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!)