Sprint Doubled My Tablet Bill. What Should I Do?

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Question: I have had an account with Sprint for almost a year now. It’s a tablet plan for 2 GB of data for $15 per month.

Last month, my bill came to $30 for no reason. I had no overages or anything of the sort. I literally spent hours with someone from customer support before they could fix it.

And the bills kept coming. Every month, I was charged $30 instead of $15. So I sent a written complaint to the Federal Communications Commission.

Sprint replied to the FCC, claiming it informed me in February about a new $7.99 fee and that I could cancel my account by May 1 without incurring any early termination fees. I have automatic payments set up, so I never saw the bill message in February, and who is really looking at those, anyway?

I did look at the copy of the bill and there is something in there about the fee, but it says absolutely nothing about closing the account without being charged an early termination fee.

My calls and emails to Sprint executives are not being answered. What should I do? — Boris Kontsevich, Manalapan, N.J.

Answer: Sprint should have clearly disclosed the new fee and told you about your options. In its view — and in mine — it fulfilled that obligation when it sent you a text message and included a warning on your March wireless bill.

Now, that doesn’t make what Sprint did right. Not by a long shot.

According to the FCC rebuttal by Sprint, the charge is a $7.99 spending limit program charge, which can be avoided if you participate in Sprint’s eBill program. It doesn’t really explain the fee; nor does it really have to.

But Sprint also admits that it charged you the fee “in error” because you were already enrolled in eBill. It said it had made the adjustments after you contacted it. (That still leaves about $7 a month unaccounted for, which is a mystery.)

No question about it, the “spending limit” fee is just another in a long list of irritating junk fees that line the pockets of many American businesses. Cellular companies are notorious purveyors of junk fees, but the airline industry isn’t far behind. Fees for printing out a boarding pass come to mind, but there are others. Many others.

I don’t want to dwell on the subject for too long, but there are two ways of looking at these fees. First, customers like you are the impetus for junk fees because you’re so price sensitive that you’ll only pay $15 for your tablet plan. Or second, the endlessly inventive and underregulated wireless industry, under constant pressure from shareholders, must impose junk fees to satisfy a voracious appetite for profit.

I can’t blame customers for wanting good deals. They’ve wanted them since the beginning of time. In my view, this is just another case of a poorly regulated industry run amok, and someone needs to rein it in.

It turns out a refund wasn’t enough for you; you also wanted to get out of your contract. In addition to the FCC, you filed a complaint with the BBB with no luck. I’m not surprised, nor am I surprised that Sprint’s executives failed to respond to your inquiries.

I contacted Sprint on your behalf. It agreed to close your account and waive the early termination fees.

Elliott’s latest book is “How to Be the World’s Smartest Traveler” (National Geographic). Email him at [email protected].

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