Surprise! We want all your money!

Let me get the really fury-making part out of the way.

I checked my T-Mobile cell phone bill online today while I was going through a number of rather routine record-keeping things. Apparently I owe them $600+. All of which were accrued in August. See, back in May I purchased a new phone, a T-Mobile Dash. I’ve been very pleased with the hardware and software package for the most part. I’ve had a few problems, but nothing too cripplingly bad.

Along with the phone I purchased an unlimited data plan. This allows me to send and receive email and do some web surfing, and is totally worth it for my purposes. My only complaint was that the built in IM client on the Dash didn’t include support for the Jabber protocol, and thus had no way for me to carry gTalk with me. A problem such as this is easily remedied with the downloading of third-party software, so I grabbed a trial version of something-or-other which I used for a few weeks before deciding that IMing by phone just wasn’t that useful. Thus I uninstalled the software.

Skip ahead to my road trip. Specifically to Philadelphia where my laptop suddenly died (still working on fixing that). I was brutally disconnected from my social network and had to fall back almost completely to the phone. Good thing, thought I, that the Dash has an IM client built in. So I started using it to keep in touch with people.

Now my bill comes due and I discover something rather insane: T-Mobile’s built in client treats IMs as text messages.

Let me repeat that: T-Mobile’s built in IM client on a smart phone with a data plan treats IMs as text messages.

Since I don’t have a text message plan on my phone, much preferring to simply pay for the dozen or two I use a month as I use them, the 2,000 or so IM send/receives for the month have racked up quite the impressive bill.

I spent about an hour on the phone today bouncing from department to department at T-Mobile. First I spoke to billing and was told by both the employee and her supervisor that “no one could credit my account for those charges”. This, I knew, was a blatant lie (due to my long association with the most excellent N), and was just what they were saying to make me stop arguing. Now, I should say I was as polite as possible, understanding that these people don’t make policy, they just carry it out.

After the nice, but lying and unhelpful, people in billing, I got in touch with technical support. This was because I was curious about the whole not-being-charged with the third party software. Tech support insisted that all IM software for phones, no matter who created it, should use the SMS servers. Thus I had been using Mystical Software That Shouldn’t Exist. When I asked if it was possible that the software just used my data plan instead, tech support seemed to think not.

So back to billing, where apparently I was connected to a different call center (as the supervisor I had spoken with before wasn’t at this one), so the story was repeated. The nice lady kept insisting that these charges were my fault for “uninstalling the software that let you have free IMs”. She was nice about it, but insistent. Finally she admitted that she couldn’t override a decision made by a supervisor (during my first call to billing), but that she could transfer me to her own supervisor and I could talk.

I was then placed on hold while she did so, and after about three or four minutes I was disconnected. Having managed to spend an hour on the phone accomplishing not much, I decided to skip it and take another shot later.

But that’s not actually what I wanted to talk about here. What I wanted to talk about was how utterly insane a move this is for T-Mobile. Or, rather, how underhanded it is. See, IM is an inherently data-based system. The only reason that you might have for billing them on an SMS basis is that for a long time you didn’t have pure-data plans for phones. What T-Mobile has done, in effect, is to cripple (making specifically less-efficient) their IM clients in order to make more money. That’s all this is. And that, more than the money, infuriates me (and giving how much money we’re talking about, that’s a lot of fury).

Anyway, I just needed to vent, and now that that’s done I shall return you to your regularly scheduled whatever-you-were-doing.


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