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A person and a pager number part

In early May 1996, I received a phone call from an AirTouch representative informing me I would have to change my pager number in order to keep AirTouch service. I was told then that AirTouch would discontinue Skytel paging service by June 1. I pointed out that my pager number was published in a nationwide directory, two years running, sent to all members of the Directors' Guild of America, of which I am one. I made it clear that keeping the number was my priority, even if I had to change service providers.

Despite dozens of calls from me and dozens of messages, no one from AirTouch ever returned a single call. Finally, at the end of the month, out of the blue, a representative of AirTouch put me on hold, returned a few minutes later and said simply that I could keep the number.

In May of this year, I received a letter from the district sales manager, Dan Sack, stating that AirTouch Paging was raising the rates on all Skytel digital pagers by $10 a month, effective with the May billing. An upgrade of Skytel pagers for AirTouch America pagers also was offered; it would increase coverage area. In addition, the monthly charges for AirTouch America would be the same as the current Skytel rates.

I called and spoke to Mr. Sack, who said he would research whether my existing number could be released to the Skytel service or be switched over to an AirTouch pager. I had been told by Skytel that all I needed was a letter from AirTouch releasing the number to Skytel.

Several weeks passed. I did not hear from Mr. Sack. No surprise there, really. An AirTouch representative hasn't returned a call of mine since December 1994.

On May 31, I wrote to Kenneth Stibler, district general manager of AirTouch Paging in St. Petersburg. I said that since AirTouch believes it can raise rates retroactively, I believe I can discontinue my service retroactively, and that effective May 16, the day I spoke with Mr. Sack and gave him seven hours to answer my questions, I considered our relationship terminated.

In my letter I also stated that I planned to deduct shipping charges and any other expenses from the prorated amount due for service from May 7 (the earliest date I could have received notification of the increase) to May 17, the day after I spoke with Mr. Sack. I further indicated that I would make no payment until I determined the increase was legal. I also said that I was not releasing AirTouch from the potential liability of expenditures that I could incur by having to notify perhaps several hundred colleagues of my new pager number.

On May 30 I returned my pager. AirTouch continues to bill me, the latest bill showing it is billing me for "service" into June. Kevin Turley

Response: Kenneth Stibler, district general manager of AirTouch Paging in St. Petersburg, said you started service with the company in December 1994. The company's records show it consistently responded to your needs and requests in a timely manner, he said, despite your statement that dozens of calls were not returned.

In January 1996, Stibler said, AirTouch Paging made a strategic business decision to remove all Skytel services from its system and replace service with a nationwide system provided by AirTouch. Records indicate that an AirTouch representative contacted you in April 1996 to announce that you would have to change from Skytel to AirTouch service. You protested this decision on several occasions and presented your complaint to the district sales manager.

Stibler said it is possible that the sales manager did not respond to your request in a timely manner. However, he said that in no way eliminates the liability you had as it relates to the terms and conditions of your agreement with AirTouch Paging.

Stibler said the contract states that AirTouch may change the specified rates. With regard to your pager number, subscribers have no proprietary rights to assigned units or telephone numbers. This is clearly indicated on the contract, he said.

Item four of the contract states that subscribers may terminate service subject to a 30-day written notification, full payment of all charges and return of all equipment. Your letter of May 31 notified AirTouch that you were terminating your service on May 16 while you still had possession of its equipment, he said. In addition, the contract states that if service is terminated, all charges will continue until equipment is returned.

Your equipment was returned and your service disconnected effective June 1. This is noted on your August invoice. Stibler said the remaining charges have now been credited to your account, leaving you with a zero balance. The decision to credit what AirTouch considers legitimate charges was based on the company's inability to respond to you in a timely way, he said.

Action solves problems and gets answers for you. If you have a question, or your own attempts to resolve a consumer complaint have failed, write Times Action, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, or call your Action number, 893-8171, or, outside of Pinellas, (800) 333-7505, ext. 8171, to leave a recorded request.

Requests will be accepted only by mail or voice mail; calls cannot be returned. We will not be responsible for personal documents, so please send only photocopies. If your complaint concerns merchandise ordered by mail, we need copies of both sides of your canceled check.

We may require additional information or prefer to reply by mail; therefore, readers must provide a full mailing address, including ZIP code. Names of letter writers will not be omitted except in unusual circumstances. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.

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