jb… a weblog by Jonathan Buys

US Cellular Strikes Back

Let me start by saying that US Cellular has the best coverage in Iowa. No matter where we go in the state, we’ve got a great signal, almost always in LTE. My Internet access is fast, and I can’t remember the last time I dropped a call. The cellular service is great, and the only reason I stick with US Cellular. After days like today I need to remind myself of these facts, because almost every time I interact with them face to face, on the phone, or over the Internet I leave frustrated and feeling like I’m being duped.

I got an advertisement email from them a week or so ago. That in itself is questionable because I’m sure I unsubscribed, but whatever, we’ll leave that alone for now. The email’s subject line advertised “Act now and we’ll waive the Activation Fee – a $25 value!” Knowing that my wife and daughter were due for new phones I forwarded the email to her and suggested that maybe now was the right time. She agreed, and the first chance the two of us had time we headed to our closest store. We’ll call this Store Number One.

The staff at Store Number One were knowledgeable, pleasant, and courteous. We came in, sat down, told her that we wanted to upgrade two lines, and she went to get the 16GB iPhone 6S. At the mention of the 16GB model I hit the brakes, I knew that would not be enough for her, she has a 16GB model now and it’s too full to work properly. We asked for the 64GB version, but they didn’t have any in stock. The woman we were working with was kind enough to call around to several of the other stores in town, and finally found one with a few in stock that was only a ten to fifteen minute drive from where we were. We thanked her for her help and left for Store Number Two.

Store Number Two was nearly empty, and we were sat down right away. The store had the right phones in the right sizes in stock, and we were ready to close the deal. Then my wife remembered the email about waving the activation fee, and we asked if they would honor the advertisement. The agent didn’t know anything about it, and asked if I still had a copy of it. I did, (in my email trash, but I still had it), and he took my phone to show the email to his manager. They talked for quite a while, and the manager decided that they couldn’t honor the no activation fee in the store, but said if we went online we could get it there. We talked it over briefly and decided that it was probably a good idea to save $50 and wait a day or two and headed home to get online, Store Number Three.

While online with Store Number Three, I noticed in my account that it didn’t appear that the correct discount was being applied to one of our lines. At this point, I need to make a brief digression to explain the importance of this particular discount.

US Cellular, like all the other major carriers, has shifted away from subsidizing smart phones and instead is financing. To offset the price of financing the phone, US Cellular is offering to discount the normal $40 monthly “connection fee” per line down to $20. Then the financing of the phone costs $15-$30 or so, making the offer more desirable because the monthly cost of owning the phone stays roughly the same.

When I looked at my bill online, I didn’t see the discounted connection fee, I saw the full $40 fee and the finance charge for the phone. I knew this was wrong, so I clicked on the live customer support chat button and was connected with a representative. I explained my situation as best as I could, and she did the appropriate amount of checking. She found two problems: one, the online view I was seeing did not reflect the correct connection fee, but the view she was seeing did. The line I was asking about was getting the discounted fee. And two, the other two lines on my account were not getting the discounted fee, and should have been. She corrected this issue, and I was happy to move along, although I was still a bit apprehensive that what I was seeing online was not representative of reality. I even pulled up a recent bill and started going through it to make sure it was correct there.

Once I was happy enough with the existing monthly bill, I asked the representative in chat about waiving the activation fee, like the associate in the store said. Apparently I was misinformed.

I do apologize that isn’t accurate you will still get charged the activation fee for the phone it is $25.00 when you finance. I apologize for the information that was provided.

Ok, great, so we could have stayed at the store in town and bought the phones there. No saving $50 today I guess. But, just to make sure, I asked her about the email I got. She responded:

If you received an email with that information did it give you a promo code with it?

“If”? What do you mean “if”? I looked through the email and didn’t see a promo code, but I did find some type of code at the bottom of the email. I sent that to her but she couldn’t find anything, so she asked me to forward the email to her, which I did. She then disappeared for a while, and came back with the final answer:

Thank you so much for holding we didn’t find that promotion but, that is only if you get the tablet and the activation fee for the tablet would be waived that isn’t for the cell phones. I do apologize.

To which I said that it wasn’t clear from the email at all that the offer was only for an Android tablet.

Awesome have I addressed all of your concerns for you today?


So, we went through three stores, three representatives, and found at least four errors in the US Cellular system. It seems to me that at least one of them could have gone ahead and said, “sure, we’ll be happy to honor that email you got, even if it wasn’t originally intended this way.”

I always leave my dealings with US Cellular with the not-so-faint feeling that I’m getting ripped off.

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