Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Sprint EVDO: 5GB Cap Crap

Many customers of Sprint's MobileBroadBand EVDO service signed up with an understanding that it was "unlimited"... as in no restriction on how long you can be online (minutes) and no maximum amount of data that could be used.

For the most part, they were right. Unlimited meant they could use it as much as they wanted to.

At least until last May when it was learned that Sprint was going to change its "Terms of Service" (TOS) in such a way that they would now have the right to take action on contracts that consumed more than 5 Gigabytes of data. Here's the relevant part added to TOS:
Sprint reserves the right to limit throughput speeds or amount of data transferred and to deny, terminate, modify, or suspend service if usage exceeds 5GB per month in total or 300MB/month while off-network roaming.
On dozens of internet forums, many interested parties interpreted this text in different ways -- check out this 50+ page thread on EVDOforums.com and you'll find over 750 forum posts discussing what the change in terms really means.

In addition to explanations of phone conversations that members had with Sprint's agents, that forum thread even has some chat transcripts provided by members who discussed the new terms with Sprint online agents. The results were the same no matter which way you played the frustrating game of "agent roulette" -- many official Sprint agents denied any change to the TOS existed, while still other agents gave different scenarios to explain what the new terms meant.

Among the key questions on everyone's mind were:
  1. Are contracts that were in place before the TOS change, "grandfathered" in such a way that their service remained unlimited?
  2. Will existing customers who do not like the change to TOS be allowed to walk away from their contracts without being subject to an early termination fee?
  3. Will customers who exceed 5GB of data consumption be subject to overage charges?
  4. Does this change in terms apply to both individual- and corporate-liable contracts?
As a Sprint Master Agent, 3Gstore took the matter up with as many people in the food chain as we could... and found the same thing everyone else did -- clueless people who had no idea a change occurred or was occurring, and told us "let me get back to you after I research this". What did we learn after these "higher ups" got back to us? That they knew nothing definitive and had as many different explanations as everyone else had already provided.

We finally came across some internal documentation and updated our EVDOinfo article with this text:
The new terms of service described above, will be in place for all accounts created on or after July 13, 2008 - regardless if the account is individual or corporate liable.
We are comfortable stating that much in public. Everything else we wanted to say would be speculation and impossible to substantiate.

What was our opinion? Simple, really. Sprint had NO way to legally take any action against customers who were affecting network performance because of their data consumption.

With the change in their TOS, they would now have a legitimate reason for getting rid of these contracts that were causing problems.

What about all those other important questions? Surely someone had to be able to provide the "real" answers with some way to validate the answers beyond "they told me on the phone".

On July 31st, Sprint officials were involved in a moderated chat on Sprint's own public forums. It was made clear that Tony Jackson was a "Director" at Sprint, and that he and his team would be "discussing the answers to each of the questions to ensure they are providing accurate information".

Alrighty then, lets submit a question and see what answer we get:
EVDOinfo asked: Is sprint actively notifying ALL customers who exceed 5gb per billing month, and if so, what exactly is being told to these customers?

Tony Jackson : As you know, today the phone-as-modem option cannot be added to the Simply Everything plan. We are always evaluating our policies but currently do not have any plans to change this policy.
My immediate reaction upon seeing the question and answer was: "Hmmm... WTF?"

Actually, I wasn't surprised. It was straight up stupidity and from a Director, no less. No wonder all the lesser agents don't have a clue, right?

Time passed slowly, and a few minutes later they dance with this:
Tony Jackson : Clarification... prior answer was specific to SE and phone as modem. Answer to the 5Gb question shortly...
"Specific to SE" meant his answer had to do with a question about the "Simply Everything" plan... but hold up... there was NO prior question posted that related to an SE plan. Not by me, not by anyone. Sigh.

More time passes. And I mean slowly. I've been "chatting" online for over 15 years and never before have I endured so little actual "chatter" in an hour, than I experienced in this moderated chat. There were only a total of eleven "questions" posted, even though the forum asked for questions in advance and took live questions like mine. Its ridiculous to think that this "team" did not have proper/accurate answers prepared in advance. Finally, there was this:
Tony Jackson : Re: Is sprint actively notifying ALL customers who exceed 5gb per billing month, and if so, what exactly is being told to these customers? Yes, are / will be reaching out to notify and educate affected customers about the 5GB T&C... note these customers number
O.M.G. Which is it? they are, or they will be? What "education" will you provide? and why does it look like you had more to say at the end.... can't you guys even finish a sentence?

We posted play-by-play commentary during the moderated chat in this EVDOforums thread, and noted these key points:
Tony Jackson : ... Existing business contracts that are signed prior to 7/13/08 will remain under existing terms and conditions for each contract.
We interpret that as meaning ONLY corporate liable contracts would be "grandfathered" and have unlimited service as it existed before any change to terms of service. That sounded good to us, until this showed up three posts later
redhatnick asked: Just to clarify as well, there is no such thing as being grandfathered in where the unlimited would still apply after the June notification?

Tony Jackson : That is correct... no grandfathering
I don't know about you, but the two statements made sure look to contradict each other, don't they? We really shouldn't be surprised anymore. In fact, it becomes less and less that we are surprised, and more and more that we shake our heads in disgust. This moderated chat by a Director and his crack team of experts who are taking their time to ensure answers are accurate... have done nothing but prove that Sprint is truly clueless about all issues surrounding the changes to the terms of service.

It doesn't end there. It gets worse. Now they tell us something we haven't heard before:
Tony Jackson : The new 5GB cap became effective mid July this year. Customers exceeding this threshold for 2 of 3 consecutive months will be contacted to inform / educate. New overage pricing structures -- e.g., $ / MB -- will be coming soon.
We interpret that to mean that there WILL be overage charges of some kind, further reinforced by this separate reply posted later in the chat:
Tony Jackson : ... As I said earlier, we are considering some new connection plans that will include overages and hopefully enhance your overall customer experience
Yay. Overage charges. Brilliant. Genius. This will definitely increase subscribership and prevent more loss of existing subscribers.

That moderated chat happened on July 31, and it ended with this:
Tony Jackson : Thank you all for participating in this Buzz Chat today! I realize that we may not have been able to get to all of your questions in the hour that we’ve had, but as Tristan mentioned, we’ll try to answer as many of those that have been submitted and re-post them in a few days
We had hoped that they would have the sense enough to post carefully crafted answers that answers all the burning questions. Nearly two weeks later, nothing new has been posted by any official... which makes sense because we believe nobody at Sprint has any clue what the specific details are.

Its hard to provide a conclusion to this blogpost. We could go on and on about this subject, but really won't get anywhere. Only thing worth adding is the struggle we had to come up with a good title. Our other choice?

Sprint EVDO: FUBAR

Sums it up nicely, doesn't it?

Feel free to join in the discussion at EVDOforums.com