Want to break your Sprint cellphone contract without paying an early termination fee? On January 1, 2009, Sprint will increase the Administrative fee to $.99 per line. Because this is what is known as a “materially adverse change of contract,” and because of the basic contractual principle that you can’t change someone’s contract without their explicit permission (not the tacit, “opt-out” kind), you can use it to argue that the fee renders your contract void and you can end service without a termination fee. You do have to be willing to argue without giving up with a number of different Sprint employees first, like Matt did…
Here’s the fee notice:
Effective Jan. 1, 2009, the Administrative
Charge will increase to $0.99 per line. For
details on surcharges, please see Sprint Terms
& Conditions or visit sprint.com/taxesandfees
And Matt’s story:
I called sprint with the bill (with the exact wording) open, and their taxes and fees site (sprint.com/taxesandfees). First I got a normal CS rep, asked about getting an ETF waiver because of this “materially adverse” change, she said no, but that she would transfer me to an “account specialist” (retentions).
Was transferred to retentions, got a woman who also said no. We debated a little bit, me asking why it wasn’t materially adverse, her saying because its a fee, etc etc. Once I realized I was going no where with her I asked to speak to somebody else. Apparently I got to talk to the King of Retentions, or something.
I remember this part the best, because he picks up the phone and says “Hello! I heard you had a question about one of our government mandate fees?” This really set me off. I had been saying the whole time it was their administrative fee and picture message increase. Anyways, we debated, a lot. Basically the only key was to never stop. He kept saying they could change their fees at any time, it even says so in their T&Cs. I pointed out how that was not valid, and how it was the whole point of a contract that both parties agree to the terms as presented, and how could you agree to terms in advance? After about 10 minutes of this I said “is there anybody else I can talk to” and he said “no, I’m the end of the line before you cancel”, and then he said “Do you want the number to legal” and I said “yes!”.
I was put on hold for about 10 minutes, when he came back he was much much nicer. He said they couldn’t ETF free it now because it hadn’t affected the account. I told him the reason I called now is because I wasn’t to make sure paying the Nov bill is “agreeing” with the change (I’m sure if I called back in Jan there would have been nothing that could have been done). I said ETF free in Jan was reasonable, and asked him to put the note on the account to let me cancel ETF free in January if the account was affected by the change, he obliged.
Called back the next day, and the note was there.
Yes, the account is still not canceled. Yes, that note could mysteriously disappear. But Matt was able to go most of the way towards getting it ready to be cancelled once that new fee starts hitting the account. He just needs to go the next step. He needs to argue with them that it doesn’t matter if it hasn’t hit the account yet, the terms of the contract have changed. That alone gives him sufficient reason. If they respond by waiving the surcharge, he should insist that the contract has still been changed.
Just because it’s in the terms and conditions that they can change the contract doesn’t make it so. Ski lodges can make you sign death waivers but if you really do bust your leg up, the lawyers know you still can sue and probably will win. If
contracts could really be changed like this mid-term, then car dealerships could decide 6 months into your lease that you need to start paying a $300/month administrative fee.
Whether or not they obviate the effects of the contract change, the contract was still changed without his consent. If you stab someone, and then put all the blood back in the wound and put a band-aid over it, you’ve still stabbed them.