Catherine Johnson and her family live in rural Chatsworth.
Good cell phone service has always been a problem.
Johnson was checking out cell phone carriers last summer and she looked on the T-Mobile web site.
“I was pleasantly surprised when I looked on the map and our area was highlighted in pink, which meant that there would be coverage in our area,” she said. “Wanting to be sure, I called customer service and spoke to a representative for over a half hour.”
Johnson said she explained she was in a rural area and she was skeptical about coverage. But the rep told her the company had been doing lots of upgrades which would provide “great service,” Johnson said. The rep even said she had only heard of one place in rural Texas that did not get coverage.
The family thought about it, and decided to make the switch. They also purchased five new phones, which were to be paid on a payment plan with the monthly service bill.
“We have been regretting that decision ever since,” she said. From the moment we got our phones there has been nothing but problems.”
For starters, Johnson said, the phones didn’t work in the home without a Wi-Fi connection. So T-Mobile sent a router.
“That was great, but then we realized that once out of range we had no coverage at all,” she said. “We live on five acres. Our driveway is a tenth of a mile long. Halfway down our drive, the signal cuts out.”
The signal also cuts out in the detached garage, where Johnson’s husband works.
Then there’s the voice mail issue.
“We will get voicemail messages from people calling even though our phone never rings, and we have no missed calls — do you have any idea how frustrating it is to have your mother yell at you for not answering her calls even though you never actually received them? For days she thought I was mad at her,” Johnson said.
And finally, if the home loses power, they can’t use the phones at all.
Johnson made regular calls to T-Mobile to complaint about the lack of service. Every time, she said, customer service and technical support assured her that the problem would be resolved and someone would call her back.
Johnson said no one ever calls back.
During her last complaint call, she said, she was told an engineer would come out to investigate and she would receive a call.
No call. No engineer.
So Johnson said she called again.
“This time I was finally told the truth. We will never have coverage out here. There is nothing they can do,” she said. “They have no plans to expand or update service. So even though there is a cell tower less than a mile away from my home, on the same street that we live on, there is nothing they are willing to do.”
A lack of cell phone service is annoying for anyone, but for Johnson, it’s a health matter. She’s disabled with a neurological disease that most recently required surgery to fuse the bones in her left foot and insert a metal rod into her left leg. Her right leg will be next. Johnson says it’s essential that she have reliable service.
The family still owes more than $2,000 on the new cell phone, and they want to switch carriers, but they’re worried about what would happen to the remaining balance for the phones. And the company hasn’t offered any solutions, Johnson said.
“Had the first representative not told me we would get great coverage out here we never would have switched to T-Mobile,” she said. “All we want to do is switch to a more reliable service and not be responsible for the balance owed to T-Mobile because of their deception.”
She asked Bamboozled for help.
We reviewed the T-Mobile coverage map and Johnson’s timeline of her contact with the company.
Then we asked T-Mobile to take a look.
Pretty quickly, Johnson received a phone call.
“Ironically, when [the rep] originally called, the call went straight to my voice mail, even though the phone was on and sitting next to me at the time,
The rep told her he’d be reaching out to both the engineering and marketing departments to look at the problem.
“He is hoping that they will be able to do something with the cell tower on Magnolia Road — either tilt it or something — so the signal would become stronger here,” Johnson said. “If not, he suggested either unlocking the phones to use with another carrier or us returning the phones and owing nothing.”
The rep also gave the family a credit for one month of service.
Johnson said T-Mobile contacted her again, saying it couldn’t make any changes to the tower. So Johnson decided to return the phones in exchange for a zero balance, and she said she’ll start fresh with a different carrier.
We asked T-Mobile to explain the coverage issue and share its side of this tale.
A spokeswoman said it was resolved and it had nothing further to add.
“Out of respect for our customers’ privacy and financial matters, we will not be providing details to you,” she said. “We believe she is now satisfied.”
Johnson said she is satisfied.
“We get to switch to better carrier with reliable service and will not have to owe T-Mobile anything else,” she said.
Have you been Bamboozled? Reach Karin Price Mueller at Bamboozled@NJAdvanceMedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @KPMueller. Find Bamboozled on Facebook. Mueller is also the founder of NJMoneyHelp.com. Stay informed and sign up for NJMoneyHelp.com’s weekly e-newsletter.