UPDATE: We Talk To Cingular About Their One-Way Contract

Since Beckie’s story about Cingular unceremoniously canceling her account proved so popular amongst the Fark crowd, I decided to give Cingular a call this afternoon. I’m not Ben, so I didn’t bother recording it: I just wanted some answers as to how this all worked from an actual human being.

I spoke to Therese in the Excessive Off-Network Roaming Department. Yes, they have a department. Therese spent about thirty minutes on the phone with me, trying to explain the system to me.

Hit the jump for an explanation of EON!

Apparently, excessive off-network roaming (EON) is a huge problem for Cingular, so much so that the president of Cingular commanded from the top that as of March, 2006, customers that excessively roamed needed to be canceled from the service.

The qualifying criteria for being canceled from Cingular for EON is that you need to be flagged as excessively roaming off-network for three months straight. Excessive off-network roaming is defined as anything more than 750 minutes or 40% of your AnyTime minutes.

What’s the problem from Cingular’s perspective? The issue is that Cingular has signed agreements with roaming partners and excessive roaming actually violates these agreements. The example Therese used was that if an AllTell tower could support on eleven callers, and six of those callers were from Cingular, AllTel’s customers would likely get dropped.

I asked Therese why Beckie had been given the option to cancel if it was already foregone that she’d be dumped. Therese said that she thinks this was a misunderstanding: Beckie was not being given an option to remain with Cingular as a customer. What she was being asked to do was to arrange to switch to another carrier. In these instances, Cingular will then cancel her account (waiving the fee) and, if she’d like to keep her number, unlock her sim card to be used on another number.

Essentially, once Beckie was flagged, she was going to be canceled no matter what. She was basically being asked for her last words.

To be honest, stepping through Therese’s logic, I could see Cingular’s side in this: if someone is going to spend the majority of their time on another network, isn’t it best for everyone just to join them? I can also see Beckie’s complete frustration, because the guidelines Cingular has put on their EON cancellation policy do not take any account to specific circumstances, and there is no arbiter.

Of course, Cingular’s arbitrariness and Beckie’s distress have their upsides for the rest of us: you can always use EON cancellation to your advantage to cancel your contract without a termination fee.

What do you guys think? Does this shed any light on the policy? Is Cingular still as big of a bad guy as they were before? Let us know in the comments.

Comments

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  1. homerjay says:

    I guess it sounds like a reasonable thing to do unless, of course, the other networks don’t offer what you’re looking for- whether it be price, phone, or whatever. If its apples to apples, then its fine but if Cingular is offering a better service or a better price or a better phone, then they shouldn’t be pulling crap like this.

    Whether you’re roaming or not, they service that area. If they expect you to switch, they should make it worth your while.

  2. Chilango says:

    I think that Cingular is not so bad here. I think the problem is that it took an extra phone call by the Consumerist to actually explain what was really going on. Why not just be blunt and explain the details in the letter to the customer? Heck, it would probably even be helpful to people to know WHICH towers they’re using so they can switch to that carrier.

  3. Fenni Fentu says:

    Maybe this has been covered in one of the other posts, but this sounds like a good business opportunity for someone who lives near an out-of-network tower.

    1) wireless subscriber has phone service they no longer want, but is still under contract
    2) subscriber mails phone’s SIM card to business near tower of other cell phone company.
    3) for a small fee, business places calls totaling 750 minutes or 40% of monthly airtime while using tower of other cell company.
    4) contract is cancelled, and wireless subscriber doesn’t have to pay $200 cancellation fee.

    Seems like a simple way to get out of a cell contract and not as ethically problematic as, say, forging letters from the Cambodian embassy.

  4. DeeJayQueue says:

    So how is someone like Beckie supposed to be on top of knowing which towers service which providers, or which areas count as “roaming”? It sounds to me like Cingular just has an extra shitty network.

    If given a choice I would have said “Well, you signed a contract with me to provide cell phone service. Any other agreements you may have made are of no concern to me. If my service is costing your company money, then tough noogies.” After all, it’s not like I can cancel my plan just because I get crap reception in my house, or because I signed up for one of those joke-a-day services and now they’re charging me every day and I can’t quit… they’d tell me to suck it.
    Suck it, indeed, Cingular. Put on your big boy pants, spend some money on better and more towers and stop whining about your poor business agreements.

  5. Ben says:

    I was feeling the same way.

    Go to cingular dot com and look at the coverage maps. They tell you where you can find “good” coverage and “better” coverage. They don’t say a thing about towers, where they are placed, how tall they are, who owns them, what color they are, etc. End users don’t care.

    If my ISP called me one day and said “You know, you’ve been surfing that web site in Brazil looking for the soccer babes again, and this puts excessive out of network traffic on our routers, so we’re cancelling your service” I’d be pissed.

    Now if I signed up for internet service and they said “Surf the net, but not Brazilian Soccer Babe sites,” then they might have a point.

    If the commandant of Cingular is so concerned about this, why haven’t they changed their coverage maps to show where their network is and where everyone else is, and told everyone to stay off of the other guys network?

  6. segfault, registered cat offender says:

    I can understand them wanting to dump subscribers who roam off-network a lot, however, Cingular programs their phones so that the marquee on them says “Cingular” no matter what network you’re on. 99% of their subscribers have no way of knowing if they’re roaming on another GSM carrier because Cingular has disabled the functionality of the phone that allows this.

    The other 1% have performed a hack, which, on some phones, allows you to actually see whether or not you’re on a Cingular tower.

  7. Vinny says:

    Or in other words, I was right.

  8. AppTechie says:

    Cingular phones, if you pay attention to the screen, show whether or not you are roaming. There are two types:

    1. Roaming

    2. Cingular Roaming

    These two are very different. With roaming, they have an agreement with the company’s tower you are using to let you make calls. With Cingular Roaming, they have an agreement with the company that owns the tower that treats your call as if you are a customer. It would basically be the free unlimited plan for Cingular at $XXX dollars a month per the agreement. Standard roaming is Out-of-Network roaming. Cingular Roaming is In-Network roaming. When you are calling from a regular roaming tower for more than 40% of your calls, you are causing a loss of money for Cingular based on your monthly bill. If you are paying $39.99 a month to Cingular for service and you are costing them $45 just for airtime, then you are a customer that really isn’t worth keeping. From a business sense, this makes a lot of sense as if they let everyone do this there wouldn’t be a Cingular. Since they already have a FREAKIN’ TON of people that do this, the commandant was forced to put this into place.

    Now the question:

    Would you want to profit from the business you are running, or would you rather lose money to keep customers that are outside of your “demographic”, or whatever you would like to call it?

    Frankly, I am of the opinion that unlocking the phone for you so that you can keep both it and your number when going to a different carrier is a pretty good solution to this customer service issue. They SHOULD have been more clear and possibly sent a letter after the first month stating that this would happen if it continued for 3 months, but they didn’t and there is nothing that can be done about that for our poor lady in question.

    By and large we all need to remember one thing when dealing with any company, they are in business to make money. Use that to your advantage rather than letting it get to you.

  9. Skeptic says:

    If Cingular can’t live up to the deal they signed people up for, that should be Cingular’s problem. Cingular didn’t have to include roaming in their plan but they decided to play the averages figuring they’d make out in the aggregate. Instead, Cingular accepted Beckie’s money and did what Beckie is strictly prohibited from doing: Canceling the contract without penalty.

    This wouldn’t even be an issue if Cingular expanded their network of towers, but they act as though their multi-billion dollar business is being endangered by a lone caller who is acting within the bounds of her contract.

  10. FLConsumer says:

    Just curious, does anyone have a Cingular contract on-hand? In terminating these customers, are they violating their own contract? If so, these cutsomers could probably make some extra $$$ off Cingular.

  11. Kat says:

    1. I agree with people saying how are we supposed to know if we’re roaming? I must live in an area where I’m always in network, because my phone has never said Roaming, nor Cingular Roaming.

    2. My current account has an “unlimited roaming at no charge” feature. If Cingular cancelled my account with the excuse they used on her, then I’d sue for false advertising.

  12. Mamabear says:

    My daughter goes to college in Northern Vermont where Cingular does not have any of their own towers. A Cingular rep told her that she has a very high likelihood of being dropped because she is “out of area” for more than three months. She looked into getting service with US Cellular who seems to have a monopoly on the towers there and they told her she could not have a contract with them because her home address is not in their service area and she would be “out of area” for more than three months when she is home for the summer. We have had Verizon before and, to put it less than politely, I would rather be dipped in sh*t than be subjected to their horrible customer (dis)service. T-mobile doesn’t operate up there so basically, we are just trying to lay low and hope they don’t drop her before she finishes her schooling up there. She needs her cell phone because she frequently drives on secluded highways for her parttime job and, especially in those famous Vermont winters, it is truly a matter of safety to be able to communicate from a desolate highway. I think it is criminal that Cingular can be so cavalier in their attitude, refusing to consider any extenuating circumstances in their policies. If they do drop her they will have a very angry family on their hands. The rest of us will vote with our wallets and switch providers (and, counting business and personal users, there are twelve cellphone contracts in our immediate family of nine people)… and that isn’t even counting close friends who have also expressed outrage at their practices.

  13. Bryan Price says:

    Since Beckie’s original phone supplier was bought by Cingular, I wonder if her phone was set incorrectly to use Cingular’s towers, which was why she was out of network so much. It almost sounds like a visit to a knowledgeable CSR might have been able to fix the problem from the get-go.

    I have heard of this being used to get out of plans early, so I would think that Cingular should have at least had her come in for a techy to look it over and reconfigure it.

  14. hhorton says:

    This is NOT a “Good Thing.”

    My wife is finishing up her post-graduate degree. I live in Atlanta and we needed a plan so I could talk to her whenever I needed to. We got the Cingular plan because it showed her school area in the “Extended” network. So we purchased the plan. Everything was peaches and cream for a year and a half. Then we got the call that we were being dropped due to excessive out off network roaming. “Off network roaming” — how in God’s creation could we be off network when the location is well within the extended network as detailed in Cingular’s coverage map?

    You see, the simple lie is this. Cingular doesn’t own cell towers in many of the locations they claim as being in their “biggest coverage area in the US.” They have cross-roaming agreements and apparently, they’ve been signing up way to many customers who use way more minutes on these other carrier’s networks than Cingular has a right to use and it is costing Cingular way too much money in penalties, apparently.

    So, Cingular take the low road and simply adds a paragraph into their contract about out of network usage on their “extended network” that is really not very extensible and they simply drop customers who use the service they purchased.

    By the way, Verizon took us in and I explained the situation and they guaranteed me that my wife wouldn’t be dropped as a customer. And with six months of service we have no complaints.

  15. AppTechie says:

    Skeptic:

    If it didn’t cost $3+ Million per tower, they would build them faster. It is cheaper to make an agreement with another carrier…but apparently it isn’t cheaper in the long run.

  16. acambras says:

    Isn’t Cingular just trying to cherry-pick lucrative customers, like the health insurance industry only wanting to insure healthy people?