Preface: The purpose of this section is to EDUCATE people on what cellular telephone companies, in particular AT&T Wireless, may not tell you until it is too late. Everything written in this section is based on facts, as I personally know & experienced them... and opinions, based on months of hassles. 

FACT: 

AT&T Wireless has an America's Choice Plan - which they sell as one rate - no roaming - no long distance - "X" minutes per month. 

FICTION:

If you travel outside your home area, you WILL get no roaming & no long distance... BUT, if you go to small areas, that allow you phone to work, but aren't AT&T controlled, then a DELAYED BILLING issue crops up. No big deal, you have "X" minutes per month, AT&T is a big company and surely they are smart enough to have computers that can factor these late reported billings from the small areas, right?

WRONG! Here is what happens: 

EXAMPLE: (happened to me in 1999 and "settled" February 2000)

To keep the numbers and math simple, I'll use whole numbers and a calendar month for this example. Let's say you have 1,000 minutes per month on AT&T's America's Choice Plan. 
January you used the phone for 990 minutes - you are billed for the full amount ($120 in this example). No problem, that is correct.
February you used the phone for 1,010 minutes - you are billed the full $120 + $3.50 (10 minutes over your allotted amount @ $0.35 per minute). No problem, that is correct.
March you used the phone for 1,000 minutes BUT you traveled to Knoxville, Tennessee (a fairly large town, with well over 150,000 population - but no AT&T service (as of December 1999)... so your bill shows that you only used your phone for 400 minutes - and you are still billed the $120 monthly charge. Now, you know you used more than 400 minutes, but either you don't say anything about it (for whatever reason) OR you call and the billing department tells you not to worry "it will all work out." You believe them, because they are still in business - and must know what they are doing. Well, just wait.
April you're back in your home area, and used 1,200 minutes. You are billed $120 + $70 ($0.35x200) and that is correct.
May you travel back to Knoxville, TN (or other non-AT&T markets) using your phone for a total of 1,000 minutes... your bill comes and you're billed for 600 minutes. So you pay the $120 monthly charge, and you get on with life. No problem, right?
June, you are back in your home area, use your phone for 1,100 minutes... your bill comes in and you fall over - because it reports that you used the phone for 2,100 minutes, and now totals $470 dollars! That's $120 (the monthly fee) AND $350 (1,000x.35 per minute charge for being over your monthly minutes). You call AT&T and after trying to get to a supervisor... you may or may not get the proper credits. They are usually pretty good about crediting you once, maybe even twice. 
But, if you travel a lot out of your "home area" - especially across the continent - like I did, or you are called out of town to work in a non-AT&T area to work for a few months... then you chance the company that runs (controls) that area delaying their billing to AT&T. Rather than AT&T using their fancy computers to figure out what is real, how much time you have actually used, what the actual bill should be (based on their advertised sales pitch and the things their salesperson told you), they will try to tell you that it will all balance out. This is absolute garbage - utter BS - and once you tell the AT&T person that you must be stupid, because you don't see how - being a max plan user - that any minutes at $0.35 per minute will ever balance out. They love to say those words, and a few of the staff actually believed that it was true. I found a few people that actually tried to understand how it is physically impossible to balance out, and there is no way it can ever become even. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough.
When I called the last time, to get the actual minutes figured out, and my bill paid, I ended up with some bozo (named Paul) that not only wouldn't transfer me to a supervisor (claiming to be one), but he placed some information in my account that made any further negotiation impossible. 
AT&T turned me over to collections without upholding their end of the deal... without a detailed diary of the issues (more than I have) my attorney said that it wasn't worth the fight. Post the facts on the web - allow AT&T to respond.
It will take a great deal for me to ever directly or indirectly do any business (personal or corporate) with AT&T - whether cellular or land line. They will have to be the only option - and they aren't! Before you deal with ANY company on a "Nationwide" cellular plan - ask about the delayed billing - ask how it will be taken care of... and be sure that if anyone tells you that what I'm saying here isn't true any longer (because things have changed) GET IT IN WRITING!!! GET IT GUARANTEED - and have a deal that you are happy with. SALES PEOPLE LIE (sometimes), AND MANY SALES PEOPLE JUST DON'T HAVE THE TRAINING, KNOWLEDGE, OR EXPERIENCE TO tell you the truth in the above mentioned situation (delayed billing within the US in non-AT&T markets). If you use the phone a lot, it matters!!!
The following is a copy of the letter I wrote to the collections company, which AT&T refused to respond to. I still have the broken phone, for which I had insurance on at the time of the accident, and I ended up paying them (to settle the account) just over $400 - which was more than I owed them EVEN IF they fixed my phone (which they didn't). 

 

ACS
ATTN: Mike Scott  #408
P.O. Box 80370
Portland, OR  97280
888-357-2131 Voice
503-292-3633 Fax

RE: AT&T Account #30270987

4 January 2000

Dear Mike:

Thank you for speaking with me yesterday. As I told you yesterday, this account should NOT have been turned over to collections, for a variety of reasons:

1)      I JUST received notice that it was even being considered for collections yesterday (which was post marked December 22nd AND December 23rd, 1999) – AND although AT&T had my current Tennessee address & phone number, they chose to mail the bill to my closest relative & emergency contact, my father in Grants Pass, Oregon. A notice was NOT mailed to me in TN (except by my father – the 23rd, the same day he received it)! AT&T was correctly sending the bills to my TN address (July, August, September, and October – nothing in November or December was received in TN directly from AT&T). I NEVER received even one collection letter from them here (two were sent to Oregon, one post marked both Dec 22nd & 23rd, and the other on the 23rd of December). This is a HUGE issue and problem, and was very wrong.

2)      Based on what your records indicated, the account was turned over to collections either the same day or the day after the letters were sent to me (at the wrong address) stating that it would be turned over to collections if I didn’t respond. They were a little bit pre-emptive there. Furthermore, I called within (on) the 10th day from when the letter was postmarked (the same day the letters were received).

3)      When I closed the account (in September 1999) it was done because:

a.      My telephone (Nokia 6162) was broken in an August 3rd, 1999 auto accident. I called in the problem in August, insurance was paid on the phone, and I was told that they would be shipping me a telephone to replace mine – THAT STILL HASN’T HAPPENED! The display is broken on my phone, which made placing calls nearly impossible, and anything that required the display a serious challenge. The insurance, which was paid current at the time of the accident, should either repair or replace my telephone STILL. As of this time, I still have the broken phone in my possession, and the AT&T representative insurance company has NOT followed through to fix my phone. When I called in November, to find out why my replacement phone wasn’t shipped, I was told that I didn’t have an active account and that I needed to take it up with AT&T. After nearly 45 minutes on hold, waiting for a live person, I gave up waiting.

b.      There was no AT&T service in the Knoxville, TN area (which I was assured there was when I signed up for the Nationwide Service November 1998, or I wouldn’t have signed up for the service – because I knew I would be in TN for at least 6 months on a consulting job). The service maps that were supplied to me at the time I signed up showed there was full service in the Knoxville area, and I did specifically ask if I would be able to get a local (Knoxville) number if I decided to move there and was told that it wouldn’t be a problem… I didn’t find out until August or September that it was impossible, at that time – and that I was lied to by the AT&T representative, regarding the local Knoxville number and transferring my service to Tennessee. I’m told that as of December ‘99, Suncook, a Knoxville, TN company, now offers the AT&T service.

c.      It was taking 1 to 4 hours per month to recalculate, call in, and have an AT&T billing staff member confirm and appropriately credit billing problems, due to the delayed billing, which would leave one month short on minutes – and add minutes to the billing one, two, or three months later.

d.      When I signed up for the AT&T Nationwide Service, I was specifically told that I had 1400 minutes per month of nationwide, no roaming, no long distance, no problems anywhere in the lower US. Other than the delayed billing issues (I didn’t learn about until about May), that was true. The AT&T service was the best I have seen, used, or experienced to date. But the problems associated with the delayed billing were too much of a hassle and too time consuming. AT&T stated that there were no other alternatives, so the decision was jointly made to stop the service.

e.      When I offered to pay the account off (in September) with the appropriate credits being applied, I was told that it would take 60 to 90 days for any delayed billing information to come in. Further, I was told that my account couldn’t be settled… and that credits couldn’t be considered until all of the final billing detail was available for the actual calculations and appropriate credits. By the way, the “90 days” from the time the account was closed, I was told that any “more” delayed billing and the latest bill should be back and ready to be dealt with by late December to early January. Instead someone chooses to turn me into collections?! I really don’t understand why all this has happened, or why someone changed where the bills and written material was being sent.

4)      Calling AT&T from here in Tennessee is a challenge. I have yet to spend less than 10 to 15 minutes on hold, with the average call taking up 30 to 60 minutes of my time, just to speak to a real person. Most of the time I’m transferred two or three different times, because I’m in the wrong department or the wrong person, or some other problem I have yet to understand. Yet, I call the phone number listed on the bill.

5)      My old telephone number was reassigned; however, every AT&T number I dial requests the telephone number I am calling in reference to (rather than account # or request for a live person). This process usually takes an additional 10 to 15 minutes to wade through. And, until your return call, I haven’t received a direct telephone number, fax number, email address, or other means in which to get a hold of a real person to deal with this mess (until you became involved).

6)      My usage of the cellular phone is pretty strict and careful, excluding the first week of August, when I was in the bad accident (www.helpus.com/accident). I kept very close watch on my time, and controlled my use, based on fairly close timing estimates. I was consistently around (and usually under) my 1400 minute limit each month, until the delayed billing problems started. I left Oregon, driving to Tennessee late February 1999. The delayed billing problem didn’t get noticed until May 1999. I don’t have all of the usage records here, but here is what I do have:

a.      February     1421            Left for TN late February

b.      March         1082            In TN, only some delayed billing (no red flags yet)

c.      April             457            Minutes too low… didn’t notice, paid full $149 amount

d.      May            2107            Nearly 700 of these minutes were from March & April

e.      June             989            Most of these minutes are from April & May

f.        July            1102            Bill contained calls from 5/28 to 7/5, with most of these minutes are from May & June (was back in Oregon for part of this bill, with no delayed billing).

g.      August        2696            Was in OR, CA, NV, and UT for the first 8 days, and most of the “current” minutes, without the delayed billing. 1016 minutes from before July 12th – or a total of 1016 minutes of delayed billing.

h.      September                        I was told (in August) that there would be a total credit of $74.50 applied to the September bill, for the July bill, but only 48.20 was actually applied. Which means that it is short $26.30. Also, there is a $6.36 late charge that should NOT be there!

i.        October            No minutes            There is an $8.77 late charge that should NOT be there. I offered to pay the account off when it was closed, and AT&T said to wait!

Credits appear to have NOT been applied, that were discussed and agreed upon by the AT&T staff. Without the missing bills, I don’t know what the actual amounts should be. At one point I had extensive notes regarding the minutes, the credits, and who I spoke with in some cases. Please have the February through June bills sent to me… so I can verify the minutes and credits again.

I requested a print out of the database records for my account, what they have written from my conversations. I was told, by a supervisor, that that wasn’t something that they “normally” do, but that they would try to get a copy of my records faxed to me. I have never seen these records. I know that I did request certain things to be entered into “my file” – but have no way to verify that those things ever were entered in their system (other than the person I was speaking with telling me that it would be done).

In addition, I was told that someone (at AT&T) was going to “audit” my account, and balance out the minutes and charges appropriately, and let me know what I actually owed. That has never happened.

In conclusion: AT&T should NOT have turned this matter over to collections, should NOT have mailed or sent the information to the wrong address, and should have had my telephone fixed.

There was a total usage of 9,854 minutes billed in 7 months (February through August), for an average usage of 1,407 minutes per month. I owe for a maximum of 1.25 months, or approximately $150+$37.50 (for the actual service), AND approximately 511 minutes of actual OVER time limit minutes for another $127 = a total of $314.50 at the very most. AT&T (and their insurance company) owes me for one Nokia 6162 tri-mode flip phone, valued at $299.95+tax ($324.70).

This means, to me, that they either fix my phone and I pay them what I actually owe them, or they don’t fix my phone AND AT&T owes me $10.20.

Please let me know if you have any questions.

Sincerely,

 

Terry E. Mercer
2362 Airbase Rd.
Louisville, TN  37777

865-380-9624 voice
865-380-2212 fax
terry@helpus.com   email

 
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