THE FEARLESS CONSUMER-Off the hook: FCC complaint gets fast response
"Cingular is not meeting my needs," Winston Barham informed the Federal Communications Commission, "and I wish to be released from my contract." Barham got his wish– not because he complained to the FCC (although that was undoubtedly a wise move), but because he was dogged in his determination to get Cingular's attention.
When Barham filed his FCC complaint on February 23, he had been unable to use his cell phone at his home in Gordonsville for two weeks. This, he claims, was because a nearby tower had gone out on February 8. Barham was leaving town the next day and decided to wait and see whether the problem had been fixed when he returned. It hadn't.
Barham called Cingular customer service on February 13 and claims the representative "informed me that [the outage] was a known issue and being worked on," and said he would put a note on Barham's account. Another week passed with no service. On February 19, Barham went to the Charlottesville Cingular store and spoke to Jessie Goodrich, who, he says, was unable to find any record of either trouble in the Gordonsville area or Barham's February 13 call to Cingular customer service.
"She promised to keep in touch with me about the issue," he wrote in his FCC complaint, but says he never heard from her again– or from anyone else at Cingular. Barham expanded his efforts to resolve the problem on February 22, when he contacted me, and again on the 23rd when he filed his complaint with the FCC.
Last summer I wrote about Julia Blodgett's billing dispute with Cingular during its takeover of SunCom ["Mail call," June 9, 2005]. Blodgett– who claimed she lost service twice in less than seven weeks– switched to another company; ultimately, Cingular dropped charges for calls she was able to prove she couldn't have made or received. In that column, I referred to a July 2004 Consumer Reports survey based on data from the FCC in which Cingular (which had just become the largest U.S. wireless phone company by merging with AT&T) "had a complaint rate nearly four times the rate for Verizon Wireless, the nation's second-largest carrier."
Things haven't changed much, according to the January 2006 Consumer Reports: in a survey of 50,515 subscribers to ConsumerReports.org, Cingular was rated lowest in overall performance among the four major wireless carriers (Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, and Cingular). Respondents graded each company in four problem areas: no service, circuits full, dropped calls, and static.
The same day Barham filed his FCC Form 475 (which is for complaints about "general communications related issues" and can be accessed at fcc.gov/cgb/consumerfacts/FORM475.PDF), his service was restored. Even so, Barham still wanted out of his Cingular contract: "Since Cingular took over SunCom's network in June 2005," he stated in his complaint, "I have been consistently dissatisfied with their service."
For instance, Barham claims that he couldn't get Cingular service at his office in Charlottesville, even though that hadn't been the case with SunCom; he also says this wasn't the first time he'd lost service at home.
I contacted Cingular public relations employee Mark Siegel, who– after repeated efforts on my part to find out what, if anything, was happening– finally put me in touch with a woman in the office of Cingular's president. She, in turn, had referred the situation to Brandon Jones, also of the president's office, who had been playing phone tag with Barham and was about to classify the case closed. Even though he'd never reached Barham, he considered the fact that he'd left three messages enough basis for dismissing the problem.
I urged Johnson to try again, and was happy to learn that Barham would be allowed to leave Cingular, if he chose; otherwise, he would be credited for the no-service periods. The men eventually connected, and Barham will be released from his contract.
Do you have a consumer problem or question? Email the Fearless Consumer or write her at Box 4553, Charlottesville 22905.