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Are AT&T and T-Mobile overcharging their pre-paid customers?

Posted: , by Alan F.

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Are AT&T and T-Mobile overcharging their pre-paid customers?
According to a new report published on Friday, pre-paid customers of T-Mobile and AT&T are being overcharged for the voice minutes that they are using. Tests conducted by the Washington Post reveal that calls running under a minute are routinely counted as two minute calls by both carriers. And with AT&T announcing on Thursday that it had closed on its purchase of Leap Wireless, nearly 5 million new pre-paid customers are moving over to AT&T.

The study conducted by the Post found that some carriers are routinely adding time to the length of a call, even after the caller has hung up. In one example, AT&T added as many as 33 seconds to a subscriber's call after he had ended the connection. This allowed the carrier to bill the customer for an additional minute of talk time.

To make sure there is no confusion, it has been traditional for carriers to bill a pre-paid customer for two minutes of usage even for a call that lasts 70 seconds. But the complaint now is that the carriers are billing for two minutes of talk time on calls that last under a minute. Even though the overcharges don't occur with every call, the sheer number of pre-paid subscribers can help the wireless operators jack up their revenue figures. AT&T last year had 7.4 million pre-paid customers (which is now closer to 12 million with the Leap acquisition) and T-Mobile had 15.1 million. If each AT&T customer had just one overcharge, it would have resulted in $740,000 in additional revenue. And while that doesn't sound like a lot of extra revenue for a company the size of AT&T, for T-Mobile, just one overcharge per pre-paid subscriber would add $5 million to the top line.

Don't think that all pre-paid customers have passively sat back and accepted this. Last March, AT&T pre-paid customer William Fogal spotted a difference in the time of calls listed on his phone, and on AT&T's website. In one example, Fogal made a call listed on his phone as lasting 29 seconds. On AT&T's website, the same call shows a connection time of 1 minute, 2 seconds. He calls this "a massive consumer fraud designed by AT&T to steal money from their customers." A test conducted by the Washington Post to recreate Fogal's experience showed that AT&T would consistently count calls lasting between 49 and 59 seconds, as using two minutes of talk time. Fogal has since lodged complaints with the SEC, the California attorney general's office and the House Oversight Committee.

"The time displayed on the phone does not necessarily reflect the actual start and end periods recorded for the time charged to the customer. A call’s time begins when you press the send button. And, a call’s time ends after you press the end button and your phone’s signal to disconnect is received by the network and the call disconnect signal is confirmed."-AT&T statement

"T-Mobile’s ‘Pay As You Go’ prepaid options provide customers the added flexibility of managing costs and consumption more easily. Customer charges are based on total usage and deducted from their balance. Customers are charged $.33/per minute. If a customer exceeds (1) minute, they will automatically be charged for an additional minute. Total charges are calculated based on the total time of the call, including: set-up, call, and hang-up time. From a billing perspective, a customer is charged from the start of their transaction (hitting send) to the end of their transaction (hanging up), not just the actual talk time."-T-Mobile statement

AT&T and T-Mobile basically offered the same explanation, saying that the timer on a phone measuring the length of a call is not accurate. Both carriers say that talk time starts when the send button is pressed and runs until the end button is deployed. Still, the Washington Post also tested Verizon's pre-paid service and found that the call time as listed on the phone used, matched perfectly with the amount of talk time charged to the Verizon customer.


source: WashingtonPost via FierceWireless

24 Comments
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posted on 14 Mar 2014, 12:54 2

1. cripton805 (Posts: 907; Member since: 18 Mar 2012)


On ting I would always go over my brackets and they wouldnt charge me the higher amount. Good Guy Ting Mobile. Best pre paid company for low uasge.

posted on 15 Mar 2014, 07:56 1

21. phonetekmek (Posts: 70; Member since: 04 Oct 2013)


What does that even mean?

posted on 14 Mar 2014, 12:57

2. Shatter (Posts: 1967; Member since: 29 May 2013)


$30 a month for 5GB of data and unlimited voice through Google hangouts for free.

posted on 14 Mar 2014, 14:00 3

3. Augustine (Posts: 608; Member since: 28 Sep 2013)


How do you make calls to phone numbers on Android using Hangouts?

posted on 14 Mar 2014, 18:04

10. bigdawg23 (Posts: 344; Member since: 25 May 2011)


With your data package. It part of the app in Android and iOS

posted on 14 Mar 2014, 18:37

11. sprockkets (Posts: 1077; Member since: 16 Jan 2012)


Missed the point - you can't call others who don't use it via hangouts. That's his point.

You could use skype to do it, but that costs a little.

posted on 14 Mar 2014, 20:54 1

14. reckless562 (Posts: 617; Member since: 09 Sep 2013)


or use google voice with Talktone n call #s for FREEEEEE!!!!!

posted on 14 Mar 2014, 22:34

17. Augustine (Posts: 608; Member since: 28 Sep 2013)


I was curious because I do use Skype for international calls, but the sound quality can be pretty bad.

posted on 14 Mar 2014, 22:23

16. Kaiser2007 (Posts: 144; Member since: 16 Nov 2013)


I don't use Hangouts. I install google voice app on my phone and use google voice # to call other # for FREE.

posted on 14 Mar 2014, 22:42

19. Augustine (Posts: 608; Member since: 28 Sep 2013)


When using Google Voice to place a call to a phone number, it still uses plan minutes. Just read the app description at bit.ly/1lEbEtS

posted on 14 Mar 2014, 14:45

4. sprockkets (Posts: 1077; Member since: 16 Jan 2012)


This makes sense as my minutes are all shorter than I expected. What is dumb is they don't charge for a minute if you don't complete the call, so why count more as far as setup time?

posted on 14 Mar 2014, 15:51

8. Augustine (Posts: 608; Member since: 28 Sep 2013)


It's not as dumb as a measure to avoid complaints. Yet, the network is being used, that's why if the call is completed, all the set up time is charged.

posted on 14 Mar 2014, 15:08 1

5. wolverinexmen9 (Posts: 76; Member since: 31 Mar 2011)


T-Mobiles pre paid plans are exactly the same as their simple choice plans. $50 for unlimited call, text, and data(500mb of 4G.) Only difference is you only have to pay state tax and that's it. And also there are no family plans on pre paid. First person is $50 second person is $50 and so on. With T-Mobiles simple choice plans First person is $50, second person is $30, third, forth, and fifth lines are $10 each. Anyone need more data it goes up $10 for another 2GB.

posted on 14 Mar 2014, 15:22 1

6. HASHTAG (Posts: 117; Member since: 31 Jan 2014)


What's the point of your post? It's irrelevant to this article...

posted on 14 Mar 2014, 16:51

9. wolverinexmen9 (Posts: 76; Member since: 31 Mar 2011)


I don't know how they could say T-Mobile is over charging their pre-paid customers when the pre-paid plans have unlimited calling? Then I just stated how the simple choice plans are the same as the pre-paid plans besides the family part and sales tax.

posted on 14 Mar 2014, 19:06 1

12. cripton805 (Posts: 907; Member since: 18 Mar 2012)


Tmobile has a $30 prepaid plan. 100 minutes, 5gb of data, and unlimited messaging.

I think they should at least offer a reasonable 300 minutes and $10/100minutes after that at least.

posted on 15 Mar 2014, 08:00 1

22. phonetekmek (Posts: 70; Member since: 04 Oct 2013)


T-Mobile offers pay as you go service as well $10- 30 min $30-160min $50-400 min so on. So the plans you are refering to have nothing to do with what is being talked about here.

posted on 14 Mar 2014, 15:49 1

7. Augustine (Posts: 608; Member since: 28 Sep 2013)


There are many other pre-paid plans, even per day ones.

posted on 14 Mar 2014, 22:21

15. Augustine (Posts: 608; Member since: 28 Sep 2013)


FYI, here are all the several pre-paid plans from T-mobile:http://t-mo.co/1lE9WZA

posted on 15 Mar 2014, 01:33 1

20. jackskellington6 (Posts: 6; Member since: 14 Mar 2014)


There are family plans on T-Mobile's prepaid. There is a limit to 4 devices. Line 1 is $50, Line 2 $30, and Lines 3 and 4 are $10.

posted on 16 Mar 2014, 03:48

24. wolverinexmen9 (Posts: 76; Member since: 31 Mar 2011)


No there's not. You probably got your plan at Hellmart and they told you it's a prepaid family plan even though it's truly a simple choice family plan.

posted on 14 Mar 2014, 19:59 1

13. quyenqchau0813 (Posts: 78; Member since: 22 Mar 2013)


$30 a month T-Mobile 5G,
Use an app call Vonage, make free call using your default number as your User ID so people know it's you. I don't have to use a different Google calling app (they have a lot of apps similar to each other using Google Voice services :( )
so basically you have 5G, unlimited text, almost unlimited outbound call, 100 in bound call. I would pretend to hang up on people, then call them to save minutes for others important use :D.

posted on 14 Mar 2014, 22:40 1

18. PapaSmurf (Posts: 7354; Member since: 14 May 2012)


You have access to 5G? Post some Speedtests please.

posted on 16 Mar 2014, 03:46

23. wolverinexmen9 (Posts: 76; Member since: 31 Mar 2011)


I know right

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