Speak Your Piece: My Cell Phone Saga

Having to move from one cell-phone company to another takes a trip around Robin Hood’s barn, a dozen calls, and several “shorter than usual” waits. Beth Bingman would like to speak with some (else) at AT&T.


[imgcontainer left] [img:alltellandVerizon530.jpg] [source]Beth Bingman

Cell-phone service is limited in many rural areas.  With little or no competition for their business, customers put up with a lot of yack.

We live in Wise, Virginia, a small town, and have a permanent home in Dungannon, a very small town, both in the southwestern tip of the state.

Last October, we and other customers of cellphone company Alltell received some glitzy mailings saying that we would need to transition from Alltell to AT&T by mid-December. We had previously read that the Alltell sale to Verizon was off in southwest Virginia because of the FCC’s concerns about monopoly – or something. So we knew we were in line to transition to AT&T and weren’t too surprised.

We were happy with Alltell and our little Alltell phones; even though we did not have service in Dungannon (Scott County), at our residence in Wise (Wise County) we had good reception. My husband and I have traveled a lot for our jobs, and Alltell service seemed at least as good as the Verizon service my sisters in Montana, Texas and Kentucky have.

But in late November or early December (I didn’t realize at that point the need to keep careful notes), we drove the mile or so to the Alltell store near where we currently live to order our new free cell phones for AT&T service. Since our daughter has an AT&T I-Phone and had good reception in Wise, we figured this was the way to go.

The Alltell store in Wise seemed to be in remodel mode and was cramped and crowded. But we were able to find phones that would work with AT&T and that were about the same size and function-set of our trusty Alltell phones. We placed an order.

We were told that the phones had to be shipped to Dungannon since that was our billing address – an inconvenience: we usually pick up our mail there on weekends, and getting a parcel post package would require a weekday visit. But whatever – we knew we had to get new phones and were glad the shift would be free: free phones and no enrollment fees.

Meanwhile, we planned a trip to Mexico. When I inquired by phone to Alltell about making calls from Mexico I was told that I just needed to switch plans to one that covered Mexico. As the price quoted (over the phone) was reasonable, I agreed, and was indeed able to easily make calls and receive text messages on my trip.

When we came home, we were surprised and felt sorry for the people in neighboring Dickenson County when we read in the paper that AT&T had realized that the towers it was acquiring from Alltell would not support the AT&T system; AT&T did not seem to think it could afford new towers any time soon. Seemed like the Alltell customers in Dickenson County were out of luck.

I wasn’t sure what that would mean in Scott County, where I hadn’t had any service from my Alltell account, nor had anyone else using other cell phone services at the Dungannon house. But I wasn’t worried because, mainly, I use the cell phone when I’m out of the Scott County house, and I’d gotten a phone message on my Dungannon land line (provided by the amazing and reliable Scott County Telephone Cooperative) that my AT&T phone had been shipped.

Then I received my December Alltel phone bill for something well over $300, not the $80-something I was used to for national coverage on my two lines. Seems that the switch for the Mexico trip did not cost exactly what I had been told. Several phone conversations straightened that out and I went ahead and paid a reduced bill.

Here the sequence gets a little fuzzy; I should have kept notes!

Sometime during the last two weeks of December I received letters from AT&T, one urging me to add Internet access to my new AT&T plan and another saying that since I did not have service (AT&T had “discovered” that the towers in Scott County wouldn’t work for them either), they were not sending the phone that they told me had already been shipped.

I then began getting increasingly frantic text messages and voice messages saying that I needed to contact AT&T immediately.  So I did.