If the past few months is any indication, this new fee Sprint is charging won’t be around long. But let’s go ahead and talk about it since it’s yet another way one of the wireless carriers is trying to make more money off their customers in a questionable way, and you need to know about it when they do that. Last August, T-Mobile announced it would be charging customers a new fee to receive paper bills. They said it was to encourage customers to go paperless, but apparently they didn’t understand how incentives work. A few weeks later, after a huge backlash from customers, the blogosphere, and threats of lawsuits from more than one state Attorney General, the carrier backed down and said it would find a better way to help their customers go green. Apparently, Sprint wasn’t paying attention because they’ve just started charging customers in their Account Spending Limit (ASL) program a fee if they’re not enrolled in automatic payments. Sprint’s ASL program is involuntarily imposed upon people with poor credit ratings to ensure their accounts don’t get out of control, and more importantly, to ensure they can pay their bill every month. But customers can also voluntarily join the program. Maybe someone wants to make sure their kids don’t go overboard with texting, or they’re just trying to be responsible with their budgeting. The customer who brought this new fee to the attention of The Consumerist joined the program to protect herself in case her phone was ever stolen, so she wouldn’t get a huge bill for the potential thief’s usage. Pretty smart, if you ask me, especially since she’s on a limited income. But now Sprint is punishing people in the ASL program. Let’s examine this for a moment. Because the program was created to control the usage of those with poor credit ratings, it stands to reason that many of those people don’t have bank accounts. It’s not just credit card companies that check credit ratings. Banks do too before they’ll open a new account. It also stands to reason that someone with poor credit may not be able to improve their credit rating because they don’t make a lot of money, and what they do make goes to monthly expenses rather than paying off debt, so they’re unable to open bank accounts even if they want to. So just like T-Mobile’s fee took advantage of those without computers, or perhaps seniors or other people who aren’t very computer literate, it seems that Sprint’s new fee is taking advantage of low-income customers. In order to enroll in automatic payments, a customer has to have a bank account. Their wireless bill is then directly withdrawn from their checking account every month. Anyone without a bank account obviously can’t enroll in the program, so in addition to not making much money, and already having a spending limit imposed upon them, they have to pay another $4.99 a month for the privilege of paying their bill in cash. What about those customers who voluntarily enroll in the ASL program to protect themselves from potential thieves, or control their kids’ cell phone usage? They may have bank accounts, and have no trouble paying their bill every month, but they’re being forced to either enroll in a program or pay a fee. Sure, businesses can charge fees for services, and the market sets the prices. But when companies start imposing arbitrary fees that seem to target a specific group of people, two things happen: customers get upset and start complaining, loudly; and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) takes note as Verizon found out recently when they had to answer for their newly doubled early termination fees applicable to customers with smartphones. They’re not out of hot water yet, either. Anyway, if things go the way they did for T-Mobile and their paper billing fee, Sprint will be backpedaling soon and doing away with this ASL fee. But just in case they don’t, if you’re a Sprint customer, you may want to let them know how you feel about this because even if you’re not enrolled in the ASL program, if they get away with charging one unfair fee, it’s only a matter of time before they come up with another one that does apply to you.
Sprint begins charging questionable fee
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