Charles had started his contract in January 2003. He finally decided to cancel in April 2006, because of the poor reception he got at home. "One of the reasons I switched was become of the intermittent and scattered service," Charles says. "It literally depended on which way the wind blew. Sometimes, I wouldn't get service, depending on how the towers were leaning in the wind."
Charles was surprised to receive a $150 bill from Sprint charging him an early termination fee. Even worse, when he tried to contact Sprint to discuss the bill, he says he was told, "You're not a customer anymore. Just pay us the fee." Customer service representatives repeatedly refused to talk to him about the early termination fee and eventually the bill was sent to collectors.
"I won't pay any bill that I don't believe is justified," Charles says. "There is no justification for this bill because I was not under contract anymore. So collectors started calling me. They weren't bad people. In fact, they told me that they don't like Sprint. I told the collectors, 'I'm not going to pay because it's not justified.
"The collectors called me for a whole year. They said that Sprint often sends them to people like me who are normally quite honest. I've never paid them, so they put a ding on my credit rating. I can deal with that and clear it up.
"I kept my original phone and my hours exactly the same. I made no changes to my contract. The collectors said, and maybe it's somewhere in the fine print, that if I renewed my Sprint contract for one month, they automatically renew it for two years. But you can't talk to Sprint because you are no longer a Sprint customer.
"This wouldn't be a problem if people would stop paying them [cell phone companies] just because they say people owe them money. If you pay these fees, you make it tougher for other people to stick to their principles and refuse to pay. [Cell phone companies] will stop ordering people to pay termination fees if we all refuse to pay them. Don't give them money just because someone is bullying you."
Cell phone companies now face lawsuits from customers who argue that they were unfairly charged early termination fees when they either cancelled their contract with good reason, such as lack of service, or they cancelled their service after the contract should have expired, only to learn that they had inadvertently extended their contract.