T-Mobile: 'No hotspot? Sorry, no refund either'

T-Mobile: 'No hotspot? Sorry, no refund either'

Summary: Last Friday, the morning after Mashup Camp ended, I made it to my flight's gate at the San Francisco airport with about 30 minutes to spare.  Knowing that T-Mobile operates an airport-wide hotspot, I figured that 30 minutes was just enough time to log into the hotspot, do a couple critical emails, and post my podcast interview of Eventful.


Last Friday, the morning after Mashup Camp ended, I made it to my flight's gate at the San Francisco airport with about 30 minutes to spare.  Knowing that T-Mobile operates an airport-wide hotspot, I figured that 30 minutes was just enough time to log into the hotspot, do a couple critical emails, and post my podcast interview of Eventful.com's Chris Radcliff.  I took at seat in the airport lounge by the gate, popped open my notebook, enabled my WiFi adapter and saw that the signal strength for T-Mobile's hotspot was "Excellent" (according to Windows).  It was clear from his tone that not reading the terms & conditions was an oversight on my part. Good I thought.  I fired up the browser and the first place it took me to was T-Mobile's Web site where it showed me a bunch of options, one of which was perfect for me (the one where you pay $6.99 per hour).  But I couldn't find a way to use it so I clicked through the day pass option for $9.99 instead.  But the minute I supplied all of my personal information including a confirmation of the payment by credit card, the WiFi signal mysteriously dropped to almost nil and I was unable to get a reliable connection.  It flittered in and out, but not for long enough to load a Web page or log on to the company network. 

I tried every trick I knew (and I have a lot of tricks having been down this path before with other hotspots) to no avail.  Suddenly, it was time to board.  I got on the plane and even tried to get at T-Mobile's hotspot while I was in my seat (wouldn't that be great?... to keep computing online until the flight attendants tell you to shut down?).  But that didn't work and I gave in, resolving to call T-Mobile at the beginning of this week to get my money back.  After all, if I gave them my money but could not achieve a connection, surely their network management consoles must show that I used all of about 100 bytes and that they should give me my money back.  Today, I made that call and recorded the whole thing. I was very clear with the T-Mobile rep -- a guy named Rudy -- that I was recording the call.  Given the recent spate of some very public customer service snafus, I figured it was time to fall in-line and keep a podcast record of my support calls in case something goes awry.  You can download my recording of the entire call (it's about 13 minutes long) or, if you're already subscribed to ZDNet's IT Matters series of podcasts, it should automatically show up on your PC and MP3 player. 

Although Rudy eventually relented with a consolation prize, he refused to issue me a refund saying on several occasions that, according to T-Mobile's Terms and Conditions, I was not entitled to one.  It was clear from his tone that not reading the terms & conditions was an oversight on my behalf.  Go check it out.  Had I read that, by the time I got to the end, my plane would have been half way to Boston. I skimmed through it today and I'm not sure I see anywhere where it says something like "once you give us your money, it's tough nuggies on you if our signal drops out and you get no work done." 

At approximately 1:40 into the call, Rudy tries to tell me that if signal goes out, that it doesn't mean it's T-Mobile's fault and that if such an outage occurs that T-Mobile usually notifies everyone. By everyone, I'm assuming T-Mobile's hotspot users.  However, I'm not sure how they do that if there's a network outage.  Perhaps its through some form of wireless broadband telepathy. 

When I stopped Rudy to say that the network signal strength was very strong and that it wasn't until I gave my credit card that the signal just dropped out on me, he told me how the "signal is there" (Rudy is apparently omnipresent) and then ran through a list of security solutions -- high security settings, proxies, Norton Security, McAfee, and firewalls like ZoneAlarm and BlackICE -- that would prevent the T-Mobile connection from working. This of course did not explain why the connection worked fine until after T-Mobile took my $9.99 for a day pass.  When I told him that none of those software solutions were my problem, at approximately 2:30 into the call, he says "David.. you're not listening to me. I do this for a living every day.  Those are things that could be causing your problem. Now, if you didn't call us on the day of service to help you and assist you with this problem, then the terms and conditions have been voided."  It was at that moment that any chances of me ever being a T-Mobile customer again were voided too.

Rudy explained that I should have called the 800 number immediately to try to resolve the problem.  Interesting suggestion. If only I could connect to the network to get the 800 number.  Or, am I supposed to commit that to memory? 

At 6:15 into the call, you can hear me asking for my money back and Rudy insisted on running through the terms and conditions, calling out the part that says "amounts paid for day passes are non-refundable."  Seems like a lopsided business term.  To bad I didn't have my lawyer on hand to review the terms and warn me that if the network doesn't work, the no refund clause still applies. Whatever happened to just taking care of the customer.  Does T-Mobile really need my ten bucks that badly?

At 8:13 into the call, Rudy tells me they have T-1's all over the airport as if that has something to do with the strength of the wireless signal.  Thanks Rudy.  Next time, I'll get a T1 adapter for my notebook.  Perhaps T-Mobile's site has a map of all the T1 taps at the airport. 

At 8:22, he starts again into the explanations of how personal firewalls and other such security solutions could be responsible for loss of the signal and he reminds me of how he "deals with this everyday."  He's obviously an expert.  As if any of this makes any difference.   I paid $10.  I got nothing for it.  Now give me my money back.

By the end of the call, I think I wore Rudy down.  He agreed to give me another one day pass that I can use at a later date.  It's not what I wanted.  But maybe I'll get to use it at a Starbucks or something.  Rudy explained that it's an option he's giving to me that "we normally don't give to anyone."  Until now.  Hopefully.

Update: One day after this blog was published, a person by the name of Cornell Cunningham claiming to be a Senior Manager of Customer Care at T-Mobile contacted me by phone to issue an apology and comment on his thoughts about the call and his expectations of T-Mobile's customer service personnel.  I asked him to send me his response in writing so that I could share it with ZDNet's readers.  When and if that statement arrives (I had no way of verifying the caller's identity), I will publish here on ZDNet. 

Topic: Wi-Fi

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  • You have to wonder...

    At what point will these companies get it?
    • That;'s easy ...

      ... when customers say "Enough is enough!" And decide to go elsewhere. As long as T-Mobile dominates the Wif-Fi hotspot world, it's going to be tough.
      M Wagner
  • Argue that the service is not delivered

    Dear Mr Berlind,

    You might have went about the wrong way. You should had argued that it is "failure to honour the contract" on the grounds of "No service connection".

    If they failed to deliver the service, they cannot charge for it. This is something no "T&C" can get them out of.

    I think it is now time to review the T&C (with a lawyer if possible) and prepare the ground for unfair "T&C" that is not sactioned by law. A long stretch. Sometimes can be more effective than naming and shaming.

    • The court of public opinion...

      ...particularly now that the blogosphere exists appears to me to be a much more compelling venue in which to 'sue' a company for it's crappy practices.

      • Good Luck

        Most cell phone companies, like the cable companies and the credit card companies also have written into their agreements forbid you from suing for damages, you have to take all disputes to panels of arbitrators. And do you think that things are weighted in their favor? You better believe it.
        • Too bad the agreement doesn't apply

          The Terms of Service agreement apply to product in question. Not recieving the product at all invalidates any contract.

          I know this because I got into nasty dispute with a collection agency for something like this. I signed up for a book club. You were supposed to get 8 books for $1 with the agreement that you'd buy 8 more books at regular price. If you didn't choose to not buy book each month they'd send you the pick of the month. Well I never recieved my 8 books for $1 and I never revieved any the pick of the month for 8 months. But then the collection agency called asking for for over $300 and when I informed them I had not recieved the product they tried to tell me that I owned because of the contract to buy 8 books and that I'd have to choose 8 books an purchase them imediately.

          Well I threatened to take them to court to get my dollar back for services not delivered. Worded in an nice letter as legal secretary friend of my wife's helped me do. The lawyer that friend worked for explained in pretty plainly that if services are not delivered they contract is no valid.
      • Just thrilled you're saying something

        If we all had a platform as accessible as yours, we could fill the corporate complaint section. Heck, I'm sure we could even find advertisers!
        But just to hear YOU take them to task, publicly, is, well... heartwarming! Thanks, David!
      • The fact that you got a call from T-Mobile ...

        ... the day after you published your experiense demonstrates that the court of public opinion matters a great deal more to T-Mobile than a less-than-public lawsuit. In the long run your lawsuit would have gotten your $10 back and MAYBE paid your lawyer. And T-Mobile might have gotten a non-disclosure agreement claiming no responsibility. No-harm, no foul!

        Your blog gets them a great deal of bad publicity in a public forum -- which will undoubtedly cost them a lot more than the $10 for which you asked.

        The blogosphere
        M Wagner
  • Welcome to the Telco Monopoly

    They (the Telcos) don't have to provide customer service - they have a Congressional mandated monopoly to use the public airwaves to rape and pillage as they please. They answer to no one - especially the customer. The only interest is in billable events. Remember the telephone operator Ernestine played by Lily Tomlin on Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In (NBC 1968-1973) ? So close to present day reality that it's scary.
    Steven J. Ackerman
    • Same with the Cable companies...

      they don't have to do ANYTHING. AND, they are NOT subject to the same rules as the Telcos. If you think you have it bad with the Telcos, just wait until Cablecos rape and pillage as they please.
  • chargeback = abra-ca-dabra

    You see, in the service provider's eyes, you call them and ask, what was my total network usage that day? Given this scenario, it should be flagrantly obvious to them you didn't get what you paid for when they try to find the answer to that question.

    Next step: when they say they will not issue a refund, you say: you charged my credit card for something you never provided me with, I'm going to call my CC company and dispute the charge...

    ...watch how quick they belly up.

    As a US consumer, you are protected by this kind of bad behavior. Customer service reps are trained to fight anything that will cost the company money at all costs... until certain limits are reached or words are spoken.

    You ask for your money back, if they refuse, you charge it back and let them *prove* that you used their service. In this case they would have to provide a usage log that corroborates their claim against yours.
    • not a bad idea

      I'll have to remember that.
    • verifying the abra-ca-dabra

      "Chargeback" is a great word to know! I ordered a book from Amazon with a delivery date of about a week. After the transaction was completed, then the delivery date suddenly went to about 2 weeks, and the order "could not be canceled." They wanted to lock me in: No book, no cancel, I'm stuck waiting. Until I said I was going to tell my CC company not to pay them. They shipped it that day! Remember that word: chargeback!
  • easy refund to get

    Contact your credit card company, tell them the story including the fact that the service was not delivered and you will get the charges reversed in a hurry. I have seen this in action and it works very well.
    • Everywhere you wanna be

      As I work for Visa, I can tell you that you are 100% correct - going immediately to your credit card issuer (the bank, not us) by calling the customer service number on your card is the way to go here. Usually a temporary credit back to your account for the full amount will be issued and an investigation started. This is where it gets ugly for the entity that screwed you - they must commit time and person-hours to defending against this chargeback and the burden of proof is squarely on them. Many years ago I finally had to go to American Express to get about $2500 back from Tiger Computers (where I will never ever shop again). In less than 10 days, Amex resolved what had been a 3 months oddessey of phone calls and letters.
      • merchants have to pay a chargeback fee whether they are right or not

        It can even more irritating than that for their accountants. Whether you or they prevail in the investigation, the merchant is charged a fee simply because a chargeback was requested by the customer. Typically around $25. Makes it an expensive way for them to gain your $10. Even if you lose, you get the satisfaction of knowing you cost them at least the $15 difference.
    • but won't hit t-mobile

      It prolly won't cost T-mobile a dime, most company's drop a $10 or less charge and write it off rather than actually charge the company back.
      • Re: but won't hit t-mobile

        Your absolutly right. I had a friend who worked at BofA Credit card services and their customer service reps could write off up to $29.00 before transfering the client to non-fraud claims dept for a charge back. It costs credit card companys money to process charge backs so they figure aprox how much and set a limit their customer service reps can write off. They know they can make it up with higher fees and intrest rates and it endears the customer to them.
  • I have experienced the same thing with T-Mobile at a Starbucks

    It worked fine for long enough for me to get my credit card in, but then I immediately lost connectivity and after that could not stay connected for more than 10 seconds at a time if that, not even long enough to load most web pages.

    They were also less than helpful on the phone when I called, right then - perhaps they're just hiring out of work actors/english majors to read from a script. I will not use T-Mobile again, for paid hotspot service or anything else.
    • I was luckier

      I couldn't even get the T-Mobile connection to take my credit card information, and this was inside the Starbuck's.

      Recommendation: get the strongest Wifi antenna you can stick into your laptop case, even if it looks goofy when you use it. It will help with these hot spots. Don't rely on the feeble little antenna built into the Wifi card.