T-Mobile has agreed to pay the US $40 million after it was caught out using pre-recorded “false rings” to make their coverage appear better in situations where the destination phone had no signal, or if the connection was taking longer than usual to make. The use of the ringing sounds would give the appearance that the destination phone was simply not answering, when in reality the connection was never made.
T-Mobile has admitted the use of the sounds in “hundreds of millions of calls” but say they stopped January 2017.
Since it was accused the US Government launched an investigation into T-Mobile. This week it gave the company an official order to cease the practice as well as a fine.
“False ring tones also create a misleading impression that a caller's service provider is not responsible if the call fails,” said the FCC. “False ring tones are a problem on calls to rural areas and are a symptom of the problems of impaired quality and completion of calls to rural areas.”
T-Mobile offered an official response, saying:
“Our actions have always been focused on better serving our customers and the ringtone oversight, which was corrected in January 2017, was unintentional.”
We can’t easily grasp how this was an “oversight”. The use of a pre-recorded ringing sound to deceive customers into thinking their phones had coverage when, in fact, they did not strikes us as a pretty deliberate and devious business practice. The sort of thing that requires thought, planning, and considered implementation.
T-Mobile have also agreed to file compliance reports with the FCC and train their staff to help prevent anything like this happening in the future. Again, this doesn’t exactly seem like it was a training problem. Nobody is really buying that this practice came about because a technician in Kentucky crossed the wrong wires. What it looks like is an egregious deviation from decent business practices by a company that implemented a well-thought out and pretty blatant act of deception to make its product look better than it actually is.
The police was likely implemented after the US government took steps to address the poor network coverage offered by companies in rural areas. A problem faced by many other countries: in fact, a 2016 report found that the UK had worse 4G coverage than Mexico, Latvia, Albania, and Romania, despite having significantly better infrastructure. The UK government has since taken steps to try and improve coverage in rural areas, much like the US.