From The Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City) for December 15, 2004.
Cell phone users puzzled by change of carriers
By Jim Stafford
Welcome to the bizarre world of Julie Solow and Dawson Blacklee, two
Oklahoma City residents who are living in their own private versions
of "cell hell" in the wake of the recent Cingular Wireless takeover of
AT&T Wireless. Their world is filled with confusion over who is their
wireless service provider and the prospect of paying early termination
fees of nearly $200 for each cellular telephone they own.
"All I did was call to get my landline fixed," Solow said Monday. "Now
they (AT&T Wireless) are saying I owe more than $200."
It all began when Cingular became the nation's largest wireless
telephone service provider at the end of October with its purchase of
AT&T Wireless subscribers became Cingular customers except in Oklahoma
City, 12 surrounding Oklahoma counties and a few other areas
nationwide. The government ordered Cingular to sell AT&T assets in
those areas, which it did. It sold Oklahoma City area assets to Little
Rock, Ark.-based Alltel.
Apparently, the requirement to sell the Oklahoma properties
contributed to confusion for both consumers and some company
Solow, a speech pathologist for the Putnam City School District,
stumbled into her personal twilight zone innocently enough at the end
She called SBC Communications about problems with her SBC landline and
was pointed to a toll-free 800 number on a follow-up call.
The SBC representative offered Solow deals on broadband communications,
as well as switching to Cingular, which is owned in a partnership
between SBC and BellSouth. The salesman told her that AT&T Wireless
customers could switch to Cingular because of the recent buyout.
The offer appeared to be a bargain and Solow agreed to drop her AT&T
Wireless service for Cingular and would receive a "cute little flip
phone," and a $50 gift card all for a total of $18. However, later she
found out about the early termination fee and soon was stuck with her
new cell phone service and a big bill from her former wireless
"It's been terribly frustrating," Solow said. "I am just amazed. It
wasn't like I was trying to find a new wireless company.
"This is a big huge company. It's like giving someone a puppy and
saying 'I'm going to take care of all of the vet bills' and then say,
'Oh, you can't have that puppy,' or 'If you keep that puppy, you have
to pay all the vet bills for it.'"
Tuesday, Solow said a Cingular representative had contacted her and
promised the company would help her settle the early termination
penalty with AT&T Wireless.
Blacklee, an Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper, walked into his twilight
zone when he decided to switch to Cingular because he assumed that
AT&T Wireless was owned by Cingular.
He canceled two contracts and switched. Then he learned that AT&T
Wireless was not owned by Cingular and he owed $175 early termination
fee on each of two phones that he owned.
Blacklee's efforts to negotiate with AT&T Wireless have been
fruitless, and he said he fears many more customers are in the same
"I bet you that not one of them knew they were not going to be part of
Cingular," he said. "Most of those people did not have a clue their
contracts are going to Alltel and not Cingular."
Cingular spokesman Frank Merriman said the company is working to
minimize confusion caused by the takeover and the Oklahoma City area's
exclusion from it.
"I do apologize for customer confusion," he said. "You are not talking
about a simple process."
AT&T Wireless customers can wait, and by early next year, they will
become Alltel customers, Merriman said.
"Yet everyone of their commercials say 'AT&T, welcome to the Cingular
family,'" said Blacklee, clearly unconvinced.