Language Selection

English French German Italian Portuguese Spanish

Cell phones top lists of what gets us steamed

Filed under
Sci/Tech

California's Mohave Desert was about the last place Michel Peterson wanted to be stuck with two flat tires last year. Especially when his cell phone had gone dead. To get help, he drove as far as he could on the bum tires — then trekked miles to the nearest freeway. It turns out T-Mobile had cut off Peterson's cell service over a billing dispute caused by the company's own error.

For a gaggle of reasons — confusing bills, poor customer service, spotty coverage, long-term contracts, handsets that die early — cell phones have become the thing people hate yet can't live without. In nearly every gauge of customer satisfaction, the wireless industry scores at or near the bottom. Worse than insurance companies. Worse than credit card outfits. Worse than car dealers.

"My biggest frustration with this whole business is, like many people these days, I am totally dependent on my cell phone," says Sylvia Cooley of Amherst, Mass., who says she's endured "mysterious glitches" on her Verizon Wireless bill, followed by overcharges and late fees. "I have come very close to getting rid of our cell phones."

Verizon Wireless spokesperson Tom Pica admits the company's mistake in Cooley's case. "And when something like this happens, we'll go out of our way to make the customer whole," he says.

Yet for all the headaches associated with cell phones, who's willing to go without? The number of wireless subscribers in the USA hit 180.5 million at the end of last year, up from 158.8 million the year before, according to CTIA, the wireless trade association. Wireless-service revenue in 2004 was $102 billion — about equal to the entire GDP of New Zealand.

Along with that growth, though, come expectations that critics say aren't being met. Even if few of us are ready to go back to our pre-cell phone days, the migraines have become maddening for some.

Peterson's ordeal began when two separate cell phone bills arrived in the mail. He owned just one phone. So Peterson, an information technology contractor from Orange, Calif., paid his regular bill and ignored the mystery account.
Customer service "said, 'We'll get it fixed,' " he recalls.

Months passed. No resolution. Peterson says he spent hours haggling with T-Mobile. "Meantime, they would lose my payments by applying them to one account or the other. So my service was getting disconnected periodically."

When he finally decided to bolt to another carrier, T-Mobile tried to enforce a $200 early-termination fee for the account he didn't have. It eventually waived the fee.

"We acknowledge there was an error specific to Mr. Peterson's account and sincerely regret any inconvenience that he experienced," says T-Mobile spokesman Peter Dobrow.

T-Mobile actually fares better than other carriers in the latest customer-satisfaction rankings by J.D. Power and Associates. But John Clelland, T-Mobile USA's senior marketing vice president, concedes that ranking high in an industry that generally evokes sneers is "like being the tallest pygmy."

Verizon Wireless also did well in J.D. Power's survey. But no carrier seems able to avoid the grumbling.

Full Story.

More in Tux Machines

Can Jolla Deliver the First Open Source Tablet?

Some dreams die hard. After the KDE-based Vivaldi tablet failed to appear after three years of anticipation, Jolla is planning a free software tablet of its own. The product is off to a roaring start, having just raised $1,824,055 in its crowdfunding campaign-- almost five times the original target. So, this time, we might actually see some hardware. Mind you, whether the tablet will satisfy everyone remains open to doubt. Although Jolla is talking loudly about being "people powered" and listening to want users want, some requests, especially for hardware, may be impossible to fulfill. The manufacturing capacity of advanced features is limited world-wide, and monopolized by large companies like Apple and Samsung. More importantly, exactly how free the tablet will be has yet to be announced. Read more

First Ubuntu Phone Will Launch In Europe This February

The first Ubuntu Phone will go on sale in Europe in the second week of February. Read more

Sandia looks to open-source robot tech

Researchers at federal defense and energy laboratories are open sourcing some of the electronics and software for two advanced ambulatory robots in hopes of boosting their ability to handle perilous situations. In a Dec. 16 announcement, the Energy Department's Sandia National Laboratories said it is developing more energy-efficient motors to dramatically improve the endurance of legged robots performing the types of motions that are crucial in disaster response situations. The project is supported by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Read more

Google releases open-source Java SDK for Cloud Dataflow service to form data pipelines

It’s been a long, long time since Google came up with the foundational technologies for storing and processing big data. This year, the company developed a new tool for working with data as it comes in, and now Google is keen to see people use it. Read more