Wednesday, June 15, 2011

On the Dotted Line

I've been shopping for a cellular phone provider. Yes, I know that I'm doing it backwards, given the way that it's usually done, with people seeking out a phone they like (like the iPhone), and then going with whatever provider has it.

And it just so happens that all of the big carriers have retail outlets near where I work. So I went by each of them and asked for their Terms and Conditions. Everyone was somewhat surprised that I asked for it - one of the women working at the T-Mobile store seemed absolutely floored. When she asked why I wanted it, I told her. "I'm going to be legally held to those terms, correct? Well, I want to read them long before I agree to anything." The store's manager seemed impressed, and told me that no-one had ever actually asked for them before.

And, as they say, that's bad. While it's a common article of faith on liberal/progressive circles that the general public is constantly being victimized, the fact of the matter is that most people simply assume that there is nothing too terrible in the agreement, and only really pay any attention to it when it bites them in the butt. And this is reflected in the retail environment. Between AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon, only AT&T and Verizon were able to supply me with an up-to-date copy of their Terms and Conditions. And only Verizon had theirs in a place where store employees didn't have to hunt for it - it was baked into their catalog of current phone offerings. Every place else, whomever I asked for a copy of the document had to ask a co-worker or a manager where they were kept. The people at the Sprint store couldn't tell if the booklet they found was current, and the T-Mobile employees couldn't find one at all - even though the copy of the Service Agreement (the actual document you sign) that they gave me clearly states: "I can obtain copies of T-Mobile's Terms and Conditions and my Rate Plan's specific terms at T-Mobile retail stores [...]" I have to admit that I was also amused by the T-Mobile employees' contention that the document was "like, 200 pages." Which would make it easily 10 times as long as the competition. Either the legal department at T-Mobile leaves nothing to chance, or the T-Mobile employees had never actually seen a document that they'd likely signed up hundreds of people to be bound by.

We really shouldn't be so willing to make legally-enforceable agreements to abide by documents that we've never actually seen, let alone read. Okay, so people can go online and read the documents. But I suspect that you know as well as I do that most people don't do that. Instead, they make Hope into a Strategy, and cross their fingers. It's not going to work forever.

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