T-Mobile customers do not appear to be happy about the company’s proposed sale to AT&T. In statements to me here at eWEEK, and elsewhere on the Internet, the last company that these people want to see handling their wireless service is the struggling and much-maligned AT&T.
Many of those people suggest that their only refuge in the coming storm is Verizon Wireless, which seems to offer an island of peace and stability as well as a network with broad reach and excellent coverage.
In fact, many of the T-Mobile customers I’ve been hearing from point out, some stridently, that they went to T-Mobile specifically to get away from AT&T. The reasons they mention are many, but the primary reasons are poor signal coverage and quality along with really lousy customer service. In a recent article in Consumers Reports, AT&T was rated dead last in the U.S. for customer service, while T-Mobile finished much better.
Unfortunately for many of these outraged T-Mobile customers, there isn’t a choice. It may be that they have a two-year contract that will need to be fulfilled and that means that it’ll be fulfilled with AT&T if this merger goes through. Others need a GSM phone because of their travel or in a few cases (me included) the only carrier that serves their area is T-Mobile.
In a way, I’m lucky. I don’t have a contract with any carrier and all of my T-Mobile phones are unlocked. If I travel to Europe I can take one of my unlocked GSM phones with me and just get a SIM card when I get to my final destination. While I’m in the United States, I don’t need to use AT&T. Of course, in one sense, I’m not lucky. If I don’t use T-Mobile or eventually AT&T, then I don’t get wireless service. While most smartphones also work with WiFi, only T-Mobile supports WiFi calling.
So short of convincing Verizon Wireless or Sprint to build a cell tower somewhere in this part of the Washington D.C., suburbs, I’ll be stuck with AT&T once the merger goes through. That’s assuming that they don’t decide to take out the cell site that serves my area. And, remember, I’m one of the lucky ones since I have options. Many T-Mobile customers do not. In a year or so, they’re going to be forcibly moved from the company with the best customer service and reliable signals, to the company that has the worst of both. It’s no surprise they’re enraged.
Grass Roots Effort Grows to Block Buyout
But while there’s a lot going for this merger on paper, I don’t think the respective wireless companies are anticipating a widespread customer revolt. If AT&T were to determine that they would lose a significant portion of T-Mobile’s existing customer base when they suddenly migrate to Verizon Wireless because they want a real network with real customer service more than they want GSM, they might change their corporate minds. Or they might not. To AT&T, the customers represent a revenue stream. If the company decides it needs spectrum more than a revenue stream, it’s not going to care about customer defections.
But since this is at least partly about the spectrum, one of the things that AT&T does care about is getting those radio licenses. In a transfer of this size, this means that the FCC is going to have to approve the license transfer. This, in turn, means that the FCC will hold hearings. Hearings mean public input. Do you get my drift?
While it won’t hurt to raise Hell with T-Mobile USA, it may not help as much as you might think. T-Mobile is owned by the faceless, but financially troubled, Deutsche Telekom, located in Bonn. When you scream in Bellevue, Wash., where T-Mobile USA is located, nobody in Bonn can hear you.
But they might hear you if you voice your opposition at the Department of Justice hearings on the antitrust issues. They might hear you if you voice your opposition to your member of Congress or your Senator (be sure to write your letter on paper instead of sending an e-mail, include your address to confirm that you’re a constituent, sign it and send the letter by mail, or even better, by FedEx) and be there to support Sprint CEO Dan Hesse when he testifies before Congress.
You can also visit this Website created by people opposed to the T-Mobile buyout and sign the petition. Of course, you can even write a letter when the FCC opens its process to public comment. Check on the FCC Website to find out when this will happen.
Ultimately, though, some of us will be effectively screwed. We live in areas where we depend on WiFi calling, which AT&T is sure to terminate or we only have one T-Mobile cell site that AT&T will probably close or convert to Long-Term Evolution technology, which we can’t use because our T-Mobile phones don’t do LTE. So instead of having the best service available, we’ll have no service at all. I guess I’ll have to ask Verizon Wireless how much it costs to buy a nano-cell, and pack away my T-Mobile phones for trips out of the U.S. I’ll bet service will disappear here before the year is out if this merger goes through.