August 05, 2009

Confusion or Ripoff? T-Mobile is "Hiding" Available Minutes from Subscribers

Greetings. Why would a major cellular carrier want to "hide" available usage minutes from their subscribers?

This is a question I've been forced to ask during months of runarounds with T-Mobile, after their their Web site redesign completely obliterated (at least from the standpoint of my account) the concept of "conditional call forwarding minutes" (CCFM).

If you use third-party Internet-integrated voice services in conjunction with your T-Mobile phone, such as Google Voice or YouMail (I use both), you probably really do care about CCFM. Subscribers who program their phones for forwarding to such services -- to replace the seriously defective T-Mobile voicemail system if nothing else -- for call reject, call no answer, or called party unavailable, are likely using up CCFM for the duration of each such processed call.

For the typical G1 phone T-Mobile account that I use, I have a monthly "bucket" of 1000 T-M "Whenever" minutes for normal use making and receiving calls. But I also have a bucket of 500 CCFM, that are only used during conditionally call-forwarded calls (e.g., to Google Voice and/or YouMail in my case). If I use up my 500 CCFM, those calls start eating Whenever minutes.

But how do I even know about the 500 CCFM bucket? Because on the old T-M Web site, there was a clearly displayed line item on an account management page that showed both the Whenever and CCFM minutes in terms of their bucket sizes and current usages.

However, when T-M redesigned their site some months ago (again, from the standpoint of my account at least), several strange things happened. One issue is that they completely broke my text messaging capabilities, due to bugs in their message filtering configurations. This took a bunch of calls and effort to fix.

Another problem is that their new site generally requires plowing through about five pretty pages to get basically the same information that you used to be able to see on one fairly utilitarian page.

Most interesting to me though, was that all mention of CCFM vanished. No mention of the 500 bucket, no explicit summary of current CCFM usage.

When I started talking to T-M about this months back, I was assured (multiple times) that this was just a short-term transitional issue and that the site would soon clearly show CCFM usage again. But today I was told that -- oops -- nothing like that is in the current site redesign road map, apparently because "too few customers care about CCFM."

I find this explanation to be unacceptable, particularly in light of the rapid increase in people using conditionally forwarded third-party services. One wonders why T-M suddenly wants to keep CCFM as such a secret?

Now, to the observant browser of the T-M site, it's possible to figure out some aspects of this situation. On your call usage record, CCFM calls will be flagged as forwarded calls if you manually decode their status designations. However, it's worth noting that they are not separately indicated as CCFM or unconditionally forwarded calls -- and the latter always use your Whenever minutes, not your CCFM minutes.

It's also possible to discern your current CCFM usage (though not the size of your CCFM bucket -- only the reps can now tell you that). In the account usage area of the T-M site, you'll see a listing of your current total usage of Whenever minutes, followed by an itemized call list. If you go to the very end of the final page of itemized calls, you'll see a value for the total number of minutes used. If your account is like mine, and you're using CCFM, this number will be larger than the listed total of Whenever minutes used to date in the current account cycle. The difference between the two, in my case anyway, is the current CCFM usage.

Note that this applies to the T-M bills as well. There is no explicit mention of CCFM, so no listing of a CCFM bucket size, and the only method available to discern CCFM usage is via the same sort of calculation method as described above.

I'd like to think that T-M is being truthful when they tell me that they no longer wish to list CCFM on their Web site since it may somehow "confuse" customers. On the other hand, for persons who might consider using third-party voicemail and other enhanced services in conjunction with T-Mobile, knowing about the CCFM bucket and related usage could be crucial to their decision-making processes.

One might also note that most Internet-integrated third-party services allow for voicemail message retrieval via unlimited data connections rather than by using up standard Whenever voice minutes, so perhaps, just perhaps, T-Mobile has a possible financial incentive for not encouraging users to take advantage of such third-party services.

In any case, services such as YouMail and Google Voice are the wave of the future, and CCFM are a key part of the usage of such systems for many subscribers.

T-Mobile should immediately return to their old Web site's policy of clearly displaying all users' CCFM bucket sizes and current total CCFM usage, without any more excuses attempting to justify the removal of this information.


Posted by Lauren at August 5, 2009 06:27 PM | Permalink
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