Sunday, August 19, 2007

Cell Phone Woes

About four years ago--after not having a cell phone for several years--I caved in and signed up with AT&T. I mean, the OLD AT&T--before they got bought out by Cingular. The sales rep asked me if I wanted to be on the TDMA network or GSM. Uh, what? Which do you recommend? I was told that the TDMA was the more extensive network, so I said I'd take that one. Less than six months later, Cingular acquired AT&T and took over my cell phone plan. They then made plans to eliminate the TDMA network. When I upgraded my service a year later, the sales rep neglected to inform me of this plan--but soon after that I started getting offers for new improved phones on the new "improved" GSM network. I checked in and found that to get a new cell phone with all the bells and whistles I'd have to downgrade my service plan and pay more money. Are you kidding me? Do I look like a sucker?

Within a year, I started getting "switch over to GSM or die" notices from Cingular. Well, actually it was "switch because the TDMA network will die" notices...Apparently I had until February 2008--or even sooner--before I would have no cell phone service. Then Cingular was bought out by AT&T--now the NEW AT&T. Unfortunately the NEW AT&T is not much different from Cingular or even the OLD AT&T for that matter. Not only do I continue to receive warning letters about my phone network's imminent demise, but they've taken to bringing down towers so that any given moment my service cuts out in the middle of a call. They've also slapped on a $4.95 surcharge to punish me for having the temerity to continue usage of a network that they originally recommended.

So it's time--it's way past time--to get a new cell phone provider. I'd love to leave AT&T--I mean Cingular--I mean the NEW AT&T because their service quite frankly sucks, but I'm in a quandary over which service to switch to.

Based on research of other providers, there are really only two other options--Verizon or T-mobile. Both have fairly high J. D. Power customer service ratings and fairly extensive network coverage--although Verizon slightly outranks T-mobile on both counts. T-mobile has more and better plan pricing options, numerous free cell phones and night and weekend minutes starting at 7 pm--while Verizon's night and weekends minutes don't begin until 9 pm.

So I was all ready to make the switch to T-mobile. And then it happened--on Thursday I got a text message reading "Sushi tonite?" There was no name or number attached to it, so I had no idea where it came from. I had been trying to arrange a sushi night out with my friend Peter and his wife Mary Ann, so I called him. "Did you text me?" It wasn't him. Then I thought it might be my friend John, who has texted me on several occasions, but before I could call and check, my friend Jack called. "Did you get my text?" I explained that I did but that there was no name attached to it, so I didn't know who had sent it.

Now the problem isn't with no name or number being associated with text messages--it's the text messages themselves. I HATE THEM!!! I hate IM, I hate text messages. Call or e-mail--end of story. But it got me to thinking--these little messages cost money. 15 cents a piece on most plans if you don't have a text plan added to your cell phone service. And if I don't want to send or receive texts--do I have to? Well, if I sign up with T-mobile--apparently I do. This is pretty obnoxious--to pay for a service that you don't want or don't use with no way of opting out. Spammers are starting to catch onto to the lucrative potential of cell phones and even though it's illegal, there's not much one can do to stop it.

If a spammer texts my phone--or a friend who doesn't realize it irks me and that I have no text message plan sends me a message--I have to pay for it whether I read it or not. I can call customer service, complain about the spam message, get my 15 cents refunded and also file a complaint against the spammer with the FCC. But have you ever waited for a customer service rep? Imagine spending eternity on hold--all to get a 15 cent refund. I bet many customers can't be bothered with a the hassle. And I bet cell phone service providers and spammers are counting on that. You think there might even be a bit of collusion on both their parts? It seems to be a win-win situation for the spammers and service providers--the customer is the loser all the way around.

So for now I'm stuck with my quickly disintegrating TDMA network. But at least I'm not in a position where I'm dissatisfied and under a contract with a whopping early termination fee. Some people are going to extreme measures--even faking their own deaths--according to a recent article in The Washington Post. Perhaps in the near future, T-mobile will wise up about allow customer to disable/block text messaging or Verizon will start their nights and weekends at 7 pm like the rest of their competition. Until then, my option for being able to block unwanted text messages AND have nights and weekend minutes starting at 7 pm is Cingular. I mean the NEW AT&T. Sigh...

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