Verizon's New Surcharge For Calling Mexico Means It's Contract Cancel Party Time?

Materially adverse changes to contract mean the contract is void. Is Verizon’s new surcharge for calling Mexico a materially adverse change? The following was included in customer’s April Verizon Wireless bill:

Important Notice Regarding Rate Increases for Calls to Mexico

Effective June 24, 2007, a $0.15 per minute surcharge will be added to International Long Distance and International Long Distance Value Plan rates for calling Mexican telephone numbers using the dialing pattern: 011+52+1+Area Code+telephone number . The surcharge is due to increased costs resulting from Mexico’s recent switch to a calling party pays system. The total amount of any such surcharge will appear on your monthly bill in the Long Distance & Other Charges section. For information about international calling, see verizonwireless.com/international.

If it is, that would mean that legally, customers could cancel their contract without early termination fee. The practical side of doing battle with customer service may be another matter, however.

First, let’s look at the contract…

(Photo: Sam Wilkinson)


From the Verizon Customer Agreement:

Our Rights To Make Changes
Your service is subject to our business policies, practices, and procedures, which we can change without notice. UNLESS OTHERWISE PROHIBITED BY LAW, WE CAN ALSO CHANGE PRICES AND ANY OTHER CONDITIONS IN THIS AGREEMENT AT ANY TIME BY SENDING YOU WRITTEN NOTICE PRIOR TO THE BILLING PERIOD IN WHICH THE CHANGES WOULD GO INTO EFFECT. IF YOU CHOOSE TO USE YOUR SERVICE AFTER THAT POINT, YOU’RE ACCEPTING THE CHANGES. IF THE CHANGES HAVE A MATERIAL ADVERSE EFFECT ON YOU, HOWEVER, YOU CAN END THE AFFECTED SERVICE, WITHOUT ANY EARLY TERMINATION FEE, JUST BY CALLING US WITHIN 60 DAYS AFTER WE SEND NOTICE OF THE CHANGE.

Is the change materially adverse? We say yes, it’s costing you more money, and it’s part of the contract. However, several commenters on the HowardsForum cellphone board disagree, vehemently.

The Utility Consumers’ Action Network says:

Contracts vary, but most changes to your contract can provide grounds to get out. Almost any new fee or new charge is your opportunity to break the contract. Why? Because they can’t change any part of the contract without your permission. But they do it all of the time because they know that you DON’T know that you can use that change as a basis for canceling your contract.

This is an untested theory but based on our reader’s previous experiences, it may work.

Here’s a very basic script, also from UCAN:

1. Have notice of the contract change/increase on hand
2. Call carrier
3. Ask if the change/increase applies to you
4. Read the “Material Adverse” section of your contract to the CSR
5. State that the change/notice has a material adverse affect on you and that you want to cancel your contract without being charged a termination fee
6. Escalate to a supervisor when the CSR tells you that you can’t cancel without paying an early termination fee
7. Be persistent and don’t back off your position that the change/increase has a materially adverse affect on you and that the carrier’s own contract entitles you to cancel without penalty

Check out these posts for tips on canceling Verizon contracts:

Everything You Wanted To Know About Canceling Verizon But Were Afraid To Ask
Cancel Verizon Without Penalty Over Admin Fee Increase
After Battle, Marie Gets Escapes Verizon Contract
Script For Escaping Verizon Contracts Without Fee, Based On Text Message Rate Raises

— BEN POPKEN

(Thanks to Malachi!)

Comments

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  1. Tallanvor says:

    I’d say that’s really low, but it’s coming from a cell phone company, so it doesn’t surprise me in the least.

    According to this Consumer Advisory from the FCC, Mexico switched to a calling party pays system for wireless phones, not their entire phone system. So if Verizon was collecting the charge for calls to wireless numbers only, they’d at least have a good excuse. Instead they’re just being greedy.

  2. lhutz34 says:

    Here’s an even better one from the May 1 bill:
    “Important Notice About Increase in Mexico Roaming Rate
    Effective July 1, 2007, the rate for making and receiving calls while
    roaming on participating carriers networks in Mexico will increase from a
    flat rate of $0.69 per minute, to a flat rate of $0.99 per minute. Global
    Phone GSM airtime rates will not be impacted by this change. For more
    information, please visit http://www.verizonwireless.com/international and
    select ‘International Roaming’. Please consult your Customer Agreement
    for information about rate changes.”

    This means if my contract runs through June 2008 and I have a trip to Mexico planned for August 2007, the cost of all calls I was planning to make just went up by $0.30/minute. There may have been able to claim that a 5 cent increase for TXT wasn’t material, but 10 minutes of phone calls on my upcoming Mexican vacation just went up by $3.00.

    And guess what? You have until June 29, 60 days from May 1, to cancel. And what comes out June 15? The iPhone! I hope their call centers are adequately staffed between June 15 and June 29. Hee hee hee.

  3. chrisgeleven says:

    Just great. The iPhone is tempting enough without having a legit reason to get out of my Verizon contract.

    Luckly, I don’t have $499-599 to drop on the iPhone.

  4. jackdangers says:

    This seems more significant than the text messaging rate increase. If this doesn’t count as “materially adverse” in Verizon’s eyes, I have no clue what would count.

  5. bluebuilder says:

    if somebody manages to cancel their verizon phone on this, let me know!

    I have had a contract for 1 year 4 months now, and want out. I may see if this works for me.

  6. lhutz34 says:

    Well, I wasn’t planning a Mexican vacation this summer, but I am now. Of course, I may cancel my plans once I’m out of my VZW and shackled into a new AT&T contract. :)

    The beauty of this is that all the dodges they used for the TXT increase and other likely excuses don’t work here:

    1 – “But you don’t use international roaming” Well, I haven’t gone to Mexico yet. But I’m going before my contract is up, so I will be using the service. The contract I signed said $0.69/minute.

    2 – “Please fax us a copy of your plane tickets” I haven’t bought them yet, because the trip is not for a few months, but it will be during the term of my contract. I only have 60 days to cancel, though, so I’m canceling now.
    Alternate response: I’m not flying, I’m driving.

    3 – “Please fax a copy of your passport to verify that you can visit Mexico.” If you have one, just send in a copy. If you don’t, I think you can still drive across with just a driver’s license, so say you don’t need it. Or tell them that your application will take longer than the 60 day cancellation window, so you’ll have one, but not before 60 days.

    4 – “But $0.30 is not materially adverse.” I’m spending a week in Mexico and intend to use my phone normally. I talked for 160 minutes on my last bill, so I expect to use at least 40 minutes. Under the terms of the contract I signed, that should cost $27.60, but now it will cost me $39.60, a difference of $12.00. $12.00 is material under any definition. [As you can see, even with low usage, the difference is clearly material. The higher your minutes usage or the longer your planned vacation, the bigger the difference, and the less likely they’ll be able to deny it’s material.]

    I’ll let you all know how it goes, but I’m not going to try until my iPhone is in hand and activated.

  7. Malachi says:

    @lhutz34
    I saw that change too. Both increases are very good reasons to terminate your contract.

  8. WillisMark says:

    Ugh, more hidden or plain-in-sight costs that we shouldn’t have to pay for. It is like paying for directory assistance, two bucks for someone to look up a number for you. My advice is to drop these companies cause there has to be something better out there. I have a new cell phone carrier and know use 1-800-FREE-411 for DA. It is up to us the consumer to stop the madness, if you think about it. These companies are not monopolies and we do have choices.

  9. steamwhistle says:

    Anyone have insight into whether I can still escape my contract even if I am on a North American choice plan? I hate Verizon…

  10. jaewon223 says:

    Off topic but, 1-800-GOOG-411 also works for directory assistance and it’s free.

  11. rioja951 - Why, oh why must I be assigned to the vehicle maintenance when my specialty is demolitions? says:

    Well, i have been stationed in the mexico office from my company for a few years now, and for comunicating with local customers it has been easier to get a contract with the local telcel carrier. This “new” caller pays scheme has been on ever since i was posted here. I still have my original sprint phone, but i always tell the new guys to get a local phone, it has proven cheaper and easier for comunicating in the whole country.

    The issue here is that the carrier can have you in a group that is not part of this. Very few people actully sign up for this, but it exists. Any number in mexico that starts with a 044 is a caller pays.

    Of course, now any call i make to my clients will be with the local line.

  12. lhutz34 says:

    @steamwhistle: Probably yes. From the North America’s Choice Calling Plan “Important Information”:

    “In Canada and Mexico, you may be able to place or receive calls in areas outside the North America’s Choice Home Airtime Rate and Coverage Area. In those instances, usage may be charges at 69¢/minute. Applicable Get It Now and Mobile Web charges apply in accordance with your plan. See Get It Now brochure for details.”

    Plan page:
    http://mobileoptions.vzw.com/international/rates/na_callin

    Outside your home calling area, the roaming rate is also $0.69/min, so your May 1 bill should have the same section raising the rate to $0.99/min. Just find a location in Mexico that’s not in the home calling area and tell them you’re going there in the next couple months and will be using roaming there. Should be easy, there’s barely any coverage in Mexico, even with the North America’s Choice plan.

    Coverage Map:
    http://aboutus.vzw.com/international/pdf/Pre%206_11_07_NAC

  13. steamwhistle says:

    @ lhutz34

    Incredible! Thanks!

  14. EasternWarfare says:

    All howardsforum non-believers, read and weep. I just want to say THANK YOU for saving me hundreds of dollars. I had a Verizon account with 3 additional lines. I called and I got an older woman who put up a good fight saying that Mexico changed their rates, not Verizon, so she wouldn’t change the contract and she wasn’t budging. I ended up hanging up on her and calling a few hours later. The second time I got a very young sounding girl who asked me to read it over again and didn’t argue at all. The whole call lasted less than 10 minutes and I’m out of the contract!

  15. DjDynasty says:

    They are refusing to allow people out of contract for this claus, No matter what. Verizon doesn’t want to release anyone out of contract.

  16. beadg2 says:

    Hi…Just wanted to let everyone know I just used this to escape my $350.00 termination fee with Verizon. It took 4 calls all to different reps but they finally relented.
    Just keep after them!
    Thanks so much for the info on this site!
    They send out these notices that the rate is going to change because it DOES have a “material adverse effect” on you! Don’t let them off the hook (-: no pun intended!

  17. poorcustomer says:

    beadg2 or anyone: is anybody at verizon willing to port your numbers when you cancel your plan this way?

  18. jivi7928 says:

    I used the change that LHUTZ34 mentioned, and it took one phone call and 8 mins to cancel my phone line. I was very surprised how easy and nice the lady was to me. No problems canceling here.

  19. nelson5 says:

    Hey does anyone know how to escape the contract for America’s Choice Calling Plan, they keep telling me that my calling in Mexico is not guaranteed thus they can’t cancel it and how that it is an international tower we’re using or what not. HELP!

  20. consume_this says:

    long time reader, first time poster

    damn you verizon! I’ve been at it for two days. I’ve spoken to over 10 CSR lackies, been elevated 5 separate times, and cycled through the logic of the situation each time until my throat was dry.

    And now? I’m waiting for upper-level management to call me back.

    The main argument I keep running into:

    Because I can’t prove it’s materially adverse by just saying so, they won’t cancel. I.e. my claim that I will make calls to Mexico (and thus suffer the higher rate that I didn’t sign up for) isn’t the same as actually making the calls.

    $175 is not something I want to pay on top of the cash I dished for the iPhone. Stay tuned for updates.

  21. VicRamos1 says:

    Does anybody out there know if I can use the Verizon Customer Agreement in the following situation?

    I joined Verizon Wireless 4 months ago because my parents and my brother (who live in Puerto Rico) are also on Verizon Wireless. Being able to call them without using my minutes was the reason why I chose VZW. I just found out that VZW in Puerto Rico is no longer part of VZW. It is now owned by a wireless provider from Mexico. When that change takes effect (on September 1st, 2007) I will now have to use my minutes to call them.

    I know it’s all a matter of timing, but, had I known that this would be happening, I would’ve kept my service with my previous provider.

    Does anybody know if my situation would fall under the type of “CHANGES [THAT] HAVE A MATERIAL ADVERSE EFFECT ON” me, allowing me to leave the network without incurring an ETF?

    Thanks in advance.