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FCC Probes Google and T-Mobile For Double-Whammy Fees

samzenpus posted more than 4 years ago | from the maximizing-the-dip-to-chip-ratio dept.

Businesses 127

Julie188 writes "On Monday, the FCC asked Google, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon to explain how they tell their customers about early wireless contract termination fees. Notice that Google is the only handset retailer in the bunch. That's because if someone buys a Nexus One phone from Google with a two-year T-Mobile contract, and the user wants out of that contract, the user is expected to pay two early termination fees. One fee would be charged by Google and a second charged by T-Mobile."

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oh noooo! (0, Offtopic)

Adolf Hitroll (562418) | more than 4 years ago | (#30931060)

I thought Google "don't be evil"!
That's as if Obama were a warmonging mofo.$

You dare criticize our do-nothing Messiah here? (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30931954)

You deserve to be modded down. Hopenchange takes a long time to overcome sooo many years of Boooosh's evil, don't you know!

Hey, we just had ANOTHER "unexpected" drop in housing sales that's Boooosh's fault. See how bad he was? 12 months after he left office, we're still getting economic surprises from him.

Yeah, right. The sad thing is, that's what libtards "think". There's truth in the old saw about socialists over 30 having no brain. Just replace "socialist" with "progressive".

And speaking of "progressive": is there a more inaccurate political label anywhere? Since when does combining the government takeovers of corporations from Mussolini with the overweening statism of Stalin have anything to do with "progress"? Hell, "progressives" are really downright reactionary in the way they want to give power to the state in gobs that would power-mad Roman emperors blush in shame.

riddle me this... (0, Offtopic)

Adolf Hitroll (562418) | more than 4 years ago | (#30931980)

if you believe you're right, why are you anonymous, "coward"?

Fuck Google (-1, Troll)

syousef (465911) | more than 4 years ago | (#30931084)

Seriously. Fuck Google. I'm sick of it being painted as some knight in shining armour company that shits butterflies and rescues kittens in it's spare time. Do no evil my arsehole. I'm hoping that both companies are slapped with a VERY nice big fine and forced to change their contracts PLUS let any existing customers out without paying any penalty. I know I'm smoking fairy dust but that is what should happen. That and the bastard lawyer that drafted that "This is a scheduled fee not an early termination fee" line in T-Mobile's contract should be strung up from the tallest tree by his left testicle.

Re:Fuck Google (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30931228)

I'm sick of it being painted as some knight in shining armour company that shits butterflies and rescues kittens in it's spare time.

To be fair, if you compare all of the services it provides for seemingly gratis, it's understandable why people have such a love for Google. I think the love for Google runs deeper than other oft-followed companies.

This whole issue strikes at the core of a bigger problem: the generally fucked state of cellphones in the USA. I expect stupid termination fees, simply because we do the entire cell phone business ass-backwards compared to the rest of the world.

So, as much as I love Google, if it has to eat it in the courts a little bit to start fixing our fucking cell phone industry, then so be it. Doesn't mean I don't enjoy the hell out of my free Gmail, Google Voice, etc...

Re:Fuck Google (1)

Archangel Michael (180766) | more than 4 years ago | (#30935588)

People don't want to buy a cell phone. They don't want to buy a service. They want both.

If they wanted to buy a phone, they would buy the phone, then look for service provider. The problem here in the US is that you can buy a phone that your preferred provider cannot support (CDMA vs GSM).

In other countries, you buy your phone, buy your SIM card and pay for your service as part of that contract, because they all run on the same basic system.

And while you may think we're backwards, it doesn't matter what you think. Reality is we're where we are, and there is not much we can do short of Government Mandates.

Personally, I have no problem with early termination fees, because they are generally stated in the contract. Don't like those terms, then don't sign the contract, and get a cheap pay as you go phone. Or pay a minor fortune for a "world phone" where you're not tied to anything what so ever.

Of course, you want it for nothing down, so you'll go with the two year contract with the early termini nation fees. And bitch and complain when your blackberry sucks compared to the new Droid, and you still have 10 months on your contract. Damn this 8330 with its crippled GPS which I'll never use.

Re:Fuck Google (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30931374)

What do you mean, they have like a sign that says they 'do less evil' or something such... a sign I tell you!

Re:Fuck Google (5, Insightful)

Rennt (582550) | more than 4 years ago | (#30931704)

I'm sorry, but I've got no sympathy for people who sign up for a subsidized service and don't read the conditions.

The time to complain about a contract is BEFORE you sign it, not after you decide you want to back out of it.

Re:Fuck Google (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30932018)

Especially when the reason for the termination fee involves subsidizing that shiny new phone they couldn't have otherwise afforded.

If we eliminate early termination fees, a lot of people are just going to have to do without the latest gadgets. That might be an improvement.

Re:Fuck Google (1)

Rich0 (548339) | more than 4 years ago | (#30932084)

I dunno - it isn't typical practice for consumers to get charged TWO sets of termination fees - so unless they're both relatively small and add up to a typical fee this could easily be seen as misleading if it wasn't CLEARLY stated.

Also - it is almost impossible to get an unsubsidized service in the US - at best you can pay the subsidized rates and just not get the subsidy. This is showing the slightest signs of changing, but we're a long way from where we need to be.

Honestly, carriers should be banned from combining phone subsidies with plan rates. They should just have two contracts - one for the service, and another for the phone. The two should be unbundled and people should be able to pick either one or terminate either one in isolation - without triggering any penalty clauses in the other.

Carriers could still charge termination fees, and subsidize phones, but if you bring your own phone you could avoid the big ones. Since the two deals couldn't be linked it would prevent games like manipulating prices on one and making it up on the other - if they charge deflated prices for the phone and inflated plans then people can just buy the phone without a plan and use it with a different carrier. If both prices reflect real costs then this won't be worth anybody's while. The purpose of subsidies should be to assist people with getting a plan who might not otherwise fork out the up-front cash - not to trap people with stuff they don't want. If they don't like the service they can take their AT&T phone and use it with T-mobile as long as they keep paying AT&T for the cost of the phone itself sans plan.

Re:Fuck Google (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30932128)

T-Mobile offers unsubsidized service for $20/mo less than subsidized.

Seriously, buying Google's phone with the subsidy is strictly for suckers.

Re:Fuck Google (1)

Rich0 (548339) | more than 4 years ago | (#30932162)

Is that available on all plans? Ie, for any subsidized plan, is there an unsubsidized equivalent for $20 less? Does the math work out OK for family plans?

From what I've seen most of the unsubsidized plans are a lot more limited - maybe fine for somebody 22 years old and single, but often not a right fit for a lot of people.

Re:Fuck Google (1)

fangorious (1024903) | more than 4 years ago | (#30936820)

Here [t-mobile.com] 's their plans page. Some plans it's a $10 difference. The plans with a subsidy don't mention options for adding unlimited text and web like the non-subsidy plans do.

Re:Fuck Google (1)

Dragonslicer (991472) | more than 4 years ago | (#30936880)

I've been checking out T-Mobile's plans lately (I'm working on convincing myself that's it okay to spend the $550 on an N900), and as far as I can tell, it's only $10 less, but it is on every plan, both individual and family.

Re:Fuck Google (1)

MadRat (774297) | more than 4 years ago | (#30932668)

Right on!

Subsidies are a scam (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30934702)

Subsidies are a lie. Your bill does not magically go down after owning a phone for two years (since part of your bill is going towards the phone you purchased). When companies start giving lower prices for fully paid for phones (or Bring Your Own), then they have a leg to stand on by calling is subsidizing phones. As it is, either your monthly bill is not subsidizing your "free" phone, or you are overpaying extra profit every month beyond when the subsidy is paid up.

No wonder these providers try and get you do sign up for your "new every two", it keeps the gravy train coming legitimately, and locks you into an extended contract again.

Re:Fuck T-Mobile (1)

2obvious4u (871996) | more than 4 years ago | (#30932614)

The time to complain about a contract is BEFORE you sign it, not after you decide you want to back out of it.

Yeah, thats great and all, but I had a contract with Powertel and it got bought by T-mobile. I met the obligations of my contract and T-mobile still hit me with a $400 disconnect fee. I never paid it, they sold it to a collections agency and I explained what happened. Every so often it gets bought by a new collection agency and I send them a letter explaining that that debt is not valid and will never be paid.

What really sucks is that they have "automatic rollover" in most contracts. So that once you've met your two-year obligation you have about 30 days to disconnect service or else your contract rolls over and you're obligated for another 2 years. Just by paying the 25th months bill you agree to the contract. It is stupid.

Re:Fuck T-Mobile (1)

malchus842 (741252) | more than 4 years ago | (#30932998)

Adhesive contracts are pretty slimy. That's something I'd vigorously challenge - including going to small claims court...

Re:Fuck T-Mobile (1)

Rich0 (548339) | more than 4 years ago | (#30934112)

Not that this would help you - unless the court gets the credit agencies to expunge your record.

Credit reporting laws are WAY too lax. If somebody merely claims you owe them money it makes you a credit risk, regardless of the merits of the situation. When a bank has thousands of people asking to borrow money, why would they even bother to investigate whether you're really a risk when they can just charge you a higher rate?

That collection is going to cost him money every time he borrows money for any purpose. His innocence is of little concern to a lender - why would they lend money to somebody who would challenge them if they reneg on their contract when they could lend money to somebody who will just roll over and pay up?

Re:Fuck T-Mobile (1)

malchus842 (741252) | more than 4 years ago | (#30935362)

I've had solid luck with getting items removed. When I filed in small claims court over such a thing in the past, I asked, as part of the judgment, that the court issue an order against reporting the debt AND an order removing the items. Both were granted.

Re:Fuck T-Mobile (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30934870)

What really sucks is that they have "automatic rollover" in most contracts. So that once you've met your two-year obligation you have about 30 days to disconnect service or else your contract rolls over and you're obligated for another 2 years. Just by paying the 25th months bill you agree to the contract. It is stupid.

Ummm, no. T-moblie does not do this. I've been with them since they were Voicestream. Every one-year and two-year contract I every had with them that expired when straight to a month-to-month plan.

Re:Fuck T-Mobile (1)

fangorious (1024903) | more than 4 years ago | (#30936892)

I've always had 6+ months lag between my contract expiring and signing a new one, and I'm on my third contract with T-Mobile. I even switched to prepaid for a couple months between the 1st and 2nd contracts with no issue. I take that back, there was an issue with the amount of my phone subsidy after going from pre-paid back to contract post-paid. But never any problems with the contract terms.

Re:Fuck Google (1)

Smooth and Shiny (1097089) | more than 4 years ago | (#30932928)

Well, yeah, because we all know that all of the people canceling their contracts early are people who are simply doing it to do it. You know, there's no such thing as suddenly losing your job and having to cut costs or anything.

Re:Fuck Google (1)

Dare nMc (468959) | more than 4 years ago | (#30933690)

I tested this out just now, the problem was it is presented far into the deal, IE they convince me I want it with the highlights and the advantages, I feel like we have a verbal contract minus some legal crap. So I decide yes, sounds good I go through 3 more pages and then fill in all my personal information, then I am finally presented with a little tag "agree to tmobile contract" [google.com] , read the contract... oh $200 early termination that's reasonable check and move on. Credit card details, choose your plan... now 30 minutes of time vested into the thing, oh wait google wants another $180 wtf? I thought we had a agreement? This is better than over the phone, where Qwest made me a good deal on internet $35 a month...became $45 after 30 minutes of giving lots of details on the phone, oh yeah taxes fees (asked that at the beginning was assured $35) but oh well time already invested, a OK deal I was less excited... I give notice to current provider, send back my other box, then get the hardware with another contract, and more crap like this. Well now I have sunk alott of time and effort and my other options are more costly than before we had a agreement, than when I got the final contract.
This is bait and switch IMHO, that is what google is doing IMHO, that is what these contracts seam designed to do. This is a justified investigation, spread the word and get google to post the final cost more prominently (which they are starting to do, just now.)

Re:Fuck Google (1)

Rich0 (548339) | more than 4 years ago | (#30934222)

Yup - if I had my way I'd have a law passed: In addition to unbunding phone subsidies and plan costs, I'd also rule that customers cannot be charged more in a month than the lowest price quoted in an ad for the service they have. If you need to charge 37 different "recovery fees" that is fine - just include them in the advertised price.

I'd also let the customer name his maximum bill at the time the contract is signed, and the telco cannot ever exceed it (without agreement in advance in writing - naming a new explicit limit). The customer would HAVE to have the option of making that price the number on the ad. Want to offer add-ons, no problem, the customer is free to allow them or not. However, the responsibility would be on the provider to block unordered services, not on the customer to avoid hitting the web button on their phone or whatever. Likewise for roaming - you name your maximum bill, and if the carrier completes a call that exceeds this then it is free.

Re:Fuck Google (2, Interesting)

jmrives (1019046) | more than 4 years ago | (#30936698)

Yes, and I am sure you read every word of every EULA for every piece of software that you install as well.

It's in black and white (1)

yog (19073) | more than 4 years ago | (#30931996)

The terms of sale for a subsidized Nexus One are pretty clearly spelled out [google.com] .

Note that Google recovers $350 + $179 from T-Mo, which is identical to the retail cost of an unlocked phone, or $529.

T-Mobile recovers the $179 paid by the customer up front, plus $21 = $200, . Probably T-Mobile gives the $179 back to Google, and keeps $21 for itself as its little punitive termination fee.

Probably, Google/T-Mo came up with this policy to discourage people from buying the subsidized phone, then walking away from the contract in order to export or otherwise re-sell the phone for a profit. Frankly I don't see what all the hullabaloo is here. You either pay $529 up front, or you pay more than $529 on a subsidized plan, but a sale is still a sale.

The fact is, "free" phones end up costing hundreds or even thousands of dollars over time, even cheap little Nokia or Samsung basic handsets that cost $25 or $50 to actually build. It's the way U.S. carriers make their money back on the tower infrastructure. People don't realize that they are being taken for a ride and so when Google is more up front about its pricing structure, people squawk loudly.

[from the link referenced above:] You agree to pay Google an equipment subsidy recovery fee (the "Equipment Recovery Fee") equal to the difference between the full price of the Nexus handheld device without service plan and the price you paid for the Nexus handheld device if you cancel your wireless plan prior to 120 days of continuous wireless service. For example, if the full price of the Nexus handheld device without service plan was $529 USD and the price you paid for the Nexus handheld device was $179 USD with a service plan, the Equipment Recovery Fee you pay will be $350 USD in the event you cancel within the first 120 days of carrier service. The Equipment Recovery Fee is equal to the line item in your confirmation email setting forth the discount on the full priced Nexus handheld device related to your carrier service plan activiation. You authorize Google to charge the Equipment Recovery Fee directly to your credit card, or other payment method used to purchase the Nexus handheld device, upon cancellation of your wireless plan. You will not be charged the Equipment Recovery Fee if you return your Nexus handheld device to Google within the 14 day Return Policy period as set forth below. You agree that the Equipment Recovery Fee is not a penalty but is for liquidated damages Google will incur as a result of such cancellation. These damages may include, but are not limited to, loss of compensation and administrative costs associated with such cancellation or changing of wireless service provider(s), market changes, and changes in ownership. Please note that the Equipment Recovery Fee is imposed by Google and not your chosen carrier and is in addition to any early termination fees that may be charged by your chosen carrier in connection with termination of your wireless plan prior to fulfillment of your chosen carrier’s service agreement term.

Re:It's in black and white (1)

DJRumpy (1345787) | more than 4 years ago | (#30932590)

Someone help explain this to me. What is the difference for an end user with a subsidized phone. If you buy an unlocked for (say for $500), in order to you that phone on a cell network, you still have to sign a contract for $x a month.

If you buy an locked phone (say for $300), you are automatically signed up for a contact for $x a month.

Is the contact cost less if you purchased the phone outright (unlocked?)

Re:It's in black and white (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30932804)

Well, in Poland it is - you can get additional bonuses (more minutes/messages/lower prices/watever) if you sign up for a contract without a phone. But judging from what I read on /. it's not working this way in US.

Re:It's in black and white (1)

jhaygood86 (912371) | more than 4 years ago | (#30932828)

If you purchase the phone outright, T-Mobile gives you the option of getting a plan without a contract, for $20 less a month

Re:It's in black and white (1)

DJRumpy (1345787) | more than 4 years ago | (#30932864)

Is that how it works across all carriers in the US? You basically get a reduced monthly cost if you buy the phone outright?

Re:It's in black and white (1)

Xiterion (809456) | more than 4 years ago | (#30933030)

Sort of, except it seems like most companies try to bury their non-contract plans in an unmarked grave.

Re:It's in black and white (1)

DJRumpy (1345787) | more than 4 years ago | (#30933114)

What happens when you've paid off the subsidized cost of the phone? Do you continue to pay the higher monthly cost, or does the monthly cost drop to 'non-subsidized' monthly costs?

Re:It's in black and white (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30933294)

HAHA That's like asking if the government will ever drop a "temporary" tax hike.

Re:But where is it mentioned? (1)

Dare nMc (468959) | more than 4 years ago | (#30933998)

where did you find the link to that? I went to http://google.com/phone [google.com] , no link their. I selected the tMobile plan, get a new page, still not linked that I could find. Select to purchase, couple more pages enter name, credit check... agree to tmobile contract ($200 early termination clearly spelled out.) STILL NO MENTION. What once I have transferred my number would the tell me?

Re:But where is it mentioned? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30935376)

It's the "terms of sale" link at the bottom of the page you linked to.

Just another reminder that corporations exist to screw you out of as much money as they can.

Asking is for chumps (2, Insightful)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | more than 4 years ago | (#30931086)

If they really want to know how these conditions are presented, it's better that they send in a few investigators undercover and get it all on tape. That way they can cost the jobs of a few lowest-rung minimum wage idiots who are working their ass off for a couple percent commission.

At least they will catch someone. Maybe the FCC isn't familiar with the "exculpatory no". They will become very familiar with it asking the policy makers at these companies, though. So that's nice.

Re:Asking is for chumps (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 4 years ago | (#30932432)

If they really want to know how these conditions are presented, it's better that they send in a few investigators undercover and get it all on tape.

In the US, the secret police almost never go after the rich and powerful. They're there to keep the dope smoking rabble in their place.

IMO there should be no "undercover agents"; cops should be in uniform. Saying they need "plainclothesmen" or "undercover agents" is an admission of their own incompetence.

Silence has generally been the best policy (5, Insightful)

jjoelc (1589361) | more than 4 years ago | (#30931088)

Actually, I think the law requires that the carriers include these early termination fees in print no larger than 3 scan lines to remain on screen for no more than 3 frames during any commercial to be aired between the hours of 3:27a-3:28a... As an alternative, it may be included in the microprint of the signature line of any contract signed by the customer.

For communications companies, they are awfully good at not telling you anything they don't want you to pay attention to.

Re:Silence has generally been the best policy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30931262)

For communications companies, they are awfully good at not telling you anything they don't want you to pay attention to.

Well yeah, Knowing how to communicate well kinda implies also knowing how to communicate poorly.

Re:Silence has generally been the best policy (1)

data2 (1382587) | more than 4 years ago | (#30931334)

Yes, most phone companies are like that. I think there are two options to deal with that:

1) Don't buy from people trying to rip you off.
This suffers, when every phone company tries to do just that.

2) Pay attention when signing a contract. This is usually a good idea anyway.

I don't think that the government needs to regulate everything. We in Germany also have a law/ruling (not sure which), that in your typical contract between a company and a person, it can not contain "unexpected" parts.

Re:Silence has generally been the best policy (4, Insightful)

cbope (130292) | more than 4 years ago | (#30931506)

You state that the government shouldn't regulate everything, but then give an example of a benefit of such regulation. Interesting.

I'm not pro-regulation either for the most part, but in too many cases large corporations in the US are unfairly taking advantage of the consumer. As an American living abroad, I'm glad I live in Finland where at least we have some consumer protection, unlike the US. I think a lot of the blame falls to ignorance among the general American populace of what goes on in the rest of the world. The steady decline of "real" news reporting and investigative reporting in the US over the past few decades is huge.

News-tainment and celebrity-worship is the rage these days... sadly.

Re:Silence has generally been the best policy (2, Informative)

data2 (1382587) | more than 4 years ago | (#30931562)

Not exactly what I meant. I think this is a case where people should, you know, read the contracts instead of trusting them.
Especially since it is quite expensive going to court. But this regulation keeps lots of people from actually reading the contracts.
So things like "The first 12 month are for 39,99, then you pay 99,99" are quite common, and lot's of people fall for this trap.

Re:Silence has generally been the best policy (1)

cbope (130292) | more than 4 years ago | (#30931788)

The problem IS the contracts. Unless you just happen to have a legal degree, your average Joe-sixpack consumer cannot decipher them. Obfuscate and confuse seems to be modus operandi when writing cell phone contracts, especially in the US.

I totally agree that reading the contracts is a given for an informed consumer, but unless you are able to understand and comprehend the terms of the contract, you are no better off that the person who blindly sings any piece of paper put in front of them.

Re:Silence has generally been the best policy (2, Insightful)

data2 (1382587) | more than 4 years ago | (#30931908)

Ok, maybe you are right there. So who do we want to blame? :)

Re:Silence has generally been the best policy (1, Funny)

flickwipe (954150) | more than 4 years ago | (#30932352)

So who do we want to blame? :)

the french

Re:Silence has generally been the best policy (1)

JazzLad (935151) | more than 4 years ago | (#30932792)

Whilst I agree, have you bought a house lately? Or a car? Or Software? Everything I have ever purchased (that I can recall) that came with some form of contract/license that was written in such a way that I had a very difficult time deciphering them. I personally feel that ALL contracts/licensing that the general public enters should be written much more simply. Save the Obfuscation for business to business contracts.

Re:Silence has generally been the best policy (1)

Rich0 (548339) | more than 4 years ago | (#30934352)

Yup - if I SERIOUSLY read every contract I signed it would take me three hours to create a gmail or facebook account. It might cost thousands of dollars for a lawyer to review an agreement of sale or a purchase agreement for a house, if it weren't for the fact that these contracts are standardized. And, why are they standardized? Well, before they were standardized buying a house began to resemble a super-high-stakes version of buying a cell phone or cable plan.

When you only have four companies in a particular market, and almost all of their plans with reasonable rates involve two-year lock-ins, then it is time for regulation.

Re:Silence has generally been the best policy (1)

sjames (1099) | more than 4 years ago | (#30935228)

I actually tend to read contracts and find many of them to be amateurish hack jobs that could have been done by an inattentive high schoolers. When I was signing up with a local electric company, the contract I was handed switched the sense of "you" and "we" in mid page. I corrected the parts that made NO sense whatsoever (like where it claimed that I would owe them a pro-rated service refund for outages longer than 72 hours) and struck a few things out that weren't really fair.

After I did that, I signed and asked the representative to initial the strikes and sign, she looked at me like a deer in the headlights. Then, not knowing what else to do but wanting the uncomfortable moment to go away, she initialed and signed.

I doubt very much that she was authorized to accept a modified contract, but I felt better having a copy of the apparently duly accepted as modified contract.

What we really need is for our courts to get tough on these one-way contracts. They're typically presented at a sales counter and would take an hour to read fully but there's not even a place to sit. There is no person from the company who is authorized to negotiate even the slightest thing in it. Often there's a non-negotiable clause claiming that they can change the terms at any time for any reason (how in the WORLD is that ever valid in a contract?!?)

Then there's the part where their non-lawyer salesperson hurriedly tells you a tremendously dumbed down (and non-binding) version of what the contract says, claims that's all you need to know (but won't type the short blurb up and call it the contract) and shows you where to sign. If you take the pen and then fold the pages back down to actually read them, they make it perfectly clear just how annoying they find you to be for actually wanting to read it.

The courts could kill all of that dead in an instant if they insisted that it's only valid if someone on the premises is authorized to sign off on a requested change to the contract AND that they must keep and abide by a copy of the particular contract as amended that you signed AND strike down those "we can change the deal at any time and it's your responsibility to check hourly to see if we did" clauses as unconscionable.

Next up for the courts and telecommunications companies, we need a serious review of their billing. Mistakes in their favor are sufficiently common in billings and deeply enough buried in the details that the courts should seriously consider the question of fraud. It's hard to believe their automated systems could make that many errors without some sort of deliberate action on their part.

Re:Silence has generally been the best policy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30931786)

I'm not pro-regulation either for the most part, but in too many cases large corporations in the US are unfairly taking advantage of the consumer. As an American living abroad, I'm glad I live in Finland where at least we have some consumer protection, unlike the US. I think a lot of the blame falls to ignorance among the general American populace of what goes on in the rest of the world. The steady decline of "real" news reporting and investigative reporting in the US over the past few decades is huge.

The funny/ironic/sad thing is that so many of those who are vocally against /any/ sort of regulation in the US are getting their talking points directly from one of the largest media conglomerates in the world (what agenda could they possibly have?!!?). All the while this same conglomerate is telling these people that it's a "grassroots" movement and to "spread the word". And the masses are falling for it like crazy.

Re:Silence has generally been the best policy (1)

Rockoon (1252108) | more than 4 years ago | (#30932080)

You state that the government shouldn't regulate everything, but then give an example of a benefit of such regulation. Interesting.

As an aside to TFA topic, I will add my two cents to this.

Contracts are already burdened with government intervention. Breaking a contract is a civil offense, while engaging in fraud to get citizens to sign contracts that have terms they would not have knowingly agreed to is a criminal offense.

It is because the government already intervenes that many people sign hard to understand contracts, because after all, its supposed to be criminal to fuck people over with intentionally confusing bits.

Re:Silence has generally been the best policy (1)

sjames (1099) | more than 4 years ago | (#30935298)

Now if that enforcement had any teeth we'd be golden! It doesn't mean much when corporations caught in a criminal act get fines costing less than the profit from the act.

Re:Silence has generally been the best policy (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 4 years ago | (#30932656)

You state that the government shouldn't regulate everything, but then give an example of a benefit of such regulation. Interesting.

Saying government should not regulate everything is quite different from saying that government shouldn't regulate anything. Lots of things should not be regulated, but many others should be.

News-tainment and celebrity-worship is the rage these days... sadly.

It's easier to control an ignorant populace. The people who own the newspapers are the same people who own the politicians.

Re:Silence has generally been the best policy (2, Interesting)

CaptBubba (696284) | more than 4 years ago | (#30932318)

For communications companies, they are awfully good at not telling you anything they don't want you to pay attention to.

Of course they are, they stick marketing professionals on the team that makes these to make sure you don't read it. From the fees being in super small print in some vaguely titled paragraph of the contract to the notices of changes to your account being on the back of the second to last page of your monthly bill it is all been carefully designed so that the vast majority of people never ever read it.

It is the same reason that when your credit card changes terms you get a separate letter which looks like just some random piece of bulk junk mail, and if you do open it and read it, one of the the first things you see is "You don't have to do anything!" and the terms go into effect.

Re:Silence has generally been the best policy (1)

Archangel Michael (180766) | more than 4 years ago | (#30936216)

You miss the point of the small print. The small print is REQUIRED by law. Rather than having a * and saying "Restrictions apply, see store, website or whatever for details" they are require to shove all the terms right there on the screen. And it is often too much info to fit in, so they shrink it to fit.

IMHO, if you don't know what you're signing, then don't sign it.

T-Mobile? (5, Insightful)

EzInKy (115248) | more than 4 years ago | (#30931170)

When I went to my nearest T-Mobile store to sign up for service for my N900 they seemed to have no qualms over activating my device despite the fact that it allowed me the freedom to install whatever software I felt like it on it.

Now, from the very frequent stories I see posted here related to the iPhone and Android, I have been gathering that the same does not hold true for those devices.

In fact it appears in many cases that owners of those devices are subject not only to the whims of carriers, but the device manufacturers themselves.

So really, what is the problem here? You buy it, you do want you want with it. You lease it, you do want they want with it. Seems to me that somebody wants to muddy the waters between ownership and rental.

Re:T-Mobile? (0, Flamebait)

Aranykai (1053846) | more than 4 years ago | (#30931378)

Grow up and start behaving as adults. Just because you own the device doesn't mean you can do as you please with it and continue to use their service.

Take the headlights off your car and put flashing blues on top and see if the DMV lets you continue to drive YOUR car on the roads.

Re:T-Mobile? (1)

Nerdfest (867930) | more than 4 years ago | (#30931446)

There's a big difference between laws and the greed of private companies. Well, so far anyway.

Re:T-Mobile? (1)

Richard_at_work (517087) | more than 4 years ago | (#30931530)

Try chatting up your friends partner in their own home and see how long he lets you continue to stay.

Re:T-Mobile? (1)

machine321 (458769) | more than 4 years ago | (#30931814)

That kind of depends on how well you and your friend... "get along".

Re:T-Mobile? (1)

Nightspirit (846159) | more than 4 years ago | (#30931444)

Wait until nearly everything moves to the cloud and unless you hack your device all apps will have to be approved before you can use it.

Re:T-Mobile? (1)

machine321 (458769) | more than 4 years ago | (#30931816)

Wait until nearly everything moves to the cloud and hacking your device is irrelevant.

Re:T-Mobile? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30937876)

Oh come on...that would never happen. The populous would never agree to that!

Just kidding of course..your future predictions have been here for some time now....obviously, with the iPhone.

Re:T-Mobile? (4, Insightful)

itsdapead (734413) | more than 4 years ago | (#30931740)

So really, what is the problem here? You buy it, you do want you want with it. You lease it, you do want they want with it.

Trouble is, the way phones are typically sold - free or heavily subsidised as part of a service contract - is closer to leasing than buying. Since this is the dominant business model, it has a splash back on the way manufacturers design their product, even if you buy it "naked" (I have a nasty suspicion that it also means that "naked" phones are sold at artificially inflated prices to make the subsidies more attractive...)

It also depends on how you perceive phones: if you buy a general-purpose computer, you expect it to be a universal tool that you can freely program or install software on and still enjoy the manufacturer's support. If, however, you buy a washing mashine and try and convert it to use dry-cleaning solvent you accept that, if it blows up, that's your fault. When phones were just phones, they clearly fitted into the latter category. Smartphones are in a bit of a limbo: people want to run arbitrary software on them but they also expect them to perform reliably as a phone.

Re:T-Mobile? (1)

EzInKy (115248) | more than 4 years ago | (#30932390)


Trouble is, the way phones are typically sold - free or heavily subsidised as part of a service contract - is closer to leasing than buying. Since this is the dominant business model, it has a splash back on the way manufacturers design their product, even if you buy it "naked" (I have a nasty suspicion that it also means that "naked" phones are sold at artificially inflated prices to make the subsidies more attractive...)

Couldn't agree more, but still even if the cost is inflated one would think that freedom and paying ~$500 upfront would beat slavery and spreading out the cost over a x number of years.


It also depends on how you perceive phones: if you buy a general-purpose computer, you expect it to be a universal tool that you can freely program or install software on and still enjoy the manufacturer's support. If, however, you buy a washing mashine and try and convert it to use dry-cleaning solvent you accept that, if it blows up, that's your fault. When phones were just phones, they clearly fitted into the latter category. Smartphones are in a bit of a limbo: people want to run arbitrary software on them but they also expect them to perform reliably as a phone.

Well this is slashdot after all, doesn't everyone here prefer something they can hack over something they can't?

 

Re:T-Mobile? (1)

chowdahhead (1618447) | more than 4 years ago | (#30932766)

It's not really leasing since you aren't paying down the depreciation and returning the phone when you're done. It's more like financing the phone through the provider. Here's a car analogy: if you finance a car purchase, the bank owns the car until the last penny is paid for. If you default, then the repo men come for the car, despite you potentially paying off a large percentage of the loan. A cell contract is a little different because the cost of the phone and the cost of the service are combined together over the 2 year term. Nonetheless, Americans need to start learning that cell providers don't "subsidize" phones, they build the cost into the contract.

Re:T-Mobile? (1)

tompaulco (629533) | more than 4 years ago | (#30934444)

You forgot about the part where the car dealer then takes the car to auction, sells it wholesale, which is probably far less than what you still owe on it, and then proceeds to take you to court for the remainder of that balance. Then magically, that same dealer sells the same car at the same price he sold it to you, to some other poor shmuck at the same inflated interest rate and the cycle continues.
I guess the analogy to the phone market doesn't quite hold, other than the merchant ripping off the consumer part. Ie, after you have been paying $100 a month for a $400 phone for 18 months, and then if you cancel, they charge you $200, for a phone that is now worth $30 on the open market. But at least they let you keep the phone.

Re:T-Mobile? (1)

sjames (1099) | more than 4 years ago | (#30935410)

You don't have to ask the bank's permission before you can put new wheels on the car.

Re:T-Mobile? (1)

itsdapead (734413) | more than 4 years ago | (#30935512)

It's not really leasing since you aren't paying down the depreciation and returning the phone when you're done.

(a) I said "closer leasing than buying" not "exactly like leasing".

(b) How much is a typical smartphone worth at the end of a typical 18 month contract? Or, more precisely, how much would it be worth if the carriers demanded that every phone was returned and the market was flooded (rather than the minority which currently get sent to money-for-old-phones services)?

Re:T-Mobile? (1)

JasterBobaMereel (1102861) | more than 4 years ago | (#30932784)

If a smartphone is designed correctly .... i.e. securely, then the part that is a phone (connects to the network, makes and receives calls) should be protected from the rest of the device, which runs the OS, applications, etc.. which simply asks to make a phone call, shows the networks status, get notified of incoming calls, texts, etc ....

If this was the case then the Smart part of the phone could be open, but the iPhone and the Android phones do not appear to have this separation properly done? So they have to some degree lock it down ....

Re:T-Mobile? (1)

Rich0 (548339) | more than 4 years ago | (#30934438)

Actually, android does have this separation. The radio interface is a separate firmware blob, and this is not open source. Some people have tinkered with it slightly (mainly to fix compatibility issues with changes to the rest of the OS), but for the most part it is a black box.

When you think about it phones have a practical need to isolate these kinds of functions anyway. The phone has to continually interact with the cell network to detect incoming calls/etc, but that doesn't require all the hardware used by the smartphone capabilities of the device. So, separating the two areas of the phone allows it to consume low power when idle.

Re:T-Mobile? (1)

itsdapead (734413) | more than 4 years ago | (#30935236)

Actually, android does have this separation. The radio interface is a separate firmware blob,

Which might stop people hacking the radio and causing the downfall of civilization, but doesn't mean that the phone will still work (or the media player will play without skipping) if the CPU and RAM are saturated by too many multitasking fart apps.

Re:T-Mobile? (1)

Rich0 (548339) | more than 4 years ago | (#30937668)

Yup - I can certainly vouch that this is the case. My biggest pet peeve is that I don't have any control over whether services run short of using a task manager to manually kill them.

Note to devs: you don't really HAVE to have a service for every little thing you write. Let me choose whether I need my weather updated every 30 seconds or whatever...

Re:T-Mobile? (1)

AC-x (735297) | more than 4 years ago | (#30932506)

Now, from the very frequent stories I see posted here related to the iPhone and Android, I have been gathering that the same does not hold true for those devices.

In fact it appears in many cases that owners of those devices are subject not only to the whims of carriers, but the device manufacturers themselves.

I've had no trouble with my T-Mobile G2 (aka HTC Hero). Initially T-Mobile blocked the app store until I went into my account settings online to confirm I was over 18 (weird parental controls) but after that I've had no problem installing 3rd party software, using free tethering etc.

Re:T-Mobile? (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 4 years ago | (#30932860)

Seems to me that somebody wants to muddy the waters between ownership and rental.

A lot of somebodys, and they're almost all corporations. The record companies, for example, call their wares "intellectual property" as if they own the works. In the US at least, constitutionally they don't. Mankind owns this "property", they merely have a "limited time" monopoly on it, just as someone who rents a house has a limited time monopoly on its use.

Movie studios, OS and games and other applications companies do the same. They lease a thing to you and tell you you "bought" it.

Re:T-Mobile? (1)

kannibal_klown (531544) | more than 4 years ago | (#30933358)

When I went to my nearest T-Mobile store to sign up for service for my N900 they seemed to have no qualms over activating my device despite the fact that it allowed me the freedom to install whatever software I felt like it on it.

Now, from the very frequent stories I see posted here related to the iPhone and Android, I have been gathering that the same does not hold true for those devices.

Even with AT&T, I had no real problems using unlocked devices on their network. Heck, they once even gave me an unlock code for my Blackberry since AT&T has agreement with RIM to do that if asked. They closest they came to a problem was when I was reporting a network outtage in my town, they prefer I report it with a known + locked phone so they could be sure it wasn't just my unlocked phone crashing lame, but I still had a 2+ year old AT&T phone lying around). I was the first to report, but the rest of the town started calling shortly after.

Likewise, a local T-Mobile store had NO problem setting up a friend's unlocked Nexus One with a new T-Mobile "Everything Plus" account (Plus means no contract and you save on the monthly fee). They actually thought it was cool.

The only problem I have with the iPhone is you're forced to get the "unlimited" data plan for $30 per month, and supposedly they pole their IMEI numbers from time to time to auto-bill people using an iPhone on an account without said plan. Most of my data goes through my wireless network so $30 per month is a little overkill.

I don't see much of an issue here. You're subsidizing the phone and getting it on the cheap, is it any wonder that there's a hefty penalty if you back out after the 2-week grace period?

Re:T-Mobile? (1)

whoever57 (658626) | more than 4 years ago | (#30935836)

The only problem I have with the iPhone is you're forced to get the "unlimited" data plan for $30 per month, and supposedly they pole their IMEI numbers from time to time to auto-bill people using an iPhone on an account without said plan.

They do write letters to people who use iPhones without the iPhone plan (I know someone who has received such letters). However, I suspect that here are a number of legal barriers against auto-billing for them, including, probably, agreements related to GSM.

Re:T-Mobile? (1)

Buelldozer (713671) | more than 4 years ago | (#30933950)

I have a Motorola Droid with Verizon and I've been able to install any application I wanted to. What are you referring to when you say that you can't install software on an Android phone?

Re:T-Mobile? (1)

CompMD (522020) | more than 4 years ago | (#30935754)

I run my own Android build based on AOSP on my G1 on T-Mobile. They don't care, why should they?

mod doWn (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30931894)

year contract. [amazingkreski8n.com] the choosing [mit.edu] found Faster chip

Someone put a gun to my head and made me sign it! (0, Flamebait)

0xdeadbeef (28836) | more than 4 years ago | (#30931916)

Holy fucking fuck, why are people so fucking stupid? You're not paying Google an early termination fee, you're paying for the rest of your phone. T-Mobile is charging a termination fee, because you signed a two year contract, and you're backing out of that contract, and they want to recoup the expenses lost on your fickle ass. Yes, they're probably making money on it either way, that's kind of the whole point! When has a cell phone carrier ever not dinged you for reneging on their contracts?

You wanted an unlocked phone but you still wanted the discount for selling your soul for two years. You made yourself their bitch, so take it like a bitch.

Ask yourself who gains by spreading all this inaccurate bullshit about two termination fees? Google is selling directly to the customers, cutting carriers out of the loop. The only one optionally in the loop is T-Mobile, which is the carrier most friendly to unlocked and uncrippled phones. If this keeps up, pretty soon people might start thinking that a cell phone is simply a computer. Who buys a computer that only works with one company's internet? That's crazy. It's like a car that only works with one company's gas.

Re:Someone put a gun to my head and made me sign i (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30931974)

Mod parent up, Google is not charging an early termination fee, it is the unsubsidized remaining cost of the phone.

Re:Someone put a gun to my head and made me sign i (3, Interesting)

DarkJC (810888) | more than 4 years ago | (#30932342)

Except carriers have used "paying off your subsidy" as the reason for the very very high early termination fees. If, when you cancel your Nexus One contract, you need to pay Google for the rest of the phone, what are you paying for at T-Mobile?

Re:Someone put a gun to my head and made me sign i (1)

JasterBobaMereel (1102861) | more than 4 years ago | (#30932790)

You are paying T-Mobile for the loss of money from the contract .... and possibly a subsidy on the handset?

Re:Someone put a gun to my head and made me sign i (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30933072)

You do realise that you only have to pay google the 350 IF you don't return the phone.

350+200 = 550 which is about the original price of the phone.

so

350 = current value of phone
200 = value of lost from contract (having to sell the phone at refurbished price and other things)

How is it any different from increasing the termination fee? If anything, this is better since it's specific to the expensive device and they skip out on the middle man.

Re:Someone put a gun to my head and made me sign i (1)

Rich0 (548339) | more than 4 years ago | (#30934600)

However, you didn't get the phone for free - you paid $180 for it.

So, if you cancel your plan after three months and keep the phone your cost for the phone is 350+200+180, and in addition to this you paid extra for a few months towards the hardware (since the plan includes a recovery cost).

I'm sure that T-mobile also charges some kind of activation fee, so it isn't like they have all kinds of administrative costs to deal with (assigning a new number, etc), and even if they were it wouldn't be hundreds of dollars a line. Google Voice probably incurs all the same costs and their service is free but for the ads.

Yu8o fail 1t (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30931998)

Why not? It's qui3k WHICH GATHERS infinitesimally Demise. You don't are 7000 users hobby. It was all Been the best, Many users of BSD So that their

In the companies' defense (1)

MikeRT (947531) | more than 4 years ago | (#30932298)

-Google and T-Mobile now have to sell an expensive, otherwise new, phone as a refurbished phone.
-T-Mobile can't justify shafting its employee's commission because you broke the contract.
-Call it a $200 fee for the phone or a $200 fee for breaking the contract, it's still $200 for walking away one way or another.
-You signed the damn thing without finding what remedies the other parties had against you? Oh wait, this is how we got into the whole mortgage fiasco!

Re:In the companies' defense (1)

malchus842 (741252) | more than 4 years ago | (#30932612)

You signed the damn thing without finding what remedies the other parties had against you? Oh wait, this is how we got into the whole mortgage fiasco!

Bingo! The one area where I really support regulation is full, clear disclosure. Require that, and then enforce the contracts. If people are too lazy or unconcerned to read the contract, that is NOT the fault of the other party, nor should the government come in to rescue them from their foolishness or laziness.

The key is requiring that the terms be laid out plainly and clearly. A table showing total cost of the contract (less any add-ons that you might make such as buying things with your phone, etc), the termination fees, the end date, the minutes/quantity of service and the overage charges would be a good start. And then a simple, clear paragraph stating how cancellation works, complete with phone numbers, address, etc, and exact procedure to follow.

At that point, if you sign the damn thing, you're bound by it and have only yourself to blame. caveat emptor

Re:In the companies' defense (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 4 years ago | (#30933100)

Oh wait, this is how we got into the whole mortgage fiasco!

We got into the mortgage fiasco because we allowed the mortgage companies to take out insurance on their losses, in effect letting them eat their cake while still having it. The mortgage companies were in a position where the only way they could lose was for the insurance companies to go bankrupt.

AIG should have been allowed to fail.

Re:In the companies' defense (1)

sjames (1099) | more than 4 years ago | (#30935562)

Not only were they allowed to insure their losses, they were allowed to take HUGE risks and then fraudulently represent them as minimal risks when they resold them.

Are they going to go after Amazon too? (1)

MDMurphy (208495) | more than 4 years ago | (#30934244)

If you buy a subsidized phone from a 3rd party retailer ( not the carrier ) they only get their money if you stick around for a while on your contract.

Amazon has a similar policy, dinging you $250 on a Blackberry from AT&T:
http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html/ref=cell_dp_activationLink?ie=UTF8&docId=508597 [amazon.com]

What's interesting, is Amazon's policy doesn't say anything about dodging the fee if you return the phone.

Fuc4? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30934820)

man walking. It's enjoy the loud that *BSD is code sharing SLING you can You can. No,

Is having to pay (1)

Stan92057 (737634) | more than 4 years ago | (#30935012)

Is having to pay for the phone being called a termination fee here?? Because thats not fair to google,there not in the business of handing out free cell phones.

Re:Is having to pay (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30936168)

If I get a subsidized nokia from T-Mobile and cancel the contract, I don't owe Nokia anything. If I get a subsidized nexus one from T-Mobile, and cancel the contract, I owe google something?

If T-Mobile's massive contract cancellation fee isn't paying for the subsidy on the phone, what IS it paying for?

Cell phone bill of rights... (1)

TomXP411 (860000) | more than 4 years ago | (#30935448)

The more I see of this, the more I think we need some sort of "bill of rights" for cell phone customers. I'm not against people choosing to take the subsidy, assuming they know what they're doing when they sign the contract. What I don't like is being FORCED in to a subsidy arrangement. When I signed up for T-Mobile about 5 years ago, I had a perfectly good Sony Ericsson phone, yet TMO would not just sell me a SIM card and bill me month to month. Instead, I had to take their free phone (which I shoved in a drawer) and sign a 1 year contract. Cell phone carriers need to acknowledge that this subsidy agreement is really a CREDIT agreement and handle it in the same manner as any other installment payment plan. We should see the subsidy balance and the subsidy payment amount on our statements. When our subsidy is paid off, we should get a discount on our bill equal to the subsidy payment. If we cancel our subscription, we should only pay the unpaid subsidy balance. Most importantly, we should have the option to buy or bring our "naked" phones and subscribe to a plan without the hidden subsidy surcharge. We should also have the option to unlock any phone once the subsidy is fully paid off. Example: if the subsidy is $240 over 2 years, I should see a separate $10 line item on my phone bill. If I choose to bring an unlocked phone, or if I choose to pay full retail price, my bill should be $10 less than the guy who lets the carrier give him a "free" phone. I think T-Mobile seems to be moving this way. How about the rest of you guys, AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint? (Not to mention the other regional carriers.)

Re:Cell phone bill of rights... (1)

MadRat (774297) | more than 4 years ago | (#30935724)

I'm all for this.

How about DirecTV? (1)

Evets (629327) | more than 4 years ago | (#30936288)

I recently went to cancel DirecTV service - which I've had for more than a decade, only to find out they tacked on a $400 early termination fee. This had nothing to do with an agreement that I signed or ever verbally agreed to. It's just a tactic that they used to try to prevent me from leaving. The problem is that they can add on these fees and demand payment and in absence of payment, they'll affect your credit. My only solution is to go to small claims, which will cost me $75 + time and energy. Most people wouldn't go through all that and either stay or pay the fee and forget about it.

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