Educating Clearwire about their own Terms of Service.

Can I write this entire blog post while I’m on hold with a manager-level service representative at Clearwire? Let’s see…

I just got a Clearspot 4G wireless hotspot device. Clear’s Terms of Service includes this bit in section 13(c):

YOU MAY CHOOSE TO PURSUE YOUR CLAIM IN COURT AND NOT BY ARBITRATION if: (i) your claim qualifies for small claims court in a location where jurisdiction and venue over you and Clearwire is proper, in which case you may initiate proceedings in small claims court; or (ii) YOU OPT OUT OF THESE ARBITRATION PROCEDURES WITHIN THIRTY (30) DAYS FROM THE DATE YOU FIRST ACTIVATE ANY SERVICE WITH CLEARWIRE (THE “OPT-OUT DEADLINE”). You may opt out by calling Clearwire’s customer service department, at (888) 888-3113, before the Opt-Out Deadline.

Arbitration is well-known to favor the corporation (I learned that from talking to professional arbitrators), so naturally I wanted to opt out. I called the number they gave me to do so.

I’m now 45 minutes into this call, and no one I talk to understands anything I’m asking nor is able to read & comprehend their own Terms of Service. The first person I talked to started out thinking I was initiating a dispute (“No, the service has been fine, I have no dispute, that’s not what I’m calling about…”). The rep I’m talking to now is trying to convince me that the clause just means that I can go to arbitration any time (“No, the whole point is that I don’t ever want arbitration”), Oh, okay, sorry sir, it just mean that you can go to court if you don’t want arbitration (“Yes, but only if I have opted-out by the deadline, which is why I’m calling you now, and I’ll need some confirmation that I made this call”) Ah, in that case, just call us within 30 days of the dispute if you want to go to court rather than arbitration (“Uh, that’s not what the text there says at all, so I can’t accept that answer…”) Yes, sir, I think I understand now, you want [insert something I don’t want here].

By the end, the second person I talked to was finally able to understand — with much guidance from me, frequent holds while he went and talked to someone else, and constant reminders from me to please refer to the actual text of the terms of service and to not misread it as saying something much more customer-friendly than it actually says — and he promised me he’d escalate it to someone who would then call me back (!) and, eventually, send me an email with the confirmation I wanted.

I have little faith this will actually happen. But he also gave me a case number: #03686152 (yes, we finally finshed the call, most of the way through this blog post). So now I’m posting this as public evidence that I really did opt out of arbitration for any dispute that may arise in the future about my service with Clearwire.

Opt-outs and other customer-driven ToS changes are such a crock; it’s simply false advertising, and should be treated as such. These clauses are close to meaningless without a “maximum time spent” law putting a cap on the amount of effort a customer has to spend to invoke them. If the terms say “call (888) 888-3113 to opt out” when they should say “call (888) 888-3113 and spend an unpredictable amount of time on the phone fighting through our customer service thicket to opt out”, then the terms are simply deceptive. I have no doubt that Clearwire is perfectly aware of this; what motivation do they have to make this process efficient for the customer?

I’m tempted to invoice them for the call. Sheesh.

Update (1 hour later):

The same representative, Charles, called back. He confirmed that my understanding of that paragraph in the ToS is correct (nice to hear, though not a surprise, since the English was pretty unambiguous!). He also said that he’d escalated this internally — that they were now reviewing their procedures for handling this request, and were considering sending email confirmation in the future.

I said I was happy to hear that and asked if I could be the first customer to receive that email. He replied that he understood why I wanted that, but could not make that committment yet. He did say that he absolutely (“more than 100%”) guaranteed that Clear would keep an accurate record of this case and of the fact that I had requested to opt out of arbitration, and that I could rely on Clear being able to retrieve that fact just from the above case number. I actually believe him, and told him so, but said that I’d still like to be updated about the procedure review, and asked how long that process would take. He said he thought 3-5 business days, and promised that he would call me back to let me know. Well, last time he said that it turned out he meant it, so I have some faith this will actually happen.

Maybe instead of invoicing Clear, I should invoice every other Clear customer :-).


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