Bring Your Own Phone? Sprint Still Wants A Contract

Clayton was under the impression that mobile phone contracts exist because carriers want to lock us in and recoup the costs of subsidizing our handset purchases. That makes sense, right? I mean, if we bring our own phones when signing up with a new carrier, we’re just exchanging money for phone service, and there’s no reason to lock us into a contract. Right? Right, Sprint?

I recently ran into a situation that I was unable to resolve with Sprint customer service, much to my surprise.

I had always thought it was common knowledge that cell phone contracts are in place due to their relationship with phone subsidies. It makes sense that the cell provider require a contract and an early termination fee if they are subsidizing the price of a new phone. In fact, in recent years they have created tiered ETF fees dependent on the kind of phone you are using.

Apparently Sprint does not understand this relationship between contract and subsidized phone. Although it is written in their contract that the ETF is dependent on the kind of phone you have purchased, they still require a two year contract if you are activating a line with your own existing phone. The ETF is connected to my existing phone, an HTC Evo. If I cancel my contract early I will be charged the high teir ETF fee for a phone they never subsidized.

I ran this issue all the way up to executive customer service with absolutely no resolution. While my customer service rep understood my confusion, and admitted that all three other phone companies did not have this required contract, there was absolutely nothing she could do.

It is corporate Sprint policy to require a new two year contract with every new line activated regardless of new phone purchase or not. I am told there is absolutely no bending of this policy.

Needless to say I believe this policy is anti-customer and when the new iPhone is released I will be paying my ETF’s and switching to another provider. You see, for me it isn’t about the best deal. It is about the relationship between business and customer, and Sprint seems to be the overbearing girlfriend. It’s time to dump her, as well as the 20% she makes up in my stock portfolio.

Clayton, that’s a really unfair comparison. Likening a mobile phone company’s insistence on having all new customers under contract to an overbearing girlfriend is an insult to overbearing girlfriends (and boyfriends) everywhere.


Edit Your Comment

  1. crispyduck13 says:

    Eff that noise.

    • Hungry Dog says:

      Can you repeat that? I have AT&T and there is so much noise.

      • lee says:

        in the UK most operators offer discount for taking an longer sim only contract (12month max), no one would dare to offer 12-24 sim only contracts as the only option in the UK, you can normally in the UK now get better deals on PAYG if not taking an phone

        then again i never pay more then $70 if i was in the USA for an contract, never mind an boggling $200 an month for an Single contract with phone that’s just stupid monthly

  2. Girthbomb says:

    Why not just get service through one of the many Sprint prepaid resellers Virgin, Boost, STI Mobile?

  3. greatgoogly says:

    T-Mobile also requires a 2 year contract. A few years ago I wanted to add a 3rd line to our 2 line family plan. I had a old phone I was going to use with the 3rd line and they told me activating the line requires a 2 year contract. Basically the post paid carriers have moved to a situation where any change to your contract requires a 2 year contract. In short it may be partially about the phone subsidies, but it’s more about keeping you locked in or making you pay a huge ETF if you want to discontinue any aspect of your service.

    • dale says:

      At least T-Mobile still offers a discount for bringing your own phone. Verizon and AT&T’s off contract pricing is the same as their on contract pricing. I was always under the impression that part of the contract price was allocated to paying off your phone.

    • tasselhoff76 says:

      I have read that the prepaid services often get the slower service. For example, if 4G is available, you would be stuck on 3g, etc. I have no idea if any of that is true.

      • balderdashed says:

        I had Sprint for a while, then went with Virgin Mobile. Although I understand Virgin Mobile uses Sprint’s network, speed and overall reliability has been significantly worse with VM. I’ll probably go back with Sprint when the IPhone 5 comes out in September.

    • sqlrob says:

      T-Mobile really doesn’t think things through. I got miffed with the way they handled some things so I cancelled my contract. (continual texts from one of their services that would require a login from a smart phone. And it wasn’t a smart phone. STOP didn’t work)

      Because they were linked, it would extend my wife’s contract. Extending the contract when the customer is already pissed is not a recommended customer retention move. The wouldn’t budge, neither would I. buhbye.

    • RichardRaseley says:

      That is simply not true – I have bought phones several times and brought them over to T-Mobile without entering into a contract. I am using my current phone in such a manner.

      • articos says:

        When T-Mobile introduced their lower priced plans a few years back, they said since they weren’t subsidizing a phone, the plan prices would be lower and there was no contract. When they renamed the plans to the Value plans more recently, they quietly reinserted the contract requirement, so now most T-Mobile plan changes require a new contract, lower pricing or not. The new way of reducing churn is to just lock everyone into a contract, no matter what.

    • pegasi says:

      I was able to add my son to my plan – a no contract plan – and not be locked into a 2yr contract unwillingly with tmobile. I’ve had the same # for 15 yrs, ever since the days of per-second phone plans, and have not had a contract in a decade, and plan to stay that way, which is why I just buy a secondhand phone when I want another one, pop in my gsm chip and go. They added a line for my son, I paid 20 bucks for the gsm chip, end of story, no contract hassle.

  4. tasselhoff76 says:

    I think Verizon also requires this.

    • tasselhoff76 says:

      Which is not to say that they (or any other carrier) should.

    • erinpac says:

      And AT&T last time I tried.

      I think they all do; other than the prepaid stuff that specifically advertises no contracts.

    • KnightCrusader says:

      I think the require it only if its a new account. If you add a line to a current account – and its in good standing – you don’t have to sign the contract.

      Of course I haven’t tried to do this in a while so it could be different by now.

  5. ChuckECheese says:

    When I last signed up with Sprint a few years ago, they offered no contract service for a somewhat higher fee. I guess they don’t do it anymore. In any case, it’s easier to go with a prepaid plan.

    • dolemite says:

      Higher fee? If anything, it should be like a 25% discount. They aren’t subsidizing a $500 phone, they are simply providing you with a service. And definitely no EFT if you didn’t sign a contract locking you into a phone you purchased from them.

    • flychinook says:

      There is a “month-to-month” plan, but it isn’t a very good deal. I think it’s $40 for 450 minutes, roaming not included (don’t quote me on that, I’m still new)

  6. do-it-myself says:

    “I will be paying my ETF’s”…looks like Sprint won then?

  7. Steevo says:

    August 7, 2012 3:58 PM

    It’s because cellphone carriers are big bad companies.
    The contract was always because of the “subsidized phone”.

    But now here we are with no subsidy at all and they carriers still demand everyone sign a contract. I suspect the real reason for this is the rep is on commission and he can’t get paid unless he signs you up on a contract. He gets paid for the contract!

    What’s going on here is these carriers keep a stranglehold on the equipment and use that stranglehold to keep their customers signed up on long contracts. The contracts and the carriers involved in equipment is what has distorted the market.

    What really should happen is the cellphone carriers should not be allowed to traffic in equipment at all in exchange for the RF spectrum licenses that they hold.

    The equipment would be sold to retailers by the manufacturers, the prices would decline sharply, and you could use whatever carrier you liked, whichever one gave you good service. The phones would work on all carriers.

    Without a contract the carriers would have to satisfy you or you would switch carriers. They would be free of equipment sales and commissioned sales reps to satisfy their customers.

    There would be much more competition between carriers. Prices would decline because of competition, and with a multi carrier phone that you owned outright you would be free to switch at any time.

    It would be much better than the way it is today.

    • Telekinesis123 says:

      “I suspect the real reason for this is the rep is on commission and he can’t get paid unless he signs you up on a contract. He gets paid for the contract!”

      I think you’re on to something here. Phone based CSR’s cannot be trusted in any way shape or form except for the most menial of tasks and forget them having any honor, honesty or reliability in anything even remotely controversial. That’s a sad fact I’ve learned time and time again over my lifetime, something I didn’t want to believe but through their continual actions they have demanded that reputation. They’re the problem not the customers which always complain about, but even worse I think is the cowardly managers that hide behind their desks that demand of their employees they manipulate customers or else the CSR’s will get penalized or worse.

      • Steevo says:

        I don’t think it has anything at all to do with phone based, it’s as bad or worse at any retail location. I think *everyone* is on some sort of commission and that is contract based.

        Contracts should just be banned by law, that would stop the distortion of the free market.

  8. JamesBenjamin says:

    What the heck is 20% of your stock portfolio one company whose stock is crazy low?

    • atomix says:

      Do you fill your portfolio with stock that seems to be at its peak?

    • Coelacanth says:

      Could be a relatively small account.

      Also Sprint shares have nearly doubled in the last three months, so perhaps a 10% speculative play could paid off quite handsomely.

      • atomix says:

        You can thank me for that stock price increase. I sold my shares just before the climb. Pretty standard, actually.

  9. frank64 says:

    You are also paying for the phone twice. Once when you bought it, and now in the monthly plan. The monthly rate is higher to pay for everyone’s phone subsidy. The plans should be much less expensive if you bring your own and also after your term is up.

  10. 180CS says:

    This kind of crap is why I ditched sprint a long time ago thanks to a materially adverse change of contract. And THANK YOU to the consumerist for having shown me that adverse change!

  11. classicxl2 says:

    IF you want sprint with no contract check out they use sprint and no contract and are cheaper too

    • classicxl2 says:

      IF you like hit me up and I can get you a discount on service with Ting

    • stellapurdy says:

      I’ve been having so many problems with Sprint lately. Recently I had no calling service for 4 days in a row. I could text and email but could not place calls from the area around my home. It was about a 1 mile radius, once I drove anywhere outside that 1 mile it worked. Sprint claims it was an issue with one of their towers but shouldn’t my phone roamed to another tower? Good thing I didn’t have to call 911.

      And I’m all over Ting now, thanks for recommending it. I’m paying the $150 to get out of my Sprint contract – what kind of discount can you get me?

  12. NorthAlabama says:

    i agree with the op and laura. it’s times like these i am thankful i have a dvr, my second olympics with one. i record 6-24 hours within a day, and spend 1-2 hours watching the events. best time saver and garbage eliminator yet!

  13. ThinkingBrian says:

    Speaking on just the two-year contract (not the reference), I have never heard of that policy before, but why on earth would a customer want to sign a two-year contract for just a new line if there not buying a new phone?

    I wonder what happens if the consumer wants to upgrade during the two-year contract that they signed with buying a new phone? Do they give them the upgrade or force them into paying full-price?

    Personally I wouldn’t sign a two-year contract with a mobile carrier no matter what anyway, but that’s just me. My freedom and no contract is worth paying full-price for a headset/phone.

    • lvdave says:

      @ThinkingBrian: I do believe there are more and more of us who flat refuse to do contracts.. My Android phone on VM cost me a whopping $50, though it *would* have cost $99-$129 if I’d bought it new at a retailer. I bought it on eBay, and though the first one the seller sent was refused by VM, the seller paid for me to send the phone back and he sent me a second which worked fine. Bottom line: I suspect the days of the “Cellphone Contract” may be numbered…

      • Smiling says:

        We bought really nice phones from VM that were about $150 per phone. They are far better than the subsidized G1 I got from T-Mobile and cheaper to boot. We were paying $130 for the two of us with internet on one phone only, and it was very, very slow. Now we pay $78.00 a month with taxes. We both have fast internet and all the features we could want. You can buy an iPhone now through Virgin too.

  14. The Schwartz says:

    20% is a big portion of a stock portfolio to dedicate to one company. After you sell those shares, look into diversifying a bit, eh?

  15. lyontaymer30 says:

    Yep, sprint is the only one that does this. My cousin worked for them, the reps there are trying to get it changed, but you know they don’t listen to their employees.

  16. dicobalt says:

    If you have a contract and you don’t get anything less than an absolute top tier phone (Galaxy SIII, new iPhone 4 inch) for free then you’re paying too much. Even if you do get the phone free you’re probably still paying too much. That’s how bad contracts are.

  17. Crackpot says:

    Actually, the problem isn’t that Sprint won’t allow you to sign up without a contract – they will. It’s that the vast majority of their representatives don’t know this. Case in point: I just recently activated a data line (with a mobile broadband hotspot) with no activation fee and no contract. (Actually, I’m told they set it with a one month contract, which is essentially the same thing, but I digress.) But Customer Service couldn’t/wouldn’t do it, so I asked to be transferred to Account Services.

    Account Services is what Sprint has renamed Retentions, as it sounds less severe. These are the folks who you are transferred to when you threaten to cancel. They are specially trained to solve issues that leaves the rest of the organization clueless, and are also empowered to apply more credit to your account than some other departments are able (some are limited to a mere $25, even when it’s a Sprint error!), assuming the credit is warranted. But again, I digress.

    Call Customer Service. Ask to be transferred to Account Services. When you are transferred, the AS rep will ask you if you are thinking of canceling. You may feel free to tell them that no, you aren’t – you would actually like to BECOME a Sprint customer, but you are not being allow to join without a contract, which you are not interested in agreeing to at this time. Explain that you have your own equipment and are ready to start paying for service, so long as there is no contract for doing so, and so long as they ensure that you are eligible for an upgrade at any time. (This is key: 1, this tells them that you MIGHT upgrade and therefore have a contract anyway; and 2, this ensures that they don’t make you ineligible. Yes, this happens sometimes if you’re not careful.)

    Sometimes it takes 2-3 phone calls. If you want Sprint service without a contract, that’s how to get it done. Pros to Sprint: one of the cheapest nationwide carriers, with some of the most reliable data services. Cons: the worst customer service of almost any organization I’ve ever dealt with, even when you know the loopholes. It’s your call.

    • tasselhoff76 says:

      I will say that Sprint’s customer service has gotten better. It used to be awful … probably from at least 2000 through 2009 or 2010 but I have notice significant improvements since that time.

      • nightfly44 says:

        I agree. Sprint used to have terrible customer service; now, it’s just really, really bad. Maybe by next year they’ll make it to simply rotten.

    • lyontaymer30 says:

      Customer service didn’t do it because they can’t do it. That’s something retentions does or Supe in customer service if they feel like doing it. And its really not a no contract you’re getting its a different process

      • Crackpot says:

        “And its really not a no contract you’re getting its a different process”

        Perhaps, but the net effect is the same, and if it’s somehow different, it is totally transparent to me, as the customer. The end result is that I can upgrade at any time (just like no contract), and I can cancel at any time with no ETF (just like no contract), so as far as I am concerned, logistically, I have no contract.

  18. tuxman2 says:

    I will never sign another cell phone contract.

  19. buzz86us says:

    Yeah sprint is a bunch of bastards glad I dropped their asses they lock down their phones to only be usable on one specific part of the company no discounts if you bring your own device no option to switch to a prepaid service. If you are looking for a better plan look on the internet for how to flash your phone to boost, or metropcs. Both use sprint network.

    • buzz86us says:

      sprint won’t let you switch to a prepaid plan and keep the same network either all the more reason to flash to metropcs.

  20. Robert Nagel says:

    I bought 4 iPhones and started service a month ago. The price was less than AT&T, the service better and they pay me $800 a month for a cell tower on my property. However, the sales lady tried to get me to add Apple Care because it would cover the phone even if it got wet, which the initial manufacturers warranty wouldn’t. I guess she thought I had just fallen off the turnip truck. They need to either get smarter sales people or more honest ones. Hoping for more honest ones might be a stretch.

    • buzz86us says:

      Been happy with the T-Mobile 5gb 4g plan for $30 a month. Though I am patiently waiting for an affordable cell service that deals data and minutes out ala carte with no month to month crap because I never use the full 5gb even if it was $10 per gb it would be a great deal.

    • JonBoy470 says:

      Actually, the AppleCare+ that Apple now offers on the iPhone and iPad does explicitly cover accidental damage, subject to a $49 deductible. They no longer sell the regular AppleCare (which did not cover accidental damage) for those devices.

  21. luxosaucer13 says:

    I can tell you 2 reasons why this is the case with Sprint (my info comes from a current Sprint rep):

    1. Their “churn” rate is really bad. “Churn” is a wireless term meaning roughly the percentage of subscribers who terminate their service with a particular carrier. Apparently, customers who are not under contract are leaving them at a higher rate than publicly known. Their iDEN decommissioning is not helping either. Acccording to my “friend” and numerous tech sources, 40% of their iDEN customers that live in areas where Sprint has shut down their iDEN towers are leaving for other carriers, rather than converting to Sprint’s CDMA service. Sprint wants to lock as many people down into contracts as they can, in order to lower their “churn” rate.

    2. The only way a Sprint sales rep gets paid commission on new phone lines or sales to existing customers is if there’s a contract involved. No contract = no commission, even if a customer buys a phone at the full retail price (no subsidy or discount) to avoid a contract. Every Sprint sales rep knows this, so they try and force customers into a contract, even if the customer is using their own equipment, in order to get the commission on the new line. If a customer gets a new phone line with their own phone and without a contract, the rep gets paid nothing on it, and it doesn’t count towards their monthly sales quotas, even though Sprint effectively gains a new customer.

    • lyontaymer30 says:

      Not just that, you can add on the fact that corporate does not listen to it’s reps in the store or call center.

      1) Sprint corporate allows it’s in store reps to tell the customer anything they want to get the sale and let all the beef fall on the reps in the call center. Promising waived upgrade fees, oh just call the call center and they’ll waive it, knowing it’s a lie.

      2) When they added the $10 data fee, corporate did not seem to realize that people would be pissed about that. They had reps asking them “hey, these people are going to mad, how do we address that to keep them from escalating, canceling their service or giving us bad surveys?” They had no answer for that. Then after people starting canceling, escalation calls, bad surveys, first they started blaming the reps for not doing a good job (stupid I know), then they finally created a plan (which was weak), but something is better than nothing

      3) Then when the got rid of the every year upgrade, same thing happened, reps ask “Hey, these people are losing their yearly upgrade, they’re gonna be pissed, how are we gonna keep them from leaving and giving up bad surveys, again they told the reps, “If you do your job right, they won’t.” Yea and we saw what happened with that, then they decided a month later they should have a process. One of the most reactionary and short sighted companies I’ve dealt with. A corporate person, I’ll leave his name out, told the reps in the call centers, basically that he doesn’t care if they are lied to in the store, it’s the call center reps jobs to keep the customer. That’s their mindset.

      • luxosaucer13 says:

        Oh, boy, you mentioned an important matter in your post: the “survey.”

        Again, according to my inside source, whenever a customer does business in a Sprint corporate store, or over the phone, there is a good chance that the customer will get a “survey call” within 3 days regarding their interaction with Sprint, rating the experience on a scale from 1 to 5, “5” being a perfect or “very satisfied” score.

        Retail store reps “condition” their customers into giving them a “5” on the survey, because anything else is a failing score. It goes something like this:

        “Remember, within about 3 days you may get a survey call. My only passing score is a “5” or “very satisfied.” I would definitely appreciate it.”

        Reps get punished by the manager and by a lower commission payout if their survey scores dip below a certain level, even if the cause of the non-perfect survey score wasn’t their fault, e.g. if the customer lost their phone and refused to buy the insurance at the point of sale.

        Ergo, all their “ACSI” and JD Power surveys showing massive improvement in their customer service and satisfaction is a royal sham….MEANINGLESS. It’s all due to the “conditioning” the reps perform with their customers.

  22. Willow16 says:

    I don’t know if it’s still this way, but a few years ago I wanted to put my son on our VZW plan with an old phone I had and when I went to the store to activate it, I was told it required a one year contract. Didn’t make sense then and doesn’t make sense now especially since it was just an old flip phone. I did sign the contract since the other three phones on the plan were still under contract.

  23. GrandizerGo says:

    Had a very similar problem.

    I passed my Razor phone that had COMPLETED it’s entire 2 year contract with Sprint on to my Father. A few months earlier I had purchased a new phone that put me on a new 2 year contract. A few months later, my dads current phone crapped out and was not repairable as I think it was from the 1930’s. :)

    I sent him my Razor phone to replace it and had Sprint activate it on my acct. They wanted to do the same thing to me and put me on a contract / extend mine to 2 more years starting then. I laughed and told them no, they were not going to. This phone was one I ALREADY paid the dues on, and they were not going to try to double dip me.

    They basically saw that it was their phone, saw that I had in fact completed a 2 year contract with it, and saw that I had a new phone just 3-4 months ago. BUT they said there was nothing they could do. So I asked if I cancelled my service with them when my 2 year contract was over, would they still charge me an ETF? They said yes.

    I asked them for credit on my service then to equal the amount extra I was being charged double for. They said they would not do it, but they would grant me an extra free 100 min of service per month for life. I agreed, made sure it was in my notes, and have in fact gotten it for more then 5 years now.
    I then called an agent at the school I worked who handled the accounts for Sprint, told him what happened and what they did. He said in fact that they are right, there is no way for Sprint to do that the way the system is setup, BUT you can be put in a month to month service with that phone only in my contract. That removes the ETF possibility on that phone only. He did it, I told him about the extra 100 min per month that I was getting, he told me to keep it. Sprint caused the problem themselves, not to worry about it.

  24. TravistyRobertoson says:

    I have activated phones on my account with no contract. I do know if you sign the contact with your own phone you get a credit for the contract instead of the phone discount.

  25. lvdave says:

    Yes.. THIS.. Wanted to graduate from a dumb-phone to a smart-phone, bought a Sprint-branded Android phone on eBay for a nice price, and proceeded to my local Sprint store.. Asked counter droid “No contract if I sign up for a plan, cuz I have MY OWN UNSUBSIDIZED phone, right??” … He was dumbfounded.. So was I.. So, since I absolutely refuse to tie myself down on ANY cable/phone contracts, I walked out, sold the Sprint phone on eBay (for more than I paid for it.. NICE..) and bought a VirginMobile of the same model, and am a happy NO-CONTRACT camper…

  26. tinyhands says:

    Sign the contract and send them a bill for the subsidy you did not receive, probably upwards of $300. When they don’t pay, take them to small claims court. They won’t show (because they’re Sprint and you’re nobody) and you’ll win by default. Cancel the contract and dispute the ETF using the default judgement against them.

  27. wastedlife says:

    I have had some ongoing issues with Sprint. Here is what to do to get them to listen. First, file an FCC complaint here:

    Then, send an EECB to the following addresses and CC it to,,,,,,,

    Good luck.