T-Mobile has admitted it engaging in misleading calling practices with its rural customers, and as part of an FCC settlement, is coughing up $40 million.
What exactly was T-Mobile trying to get away with? At issue is the practice of injecting false ring tones, causing rural customers to think their calls had already connected. Practically, that means while T-Mobile was trying to establish a link between parties—sometimes using additional local carriers for some of these more secluded customers—the phone was ringing in the earpiece of the caller, even though the callee might have never gotten a single ring.
In the FCC’s words:
False ring tones cause callers to believe that the phone is ringing at the called party’s premises when it is not. A caller may then hang up, thinking no one is available to receive the call. False ring tones also create a misleading impression that a caller’s service provider is not responsible if the call fails.
And T-Mobile had been pulling this grift for over a decade. It’s an insidious practice, and one the FCC has explicitly prohibited since 2014. According to the FCC, the carrier likely injected false ring tones into “hundreds of millions of calls each year.” Other than the fine itself, T-Mobile will also have 90 days to stop its habit of fake ringing.
Service for rural customers has been an area of concern for the FCC since 2011 when it established its Rural Call Completion Task Force. In 2015, it fined Verizon $2 million for failing to investigate low call rates in 26 rural rural areas.
Read the full order here.