Cold Fury

Harshing your mellow since 9/01

Trouble, trouble

This may be a bit too inside-baseball for some, but after this past weekend’s bitter experience, I feel like I ought to put a warning out there: do NOT, I repeat NOT, even dream of getting your cell-phone service from WalMart Family Mobile or Straight Talk. Trust me, just don’t. Backstory below the fold…

So I’ve been a completely satisfied Family Mobile customer for several years, switching after enduring a couple years of spotty service, worthless tech support, and 180/month bills from a major carrier who shall remain nameless. All this time I’ve used my phone’s mobile hotspot feature as my sole internet connection; just about the only reason I even get on the trusty ol’ iMac lately is to post on CF anyway, and my 10 gigs a month with FM has always more than sufficed for that. Those ten gigs cost me a quite reasonable forty scoots a month, a deal I was very happy with. In fact, I recommended them to my friends way more than just once.

Their service was and still is through TMobile, whose network and coverage is good, at least in my experience. However, my two-year-old Motorola Moto X Pro phone (best phone I ever had, by scads) is showing some depressing signs of nearing the end of its useful life of late. So my first thought when I sat down Friday evening after work intending to do some posting here and couldn’t connect to a single one of my usual haunts was that I had myself a hardware problem.

After running a few diagnostic tests on the phone, all of which turned out a-okay, I contacted Family Mobile tech support, which I had likewise been satisfied with up till then. Long story short, I learned that they had throttled me back to 2G speed, even though I still had almost a gig left on my monthly 10-gig allotment.

And here my troubles began.

Since my monthly renewal date was coming up soon anyway, I rushed out to WalMart and purchased one of their new “Truly Unlimited!” cards for fifty bucks, after having been assured by a very friendly and seemingly knowledgeable Tracfone rep doing in-store demos that it would be in effect immediately after I activated it. I did that thing, and still—nothing but the spinning beach ball of death while I waited…and waited…and waited…for sites that never loaded. I called tech support back, whereupon I was informed that the “Truly Unlimited” card would not be in effect until Sunday at best. The “customer service” bint I spoke to was pleasant enough, I guess, especially compared to what was waiting for me down the line. She suggested I purchase a one-gig extension of my monthly data allotment for ten bucks, which would indeed be effective right away.

She also told me I would need to type something like “APN,” I believe it was, into a text message and send it to 611611, whereupon new network settings would be installed on my phone automagically and everything with be copacetic once more.

So I did that thing. Powered down, restarted, the usual drill. After all this agita the mobile hotspot function STILL didn’t work; the WiFi icon on my phone appeared as usual, but the thing refused to let the iMac connect to it. Stymied still, I called “tech support” again and got connected to one of the most surly, condescending, stumble-tongued bitches ever to disgrace Hindu standards regarding reverence for all life. She proceeded to explain to me in barely-comprehensible English that my hotspot function was in fact active, and I was welcome to use it all I wished…I just wasn’t allowed to connect any external devices to it. My admittedly somewhat testy response—”THAT’S WHAT A HOTSPOT IS FOR!”—failed to impress her.

After much back and forth, during which I at one point told her that I was “neither a child nor a moron, so please stop talking to me as if I were”—testiness levels were peaking by then, the needle edging over into the red “FUCKING PISSED OFF” zone—she informed me that I had been throttled back to 2G because I had “abused my data privileges.” I asked her how USING the ten gigs a month I had paid for, just as I had been for three years, constitued “abuse,” she finally ‘fessed up that, since Family Mobile and Straight Talk among others had been bought out by Tracfone, the decision had been recently made to do away with the hotspot capability altogether.

WELL. NOW we’re getting somewhere, thought I.

I expressed profound dissatisfaction with their having failed utterly to provide any notice whatsoever of this change to their service; she blandly informed me that it was “posted on the Family Mobile website.” As it happened, I had the FM website open on my phone at that very moment; I scrolled down and nope, nothing, not a word about any of this. I told her so; her response was that it was “right there on the main page.” I assured her again that, no, it was not. She said yes, it is. Whereupon I informed her in NO uncertain terms that I did NOT appreciate being blatanly lied to by someone misrepresenting herself as a “customer service” representative. After a bit more broken-English blah-de-blah, I snippily said that this was getting nowhere, and I needed to hang up now because I had a scathing zero-star review to post on the Family Mobile website.

So I did that thing. And went on to research Tracfone’s purchase of FM and ST among others, along with checking into who my next cell service provider might be. Turns out, there are quite a few websites, Android forums, and such-like out there that are full to bursting with complaints about the havoc and destruction Tracfone has wrought. People have been double-billed; they’ve been sent broken phones which Tracfone refused to make good on; they’ve been charged exit fees of sixty to eighty bucks—on no-contract month to month accounts, mind—and seen themselves turned over to collection agencies within days of cancelling their service; they’ve been throttled back to 2G with no more than half their monthly data allotment used;and, of course, the whole hotspot debacle I found myself rump-ravaged by.

I plan to use up the rest of this “Truly Unlimited” card—which, by the way, it isn’t; when you get to fifty gigs I was told they slam the 2G brakes on, although “Truly Unlimited” could admittedly mean something different in Hindi from what it does in English—and I intend to blast through that fifty gigs just as hard and as fast as I can. Then I plan to drop Family Mobile like a fucking hot rock, and they can put their “exit fee” where the monkey put the nuts for all I care. I also plan to tell everybody within earshot to avoid Tracfone—which in my book is either hopelessly incompetent and shouldn’t oughta be buying up cellphone services they can’t hope to manage effectively, or nothing more than a crime syndicate running a bait-and-switch grift—like the plague. Which is what I’m doing with this post, in fact.

I’m going with MetroPCS, I think; I have a couple or three friends using them, and they’re all very happy with the service and recommend it enthusiastically. It makes me sad to see Family Mobile go the way it’s gone, but gone it has. Given their ham-handedness, their deceitfulness, and their at-best-indifferent customer “service,” I can’t see anything but the same happening to Tracfone also, which is fine by me. I’ll damned sure have a quiet drink in celebration when they do. If all good things must come to an end, then the bad ones ought to too, right?

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4 thoughts on “Trouble, trouble

  1. We live in the mountains of NC where cell coverage is very spotty. To get coverage at our house for the major provider we use we have a free mini tower from that provider connected to the internet by fiber optic. Outside around the house and for several miles down the mountain towards town we have no signal. Our nearest neighbor is about 1 mile away and they live in a yurt and have minimal solar power to provide electricity. In doing research on cell carriers they found MetroPCS was about the only carrier that had cell coverage out where we live. They have been very happy with their service and use a hot spot function to connect to the internet. When I can figure a way to get off my current carrier without unreasonable departure charges I will also switch to them.

  2. Tracphone is ultimately owned by Carlos Slim, according to Wikipedia they bought Family Mobile in September 2016, so this poor service is not surprising. They’ve owned Straight Talk for many years, my father switched to it at least 5 years ago.

  3. I’ve had a Tracphone for over 10 years for just basic cell service. Never a problem, out of time or 90 day service period, buy a new card keep on rolling. Until recently. Obviously, if your 90 days are up you can’t make calls, but starting about 2 days before it runs out it won’t let you make calls.

    Service person: “we don’t do that.” Bullshit, it’s a high pressure sales tactic. Caveat emptor.

  4. I was on T-Mobile (AT&T has no coverage where I am) until I found Ultra Mobile.

    Now I get excellent service (including hot spot & unlimited data, plus international calling which I use to call family in Australia) for $49/mo. https://www.ultramobile.com/

    I seldom use more than 6-8GB/mo. but the Ultra site tells me that I have 50GB available before they throttle it down; I’ve never had that happen to me.

    A friend who uses T-Mobile was at my place the other day & we did a speed test on LTE: I got 66Mbps down/6.97Mbps up, while he only got 45Mbps down. We’re still scratching our heads about that, as Ultra Mobile says they use the T-Mobile network. Maybe T-Mobile is throttling speeds too? I can’t say much about the hot spot, as I seldom use it, but it does work.

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