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Why I left AT&T forever and why you should too!

We love this blog post from happy Ting customer Felix Whelan on why he made the switch from a major carrier. We’d love to hear your story, too! Let us know in the comments.

Everyone who’s ever had AT&T as their land line, wireless, or Internet carrier has at least one customer service horror story to tell… Well, I’ve got a million them – and it’s my own darned fault for not waking up and walking away sooner. Until a few weeks ago, I had been an AT&T customer, writing them checks of various sizes for diverse services every month since I got my first land line way back in 1982. That’s over thirty years of continuous support of a company I’ve known from the very beginning that I could not trust.

My Sad Story

My tale begins with that very first land line, way back in the days when land lines were all we had, and AT&T was still the megalithic monopoly Southwestern Bell. I was a twenty year old kid, on my own for the first time, supporting my first apartment with a dead end minimum wage job. It was bliss! But talk about living paycheck to paycheck. I barely made ends meet from week to week. I lived on fried potatoes and canned soup (in 1982, a can of tomato soup cost under a quarter). My basic land line telephone service cost, I think, $26 a month, so long as I eschewed long distance, which I never, ever used. I was frugal in the way you have to be when you’re twenty, single, and living on the edge…

But I did make ends meet. I always paid my bills, in full, on time, every month. Always.

Then one day I got a letter in the mail from Southwestern Bell. They had not received my payment. They were going to shut off my phone. Getting it turned back on was going to cost an arm and a leg.

I looked back at my check record. There it was. I had indeed written my check and mailed it off to them, a full week before the due date. I called customer service.

“We have no record of receiving your payment.”

“Can you just not shut off my phone for a few more days? To give my payment time to show up, in case the mail is just running slow?”

“I’m sorry, we can’t do that. Your disconnection is already scheduled.”

“Not even a few days?”

“If your payment got lost in the mail, the money is still in your account. You could write another check to replace the lost one. If you’ll agree to do that, I can put a hold on the shut-off till Wednesday.”

“Okay,” I agreed, butterflies in my stomach. “But I really don’t have enough money in the bank to cover both checks. You have to swear that if the first check shows up, you’ll shred it.”

“I’ll make a note on your account, Mr. Whelan. Get that replacement check in today’s mail, okay?”

I did exactly as I had agreed. Both checks landed at the SWB office. Both were cashed. My checking account cascaded into ruin, as other checks I’d written bounced, triggering massive bank fees that caused other checks to bounce, ad nauseaum. When I called SWB customer service again to demand satisfaction, there was, of course, no record of anyone on their staff making me any promises… Of course they were in no way responsible… And no, my extra payment could not be refunded, but it would be applied to my next bill…

A few years later, Ronald Reagan busted up the Bell Telephone monopoly, and AT&T rose like a fiery demon out of the ashes.

I’ve had many annoying encounters with AT&T’s so-called “customer service” along the way (and not a single positive that I can recall), but let’s fast forward now to 2010, and my family’s entrance into the wonderful world of wireless.

Curmudgeon that I am, I was the official last person on earth to get on board with cell phone service. I would never have signed on at all, just for myself. But my family eventually wore me down with their incessant demands for entry into the 21st Century, and I finally acquiesced. As abusive as AT&T had been all my adult life, they were the only telephone provider I knew of, so I called.

The customer service representative was so glad to hear from me! He’d be happy to send me three FREE phones, waive all activation fees, and set me up with a plan that would meet all my family’s wireless needs for a mere $125 a month!

My first bill was over $400.00. Each phone showed a $50 activation fee. The base rate was considerably more than the promised $125. Charges I couldn’t even begin to decipher made up the rest.

When I called customer services again, I was livid. I explained as calmly as I could what I’d been promised. I kept the lid on the pressure cooker…

Of course there was no record of my previous call.

“I can’t imagine how anyone could promise you that,” the understanding voice of the CSR cooed. “We don’t have any plans that cheap. But let me see what I can do for you…”

Two hours later, I found my way to the customer retention unit, the place they route your call once you start threatening to cancel all your accounts and call a lawyer. The customer retention tech waived the activation fees and promised my bill would be $125 a month.

My revised bill, when it arrived, was for just over $140. I ground my teeth and let it pass. Not having to call their miserable customer service line again was worth $15 a month to me…

In 2013, I added a fourth line, for my son, age 11. That brought my bill to $150 something.

Then, around mid-August, I stumbled across the website of Ting Mobile. I’m going to tell you all about Ting Mobile in the “My Happy Ending” portion of this blog post, but first let me finish “My Sad Story.” Suffice it to say for now that Ting was love at first sight, and after 30 years of abuse, I was more than ready to divorce AT&T forever.

I was so cautious and responsible. I called AT&T to make sure when my contract with them was going to end, so I could avoid any early termination fees. The AT&T customer service representative assured me that my contract had ended on July 31st. I was eligible for an upgrade!

I didn’t want an upgrade. I wanted out and told her so.

“You’re free to go any time,” she said, and that’s an exact quote. “Just call us back when you’re ready to cancel service.”

I signed up with Ting. It was so easy. Sign-up went smoothly. Their service was superlative.

Then I call AT&T again. “I want to cancel my service.”

“An early contract termination fee of $82 will appear on your final bill.”

“WHAT? My contract expired July 31st. I called and confirmed that last week.”

“Three of your phones are off contract. But you added a line in 2013, and that one will have the ETF.”

I’m pretty sure blood was spewing like burning lava from my ears at this point.

“No,” I said. “No, no, no. Let me talk to a supervisor, right now.”

She connected me to Gerald, or Jerrard, or something similar. “Please hold while I review your account.”

I held. A few minutes later, Gerald was back on the line.

“I’ve reviewed your account, Mr. Whelan, and the $82 early termination fee is a legitimate charge. It can’t be waived.”

“Of course it can,” I said. “You waive charges like that all the time.”

“It’s a legitimate charge,” he repeated. “We can’t waive it.”

“Customer retention could waive it…”

“You’ve already cancelled your service. There’s nothing to retain.”

He had me. I was furious. I flew into a rant that lasted a solid ten minutes, openly addressing, not Gerald, but the soulless, faceless corporate suits who might one day review this call recorded “for quality purposes…” Thirty years, I’d been a customer. Thirty years AT&T had treated me like dirt. And this was the final straw. Not only would I never give AT&T another dime of my money, I was going to make it my mission in life to tell my story to the world, and to lead as many of their customers to competitors providing better service for less money as I could. I would be Moses calling the Chosen People out of slavery to their uncaring, corporate Egypt. I would be David lobbing stones at their lumbering Goliath of a company until it fell. I would blog. I would tweet. I would Facebook the evil AT&T Leviathan from every side until it sank beneath the waves…

“I can tell you’re upset, Mr. Whelan,” Gerald finally interjected. ”I’ll tell you what. I’ll meet you half way. I’ll reduce your termination fee to $41.”

I knew I wasn’t going to get a better deal. I agreed and got off the phone. Within minutes, my AT&T cell phone went dead. My account was cancelled.

That evening, I got a final bill in my email for $90.99. The early termination fee was $82, the rest was for undecipherable gobbledygook.

I couldn’t resist. I called AT&T customer service one last time. Of course, there was no record of Gerald offering to “meet me half way.” I was stuck with the $82. I demanded to speak to a supervisor. All of the supervisors were – of course! – busy speaking with other customers at the moment. The CSR took my new Ting cell phone number, and promised that a supervisor would call me back within two hours.

No one ever called.

Of course.

I promised to tell you about Ting Mobile, and I will. But first I want to make perfectly clear that I did not leave AT&T simply because I found a phenomenally better deal with Ting. My new service with Ting is wonderful icing on the cake, and I am grateful for it. But the hard truth of “My Sad Story” is this:

AT&T is an uncaring, arrogant, monolithic beast of a company that abuses its customers while wildly overcharging for the inferior services it provides. Every single time I have spoken to an AT&T representative, from first level CSR’s, to supervisors, to “customer retention experts,” I HAVE BEEN LIED TO. Their business model appears to be based largely on deception, extortion and ill-treatment of customers.

How would I rate them on a 1 to 10 scale?

Negative ten thousand! As Mayor of Frugalville, I profoundly recommend that you cancel all AT&T service and sign up with competitors offering better service at better prices TODAY!

That said, this story does have a happy ending…

My Happy Ending

Now take a deep breath. Exhale slowly. Let all the frustrations “My Sad Story” churned up inside you melt away like a bad dream in morning sunshine. Forget AT&T even exists (if enough people follow my advice in the article, it soon won’t – wouldn’t that be nice?)…

I want to tell you about Ting. You’ll be glad I did.

Here’s what I like best about Ting Mobile, in straightforward bullet points:

Ting runs off the Sprint network of cell phone towers, with free roving to Verizon towers where necessary for seamless coverage. This means that if you are currently paying out the nose for Sprint or Verizon service under a contract, you can switch to Ting and get, not just similar, but the exact same service for a fraction of the cost. And NO CONTRACT! No activation fees. No early termination fees. No BS, plain and simple.
Ting Mobile is a division of Tucows, those guys who have been around forever on the Internet and PC techno scene. Ting is no fly by night amateur. It’s a solid company that will be here for years to come, saving you thousands of dollars you might otherwise have wasted on AT&T.

Ting‘s customer service is exemplary. I call them sometimes just to chat, I like them that much. Here’s a quote from Ting‘s CEO, Elliot Noss – “What people are forced to put up with from mobile service providers just doesn’t make sense. It’s too complicated, too opaque, too adversarial, too expensive and frankly too inhuman. We’re changing that.” And they really are!
Ting puts total control of your account right where it belongs – in your own hands. You activate your own phones (it is very easy). You have a cool dashboard that shows you in real time how much voice, text and data you’re using, and tells you how much your bill is as of this red hot moment. With the click of a mouse you can turn voice, text or data service on or off for each individual phone on your account. This means that, without having to call anyone for assistance, you can turn your own data on, but block data on your kids’ phones (that’s what I did, mean dad that I am). Got an unruly teen on your hands? Instead of threatening to ground them, say you’ll turn off their texting ability for a week if they step out of line. You can do that, and it’s easy. Turn it off, turn it back on, turn it off, turn it on, click, click, click… Oh, the power!
Ting has a company philosophy that will make your heart happy. Read it for yourself here (click the link then click “about” at the top of the page)

Ting‘s billing structure is designed to always charge you the least possible amount based on your actual voice, text and data usage, each separated out like that. There is no “bundle,” no “plan” with Ting. Each phone costs $6 a months (six bucks!) to have active. Beyond that, pay only for what you use – and the prices are rock bottom. Click here to play with their rates estimator and see how much you could save! (click the link then click “rates” at the top of the page).

Got Wi-Fi at home, work, school, restaurants around town, etc.? With Ting, you can surf the web, play games, watch movies, anything you want on your cell phone connected to that Wi-Fi, and not one red cent will ever appear on your bill. Other no contract carriers will charge you $5 a month for the privilege of surfing your own Wi-Fi using your own phone. With Ting it’s FREE!

You can bring your own device to Ting. You don’t have to buy a phone from them. Any Sprint phone will work on Ting. I needed four phones, so I printed Ting‘s long list of compatible models and headed for eBay. I got a lot of five awesome Motorola Admiral XT603 smart phones in perfect working order for $99, with free shipping. That’s $20 a phone! Now everybody in my family has a smart phone, with a spare in storage in case my daughter drops here phone in the toilet (again… sigh…). All four phones we activated with Ting work perfectly!

If you get stuck with a surprise early termination fee from your old provider, like I did from AT&T, Ting can help. Just because they’re awesome, Ting will give you a credit for 25% of your ETF, up to $75. They credited me $21 from AT&T’s vile and deceptive $82 charge. I love you, Ting!

Here’s the bottom line on Ting Mobile. A month ago I was paying AT&T $150 a month for my family’s four cell phones. None of us had data service on that account. With Ting, the same four users have better phones, running on the excellent Sprint and Verizon towers in our area (and we live in the country; Ting‘s coverage is vast), and my TOTAL BILL is $41.00. That’s not per phone, that’s for all four phones in daily use. Thanks to that $21 credit, I’ll actually only be paying $20 this month! WooHoo!

Ting also has an awesome customer referral program. Once you join, be sure to tell all your friends! Ting provides you with a personal referral link you can put on blogs, post on your Facebook page, tweet endlessly, and when the first person signs up based on your referral, you get a $50 credit against future bills. Every referral after the first one nets you a $25 credit. The last time I called Ting just to chat, I told the awesome woman helping me that I have a blog, and I’m going to use it to sing the praises of Ting to the world. She laughed, and said, “Be sure to use your referral link! You may never have to pay a phone bill again!”

And that’s the win-win here, frugal friends. As your Mayor, I want you to escape the grips of whatever evil mega-corp has you indentured into cell phone slavery, and set you free with Ting Mobile! And I also want you to click a link from this blog post to get to the Ting Mobile website, so I get credit for referring you.

So, click the word “Ting” anywhere in this post, and you’ll be taken to the Ting Mobile website, tagged with my referral link. You save money, I save money, bad companies lose customers, a great company gains them. Everybody wins!

I love being Mayor of Frugalville! What a rush!

– Felix