Cingular: Roam Too Much And We’ll Take It Away Or Drop You Completely

It’s the Return of the One-Way Contract! Reader Randy writes in to inform us that he is being dropped from Cingular, despite being an 8 year customer who always pays on time. Why, you ask? Because Cingular drops less profitable customers, i.e. customers who roam “too much.” Randy writes:

    I am in the construction business and this past year kept me approximately 3 hours from my home base building a new gymnasium for a school district in a rural part of Texas. Evidently this is in an “out-of-area” part of the state for my cell phone carrier: Cingular. In November 2006 I received a letter from Cingular informing me that they would be dropping me from their service for excessive “out-of-area” usage.

More inside.

    I called Cingular and of course got one of their “boiler rooms” where the Cingular employee roboticly informed me that my contract required that a minimum of 50% of my airtime must be “in-area”, meaning not in an area that requires “roaming” to kick in (I have since learned that this is pretty much the case with all cellular providers). She said in areas where roaming is required and Cingular has no service in that area that Cingular has reciprocal agreements with other cell phone providers and that Cingular must pay the roaming charges (again I have learned that this is the norm in the cellular business). She informed me of my contract obligations and said it was Cingular’s policy to drop someones service when this happens. I informed her that I had no way of knowing whether or not my service was “in-area” or “out-of-area” when I was using my phone and asked her if my phone would indicate as such and of course the answer is no, the phone does not let me know that. So, how do I know when I am “out-of-area”? She said I should get on the Internet and check their coverage map. Yeah, right, I’m going to do that driving down the Interstate at 70 mph as I criscross the state of Texas calling on school districts!

Even though Randy didn’t want to leave Cingular, they really didn’t want to keep him. Randy appealed their decision and was disappointed by the result.

    I did that and when I called regarding the appeal they acknowledged that I was again using my phone “in-area” and that I could probably stay with them…….except: my usage would be restricted to “home area” only. In other words, when I left my home area I would have no service – even if I was willing to pay roaming charges! Well, that won’t work. I travel all over this state building school projects. My cell phone is an extremely valuable tool for me.

Randy is off to sign with Verizon. We hope the roaming is greener on the other side.—MEGHANN MARCO

Randy writes:

    After eight years as a loyal, on-time bill paying customer, Cingular decided to drop me like a hot potato!

    I am in the construction business and this past year kept me approximately 3 hours from my home base building a new gymnasium for a school district in a rural part of Texas. Evidently this is in an “out-of-area” part of the state for my cell phone carrier: Cingular. In November 2006 I received a letter from Cingular informing me that they would be dropping me from their service for excessive “out-of-area” usage.

    I called Cingular and of course got one of their “boiler rooms” where the Cingular employee roboticly informed me that my contract required that a minimum of 50% of my airtime must be “in-area”, meaning not in an area that requires “roaming” to kick in (I have since learned that this is pretty much the case with all cellular providers). She said in areas where roaming is required and Cingular has no service in that area that Cingular has reciprocal agreements with other cell phone providers and that Cingular must pay the roaming charges (again I have learned that this is the norm in the cellular business). She informed me of my contract obligations and said it was Cingular’s policy to drop someones service when this happens. I informed her that I had no way of knowing whether or not my service was “in-area” or “out-of-area” when I was using my phone and asked her if my phone would indicate as such and of course the answer is no, the phone does not let me know that. So, how do I know when I am “out-of-area”? She said I should get on the Internet and check their coverage map. Yeah, right, I’m going to do that driving down the Interstate at 70 mph as I criscross the state of Texas calling on school districts!

    So, after pleading my case to her and reiterating the fact that I am a long time customer and not a bill-skipping deadbeat (she acknowledged that she could see on her computer screen how long I had been a customer and that I had an excellant pay history with the company) she held her ground and said that my service would be terminated.

    One thing I learned a long time ago is that when dealing with this type of situation you always want to start at the bottom when dealing with company personnel. If you got straight to the top and immediately ask for a supervisor then you have no place else to go “up the ladder” if you don’t get the answer you like when you started.

    I figured I’d gone as far as I could with the first Cingular employee so I asked for her supervisor. Got her, got the same “company policy” song and dance and still no satisfaction. So, up, up, and away to the next supervisor. This ended up being my last stop. Got the same policy info from her, but, she added that there is an appeal process that I might want to try. She said for me to use my phone as frequently as possible for the next several weeks (before the actual cut-off date) and then call back and ask to appeal Cingular’s decision. The thought process here being that they could check the record and see that I was again using my phone primarily in my “home area”.

    I did that and when I called regarding the appeal they acknowledged that I was again using my phone “in-area” and that I could probably stay with them…….except: my usage would be restricted to “home area” only. In other words, when I left my home area I would have no service – even if I was willing to pay roaming charges! Well, that won’t work. I travel all over this state building school projects. My cell phone is an extremely valuable tool for me.

    So, the moral here is, when you are a customer of a large corporation like Cingular don’t believe for one minute that you, the customer, matter. As far as I’m concerned, in their eyes, I was no different than the deadbeat customers they have – and a large corporation like that has plenty of them, too!

    Next step……..hello Verizon! We’ll see how long they want to keep me!

Comments

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  1. acambras says:

    Too bad Randy can’t demand that Cingular pay HIM an early termination fee.

  2. sr105 says:

    Was the 50% rule in your contract?

    I pose a question to any in the know:

    Does Randy have a valid breach of contract lawsuit? Businesses sue each other all the time for contract disputes. If it’s not in the contract, it would seem he has a valid case. Perhaps a small claims case asking for $200 (just using the ETF number) which would cover the damage done by Cingular and covering the work and possible cost of a new phone and contract with a different provider.

    Perhaps he could sue corporate and have an official Cingular mall kiosk served the way someone else sued Dell not too long ago.

  3. Last year when they did that to me I got them to pay for equipment and activation fees. He should try going that route.

  4. TheCase says:

    Sounds like another great way to get out of a contract to me.

  5. phrygian says:

    Unfortunately, Cingular has the clause about forced termination for >50% (off-net) roaming written into the contact. They seem to be getting more rabid about enforcing the clause; I guess they’re getting hit with a lot of charges from the other networks.

  6. Michael says:

    I understand that cell phone companies will always have these clauses since they no longer charge for roaming; however, wouldn’t it make sense to offer customers who need to do a lot of roaming some kind of alternate plan? Why dump your customer when you could simply shift the roaming fees over to them?

  7. Kos says:

    What I don’t understand is how this is even permitted by the FCC if the customer pays the roaming charges. Half of the FCC’s regulatory thrust is to provide communciations throughout the country (hence, universal service charges on residential phones and other fees on other services). Cingular is basically saying we don’t want to provide service (by way of reception) where there is not a lot of people in a certain area. BS.

  8. Christopher says:

    All the cellular carriers that I know of have something similar to Cingular’s 50% policy. It sucks, but it’s just how they operate. Cingular’s activation system won’t even let you activate a phone in a roaming area to help avoid this.

    It’s better than Sprint, though, who up until recently would charge customers any roaming airtime past the 50% mark at .49c/min and still wouldn’t let customer’s out without paying the ETF. They have since changed the policy to match Cingular’s.

  9. bloodr says:

    You know you could use this as a way of getting out of a cell phone contract. Obviously it’s not foolproof, but it might be a valid tactic.

  10. weave says:

    See, this “not knowing” is absolutely ridiculous. GSM should display what carrier you are using, but the carriers can change the operator display as desired. T-mobile seems to be pretty good at showing who you are on. I go all over the country and have seen the following “operators” show up on my phone, when it’s not showing t-mobile.

    * Einstein PCS
    * IWS
    * Cingular
    * AT&T
    * Extended Area

    … and a few others. I found out that “Extended Area” was actually Cingular when in Montana. Point being that Cingular *can* display the carrier you are roaming on when that is the case. They probably don’t want to due to some lame “branding” reason as well as trying to make it seem like they are everywhere, when they are not.

  11. Keter says:

    I was an AT&T customer and purchased my phone through them, so it is an AT&T branded phone. About a year after Cingular took them over, I started seeing “roaming” come up a lot…now it is CONSTANT and shows Cingular or nothing at all as the carrier. I live in a hilly area and used to get Verizon a lot in certain locations, not at all now.

    I’m wondering what effect going back to the AT&T brand is going to have…

  12. Helvetian says:

    T-Mobile doesn’t have this rule at all. Just wanted to add this, because he pointed out that all carriers did.

  13. superbmtsub says:

    “XTNDED AREA” under T-Mobile is NOT Cingular. I’ve had that in areas where Cingular provided no coverage and I was able to verify that because my work phone is Cingular and had both fones during those times.

    T-MOBILE ROCKS!

  14. superbmtsub says:

    Sorry. Wanted to add that I believe XTNDED AREA would be the left-over analog networks setup for ONSTAR products!

  15. Greg L says:

    Sprint has the rule written into their contract only for some plans; but I have never heard of anyone ever being cancelled for it.

  16. Jobeleca says:

    AT&T rep here, T-Mobile extended area is actually analog, and that’ll only be available until the end of 2007.

    Keter, when you were showing Verizon, were you using a TDMA phone? Because GSM phones shouldn’t even be compatible with their signals.

    acambras, we breached the contract, and per the contract when we do that we waive the ETF, which is standard in EON cases.

    As for why we’re getting firmer on this, costs are going up and our relationships with Centinneal Wireless (gulf coast & missippi river area) and T-Mobile are becoming less then friendly. They’ve realized that they’re the only major GSM players out there aside from us, and are subject to being bought next once we’re finished processing the latest merger, and so they’re playing hardball to make themselves less attractive to us.