As the second coming of the Jesusphone 3G draws near, we wanted to remind customers of other wireless carriers that there are ways to escape your existing cellphone contract free of early termination fees, and trade your piddling Verizon, Sprint, or T-Mobile bills for hundreds of pages of gloriously itemized AT&T charges. Or just switch carriers.
One way to escape your contract is to call up your carrier and argue that they have made a materially adverse change to your service agreement. Most cellphone contracts contain a clause allowing customers to escape their contracts if a materially adverse change is made, usually in the form of a rate increase. Here’s an example clause from a Verizon contract:
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.
Below are some recent rate increases by the major providers. Some of these might have occurred far enough back that they are outside the window to call and complain, but we’ve also heard from readers who didn’t get any notice, or who got late notice, thus keeping them within the required period to contest the change.
We posted about this a couple weeks ago, but just to reiterate: T-Mobile is raising its text message rates on August 29th. That’s a materially adverse change to your contract. Run while you can.
Although Verizon likes to play dumb about what constitutes a materially adverse change to your contract, a Verizon fee increase was the impetus for this article: A reader writes in that he used Verizon’s recent Federal Universal Service Charge increase to escape without an ETF. Here is Verizon’s increase notification:
The Federal Universal Service Charge (FUSC) is a Verizon Wireless charge that is subject to change each calendar quarter based on contribution rates prescribed by the FCC. On July 1, the FUSC changed to 2.42 percent of assessable wireless charges, other than separately billed interstate and international long distance charges. The FUSC on these charges changed to 11.4 percent.
There are conflicting reports that, as of July 13, Sprint will be eliminating its SERO plan altogether, or making existing customers switch to unlimited data “everything” plans, or just forcing that on new PDA customers. Barring that, a text message increase probably isn’t too far away.
We offered advice on escaping your contract last year when the iPhone first came out. Besides complaining about materially adverse changes, you can sell your contract, complain that service is substandard, move to an area out of your network, join the military, or die.
PREVIOUSLY: 6 Ways to Cancel Any Cellphone So You Can Get an iPhone
“Material Adverse” Clauses in Cell Phone Contracts [United Consumer Action Network]