Some U.S. Cellular customers get hung up in sale

Local service area not affected but certain customers are

U.S. Cellular customers across the country, including a few right here in Jefferson City, received disappointing letters last week highlighting the changes coming to their phone service.

Dennis Jordan and Sarah Flannigan, of Westphalia, received such a letter, less than two full weeks after purchasing a brand new cellular device from a Jefferson City U.S. Cellular store.

“When her phone quit working, we took the cellphone to the U.S. Cellular store,” Jordan related.

The couple was looking to just replace the phone with the same device, but were told that model was no longer available. The couple purchased the latest model, which, with accessories, cost “nearly $200.”

“She (the sales associate) did not tell us that the new cellphone would not work soon,” Jordan noted.

The letter sent to the couple explained that their U.S. Cellular contract had been sold to competing cellular provider Sprint. According to an Associated Press article released in early November, the companies announced the agreement in which Sprint would buy $480 million worth of U.S. Cellular markets in the Midwest. This impacts 585,000 customers in Missouri, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana and Ohio, including the St. Louis and Chicago markets, adding up to 10 percent of U.S. Cellular customers.

The letter stated, “After the anticipated completion of the sale, which we expect to occur in the next few weeks,” customers will receive more information about activating a new account with Sprint.

The letter also outlines that after the sale is complete, customers will be able to use their devices for the next several months, “however, after this transition period is over, your U.S. Cellular account will be terminated,” the letter reads. “Your U.S. Cellular device will not work on Sprint’s network. ... You will need to establish new service with Sprint to get a new device.”

Kelly Harfoot, U.S. Cellular communications manager, said the Sprint transaction will not affect the Jefferson City area. “Affected customers were sent a notification letter on or around April 19, informing them of the sale. Select customers that live outside the affected area, but have a phone number that was originally obtained in the affected area, are included in the sale.”

Because Flannigan has a 314 area code, having moved from the St. Louis area years ago, her account would be affected. “They knew that when they let me buy my phone. They realized that, but their directions come from higher up,” Flannigan said. “I told them I am really disappointed at how it went down.”

Jordan said he feels like the victim of fraud. “They’re continuing to sell products, knowing there is a letter out to the public that the cellphones they are selling today will not be of service when Sprint takes over. It won’t be any good, but they aren’t telling the public that,” Jordan said.

Harfoot said stores in the affected markets are not currently selling devices, but the store in Jefferson City is selling devices because it is not an affected market.

“If the customers have 314 phone numbers but live in Jefferson City, it is likely that they would be able to remain customers, but would need to change their phone numbers,” Harfoot explained.

Flannigan agreed she only as two options, she can get a new number and stay with U.S. Cellular or keep her number and get a new contract and cellular device with Sprint.

“I’ve had this number for nearly 12 years, and I own my own business, so getting a new number means acclimating my contacts and clients,” she related.

The letter also says the U.S. Cellular stores in the affected area will be closing soon, and asks customers to settle their accounts. The Jefferson City stores, however, will remain open, since they are technically located outside the affected area.

Sprint will be offering exclusive offers to U.S. Cellular customers, but the company has not yet made those clear to customers.

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