How Switching To Cheaper Smartphone Plan For Deaf Customers Can Cost More

Mobile phone carriers aren’t about to let the majority of smartphone customers give up their voice plans any time soon, no matter how few minutes you use every month. Jack’s girlfriend doesn’t have much use for voice minutes, though. She’s deaf. She actually talks on the phone rarely, and more often uses the data connection to type to people and make phone calls using a relay service. After a few months, she managed to find someone at Sprint willing to put her on a special plan for deaf customers that has no voice minutes, and even gave her that plan’s price going back two months. What she didn’t realize was that she would be billed twenty cents for every minute of voice calls she had made during those two months.

My girl friend is a sprint mobile customer. She is deaf and lives on a very limited budget. Previously she was on a family plan where her parents paid for her service. A few months ago she had the phone put in her name. Because she is deaf she is required to have a smart phone for relay service. This is where a interpreter relays spoken words via a video call. Because it’s a smart phone she is required to pay for the extra “smartphone tax”. This amounted to roughly a $100 a month cell phone bill. We recently moved to a new city and she’s been looking for work. So money is tight.

We were told about a special plan available to deaf customers which has no voice calls but unlimited data for about $30. We tried for three months to get her on the plan. She was bounced back and forth between stores and phone support, each saying the other was the only one who could help. Finally we found someone who was able change her plan over to the special deaf program. They even agreed to credit her for the last two months. What they did not tell us was that she would be charged for any voice calls she would have made over the last two months at 20 cents per minute (before you ask, she has a special device that allows her to make calls through her hearing aids that doesn’t work all that well but is an option when the relay isn’t available, it sucks and you spend most of the call repeating things).

So instead of lowing her bill we now are facing over $240 for voice calls made over the last two months. Instead of applying what she paid over the cost of the deaf plan it seems they took the money and applied it to the original plan cost and added another .20 cents per voice call. Basically this means she is being charged twice what she would have. I offered to pay for the early termination fee and her to get a new phone if she broke the plan with sprint and moved to a different company. But we would still owe close to $250 on top of the cost to break the contract.

This seems to be pure douchebaggery on the part of Sprint and I was hoping the Consumerist might help out.

The Sprint Consumerist hotline specializes in undoing obnoxious things done by the rest of Sprint. Give them a call at 703-433-4401866-561-0035


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  1. Cat says:

    “They even agreed to credit her for the last two months.”

    “What they did not tell us was that she would be charged for any voice calls she would have made over the last two months at 20 cents per minute”

    Not to blame the OP, but – They should have seen that coming.

  2. petermv says:

    Let me see if I get this straight, she wants a plan that doesn’t have minutes, but in fact does actually use minutes. So they credit you the difference in cost between the new plan without minutes and the old plan with minutes, and then charge you for the voice minutes that you used. Seems they did exactly what you wanted them to do to me, unless I misunderstand somewhere?

    • RedOryx says:

      Well, I think the problem is that they already paid for those previous two months under the old plan. So now they are being charged for those same calls again.

      • George4478 says:

        Sprint credited them for the prior 2 months. The OP had paid for the calls, but then they asked for a credit. So they had to pay for those calls under the new, retroactive, plan that they requested.

        • RedOryx says:

          Got it. You’re right. It’s not that they are being charged for the calls twice, it’s that they are trying to get out of having to pay for those calls at all.

    • kosmo @ The Soap Boxers says:

      This issue is that the rep tried to be nice by retroactively applying the cheaper plan to previous months in an effort to save them money. The only problem was this was actually more expensive, so they wanted Sprint to undo this, so that the two prior months were billed under the older plan (since the contract for the new, “cheaper” plan wasn’t legally in place for those earlier months).

      The rep was trying to be nice, but taking the extra step to calculate the bill for those two months under the old and new plan would have been better – to make sure that retroactively applying the plan would actually save them money.

  3. Herbz says:

    So tell them you don’t want the credit and want to be on the new plan from now on?

    Seems like it was just a dumb decision on their part, and uncooperativeness on Sprint’s part.

  4. hugothebear says:

    If you’re going to use plan without a voice plan, then don’t expect to be charged the same for minutes. Get a voice plan or stop making calls.

    • Robert Nagel says:

      She made voice calls in the previous two months. Without the voice minutes she will not make voice calls in the future, partly because they don’t work well for her. She would not have used the voice minutes in the prior two months if she had been on the plan. Sprint should be credited for trying to give her the cheaper plan, but they forgot to find out which was cheaper.

  5. Riroon13 says:

    Virgin Mobile — $35 per month, unlimited text, 300 minutes talk time, unlimited (but throttled for excess) web, selection of Androids, and on Sprint towers. Seems might be a good choice for them.

    • momof2kids says:

      Absolutely! My son and I both have this plan (cheaper than a family plan on a contract carrier). My son uses maybe 10 voice minutes a month, once in a while – Its perfect!

    • Libertas says:

      I don’t use a phone but I’m required by my work to have a phone. I’ve received 5 calls from work in 14 years and paid upwards of $50 a month for a cell phone until about a year ago. I’m grandfathered into the same plan, just ten bucks cheaper. VERY happy.

  6. Geekybiker says:

    Ahhhh unintended consequences. I doubt Sprint was trying to screw you. It is probably just employees unfamiliar with a very rare plan. Try calling Sprint and getting them to change the plan for those two months?

  7. crazydavythe1st says:

    $240 at .20 cents per call is no small amount of usage even over two months. Or was it 20 cents/minute? I sense Verizon math here…

    But seriously, it sounds like you just to go back and talk to Sprint again.

  8. ganon446 says:

    Oh god those relay calls are the worst. Seriously.

    • nishioka says:

      I used to get one or two of those a month when I did tech support for a national dialup ISP many many years ago. Those call and calls from people who had some sort of speech ailment (resulting from strokes, etc.) were the ones I looked forward to the least. Not because they were inconvenient, but because they take awhile to get through and I was under the gun to not ever have a call last longer than 10-13 minutes.

    • silenthands says:

      I’m deaf and I hate having to make relay calls myself. It takes three times as long for both myself and the poor sucker on the other end – compared to a “normal” call. And thanks to scum who have tried to scam people before, I have lost count of the number of calls that go like this:

      ME: (to relay service) Call XXX-XXXX.
      Relay: Dialing…… Ring 1… Ring 2…. (pick up, female, explaining relay)
      Them: *hang up*

      With a riff on that theme with the occasional shouting of “WE DON’T TAKE RELAY CALLS *CLICK*”

      People, REALLY. I don’t like having to use relay services to call you either. STOP IT. I’m sorry your company is an asshole and makes you complete a call in 1 minute flat or you get fired. Really, I am, but unless your company provides a chat service that can handle my problem without requiring me to call the call center you work at… I can do nothing about that.

      • ganon446 says:

        Understandable the hate from Relay Companies are not because we have to speak to someone who is deaf it is because the Relay Ops most of the suck. They relay the message and they think they got it wrong so they ask you to repeat what you said five days.

        Also, Call Centers have strict call times in which if that rep is on a call for a too long it starts to add up and it can get the rep fired. Most Call Centers have a time limit of 5-6 minutes now for American Call Center Company’s always trying to raise the bar to something impossible so they can sell this to an investor with the pitch “We do what no one else can do!”

        My call center has a limit of a minute and fifty seconds which they lowered it from three minutes per call back in 2010. Thankfully I don’t have to worry about that since I supervise the entire call center now but call center stats often just make sense and help leading a person on getting call center burnout faster then normal.

        We just finally fired one girl who literally lost her mind and got on her cell phone talking about her sex life, abortions and so on and with every single call calling people “tricks” as she got off the phone. She’s black so that’s a new way of calling a person a “ho” in the black community.

        I tried to reach to her but it didn’t work and management failed to fire her for a year when the call center burnout started to make her have a mental break down,

  9. weblamer says:

    I am hard of hearing, and I have sprint unlimited data plan voice-only for $30 a month. I love it.

    I am not sure what she is doing for a text-only relay that is costing voice calls. Is she plugging the phone into a relay machine, instead of using a relay application or a website?

    I occasionally use voice relay (where i talk and someone types the responses in real-time) and that cost minutes, but text-only should not be costing any more than regular data.

  10. jsweitz says:

    I doubt they even thought to account for a mostly deaf customer that uses an average of 600 minutes per month…..

    $240 / $.20 = 1200 min / 2 mo. = 600 min

    I’m sure the frustration during the calls makes them longer, but that’s a lot of minutes for someone who isn’t deaf.

  11. silenthands says:

    I am on that plan with Sprint. My hearing aids are bottom-of-the-barrel behind-the-ear ones, and that was when they were new — 10 years ago. I cannot hear over a phone, never have and likely never will. So when I saw this plan did not include voice minutes I thought “FINE by me.” In the 2 years I have had my phone with this plan, I have only had to use it for voice calls twice – for about 2 minutes each, when I got stranded by the side of the road and the only person who stopped did not have a cell phone themselves. I tried to reach my parents through the phone’s IM service but nobody was answering. So I dialed my parents’ number, handed the phone to the person helping me, and they got my Dad to answer the phone. After relaying the issue and location, he hung up and headed out to get me. 20 cents a minute, 2 minute call, I paid that 40 cents happily.

    If you (the OP) already paid for those voice minutes (by paying what they charged you for the old plan for those 2 months) then they should have simply changed your plan to the Sprint Deaf Relay program “going forward” rather than retroactively. I would suggest calling again (and again) – but not from that phone! – until you get someone who understands what you’re trying to explain. If that fails, start carpet-bombing the execs with the EECBs others have used in the past. They should, in theory, be able to fix it so that you’re not stuck paying for minutes that you technically already paid for.

  12. Bent Rooney says:

    Something seems odd here. The OP states that she “doesn’t have much use for voice minutes” but obviously used close to a 1,200 minutes to rack up the $240 charges at $0.20/minute.

    She obviously uses the voice minutes, but opted for a plan that didn’t included them. Confused.

    • kosmo @ The Soap Boxers says:

      Just speculating, but she may have let others (such as the boyfriend) use the phone to make calls, since she had plenty of minutes to spare every month?

  13. The Cybernetic Entomologist says:

    If you don’t make many calls, those voice minutes are a whole lot more than 20 cents if you have a plan that includes them.

  14. crunchyoyster says:

    I’m sorry, but I wonder what the editorial process looks like before posting a complaint like this. I am no fan of Sprint, but in this case it seems as if they were genuinely trying to help this customer. She was paying X amount and then they offered to take her to a lower, NO VOICE plan. Did the customer think she was getting those minutes for FREE? Sprint could have done a better job educating the customer of her new plan details, but ultimately there is some expectation of common sense from the customer (especially one who already has a cell phone).

  15. Rexy on a rampage says:

    $100 a month seems very steep. Being hearing impaired myself, I’m also with Sprint’s no-minute plans, and even on a smartphone, it’s $40 a month. That’s for unlimited data and texting, 0 minutes. Only 911 calls are free.

  16. kouotsu says:

    Virgin Mobile is a good option here. You get unlimited data and texts on a smartphone for $35/month, no contract of course. I believe the amount of voice minutes you get is 300. I speak and hear fine and still don’t use all the minutes…lol.

  17. JenK says:

    If I’m reading this correctly, it sounds like they retroactively applied the plan without paying attention to the voice calls made on the phone. She was likely using her phone for voice because she could (or sharing the voice minutes) so that money did not go to waste. Maybe her intention is to stop using the voice calls without having the plan to do so. It also sounds as if she’s being double charged. It’s Sprint’s problem to deal with, not the OP’s.