8 On Your Side digs into Sprint customer complaints - WRBL

8 On Your Side digs into Sprint customer complaints

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Sprint says this tower near Mulberry in Polk county has a bird's nest in it and they are unable to upgrade their equipment here until mid-May. Sprint says this tower near Mulberry in Polk county has a bird's nest in it and they are unable to upgrade their equipment here until mid-May.
TAMPA, FL (WFLA) - What do you do if your cell phone stops working in the middle of your contract?

Dozens of Tampa Bay area Sprint customers are complaining about dropped calls, lost reception and text messages that take hours to come through. They're upset about contracts that cost big money to walk away from.     

"The phone just won't ring," said Cheree Neely, who recently moved from Nashville to Riverview.

She says her phone worked fine in Nashville. In July, it stopped being reliable. Neely manages an apartment complex and says her phones wouldn't ring inside her office or any of the apartments. She says Sprint told her to walk outside to get a signal. But after months of standing on the sidewalk, she switched carriers. Now she's upset because Sprint won't drop her $1,500 cancellation fees for her six phones.

Neely says she knows others who had the same issues and were allowed out of their contracts.

"At what point is it okay to tell this person, "You're having this issue and I'm going to waive your termination fee, but you're having the very same issue and you live in the exact same place, and I'm not going to waive your termination fees."

8 On Your Side started looking into problems with Sprint service in December. Sprint said then they were not aware of widespread issues and outages were sporadic and unusual. But 8-on-your-side has heard from frustrated customers from 31 cities in the Bay area.

Eugene Kendrick was a happy Sprint customer for 10 years, but says he now can't make a call in his own home. 8 on your side asked Sprint to look into Kendrick's complaint. They blame his trouble on a bald eagle's nest in a cell tower in Mulberry. When 8-on-your-side arrived to check it out, we verified it's a osprey nest. From a mile away, Eagle 8 spotted the osprey and the very large nest. A spokeswoman said the nest will be removed in May.

But the birds certainly don't explain all the complaints from people who live near other towers in the Bay area.

Sprint spokeswoman Kelly Schlageter sent this statement:

"Sprint is making a significant investment to improve our network in Tampa and we are seeing results. We recognize, however that these improvements are not coming fast enough for all of our customers in Tampa and are working to complete the upgrades as soon as possible. In response to the issues brought to our attention by WFLA, we have investigated each one and are responding directly to those customers."

Schlageter said Sprint is in the process of upgrading to 4G LTE, and the company is also upgrading its existing 3G network, which could cause some service interruptions. When the upgrades are complete, though, she says service will be better than ever.

In the meantime, though, complaints, from all over Florida, have reached Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. She says she is looking into 24 complaints.

"We're putting the customers with complaints in contact with Sprint, we're working with them to correct the problem right now,” Bondi said.  “But if anyone else out there is still having a problem and they haven't yet contacted our office, please do so, and we'll do everything we can to help them resolve the problem."

Fixing these problems is essential for Sprint to compete with larger companies. Jeff Kagan, a wireless industry analyst, spoke with me via Skype and says Sprint is improving across the country, and he's troubled by the way the company initially handled this rash of complaints.

"If this problem has been going on for months, and Sprint doesn't know it, then something is wrong," he said. "I don't know how to get the message to them, other than what you're doing now, but this is clearly something that they need to fix."

And if they can't fix the problem, Cheree Neely thinks customers should be allowed out.

"To not be let out of your contract, or to be told you're welcome to get out of it, but we're going to charge you to do so, I feel like is just wrong."

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