T-Mobile Doesn’t Really Care That Your House Burnt Down

T-Mobile is lagging behind the rest of its competition. It’s a distant #4 in the U.S. wireless market and even the third-place contender, Sprint, has a pretty robust prepaid customer base. So T-Mobile should be doing everything it can to retain customers; this apparently includes not waiving early termination fees for customers who have to move because their house burns down.

Over at his blog, Mike writes about the situation his mother now faces after losing her home to a wildfire in Texas.

Following the fire, his mom and her husband relocated to a different town about 30 miles away. Unfortunately, that relatively short distance was just enough to put her completely out of reach for T-Mobile service.

So Mike decided to see if he could help her out by talking to someone at the T-Mobile store about getting his mom out of the $80/month contract:

The woman behind the counter checked my mother’s new address and confirmed that T-Mobile did not provide service to the area. She then said that she couldn’t cancel the contract in-store without charging me an early termination fee, but if I called T-Mobile, someone would be able to help me.

Except that help was not offered when he did make that call on behalf of his mother.
“The customer service representative I spoke to told me that T-Mobile is not at fault when customers *choose* to move outside T-Mobile’s service area,” he writes. “She suggested that we give my mother’s phone to another family member who lived someplace with service. If that didn’t suit me, we could downgrade the phone’s plan, and I could continue paying for my mother to use it as an alarm clock until June 2013. If that didn’t work, I could re-up my contract for my BlackBerry—which incidentally ends next month—for two more years, and T-Mobile would give me a one-month discount that I could then put toward the $200 early termination fee for mom’s phone.”

Meanwhile, her husband’s wireless provider CREDO also did not have coverage in the area. But, unlike T-Mobile, immediately allowed him to cancel his contract without an ETF when it realized his situation.

“I’m not looking for freebies,” Mike tells Consumerist, explaining that he doesn’t understand why his mother isn’t receiving the same treatment other customers receive. “I’ve had several people tell me that they were able to end contracts when they moved out of a coverage area with no early termination fee. One of them said she had to fax proof of her son’s new address, and another person who saw the post said she and her husband were able to cancel over the phone when they moved to an area without T-Mobile coverage.”

In the end, Mike decided to just eat the ETF, but also wants T-Mobile to know that he will not be re-upping his contract when it comes up for renewal in the coming weeks.

So congratulations, T-Mobile, you made $200 for the ETF, but you have lost $1,200 year from Mike, who had been a customer for seven years before this incident.

This is how you end up in last place.

Why I’m Leaving T-Mobile After Seven Years


Edit Your Comment

  1. msbask v2 says:

    What does the contract say?

    • The Colonel says:

      T-Mobile used to waive ETF’s if someone moved out of their service area, but stopped at some point. I’m guessing the contract in this case probably said no to a waiver. So, they are legally clear, but it’s so short sited in this case. Their house burned down . . . of course you let them out. The bad word of mouth isn’t worth in. In fact, even in the article they lost a customer who was about to re-up a 2 year contract.

      • padarjohn says:

        Wouldn’t the contract also say something about T-Mobile providing service in exchange for receiving money?

        • frank64 says:

          You know the service area when you sign up. So they are providing service to the area you agreed to pay for.

          • larrymac thinks testing should have occurred says:

            Because everybody should plan for a wildfire to burn them out of house and home.


            • frank64 says:

              Way to miss the point, and be a jerk about it.

              I was commenting solely on the above point on T-Moble being abler to perform on the contract, they can based on all information available to the customer at the time. If you saw my later posts, I did say they should have ETF waived if the subsidy on the phone was paid for..

              You didn’t make the point, but if you think T-Mobile should eat the cost of the phone due to the fire, I would disagree with you. See the grocery analogy someone posted. You in effect own the phone when you sign the contract, and if T-Mobile agreed to pay for it in certain circumstances the cost would be higher for everyone.

              Way to not think things through! No Worries, not everybody is a people person.

        • shepd says:

          T-Mobile will be happy to provide service within the areas they had told you were serviced in advance of entering the contract.

          The phone still has service within those areas, thus the contract is satisfied. Your decision to choose to spend time on the moon doesn’t waive that.

          • StarKillerX says:

            And let’s not forget that the ETF is to cover t-mobile subsidizing the phone, not recovering the lost service fees a cancelation would cause.

  2. chiieddy says:

    I’d have tried contacting executive customer service before eating the ETF (and noted that they’d be losing a secondary customer when doing so)

  3. ahecht says:

    If he had a T-Mobile contract ending in a month, why didn’t he just cancel his service and take over his mother’s contract? Would’ve been cheaper than the ETF.

  4. kevinroyalty says:

    i’d small claims court the ETF

    • AtlantaCPA says:

      That would probably be a losing battle. Waiving the ETF would have been the nice thing to do, but they have no obligation whatsoever to do so.

    • JJFIII says:

      Other than that whole arbitration thing that is in the CONTRACT. When you sign a contract, you live by it. Issues such as losing your job, your house burning down, your car not running really are not TMobiles problem. See if the insurance company will cover the EFT due to the house burning down. It will depend on the insurance you have, but remember, TMOBILE shelled out money for your subsidized phone. Let’s pretend the phone was not subsidized. What would mom pay for that phone when she bought it.
      Imagine if you just went grocery shopping. Your house burns down after you spent $500 on groceries. Would you go back to the grocery store expecting a refund since you won’t be able to use them?
      If TMobile had a fire that cost them million so dollars would you allow them to charge you more because they need to pay for it before your contract expires?

      • who? says:

        It’s not about the contract. It’s about being a f*cking human being.

        • shepd says:

          This. It is surprising that a company like T-Mobile can’t (or just won’t) afford some sort of insurance to protect themselves against losses when something catastrophic like this happens to one of their customers.

          I can’t imagine T-Mobile would pay more than a penny a year per customer to get insurance that would pay them $200 upon T-Mobile providing proof that a customer’s house burned down and that customer could no longer receive service as a result. It has to be a 1 in 100,000 case.

        • JJFIII says:

          So I wonder if you go to work tomorrow, let’s say you work for a business. They produce widgets. The company burns to the ground. Will you be a FUCKING HUMAN when they say, sorry, we won;t be paying you because we could not fill the order for widgets?
          By the way, despite what the SCOTUS thinks, Tmobile and corporations are NOT HUMANS BEINGS. I do not want nor expect them to be afforded anything that resembles human being status. Why not be a human being and tell mom to pay her fucking bill and shut up, she owes the money.

      • GaijenSoft says:

        I think your missing the fact that they are no longer under contract, therefore they are not bound by it.

        • msbask v2 says:

          I don’t see that at all. I see “…Mike decided to see if he could help her out by talking to someone at the T-Mobile store about getting his mom out of the $80/month contract”.

          If there were no contract, how could there be an ETF?

      • JenK says:

        Using your last analogy of TMobile having a fire…if TMobile had a fire would you still be expected to pay for a service that didn’t work anymore due to a fire at their end? No? So then why are you still paying for a service in which the fire occurred at your end?

        • StarKillerX says:

          Because the ETF is to cover their subsidizing the phone she got not to cover the monthly service fees.

        • Smiling says:

          Because she had a contract? Because she chose to move to a place they didn’t cover (the fire does not keep her from living in an area that is covered by T-Mobile)? Because they subsidized her phone and would be out the money and the phone if they let her out?

        • kobresia says:

          The service still presumably works in T-mobile’s service area. The phone therefore still works as expected. Service providers have to provide the service you sign-up for, but it’s not part of their obligation to make sure that the customer is actually able to use the service, that is the customer’s responsibility.

          Failure of either party to maintain their contractual obligations, I believe the term is called “specific performance”, is grounds for the other party to terminate the contract without penalty. “I don’t need the service anymore because I can’t use it” is not a failure in the specific performance of T-mobile, so the contract (and breach of contract penalties) would still be in force.

      • Peggee has pearls and will clutch them when cashiers ask "YOU GOT A WIC CHECK MA'AM?" says:

        I get the grocery analogy, but then again, if you were on a subscription service for groceries, and you moved out of their delivery area, you wouldn’t want to continue to pay for the groceries and not get any.

        Also, if TMobile had a fire, you can bet they’d work the cost in somehow. They raise prices all the time, and technically you’re supposed to be able to cancel your contract if any material change occurs, but that’s easier said than done. It’s a lot easier for a company to raise revenue to cover a loss than it is for their customers.

  5. DanKelley98 says:

    Those who ask “what does the contract say” are missing the point. Just because its legal doesn’t make it morally write. It’s about compassion and customer service.

    What the brokerage firms did on Wall Street a few years back was legal, but moral? No. It destroyed the economy.

    • George4478 says:

      It’s morally wrong for them to not waive the ETF? I understand good customer service, but actually immoral?

      If your house burns down and you take the insurance money and move to a different town, then it’s immoral to be held to contracts related to the old house?

      • Worstdaysinceyesterday says:

        I think it can be yes. If the mom signed a contract for snow removal, lawn care or any gosh darn service at the old location and the new location was out of the providers zone, the morally right thing to do WHEN YOUR FREAKIN HOUSE BURNS DOWN is to negate the contract. Its called pouring salt into a wound and in my moral code it is wrong, immoral, poor judgment, bad business, and greedy.

        it sounds like you are saying this (on the behalf of T mobile) “Eff ’em that’s what the insurance money is for. A contract is a contract.” Doesn’t that sound like horrible treatment to you?

        • frank64 says:

          What about if they had a subsidized phone? Do you think T-Mobile should eat it? I think T-Mobile should let them off for the contract, provided they pay for whatever the remaining cost of the phone is.

          • Worstdaysinceyesterday says:

            frank – that sounds reasonable to me. Pay off any remainder of the phone value and keep it or be allowed to return the phone. I think it would even be fine to allow a lower return value than a payoff value due to the costs of refurb etc. Otherwise legally and morally you received ‘something for nothing’.

            • JJFIII says:

              What do you think the EFT is? It IS for the difference between the full price of the phone and the leaving a contract two years early.
              As for the snow removal argument, you lose on this one too. Part of the reason a snow removal or lawn care service will give you the rate they do is based on a long term contract. Having negotiated with many of them over my life, they will charge more if they can not be assured of steady work. If you want a PAY AS YOU GO world, there is a simple solution, do a pay as you go phone or any other service.
              Nobody tricked anybody in this situation. Mom wanted a cheaper price, but when the world does not work out for her, she wants the benefit without the cost.

              • frank64 says:

                I agree with you the ETF is for the phone, but it isn’t doesn’t appear to be pro-rated. So if they are charged the full ETF at the end of the contract, they are being double charged.

                Being reasonable might mean people would be less hesitant to get into a contract, this would lead to happier customers and build goodwill. Making sure that the phone cost is recouped balances out both sides. In this case they appear to have lost much more than the ETF. Most customers would react this way, I don’t think he is being unreasonable.

              • Worstdaysinceyesterday says:

                I disagree that the ETF is solely for the purpose of paying off the phone. And the validity of the contract is not at the crux of my argument. I believe that the company acted legally, but still immorally. So would any service provider who did the same. Just because one CAN do a thing does not mean one SHOULD.

    • msbask v2 says:

      The problem is that if they just waive the EFT every single time, what stops everyone from just saying, “Oh, I moved” just to get out of a contract?

  6. josephpr says:

    At least they didn’t shrug.

  7. frank64 says:

    I think T-Mobile should make sure the phone subsidy has been paid for and then waive the fee, that could be done by pro-rating the ETF based on when the phone was purchased.

    I understand the ETFs based on the cost of the phone, but the phone companies are actually using them for much more. There should be much more consumer resistance to this, and I know it is growing. T-Mobile will loose more in income than the $200

  8. shepd says:

    And why won’t their homeowners insurance pay for this?

  9. Pre-Existing Condition says:

    Would homeowner’s insurance cover the ETF? It seems like several contracts might have to be broken as a result of a fire.

  10. gobanana says:

    Well, except they didn’t lose $1200/yr, because he was cancelling the contract.

  11. ThinkingBrian says:

    I feel sorry for the OP and of course his mother losing there house, but at the same time, I have to said with T-Mobile. We have read these stories before and basically T-Mobile, just like other carriers are sticking to those signed contracts. Sure it would have been a good thing if T-Mobile would have given his mother a break on ETF, but they don’t have to and there is nothing in those contracts that say otherwise.

    Of course with more and more of these stories coming out and consumer getting frustrated, I would say that for many consumers, they will simple stop doing contracts and buying the expensive phones and instead either go to prepaid or stay on postpaid and paid full price for the phones.

    Personally I’m on prepaid and I’ve been for over 10 years now, using 4 different carriers over that time and moved my father from postpaid with a contract to prepaid as well. I think my sister and her husband are looking at prepaid as well in the near feature to save money. But if I was going to go postpaid because there are a few benefits I guess, then I would go without a contract, its just not worth it. I love being able to leave a carrier without an ETF.

  12. baristabrawl says:

    Let’s see how this plays out, shall we?

  13. kansasliving says:

    My wife and I (and our two kittens) are in a similar situation. T-Mobile swore up and down (on recorded conversations) that they would relieve me (I am the primary on the account) of our Early Termination Fee. I have read both sets of T-Mobile’s articles per this ETF issue, and want to give the facts:
    1. I have been a loyal T-Mobile user since 2005 (7 years). No problems, No late payments, etc.
    2. My wife and I lived in Norman, Oklahoma where I was a PhD student from 2011-2012.
    3. Our apartment got totally damaged and all renters in our complex had to find other places to live in a tornado (April, 2012).
    4. My wife and I lost our jobs in Oklahoma, which added to the fact her grandmother is in ill health (relying upon machines to live) and she needed our help.
    5. Well, guess what? Our address is in the flint hills outside of any T-Mobile Coverage Area. T-Mobile engineers confirmed this after three conversations (recorded on their side) from May 11 – May 16, 2012. They orally agreed to relieve me of my ETF since we have no service here in the boonies.
    6. Multiple phone calls to them all result in the same result—->they promise to have someone (in higher positions) call me back to resolve this issue. That has been two weeks ago and now I just received a “late notice” of the ETF fees + one more month of service = $650.

    If any of you have a boiler-plate FCC template letter please send it to me! I need to fight this issue, which is very similar to Chris Morran’s article above on Mike’s dilemma.

    Thank you and Happy 4th of July everyone!


  14. 180CS says:

    In all fairness, I think they are better than AT&T.

  15. jennymae2009 says:

    The point isn’t really that tmobile should have had the decency to let her out of her contract (though in my opinion they should have) the point is that it was a terrible long term business decision they ended up losing way more money than if they has just waived the fee and got some bad press out of the deal as well. Next time maybe they’ll learn from this mistake and waive the fee.

  16. incident_man says:

    Assuming AT&T has service in the OP’s new area, I’d be tempted to cost them so much in roaming fees that they’d cancel service on me, rather than canceling the contract and paying the ETF.

  17. djhovind says:

    I have to wonder, if in fact the new location was in an area where they had a roaming partner, T-Mobile didn’t suggest switching to the loyalty customer nationwide unlimited at $49.99 per month. That plan gives you unlimited voice, long distance & roaming anywhere in the US. If they did not have a roaming partner in the area they were forced to re-locate to then big SHAME ON T-MOBILE! Just another fine example of their customer service…they need a big kick in the pants…or maybe we should challenge them to be on undercover boss!

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