    in response to jim_cook … you’re friend got lucky. it really does depend on who the person talks to at cingular when they call in. the level of competence and expertise can vary widely, and that is not only the representative but also their supervisor. in any call center, there can be both those people who are very agreeable as well as those that can be hard cases. with that said … usually rep shopping is a bad idea, as it is more than likely that should the customer do that, it will be noted on the account, which would mean that they would be less likely to work with you on an issue.
    in response to brh986 … once you take a look at the size of cingulars operation, it is highly likely that whatever letters written on behalf of the customer will find themselves filed in the shredder. generally speaking, it is only if you are an extremely important person that you’ll see any resolution from something like the course of action you described. with the cingular/at&t wireless merger that happened a couple years ago, the customer base went to something like 50 million and it keeps on growing. according to information released by cingular they now have almost 56 million subscribers. also factor in that is is also very possible that the media outlets that you would refer the customer to may very well have a contract/corporate agreement with cingular.
    in wrapping this all up … it looks likely that while unfair, cingular is likely operating within legality. and if anybody wants to see which us gsm carrier will have coverage in your area, and for becky to unlock her phone … go to http://www.gsmworld.com/roaming/gsminfo/cou_us.shtml find the carrier and click on their coverage map. the only real GSM competitor for cingular is t-mobile, whereas verizon and sprint/nextel are CDMA which would mean she’d have to get new phones if she wanted to move to them.

  55. VinV says:

    whoa … before you start advising the customer to delve into their old contracts, she will need to realize that it is only the contract under which each individual line of service is currently operating that is relevant to the situation. if she got a new contract, which is highly likely because wireless carriers always push you for one (discounted phone price, special rate plan promotions) then she very well may be under a Cingular contract. as outlined above that 50% usage on network is included clause is included, and therefore not much can be done except unlocking the phones and going somewhere else. this of course assumes that you are using GSM phones and not TDMA phones.

    as far as unlocking the phones, that is usually a pretty easy process. a form is usually filled out, and after about 1 week you should have the unlock codes. as long as the account is zeroed out, there should be no problem. also, going to the phone manufacturer for the unlock codes would not be advisable, as they normally refer you back to the service provider. be careful with the unlock codes … most manufacturers only give you 5 tries before the device is permanently locked to only accepting a cingular sim card.

    as far as the legal route … under the old at&t wireless contracts, which from the cingular wireless/at&t merger could still be in place for her, because of fcc regulations. she defacto agrees to the terms and conditions the first time she uses her wireless service. this could be important, because within that it states that you waive all right to sue, and your only recourse would be for arbitration. i could not see why cingular would be any different, but again the terms of service would need to be scrutinized.

    there are of course reasons that would exempt the customer from the terms of the contract, but generally you begin to enter the criminal justice realm with gross negligence, etc.

    in response to castlecraver … as long as you are using cingular towers, then they shouldn’t have a problem. they may want to go ahead and get you a phone number change to reflect the area that you now find yourself in, but as long as 51% of your usage is on cingular towers you won’t need to worry about it.

    in response to someworkinggirl … you are completely right, cingular store reps do not have the ability to unlock phones. the only way to go about it the “approved” way is by calling into one of cingulars care numbers and having the representative fill out a request and go from there. other things mentioned like using the internet, or some guys in a van, could very well get you the unlock code, but could also very well get the phone permanently locked to the cingular network, so that only a cingular sim card would work.

    in response to jim_cook … you’re friend got lucky. it really does depend on who the person talks to at cingular when they call in. the level of competence and expertise can vary widely, and that is not only the representative but also their supervisor. in any call center, there can be both those people who are very agreeable as well as those that can be hard cases. with that said … usually rep shopping is a bad idea, as it is more than likely that should the customer do that, it will be noted on the account, which would mean that they would be less likely to work with you on an issue.

    in response to brh986 … once you take a look at the size of cingulars operation, it is highly likely that whatever letters written on behalf of the customer will find themselves filed in the shredder. generally speaking, it is only if you are an extremely important person that you’ll see any resolution from something like the course of action you described. with the cingular/at&t wireless merger that happened a couple years ago, the customer base went to something like 50 million and it keeps on growing. according to information released by cingular they now have almost 56 million subscribers. also factor in that is is also very possible that the media outlets that you would refer the customer to may very well have a contract/corporate agreement with cingular.

    in wrapping this all up … it looks likely that while unfair, cingular is likely operating within legality. and if anybody wants to see which us gsm carrier will have coverage in your area, and for becky to unlock her phone … go to http://www.gsmworld.com/roaming/gsminfo/cou_us.shtml find the carrier and click on their coverage map. the only real GSM competitor for cingular is t-mobile, whereas verizon and sprint/nextel are CDMA which would mean she’d have to get new phones if she wanted to move to them.

  56. engerenger says:

    Having working service is the most important consieration. Ring tones, pictures: none of it matters if the damn phone doesn’t work.

    Stinkular, as I call them, at least allows you to roam on other networks (important, given how spotty their network is). This means that you have some chance that your phone will work. (Doubly so, if you have an older multi-mode GAIT phone that does GSM, us-tdma, and AMPS.

    Stinking Verizon has essentially shut off all roaming. If you stumble outside of their coverage area, you are SOL. And, in many areas where they are a come-lately add-on player (running up at 1900) they have a VERY thin network, with very few cell sites, and very poor in-building penetration.

    I think Cingular blows like everyone else. Their engineering staff must be former McDonalds utility staff (trash can emptiers). But at least they allow you to roam, and thus “maybe” the phone works. The same cannot be said about Verizon outside their old 800Mhz stomping grounds.

    The cost is that Cingular has to pay competitors for air time. If they don’t pass it on to the consumer, then they run the risk of losing money. Hense their policy to drop users who roam off-net a lot.

    I’d rather pay the roaming charges, or pay a surcharge each month TO HAVE A PHONE THAT WORKS EVERYWHERE. Nothing is more important than the phone actually working. Tones n’ tunes don’t make calls go through. TOWERS n’ transmitters (and roaming agreements) cost the carrier a lot more, but THEY MAKE THE NETWORK WORK.

  57. -A- says:

    Unfortunately, this clasue was written into your contract the day that you signed it. Cingular just never decided to enforce it before now.
    I am a former employee of Cingular Wireless, and was sick to find out that they finally decided to enforce this policy. I was a sales rep, and i couldnt believe that in the interest of saving a few bucks, I would be losing long term and loyal customers. I had customers that only wanted to deal with me, and that i always made sure to do everything i could to help them out. Can you imagine how hard it was for me to tell some of MY loyal customers that, “this is a business decision that Cingular has made”, and that there was nothing i could do to help?
    So i just referred them to the department that was hadling claims, thats all i could do. They do take into account longevity on an individual basis, yet in your case you have a false reading of longevity. Every customer who came over in the merger has a account creation date from the day they were placed in our system. So you were likely to get denied, seeing as the computer thinks you have only been a customer for under 2 years.
    One thing i can do is to let you know that a lot of local cellphone repair shops have machines which can unlock your phone. Usually for a small fee, but i can guarantee you that it is a lot cheaper than buying 3 new phones. That way you can use your phone with another carrier which uses the same technology as Cingular. Good luck.

    By the way, ENGERENGER-
    Beckie said she added anothe phone to the plan after the switch to cingular, this means at some point she started a new plan with cingular and ultimately signed a new contract, when this happens, cingular voids the old contract and starts a new one. Therefore finding the suncom contract would be useless.

    -A-

  58. -A- says:

    Ezra Eckman

  59. jjdifani says:

    Something similar happened to me. I was deployed to Alaska with the military. I have 3 phones on the Family Plan in Missouri. There were about 100 of us deployed. About 80 personnel had Cingular phones. I was the only one of 80 that they tried to cancel service on. Instead of cancelling my service, they locked all 3 phones against roaming charges. So now I have a phone, I pay my monthly fee, but have no service.

    Joyce

  60. jmac32here says:

    Guys..everyone does this due to the new “No Roaming Charges” now if your Sim Card or Phone have the Logo for ATT Ebridered onto it..not the screen…then you are NOT getting Cingular coverage. Instead you are getting the lousy crap coverage of ATT after they made massave mistakes that led to the buyout.

    On another Note SunCom is still in operation. Otherwise my site and phonescoop would not link to their official webpages.

  61. xplnlife says:

    @quiksilver: I am an old school att customer with tdma.

    I have a DIGITAL ADVTG 350 plan that includes 1050 MINUTES, mob 2 mob, unlim night and weekends for $39.99. I am now on a month to month contract.

    I have been battling with cingular/att to get a comparable plan that is also MONTH TO MONTH. I have been offered 450 mins w/ 200 bonus and a free new KRZR phone for 39.99. I was told month to month is not an option.

    This sucks lily white butt in my opinion.

    I am looking for advice on how to get what I want from this company!!! Does anyone have any experience with this situation.

    ARG. save me.

  62. coonass says:

    Cingular can make all the “requests” they want, Beckie – but they’re in a triple bind.

    First, in the US your phone numbers belong to you. Not to Ma Bell, or whatever name the floozy is using this week.

    Second, Cingular (and other phone companies) put clauses in their contracts which look forbidding but which won’t hold up in a court of law – what the legal beagles call “in terrorem” clauses. Get in touch with an attorney who’s tangled with the phone company and find out what the LAW says versus what the language of the contract says.

    Third, Cingular and other local phone service providers also have to answer to local public service commissions.

    While these agencies (more often individual commissioners) sometimes sell out to Ma Bell, most of the time your state (sometimes it’s a city or county agency, but most often state government level) public service commission is obliged to represent you, the citizen. Especially (as others here have pointed out) during election years.

    It also helps to contact state and US Senators and Representatives (Assemblymen, whatever they call them where you live), city, parish, or county council members – they may have no direct authority under the law but probably have nice phone lists with the names of people who DO have this authority.

    Also, someone else here suggested the state Attorney General, which is a darn good idea. Every now and then a large corporation decides to screw people over and falls afoul of a state attorney general who needs publicity as Defender of the Little Guy. As in “class-action lawsuit.”

    In fact, I’m surprised that none of the ambulance chas-er, attorneys you see on television has decided to buy air time soliciting clients among those who have been illegally jerked around by cell-phone providers.

    Me, I use Boost. Costs me about $20 every three months, no contract, and I just tell them to hit my checking account for another twenty bucks by phone when my minutes run low.

    My wife and son also use Boost, and they have the same deal as me – twenty bucks every three months (well, my son uses his cell phone more often than do we, being an offshore worker and having an outdoor lifestyle. His business, and he pays the freight).

    I can’t begin to describe how much better this is than when my wife, son and I shared a single phone from Cingular on a contract that obligated them to not much of anything and us to paying anywhere from sixty to two hundred bucks a month.

    And the phone we were lease-purchasing from Cingular suuuuucked compared to our Boost phones, which have color screens, Java, support TV (should we ever decide it’s worth a ton of money to watch TV on our cell phone), and built-in GPS (“Global Positioning System” – handy because our local law-enforcement/public safety agencies support “mobile 911,” which allows them to have a fairly good idea of where we are when we call 911 on our cell phones to report an accident, a broken traffic light, or a riot in progress).

    They also will (for an extra day-by-day charge which is much cheaper than buying a Garmin) provide a moving-map display of directions, just like one of those pricey $300 GPS machines. In fact, the thing will use its GPS chip to tell you where you are, or how fast you’re moving down the road, for free. I feel just like a yuppie.

    Oh, and since I was shopping at a Target store that was clearing out its merchandise before moving to a new building, I got our Boost cell phones for $10 a piece (with $10 worth of free air time thrown in with the phone). Cool, huh?

    You less fortunate people out there will have to pay between $30 and $80 (depending on how cool you’d like your phone to be) for the phone, and an amount every three months (which is how long your pre-paid minutes last) which varies with how talkative you are.