The Ups and Downs of Burner Phones- Net10: Reception Good, Customer Service Bad

Geek Culture

Net10, cell phone, Net10, cell phone,

The Net10 model I purchased for my eldest daughter. She wanted a qwerty keyboard.

Once upon a time, I had a monthly service contract with Cingular, then AT&T, for several cell phones used by my family. But I finally canceled my contract with them, for several reasons.

For one, the reception was terrible. To be blunt, it sucked. I didn’t have reception in my own home. Now, granted, we are in a rural area. But when my niece came to visit, her Verizon phone worked. And when I was traveling, my voice mail messages would often lag hours or even a days behind. And don’t get me started on how poorly the phone worked in New York City.

Second, the price of having multiple lines kept going up, far out of proportion to how much we used the phones. Our minutes were never fully used. The cell phones became more of a luxury than any kind of necessity. They weren’t even a fun, useful toy. They were simply a money sink.

I didn’t get another cell phone for some time. I wanted to see if I could do without. I work from home, my four children were all in local schools so I can be reached via email or by phone in case of emergency. I didn’t need a cell phone. I merely wanted one. With our monthly budget tight, I held off getting another cell phone for over a year.

Gradually, though, after a couple of incidents caused by missed connections, it became clear I needed a cell phone and so did my husband, eldest daughter and eldest son.

I didn’t want to invest in a smartphone. I’m sure I would love one but I didn’t need the apps and neither did my kids. The husband did get a smart phone, a Blackberry with a Verizon contract, but that was provided by his work.

What I wanted for the other three phones was something cheap with inexpensive minutes and no service contract. I also wanted to use a service where I didn’t have to give them a credit card to automatically charge either monthly or when the phone was used. This was because of several bad experiences with automatic charges. It is extremely difficult to have charges reversed if an error is made, at least in my experience.

The AT&T Go Phones were out. I didn’t trust their reception. I looked around at several other “load and go” phones (also known as “burners”) but many of them seemed to have a complicated system for charging customers for minutes. “Free unless you use it on this day, then it’s just a dollar unless you stand on your head or go over the next day, then it’s something else and…”

Okay, not that complicated. But I wanted simple and I wanted a system that my kids couldn’t abuse and run up bills on.

I settled on Net10. The various phone models come loaded with minutes and, in general, with two months of service. After that initial period wears off, minutes can be added via phone cards or directly through Net10.

My eldest daughter wanted the qwerty keyboard so her phone was the most expensive at $80. I bought a flip model for myself and my son at $40 each. The prices were low enough that it wouldn’t be a tragedy if the phones were somehow lost, which sometimes happens with gadgets, especially when in the possession of teenagers.

Happily, we haven’t lost the phones.

And I’ve been very impressed with the reception, both with voice and text.

The catch is the customer service.

Twice, I’ve purchased “add service & minute” cards at my local grocery store only to have the card number declared invalid by Net10.

The first time, I tried their website. It went down or failed to send my email several times, so I resorted to calling them. After a wait of thirty minutes, the customer service agent told me to take it back to the store: it was their fault. So I did, only to have the lady at the customer service desk of the grocery store declare that they could not issue a refund for phone cards. She did, however, call up Net10 customer service herself. It took her a good ten minutes to get a person on the line. She then passed the phone to me and I explained the problem.

The agent was not empowered to fix the problem. He said I had to wait while he checked into it. However, after fifteen minutes of waiting, I told him I had to hang up and take my groceries home. Afterward, I called Net10 again, explained the problem once more, and spent an hour on the phone, mostly on hold. I was passed up the supervisor chain eventually. I wasn’t angry with them, I was polite, but I told them I was not going to eat the $30 card price and that since they had caused this problem, they needed to fix it.

Eventually they did, even giving me an extra 100 minutes. This mollified me quite a bit. Any company can have a problem with something and it was good of them to acknowledge the hassle caused by providing extra time.

Then it happened again.

Once more, an attempt to enter a card number and redeem minutes was bounced as Net10 declared it an invalid number. Not wanting to spend an hour or more on the phone this time, I went to their website. This time, the website was not glitchy and I was able to send an email.

My email was short and to the point. I told them this had happened before and my patience was ended. I gave them the card # and the phone number for the Net10 phone in question.

The first response back was that the card number was invalid. I believe I was restrained enough to not say “Duh!” but I responded by saying “yes, I know that the card number is coming back as invalid. That is the problem and this is the second time this is happened and I’m very unhappy about it.”

The next email said that they would add the service time and minutes to the phone. They did, though this time I didn’t get an apology or 100 extra minutes.

So, would I recommend Net10 to others?

I’m really happy with the phones themselves–though they’re nothing special in this world of smart phones–and the reception is always excellent. It’s easy to know when I’m running out of minutes and this kind of plan teaches my kids to budget their time on the phone.

But the issues with card redemption make me very leery of recommending Net10 to others. Maybe these two problems were isolated. But I worry there’s an issue with certain batches of card numbers that somehow aren’t valid in their computer system. I purchased mine from a big grocery store chain, not a small place or one that might expect to have had the cards sitting around for a while.

I’m thinking that the next time I buy a pay-as-you-go phone, I’m going to have to try a new brand.

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