My T-Mobile phone doesn’t work — now what?

By | January 31st, 2013

Cellular tower, waiting to be disconnected. / Photo by Gary Lerude - Flickr
Cellular tower, waiting to be disconnected. / Photo by Gary Lerude – Flickr
Question: My daughter and I have been experiencing problems with our T-Mobile service, and we need your help. I’ve made multiple calls to T-Mobile and received the exact same responses: “You’re not the first person to call about this problem, and a ticket has already been opened,” and, “Remove the battery and SIM card and put them back in.”

I saw one of your recent columns, and I took your advice and sent a very long email requesting that my accounts be canceled, without penalty. After a month, I received a generic letter stating T-Mobile “can’t guarantee service in all areas.”

It infuriated me. I’m not asking for service to be guaranteed in all areas. I should be able to expect adequate service in areas where there is service. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

After receiving the rejection letter, I had additional problems and contacted T-Mobile again. This time, I was asked to allow them time to check their lines in the area and give it a week or two to see if the problems improved. I continued not receiving more calls, voicemails, and texts for a few weeks, and having people not be able to hear when I talk on my phone. Even the T-Mobile staff had a very difficult time hearing me, and I needed to yell into the phone for them to hear me.

I was asked if I would like to swap out my phone. If my daughter and I had the same phone, I would believe it was the phone. We do not. If we were able to swap phones to a different model, and have the possible option of cancelling my contracts if new phones did not solve the problems, I would have considered it.

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It frustrates me that the contract spells out the penalties if the consumer does not fulfill his or her part of the bargain, but it says nothing about the consumer’s recourse when T-Mobile does not fulfill its responsibilities. Can you help? — Robin Myers, Hartford, Conn.

Answer: T-Mobile should have given you and your daughter working phones. But you’re right, the contract doesn’t explicitly guarantee any level of service. But T-Mobile certainly implies you’ll have a reliable connection in its promotional material.

“Our superfast 4G coverage reaches more than 220 million Americans coast to coast. We’ve got you covered where you live, work, and play — so it’s easy to stay connected when and where it counts,” it raves on its website.

The paperwork you signed is known as an adhesion contract, which is legal-speak for a one-sided agreement. It spells out all kinds of obligations on your part and penalties for not meeting them, but can let the company off the hook for not meeting its most basic obligations.

T-Mobile is hardly the only telecommunications company with a “take-it-or-leave-it” contract like that. But it’s generally understood that when something goes wrong — like, say, your phone doesn’t work — the company will do everything in its power to get you the basic service it implied you would get.

You were correct to put your complaint in writing after repeated calls to T-Mobile failed. Going through channels allowed you to create a paper trail, which is important if you need to escalate this to someone higher up. I might have suggested that you appeal this to a T-Mobile executive, but I thought you had already been through enough.

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I got in touch with T-Mobile on your behalf. A representative contacted you and you both agreed to move you to a no-contract, month-to-month service plan. That way, if you decide to cancel your T-Mobile account, you won’t be assessed an early termination fees for the lines on your account.

Are cellular contracts too one-sided?

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