With the summer break in full swing, many people are taking time off. Some lucky people even get to travel abroad, taking with them their handy-dandy smartphones. I mean, what use is it going to the Eiffel Tower if you can’t twitter about it? One of the great things about smartphones is that many of them do work in foreign countries, roaming on other carriers’ networks. However, just because your phone works just as it does at home doesn't mean you’ll be charged like you are at home. Read on to learn how you can protect yourself from bill shock.
One of the first things you should do after you finalize you travel plans is call your service provider. Usually, customer service representatives can provide you with information about international roaming, including voice, text, and data. Depending upon what services you need, you might be able to add an international plan to reduce your overall expenses.
However, in addition to asking the customer service representatives, confirm this information with your carrier’s web site. And this isn’t a mere suggestion. We have run across some instances where customer service reps may not have provided complete and accurate information about international roaming. This is why it is vitally important for you to check, double check, and triple check the calling, text, and data rates in the specific country where you are going to travel. Thankfully, this is an easy task with the wealth of information carriers provide on their websites. For example, this Verizon site lets you select a country to see the rates and coverage area.
In order for your phone to “roam,” your service provider has an agreement with international carriers to provide your phone with service. The rates for this privilege can be expensive, or VERY expensive, depending on where your travels take you. For example, the international data rate for T-Mobile is $10 a megabyte in Canada and $15 in all other foreign countries. To put this in perspective, e-mailing a dozen pictures, with 4 pictures in a megabyte, would set you back $45 in France. Ouch!
Even further, if you have data broadband card that lets you surf the Internet on your computer, you need to make sure you are doubly and triply sure what your plan covers. We recently received a complaint from a consumer who had a Verizon Global Access plan for his data broadband card. The Global Access plan provides 100 MB of data transfer per month for international travel. But (and this is a big one) not all countries qualify for the 100 MB of data transfer! This means that on top of the monthly charge you pay for the 100 MB, you need to pay an additional charge for all your data transfer needs. And, as you can probably guess, these charges don’t come cheap.
A very simple way to avoid international roaming charges is to not use your phone at all! This doesn’t mean that you’ll be stranded with no way to talk or text. It simply means that you can use other methods. One of the easiest ways is to purchase a prepaid cell phone from the country you will be in. Another way is to purchase a local SIM card that you can swap with your US SIM card (assuming you have a GSM phone, of course). International calling cards can be cheap, but often lead to a world of hurt on their own.
The bottom line is that you need to be 100% what the rates will be when you travel abroad. This is the best way to prevent bill shock and returning home to a $2,000 phone bill.
Questions about international data roaming? Want to give the UCAN staff a free trip abroad so we can do extensive testing of international data roaming at 5 star resorts? Give us a call at (619) 696-6966 or fill out our online complaint form.
Cox’s Residential Price Lock Guarantee (PLG) gives you the option to have a fixed monthly cost, protected from price increases. In exchange, you are locked in to a two year contract with Cox.
While it has a fancy name and fancy benefits, the bottom line is that the PLG turns your month-to-month service contract with Cox into a long-term, two year contract. Remember, as buddy-buddy as companies like to be (especially large telecom companies), a company generally will not act unless it is in their best interest. Why would a company promise you a low (arguably) price--guaranteed!--for two years? Because you give Cox a guarantee profit for two years! Cox doesn’t have to fight or claw or do anything above and beyond providing you service to your home. Well, you say, what if you decide to get out of the contract and deny Cox of its sweet sweet profits? My friend, you have just entered into the realm of early termination fees, or ETFs.
ETFs are a little built in safety net that helps companies guarantee it’ll reap the profits from your service contract one way or another. If you stay in the contract for two years, great news for Cox. But if you cancel early, Cox hits you with a fee as high as $120 for your untimely escape. ETFs also play a starring role in many other service contracts, especially cell phone contracts.
With Cox’s PLG, you get a fixed guaranteed price. And in light of Cox’ recent 20% hike on basic tier service, a fixed price sounds pretty great. But with the guarantee and its added rigidity comes a loss of flexibility. Check out the language of the PLG agreement that a member so kindly provided to us. After the initial 30 day cancellation period, Cox imposes an ETF if you cancel your service before the end of your two year contract.
So is this a good deal for consumers? Perhaps, if you know that you are going to stick with your service for two years and want to lock in a low price. To be fair, Cox’s PLG is pretty much the same as the service contracts offered by cell phone companies. Cell phone companies offer you a fixed month rate for phone service in exchange for you being locked into a two year contract, which is exactly what Cox is doing.
However, here at UCAN, we hate to see consumers penalized for changing their mind. If you like the rigidity and stability of two years contracts, go ahead and sign up for Cox’s PLG. You may save a bit of money when Cox raises its rates. But, if you like the freedom and flexibility offered by not being in a long-term contract, Cox’s PLG might be a good thing to pass on. Besides, with Netflix and Hulu streaming to your phone, who needs cable TV service?
If you want some more information, check out the attached PLG agreement and some more information from Cox’s website.
Questions about your cable bill? Give the Fraud Squad a call at (619) 696-6966 or fill out our online complaint form.
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A consumer asked the Fraud Squad why her LG Ally lacked the ability to do Bluetooth voice dialing, a feature she had grown accustomed to on her non-smartphone. In researching the issue for her it appears that all Android Smartphone’s currently lack the ability to perform Bluetooth voice dialing. The smartphones do have a voice dialer app which will bring up information, but requires you to select information on your phone screen, obviously not 100% hands-free. There are rumors that the soon to be released Android upgrade Froyo will include a Bluetooth voice dialing app, but of course not all Android phones will receive this upgrade.
The particularly upsetting part to the consumer is that this is a feature she asked about in store while looking into buying a new phone and the sales associate rather than knowing the product referenced the Voice Dialer feature, but did not demo it or explain that it currently was not completely hands free. In fact, once she agreed to upgrade from her basic wireless phone to as Verizon calls them an “advanced device” she received little explanation as to how to use the phone, its features, or a real chance to ask questions concerning this device she was unfamiliar with. Luckily, consumers have the hard fought for 30 day trial period when they purchase wireless phones to try and figure out if the phone is the right phone for them.
The lesson perhaps is that wireless service providers need more and clearer information about the products and services they are selling to consumers and consumers should always spend a little time before purchase thinking about the features they truly want in their device. Many of the phones on the market today often vary by as little as one feature so you may be able to find the phone you want without sacrificing the features, service, or phone design you prefer.
Things aren’t always as they seem... if it’s too good to be true, it probably is... how many more cliches can I use to begin this blog post? In troubling economic times, consumers are counting their pennies to make sure they can squeeze as much value out of the services they purchase. Items once considered a necessity are now luxuries, like cable television. To combat the slowdown in consumer spending, many companies are using tantalizing offers to entice consumers into their service gingerbread house. However, these offers could be the breadcrumbs that lead you into the hell-hot oven of customer service headaches and unanticipated charges.
For example, Time Warner recently had a web promotion that guaranteed a certain price for an Internet and TV bundle for 12 months. It seems like a great deal, but buried on a separate web page of terms and conditions lie the catch--the cost of equipment needed to access all the TV channels is not included in the guaranteed price.
The TV service includes DVR and HDTV features; in order to access these features, the consumer needs to subscribe to the DVR service and pay the equipment rental fee for the HDTV receiver. These two costs are not included in the 12 month guaranteed price.
To make matters worse, Time Warner does not charge you for DVR service or an equipment rental fee for the first three months of service. Once that “trial period” expires, Time Warner adds over $20 of fees to your bill. This additional charge is usually the only way consumers find out that the 12 month guaranteed price is much lower than they anticipated.
How can you avoid these sneaky fees and charges? Make sure you carefully comb through the terms and conditions of all potential offers. Time Warner’s particular offer was tricky because the language that referred to the “trial period” of free DVR service and equipment rental was on a completely separate web page than the initial offer.
Questions about a promotional offer? Complaints about a service contract that was completely different than than an offer? Call the Fraud Squad at (619) 696-6966 or fill out our online complaint form.
This may seem like a common sense to those loyal UCAN followers, but promotions are not always the same. We recently received a complaint from a longtime AT&T customer. She said that she received a letter in the mail offering her a promotion to a higher plan. The trouble was that she only qualified for the promotion because she was on a certain--a plan she never was on. She panicked, thinking that someone upgraded or changed her service plan without her knowledge. Fortunately, her plan hadn't changed.
At&T chalked it up to a marketing department error, and in all fairness, it probably was just an error. However, in the event that it wasn't an error, the customer could have been on the hook for some serious charges that would have been a nightmare to get credited.
It's important to review the seemingly harmless promotional material that clutters up your mailbox to make sure that your plan hasn't changed without your authorization. Sure, it might be a bit of pain to spend a few extra seconds reading the material before dumping the stuff in the shredder (you do shred your junk mail, right?), but it's a simple measure to make sure that you aren't getting crammed or slammed.
Have you had a service plan change without your authorization? Let us know about your stories and how you resolved your issues in the comments. Need help? Call the Fraud Squad at (619) 696-6966.
Since AT&T's decision to introduce tiered data plans, consumers have been waiting with bated breath to see what other cell phone providers would do in response. Sprint came out and said that it would not do away with unlimited data. However, it looks like Verizon may be the first to follow in AT&T's footsteps and introduce tiered data plans.
Businessweek.com quoted John Killian, Verizon's CFO, as saying, “We will probably need to change the design of our pricing where it will not be totally unlimited, flat rate.” Unfortunately, this might not be good news for consumers and cell phone users accustomed to getting unlimited data.
I understand the need to drop price point for entry level data plans to allow more casual data users access to next generation smart phones. However, cell phone providers need to make a tiered price system that is equitable for all its users. And so far, AT&T's tiered data plan is not. Sure, casual iPhone users can now get a relatively inexpensive monthly plan for their iPhone. But now higher data users will pay almost twice as much for the exact same service they received prior to the new data plan introduction.
What are your thoughts on tiered data plans? Are they great because they open up smartphones to a larger share of people? Or do they hinder those who actually need to check their e-mail more than twice a week?
Last month, UCAN received a complaint from a customer who canceled service with Nex Horizon Communications, Inc, formerly known as National City Cable, Inc. and Chula Vista Cable, Inc.
The deceptive business practices has led the City of Chula Vista to terminate the franchise agreement. Nex Horizon failed to comply with various regulations and also failed to pay the fees associated with being a service provider.
However, the most alarming part of this story is the deceptive business practices used against a 73 year old customer who was lied to on January 5, 2010 until May 13, 2010. The former Nex Horizon customer, who lives on a fixed income, was told when she terminated services back in January that she would receive a refund of $63.89. She contacted UCAN in April when she had not received her money.
After speaking with two customer service representatives, Peggy and Donelle, I was assured that the customer would be receiving her check shortly. They went on to say that the company had merged and, therefore, the billings department was backed up. I was told the check would arrive the first week of May.
Well, the check never came. I called on Monday and left a message. I called on Tuesday and left a message. I called on Wednesday and left a message. On Thursday, I called and spoke to Donelle for the umpteenth time. After many conversations, Donelle finally admitted... I mean explained... that Nex Horizon had filed for Chapter 11 and was going bankrupt. But, wait. There is a kicker. Nex Horizon is still open for business in Chula Vista!
After, I got off the phone with Nex Horizon, I immediately called the Chula Vista phone number provided on their website and asked if I could sign up for service. I had yet to read the court documents which reflect that Nex Horizon filed for bankruptcy in a Colorado Federal Court, and was curious. To my surprise, a customer service representative answered and when I asked if I could be provided service, the customer service rep said, "yes."
Wow. I contacted the General Counsel's office for the City of Chula Vista and was happy to find out that Nex Horizon's license had already been pulled. However, they are still in business!
If you subscribe to Nex Horizon or Chula Vista Cable, Inc. or National City Cable, Inc and have a question please call the Fraud Squad at 619-696-6966 or you can file an online complaint.
Our outgoing governor isn't the only one terminating the bad guys. According to a notice on its website, "The City of Chula Vista is processing the termination of the NexHorizon Franchise." NexHorizon, as you may remember, is the cable company that took over Chula Vista cable.
In addition to the complaints we received about NexHorizon not processing its customers' complaints, we received a complaint from a customer who has had intermittent internet connectivity from NexHorizon for the past two to three months. The gentleman is frustrated because he simply wants to use the service for which he paid.
Here's a link to Chula Vista's notice. Spread the word!
Free! Free! Free! Everybody loves free things! Or, as the wonderful double negative writing marketers who came up with Sara Lee's slogan, nobody doesn't like free things. To celebrate Father's Day this weekend, T-Mobile is offering every single phone in its store for FREE. Yes, that's right, sports fans. But, before you walk into a T-Mobile store and start stuffing phones in your pocket, there are some caveats.
First, you need to go on the right day: June 19, 2010. Second, you need to switch to a family plan or add a new line to an existing family plan. Third, you need to sign up for a new two-year agreement.
While there are some caveats, those who are already in the market for a T-Mobile telephone and don't mind singing up for a two-year contract can get a pretty good deal. However, it not only requires a two-year agreement, but either a new family plan or another line on an existing family plan. This is a bit more involved than just signing up for a contract. Personally, I'd prefer consumers to avoid getting locked into two-year service contracts. But, it is hard to pass up free.
Thanks to Engadget Mobile for the story. Here's a link to T-Mobile's press release: http://mobile.engadget.com/2010/06/15/t-mobile-confirms-free-phone-offer...
Direct TV attempted to upgrade customers DVR's last night. The result was not good. What happened, you ask? The upgrade was suppose to add new features, however, it ended up crashing the Direct TV DVR's.
Direct TV is suggesting that customers "try to unplugging their DVR drives from the wall/power for 15 seconds twice without letting the receiver power up in between."
You can also call Direct TV's customer service line at 1-800-531-5000.
You can read the article here.
If you have a question you can call the Fraud Squad at 619-696-6966 or you can file an online complaint.
When money gets tight, many people look to superfluous services to cut to save a bit of dough every month. A quick and easy way to cut the fat is to reduce your monthly recurring expenses. Now, companies are penalizing consumers who downgrade their service plan. And in this tough economy, who can blame them for trying to save a buck? The consumers, that is.
As many of these companies require two year service agreements, a consumer could have signed up for a high-level plan with all the amenities during a much more prosperous time. Now that times are tough, consumers are looking to cut back in non-essential areas. What first seemed a reasonable plan is now excess, and companies are finding out ways to make money by capitalizing on its consumers' misfortunes.
For example, DISH Network, one of UCAN's Fav5s, (sarcasm is difficult to do in a blog, so I'll add a note that DISH is NOT one of our favorite companies to be 100% clear) charges a $5 fee to downgrade from one plan level to the next. It doesn't sound like a lot of money, but it is something that does not take very much time or effort on DISH's part. A consumer trying to save money needs to SPEND it to save it!
Even further, AT&T penalizes its customers for downgrading to a less expensive plan by not allowing its customers to carry forward all of their rollover minutes. With AT&T, unused minutes from your monthly pool rollover (aha! that's why they are called rollover minutes!) for you to use in the next month. While there is no monetary penalty for downgrading plans, AT&T only allows its customers to carry forward the amount of minutes in the new monthly plan. This is best illustrated by a complaint we received. The consumer accumulated over 17,000 rollover minutes (that's just shy of 12 days of continuous talking) and wanted to downgrade to a plan with less minutes per month. Since the consumer downgraded to a 750 minute plan, the consumer could only carry forward 750 minutes of the rollover balance.
I'll let that sink in for a bit. This means that out of 17,000 minutes, the customer could only carry forward 750 minutes. The customer effectively lost almost 96% of the rollover minutes. Remember, these minutes were not some freebies or a trial period, but minutes for which the consumer already paid. I'll repeat that: MINUTES FOR WHICH THE CONSUMER ALREADY PAID. Here, I think the grade school rule of "no take backs" definitely should apply.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: companies need to take care of its current consumers, especially in this trying economic climate. The consumer DISH charged to lower her monthly service plan told me that she will never use DISH again and will never recommend the company again. All over a $5 charge.
Have you had to pay a fee or lose a benefit for downgrading a service plan? Let us know about your experience in the comments.