My mobile phone doesn’t work — how about a refund?

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Question: Ever since we started our current contract with T-Mobile this March, my wife hasn’t been able to place or receive calls or text messages at work.

We called T-Mobile multiple times and every time they would tell us that we weren’t the first people calling about that particular area and that “the ticket is already open” and in a matter of days the problem would be fixed.

As of today, nothing has changed.

After three months, I got tired and asked for them to allow us to reduce our three-line family plan to a two-line plan so I can have my wife get a phone from a different provider. They directed me to send an email to because they would be the only ones who could modify the contract.

I sent an email at the end of June. They responded a month later, rejecting my request to waive the early termination fee, and asking for “another chance” to diagnose the problem. We’ve explained the problem at least six or seven times and followed their “fixes” of removing battery or SIM card and placing it back. We even replaced the phone. Nothing changed.

I would highly appreciate if you could help me get to someone who actually could do something to help us. — Konstantin Goranovic, Boston

Answer: The T-Mobile contract you signed doesn’t specifically address a service problem, but it stands to reason that if your wife can’t use her phone, you should be able to modify your agreement without penalty.

Your contract does say that if changes are made to your service, you can get out of it. But in your case, you never had service to begin with. Seems to me that would be a breach of contract, but I’m no lawyer.

T-Mobile should have tried to fix the problems with your wife’s phone right away. Instead, someone assured her verbally that there was already an open ticket on the coverage in her workplace. That’s the problem with trying to resolve everything by phone — there’s really no way to prove anything was promised.

Swapping out the batteries, and eventually the phone suggests to me that T-Mobile actually had no clue about the dead spot near your wife’s workplace. And then the company asked for more time? After almost six months? Come on. I think you’ve been more than patient.

I think you should have stayed off the phone when trying to resolve this complaint, asking T-Mobile to put its promises in writing. You can do that through its contact us section online. If that doesn’t work, try sending an email to its VP of customer service, Scott Tweedy. He’s at

I contacted T-Mobile on your behalf and it contacted you and allowed you to remove your wife’s line without incurring an early termination fee.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • emanon256

    I used to like T-Mobile, but when I moved back in 2003 there was no service near my new house. I went through the same thing, they kept saying they are upgrading the tower. This went on for 6 months and I finally gave in and paid the early termination fee. It was quite frustrating paying for service I could not use and then paying to get rid of said service. But I guess that was my choice for moving.

    When I signed up with AT&T they said I could cancel within the first 30 days and pay nothing. Its too bad T-Mobile didn’t do that for the OP.

  • Kevin Mathews

    Your questions suggests that the contracts should be easy to get out of. Why would any company make their contracts easy to get out of? Given that most phone companies subsidize the cost of the phones with the contracts terms, usually 2 years, why would they want to allow easy outs on their contracts?
    In this instance, The customer had a perfectly legitimate complaint about cell service at her work. Had T-Mobile done a better job of customer service, the contract question would’ve never come up. This instance is about customer service failing him, not the contract itself.
    This guy also had WAY more patience than he should have. After the first attempt to get the issue resolved, he should’ve put his grievence in writing, sent it to them and set a reasonable timeframe for which the problem to be resolved in or he would terminate his contract. Personally, 6 months is way too long to wait to have cell service in an area his wife probably spend half her time at…

  • Fly, Icarus, Fly

    Six months? Are you kidding me? T-Mobile should be ashamed. I’d say 2 weeks is the longest window they can expect a customer to go without service. If they can’t get it resolved within that time, the customer should be free to cancel the contract. It’s frustrating when it takes intervention for a company to do the right thing. You should’ve asked for them to return 5 months of her phone bills…

  • BillCCC

    The key word in the question is contract. These days people think they are signing documents that are only in force as long as it pleases them.

    If the company did not live up to their side of the contract then the comsumer should be allowed to terminate. There may be fees involved however if the phone was subsidized by the plan selected.

  • yestoeverything

    People complain about cell phone contracts all the time, yet they continue to follow

  • john4868

    If this was anyone but T-Mobile, I might try and explain this one as the OP not looking at the coverage map prior to starting the service (every carrier does have small areas they don’t cover well) or poor coverage due to building construction either is a possibility. However, I had issues with T-Mobile refusing to follow through on promises that their sales rep made to get our business (in writing). Based on that experience, I can see T-Mobile doing just this.

  • ClemsonPhil

    Yes, exactly. A contractual obligation is exactly that – an obligation.

    In general, getting out of a cell phone contract is easy, although it will cost you money – you are paying to exercise a breach of contract. When a provider signs you up to a 2 year contract, they have revenue expectations related to that contract, and if they have slipping revenues, they have to answer – to the shareholders.

    On the flip side, the provider has clear obligations as well: providing regular service, clear explanation of any issues that arise, and general customer service. If they consistently fail to meet one of their obligations, they are in breach, and they should pay (i.e. waive the early termination fee).

    If you don’t want to pay termination fees, there are plenty of pre-paid providers hooked up with, or completely connected to, the major providers.

    Now that I think about it, using one of the pre-paid providers for a month or two might not be a bad way to test out a major providers network before signing a long term contract.

  • Douglas Muth

    PROTIP: When they tell you “there is a ticket open”, ask for the ticket number.

    Also, I’ve learned that Google Docs/Google Drive is a great way to document things like these. Create a new Google doc for the issue, and write an entry with the date and time when there is a new development on it.

  • SoBeSparky

    Answer to question: As it should be.

    Your phone purchase is being subsidized by the cell company for hundreds of dollars, based on that contract.

    If you do not want a contract, but a phone without a contract. Consumers choice.

    If you have a contract, as Chris says, get everything in writing. After all, the contract is is writing and usually has a clause that says no modification can be made orally.

  • mytimetotravel

    Of course, the real problem is the contract system itself. Nowhere else that I know off has this screwy set up. Elsewhere you buy your phone, and then you buy a SIM for service.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    I had them at one time, as well, probably around the same time you did. Very spotty coverage where I lived.

  • Raven_Altosk

    Speaking of scams…
    Can you do something about the “Lower Your Interest Rate” pop-up I get when I open this site? If I disable popups it makes Disqus wonky.

    All I can think of is “Rachel from Credit Services”….

  • Raven_Altosk

    Go Tigers!!

    Now that’s out of the way…

    This person had a useless phone. I think they should’ve been given a credit for the time Verizon was “trying to fix” the problem as well as a waiver of the termination fee.

  • john4868

    But @Raven_Altosk:disqus when you re-read the issue… The T-mobile phone wasn’t useless. It just didn’t work at her work. If it didn’t work anywhere, I would feel differently. Issues like this can be caused by a number of things that are outside T-mobile’s control (like building construction) or she could be in a hole in their coverage map. It could also explain why they were ultimately unable to fix the problem.
    Good outcome and I hate T-mobile but I also don’t think they have the entire blame on this.

  • john4868

    But she wasn’t without service… just no service at work. That’s a big difference!

  • ClemsonPhil

    Always glad to find other Tigers around!

    But as the OP and John Baker pointed out, the issue was cellular connectivity while at her place of employment – no other issues were reported (at least to Chris and to us). The phone wasn’t useless, and they did try changing hardware at some point.

    Stringing her along for six months was 100% wrong. Even a definitive “Sorry, nothing we can do about it” would have been better than constantly hearing “We’re working on it.”

    Without knowing the pricing/billing details, we can’t put a dollar value on her loss of connectivity (8 hours a day at work x 5 days x 6 months). In the end, the OP wanted to get the termination fee waived, and that was the result. Successful mediation.

  • Raven_Altosk

    Ok, that’s a reasonable point. I may be jaded on this issue because back when Nextel was Nextel, I had an issue where my phone would not work in my house. Ever.

    It took me three months to get those losers to take their useless phone back. They kept telling me there was coverage at my house. I offered to let the teenybopper sales rep come and see for himself.

    I ended up videoing my phone in the house. That showed them proof that their “coverage map” had a large gap. The manager even said, “Oh, THAT neighborhood. Yeah, we shouldn’t have sold you the phone.” DURH.

    This was when I lived in SC…and it wasn’t the “boondocks”…a reasonable neighborhood in the upstate.

    I got my termination fee waived, but I really wanted the three months of contract partially returned, too.

  • Judy Serie Nagy

    THIS is the kind of thing you should be helping with, Chris! I have a GPS purchased from Costco about 8 months ago that works most of the time in the US but I really wanted it for Europe. Had it not worked on this trip to France I would have returned it and I trust that Costco would have refunded my money. But there’s little doubt that I would have needed help getting my money back for the Euro maps I purchased from Garmin, but I couldn’t tell if the product worked properly until I got here, could I?

  • Fly, Icarus, Fly

    I’d say that’s significant enough to nullify the contract. As someone pointed out, you’re at work 50% of your waking hours… And if she needed her phone for work, that’d be even worse.

  • Miami510

    In life we learn from experience. When it comes to bad things, it’s good to learn from the experience of others… and that’s what this Website is really about.
    Two years ago I called ATT and purchased an international phone plan in anticipation of a trip to Switzerland to allow discounted charges. Also they were to switch something that allowed making and receiving international calls. We got there and nothing worked. We immediately purchased a Swiss phone/charger/100 minutes of talk time.
    When we got home I called and explained the problem. I asked, and they agreed to reimburse me for the cost of the Swiss telephone and minutes and apologized. It seems the ATT phone was incapable of being used in Europe. They refunded the ATT charges for the international plan. They didn’t even want the Swiss telephone.
    This year I have an iPhone. I called ATT before our trip to Switzerland and asked how to turn the data part off; we have 24/7 access to computers at the hotel. I wrote down and followed the instructions when we left the USA. After 3 days I received a message that I was perilously close to using all my MBs. I found out I was not given the proper (complete) instructions, and even though I didn’t use the internet on the iPhone, it was, unknown to me, downloading data for which I was being charged an internation rate.
    When I got home, all charges were removed. There are a number of changes necessary to turn off the data, and one should make all those arrangmeents before leaving. I subsequently heard of one case where a $1500. charge was incurred because the date was downloading every 15 minutes at a very high usage rate.

  • Trudi

    Cell phone contracts – along with cable and Internet providers – scare me spitless. I know that sounds shamefully ignorant, but unless it’s written down so I can review the details, I’m just scared to sign up for any ongoing services. We have Verizon for our cell service, but it isn’t our primary source of communication (we don’t even text!) We use our cell phone for quick communication and emergencies. We’ve had Verizon for years and years – we know our price is quite reasonable because other people talk freely about their phone costs and ours fall into similar ranges. However, my point is to get everything in writing; if I have to talk with customer service, I want that person’s name and I want an email (or snail mail) address that I can use. If I can’t get that, I don’t do business. I might be a bit of a chicken, but I’ve not been fried yet!

  • RetiredNavyphotog

    Somehow I don’t think terrorrists have trouble with spotty coverage.
    Only in America!

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Question. When you buy a phone elsewhere, do they subsidize it?

  • mytimetotravel

    They who?

    I just bought an unlocked quad band smart phone through Amazon (LG P999 to be specific) and nobody subsidized anything. I also bought a Passport SIM good in multiple countries with a US and UK phone number from telestial. It’s prepaid and automatically rechargable. I’m taking the phone to South America in a couple of weeks, but it also works in the US.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    They who? The carrier. Who else?

    The point is that you don’t have to accept a contract. You elected to pay full price for the phone and you use it as you see fit.

    Alternatively, you could have opted to purchase a phone and get it subsidized in return for agreeing to stay with one carrier for a certain amount of time.

    Both are perfectly valid options.

  • Sonya

    Need more info. Does she work in a basement of her office? Does she gets signal outside her office? Tmo has no obligation to supply signal if it is due to your building structure.

  • ClulessinSeattle

    Go with a ghetto low cost cell service and get what you pay for. I’m sure the OP will run right to Ghetro-PCS.

  • lcpossum

    It’s obvious you’re not too familiar with Verizon.

    I bought a phone from them (unsubsidized–full price) AND had to agree to a 2-year contract to get service. The phone didn’t work anywhere, so they replaced it. The second phone had no access at my home, where I spend 95% of my time.

    So I asked them to cancel service (nothing said about returning the useless phone) and they agreed to hold my number which I’d ported from elsewhere and also not to charge any cancellation penalty. So now I have an expensive Verizon phone and a collection agency hassling me about a Verizon early termination fee.

    Right, you have great options: pay full price for a phone and agree to a contract OR get a subsidized phone and agree to a contract. Around here, if you want Verizon you get a contract (and termination penalty). Period.