T-Mobile to prorate early termination fees

Mobile operator has outlined details of its new policy, which reduces the cost of ending a cell phone contract early over time.

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
3 min read

T-Mobile USA is the latest mobile operator to make it easier to get out of those dreaded cell phone contracts.

On Monday the company said that it will pro-rate or reduce the cost over time of its early termination fees for contract customers. This means that customers will pay less to terminate their subscription as the end of their contract nears.

Beginning on June 28, customers with a one-year or two-year contract with T-Mobile will see their early termination fee drop from $200 to $100 if they end their contract with 91 to 180 days remaining on their agreement. If they end a contract with fewer than 91 days left on it, they will pay a termination of fee of $50. For customers who terminate their service in the last 30 days of their contract they will either pay the $50 fee or their standard monthly charge, depending on which one is cheaper.

The new policy only applies to new T-Mobile subscribers and subscribers who are renewing their contracts on or after June 28.

The battle over early termination fees has heated up recently as wireless operators face multimillion-dollar class action suits from consumers who say these fees are unfair and deter competition. Earlier this month a California state jury ruled that Sprint Nextel's fees were indeed legal in the first of these class action lawsuits.

Now the Federal Communications Commission is looking to get involved, and is considering making rules about early termination fees. Chairman Kevin Martin has included pro-rated contracts in his proposal, which he is hoping the commission will consider later this summer. Congress has also weighed in with proposed legislation.

Cell phone operators seem to have gotten the message. And the major players are starting to make changes. Verizon Wireless was the first major carrier to adopt a pro-rated policy almost two years ago. AT&T also announced it had changed its policy in October. Starting May 25 new AT&T subscribers will have their termination fees pro-rated over the life of their contract. The early termination fee will start at $175 and it will be reduced by $5 every month over the life of the one- and two-year contracts.

Sprint Nextel also said it will change its early termination fees. But the carrier has not implemented the new policy yet.

In addition to the new early termination policy, T-Mobile has also recently announced more options for customers who don't want a contract. The T-Mobile FlexPay plan offers T-Mobile customers its typical cell phone packages that include long-distance calling, roaming, and special rate offerings like MyFaves with no contract. Subscribers simply pay the retail cost of the phone and the regular monthly service charge for the service.

T-Mobile has also added more options for its pre-pay and pay-as-you-go customers. Consumers can choose a Pay By the Day plan. Under this plan, users pay $1 for every day they use their phone. They are given unlimited T-Mobile to T-Mobile calling and unlimited night calling from 7 p.m. to 6:59 a.m. For all other calls, users are charged 10 cents a minute. And they're charged 10 cents a minute for outgoing text messages and 5 cents a minute for incoming text messages.

T-Mobile also offers a Pay As You Go plan, which had previously been called T-Mobile To Go. This plan allows customers to pay for minutes they use. If they top off their account with $100, they get a 15 percent discount.

And finally, T-Mobile renamed its Sidekick To Go plan simply the Sidekick Prepaid plan. This plan offers users unlimited domestic e-mailing, Web surfing, instant messaging, and text messaging for $1 a day. And nationwide calling under this plan is 15 cents per minute.