While T-Mobile has built a brand on the claim it’s hugely different from the other big wireless carriers, it routinely likes to illustrate the limits of that claim. Like the time T-Mobile CEO John Legere mocked the EFF after the group noted T-Mobile routinely violated net neutrality (it also supported killing the FCC rules). Or the time the company hired Trump advisor Corey Lewandowski, shortly after he’d mocked a kid with Downe’s Syndrome on live TV, just to get a leg up on its Sprint merger approval process. And that’s before you get to the steady stream of bullshit T-Mobile has been pushing to get that deal approved.
That’s not to say that T-Mobile hasn’t done some good things in the industry, just that when push comes to shove the entire consumer-friendly schtick is only skin deep.
Another case in point: New York City has filed suit against T-Mobile (pdf) alleging that the company’s “Metro” (formerly MetroPCS) prepaid arm routinely rips off its customers. More specifically, the complaint alleges that Metro routinely sells customers used phones disguised as new, buries caveats, restrictions, and surcharges in fine print, and offers a “30 day money back guarantee” the complaint claims is “wholly illusory, and completely deceptive”:
“…the MetroPROMISE® Return Policy has nothing in common with a “30
day guarantee,” nor does it resemble what the Virtual Chat Assistant describes. Instead, it expires in seven days and two of its most restrictive and unintuitive features – its inapplicability to phones bought for an existing line of service and defective phones – go unmentioned by the Virtual Chat
In other words, T-Mobile’s prepaid stores are using the exact bullshit tactics CEO John Legere has spent several years mocking AT&T and Verizon for on Twitter. The complaint says misleading behavior was the norm across numerous 56 Metro locations (run directly and by “authorized dealers”) across all five boroughs of New York City. This particular example is notable:
“In January 2019, Vashti Anais Wagner shopped for a phone advertised for $599. Defendant Metropolitan Wireless Anandpur Inc. (“Anandpur”) charged her $710 for the phone, according to a receipt. The Anandpur employee then filled out a SmartPay contract, entered Ms. Wagner’s email address as email@example.com, and falsely recorded the phone’s purchase price as $1,150. The employee did not show Ms. Wagner the contract, appears to have e-signed it in her name, and did not tell her that she would be leasing the phone rather than buying it outright. Thus, unbeknownst to Ms. Wagner, SmartPay had leased the phone to her for $199.21 per month, totaling $2,191.30 – $1,592.30 more than the advertised price; $1,481.30 more than the prices supposedly charged by the Metro Store; and $1,041 more than price surreptitiously recorded on the contract by the Metro Store employee.
Charging users $2,191 for a $699 phone, eroding user rights with fine print, and hitting customers with “illegal taxes, mystery fees, and fees for unwanted services” is not very “uncarrier” (the term T-Mobile marketing uses to make it clear how it’s not like other giant US telecom operators). But again, if you’ve watched T-Mobile suck up to Trump at his hotels during its bid to get its $26 billion merger with Sprint approved, this disconnect likely doesn’t come as much of a surprise.
To be fair, T-Mobile’s presence in the market was initially a good thing. While T-Mobile’s impact on wireless pricing has largely been over-hyped, the company’s aggressive tactics early on helped pressure other carriers into lowering costs of international roaming, eliminating the scourge of long-term contracts, and killing off several other dumb tactics that had been industry mainstays for years. But as T-Mobile grows more powerful it’s becoming apparent they’re not so different as marketing would suggest, and if the Sprint merger is consummated and competition is reduced by 25%, that point is going to be made even clearer in short order.
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