Be careful with MVNO plans, their unlimited plans are limited too

Be careful with MVNO plans, their unlimited plans are limited too

Summary: I thought I would save some money and go with a MVNO plan, but after less than a month I am already on their black list with just about 2GB of data usage.

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After testing out the Samsung Galaxy Note, I purchased my own device. I do not have an AT&T account though so I did some searching and decided to purchase a Straight Talk SIM card that advertises UNLIMITED voice, text, and data for $45 per month. This seemed like a deal too good to pass up and it turns out it may indeed be just that.

I read through the Straight Talk terms and conditions to see if there were any specified data limits or text messaging limits and found nothing in them in regards to limits. The terms do state you cannot tether with their service or stream video content, but for my needs on the Note I was fine with that. My first month of service ends on 5 May and this morning I received the following voicemail in my Google Voice account:

This is a courtesy message from Straight Talk Wireless. We are calling because your current data usage levels on your Straight Talk Wireless are excessive and adversely impacting our service levels. Please understand that if you're (Google Voice transciption error not caught here) your excessive data usage continues, we may need to suspend or deactivate your data service or terminate your phone service altogether, as specified in section 6 of the terms and conditions of service. If you would like us to troubleshoot your usage patterns and advise you on how you may know your usage. Please give us a call at 1(800) 989-1506. Thank you.

I have been using the AT&T HTC One X since 19 April and according to the data usage utility on the device I used 808MB over these past two weeks. As a mobile enthusiast who has a 2+ hour daily train commute and travels around a lot, that is not excessive data and still gets me to under 2GB for a month so I was surprised by the phone call I received.

To find out more about what they consider "excessive data usage" I called them back and spoke to a customer service agent. She did not give me what the amount of data I used and when I asked she said they do not track these details (I am sure they must or how would they know I was using it excessively?). She then asked that I go through a survey so they could try to "fix the problem" and to check out the entire issue I walked through the questions with her. The questions were about my data usage and what I was using to get to this level of data usage with their recommendations that I logout of all social networks when not using them, turn off data unless I am actively using it, use WiFi to download apps and podcasts, and use a task manager to shut down any application I am not using. Hmm, this kind of defeats the purpose of using a smartphone and I won't change this much to be able to use their service. Needless to say, I just disabled the auto-refill option and am now considering just getting a regular AT&T account where I can actually get LTE service and use the data how I want without being hassled by the provider.

Have any readers tried out Straight Talk or another MVNO? Do you think it is worth the savings to place extreme limits on your usage patterns?

Topics: Hardware, Browser, Collaboration, Mobility, Telcos, AT&T

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53 comments
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  • What's the problem?

    If there is no contract, what is the problem, max it out until they cut you off and then quit when the next payment is due!

    In any case I'd file a complaint with the FTC about their misleading "unlimited" ads!
    wally_333
    • STRAIGHT TALK LIMITED UNLIMITED SERVICE

      http://www.spreaker.com/user/alabamiemamie/straighttalk_s_limited_unlimited_service

      I cannot believe that some of the people commenting doesn't understand what the point is! These People running Straight Talk are LYING TO GAIN CUSTOMERS!! I HATE STRAIGHT TALK! Thank you for posting this blog informing people about their deceiving campaign to gain new customers!
      Laura Trejo
      • Straight Talk Unlimited

        I have been using Straight Talk for over the last 4 years and I have never had a problem (except with customer service) I hate to admit I rarely read the small print so guess I violated their TOS by watching You tube video's and streaming music. I use my phone ALOT for talking, texting, playing games, web etc and never have received any messages telling me I'm using too much. My ONLY complaints with Straight talk is the CS, thankfully unless i changed phones i don't have a need for them often.
        Sherry316
  • You read the terms?

    "I read through the Straight Talk terms and conditions to see if there were any specified data limits or text messaging limits and found nothing in them in regards to limits. The terms do state you cannot tether with their service or stream video content,".....

    I find it difficult to believe that you really read the TOS as the first line of paragraph 6 pretty much spells it out:

    "6. STRAIGHT TALK UNLIMITED TALK, TEXT AND MOBILE WEB ACCESS PLAN INTENDED USE: Straight Talk Unlimited Talk, Text and Mobile Web Access Plans may ONLY be used with a Straight Talk handset for the following purposes: (i) Person to Person Voice Calls (ii) Text and Picture Messaging (iii) Internet browsing through the Straight Talk Mobile Web Service and (iv) Authorized Content Downloads from the Straight Talk Mobile Web Store."

    That seems very plain about what is allowed, which isn't much. It means NO video calling, NO Youtube video viewing, NO downloading or streaming songs, movies or books from Google or Amazon since they are not the "Straight Talk Mobile Web Store". The fact that it plainly says "ONLY', means just that. Doesn't leave a lot of room for interpretation. I think this was a case of hoping they didn't really mean what they said.
    bump911
    • What's your point?

      I wasn't using it for any of these things, I was primarily using it for social networking, photo uploads, web browsing and email, which is allowed. As I stated in my post, there is nothing in the TOS about any limits and EVERYTHING they advertise highlights UNLIMITED in big bold letters. It's a real shame that companies can lie so easily with no accountability. I read the TOS, but I bet you most people don't.
      palmsolo (aka Matthew Miller)
      • My point is...

        "I was primarily using it for social networking, photo uploads, web browsing and email"...
        and according to the TOS, only one of those activities (web browsing) is specifically allowed, the others are not. While I agree that their UNLIMITED ad is misleading at the least, the TOS spells it out pretty plainly. The sad part is that few people would think that the facilities that you were using would not be allowed. In this day and age, that would be considered normal usage.

        "there is nothing in the TOS about any limits"..
        Not in terms of data total (ie 2gb) but in terms of usage allowed. You are allowed unlimited usage for the activities specified and that's where the rub comes in. The activities specified are indeed very limiting & therefore gives the right to say "no no" to you when you use it for anything else.

        "It's a real shame that companies can lie so easily with no accountability"...
        I totally agree with you - their advertising is definitely misleading but no more than any other advertising that promises the world UNTIL you read the fine print.
        bump911
        • Selective Reading

          In defense of Matt, it seems that you selectively quit reading the first paragraph after you found your quote.

          "This means, by way of example only, that checking email, surfing the Internet, downloading legally acquired songs, and/or visiting corporate intranets is permitted, but downloading movies using P2P file sharing services and/or redirecting television signals for viewing on laptops is prohibited."

          Their terms are vague at best, and contradictory in my reading. Their terms suggest use of a Straight Talk handset only, yet their site markets and supports the use of any unlocked GSM handset (including a suggestion that users can Jailbreak their iPhones).

          Straight Talk is NOT the answer for a tech-savvy user. Period.

          Straight Talk is a Great solution for someone like my parents, who each use ~750mb/month doing light Facebook posting, surfing the web, getting directions and restaurant reviews, and calling/texting the kids.
          Ben Myton
        • Straight Talk "Unlimited" not so unlimited

          yes but if you read through section 7 of the unlimited plan it completely contradicts the usage of 6, I.E. no connections to the internet, intranets (this is misspelled in their terms of service, and after several calls to a lawyers and several other calls including calling the FCC, because they are limiting an unlimited service to protect their network, which is false advertisement, they changed their wording in number 6 to add at Straight talks sole discrection as to wether or not you are using a high amount of data my service was suspended and all I did was download 2 games from the google play store and I was told in order to get my data back I would have to get another card, I did this yesterday and I still have no internet connection. Anybody else have these problems please Email me at LT.Heinze296@gmail.com, please no spamming, I am going to continue to use their service and gather data to put in a complaint with the FCC as they can not limit us from using any technologies that we intend to use because if you use a smart phone you are on their C block network which is what Verizon uses, after many hours of research and countless websites and references this is what I have found take a look for yourself if you don't believe me look up what happened with Verizon and why they paid out 1.25 Million dollars for not allowing tethering and then charging extra for it, this in effect is the exact same situation and the more calls or complaints the better so please email me if you are interested in taking this on further
          Brandon Heinze
      • Very Clear where the fault lies...

        As stated by bump911 above, you were operating outside of the terms of use. Where you fail to operate within the terms of the contract is as follows... "may ONLY be used with a Straight Talk handset". The device you were using was a Samsung Note which is not available through Straight Talk and for good reason, they can't control what data it has access to on the internet.
        drichter12
      • (iii) Internet browsing through the Straight Talk Mobile Web Service

        Did you use THEIR mobile web service....whatever that is?
        mark.cooper@...
      • Further reading in the Straightalk TOS:

        From http://www.straighttalk.com/terms :

        ...
        Certain mobile phone features may not be available throughout the entire network or their functionality may be limited. Some Straight Talk features are available only on Straight Talk phones purchased from Straight Talk and will not be available if you have purchased a Straight Talk SIM card for use on an unlocked wireless phone. All plan rates, features, functionality and other product specifications are subject to change without notice or obligation.
        ...

        If you are using your own unlocked phone with a Straight Talk SIM card, it must be compatible, and not interfere with, our service, and must comply with all applicable laws, rules and regulations. Devices capable only of using data service are strictly prohibited and Your use of any such device is grounds for immediate deactivation and termination of your service without a refund. You are responsible for ensuring that any unlocked wireless phone that you use is compatible with the Straight Talk wireless service and that your phone meets all Federal laws and standards. You are further responsible for the purchase and maintenance of any additional hardware, software and/or internet access required in order to use the Straight Talk service. Straight Talk service will only work with wireless devices that are compatible with our network. Not all services are available with all wireless devices or on all networks. We may remotely change your wireless phone’s software, applications or programming without notice. This could affect your stored data, your phone’s programming and how you are able to use your wireless phone.

        I think the above is vaguely, yet comprehensively, enough written to disallow using the features of your non-Straightalk phone as you would like to.

        JMHO, FWIW, YMMV
        Ian Mega
    • Ignorance and arrogance!

      What you don't say is that Walmart doesn't have their TOS section 6 posted near their phones. They do have "unlimited" all over though. In order to see the section 6 you have to buy the phone then you can open the box get the information out. And to say a buyer should research before hand is ethically wrong. it would take a very large amount of time and effort to read every cell companies terms of service.
      Don Murray
    • wrong

      Please read section 5 of the tos. It gives you the right to download third party apps. Aka google books, amazon, any app u get on google play can be used. I went to head guy down in florida and got everything on my phone reset. Law suits are in order cause they don't moniture what u went on meaning even if u follow the tos if it exceeds a certain amount of data they cut it anyways. Which I may add is illeagel.'
      yourwrongagain
      • ... Credibility...

        I think you'd make a stronger argument toward someone else being wrong if you took a moment to edit your text for grammar and homonyms.

        Is the marketing misleading? Yes - however, their terms are very clear.
        CoyoteLovely
  • I wonder how prevelant this is ?

    I am curious how prevalent this is on Straight Talk. Also, I wonder if the T-mobile sims get the same treatment as the AT&T ones as I was considering switching.
    RandallRPR
    • The more specific, the better...

      Some T-Mobile plans appear to be quite specific about the monthly bandwidth provisions, e.g. 100 voice minutes and 5GB of data. I haven't read TOS for T-Mob yet but I'm assuming that if they're that specific, then they're less likely to knock you back for usage. I have heard that their "unlimited" plans are full-throttle data to 2GB and then cut back to EDGE-like speeds, though.

      The funny thing about this article is that it's Straight Talk that got my attention turned back to MVNOs, but there's no way I'd sign on with them. The Web has got posts complaining about ST going back at least a couple of years if not more.
      jeb.hoge@...
  • Same issue with VoIP services

    My wife is from another country and likes to talk to her family a fair amount... maybe an hour a day. We have used Broadvoice and Vonage and both promised unlimited usage (Vonage rep even swore on a stack of Bibles there was no limit when we were suspicious the second time around). In both cases they invoked a clause that said they could determine that you were exceeding the the terms of their agreement... terms that are not delineated... they could change the billing rate as they desired. When I asked Broadvoice to see the parameters they use to make their determination, they said it is a proprietary algorithm. Didn't bother asking Vonage.

    Smacks of the Monty Python skit about the Piranha brothers. They nailed Stig O'tracy's head to the floor because he "transgressed the unwritten law."
    JimboNobody
    • 2x OBIHAI devices

      Jimbo, have you considered using two OBIHAI devices? These devices can do direct calling between each other, allowing you to create your own private VIOP service, using regular house phones, between locations (in addition to being able to integrate with Google Voice to allow free calling within the US). The needed devices are available on Amazon for about $80 each....

      I don't work for them. I use thier devices. If I were still in the military overseas, I would have one with me and one at each of my family members homes to get free VIOP to my family - and ability to leverage that to call anywhere in the US.

      David Taylor
      GulfCoastLover
    • I bet your usage was higher

      1800 minutes a month isn't all that much. I have the budget plan with Vonage which gives me 750 minutes before they start charging which is also quite a bit. Somehow I think your call usage is much higher than you are letting on.
      wiseoldbird
  • Call me a cynic

    I don't blame you for trying out the StraightTalk service and applaud you for reading their TOS (though I note they have a glaring grammar usage error in what you posted from them - "you're" instead of "your". BTW, I've never used or researched StraightTalk.
    I would have looked at that though and immediately assumed they didn't mean what they wrote and that they'd find some way to screw you the customer...and they did. Having said that, I would be careful regarding your thought that going to AT&T would solve the usage problem and the dunning by the service provider. I can all but PROMISE you that you'd be screwed by AT&T just the same as you have been/are by StraightTalk. Sadly, there is no fully reputable service provider anymore. FYI, I do think that TMO comes the closest to being the good guys, but they are not 100% and I'm sure there are those who would say they aren't good. :-)
    Good luck with whatever you choose, but be careful. (I think you did well to pull your auto-renew and your credit card info from StraightTalk and any provider!)
    rda@...