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Should you switch cell phone providers sooner than later?

Why adventure riders think 'Sprint PCS sucks' as well as several other carriers

'Sprint PCS Sucks' is a fairly common cry among their customers. Especially those who ride motorcycles beyond the interstates and big towns. If that's you perhaps you're ready for some better cell phone service?

Eight years ago I began riding motorcycles in Washington State and began what soon would become a nightmare relationship with Sprint PCS at the same time.

At first it was fine. I was aware my coverage would work up and down I-5 and in major cities in the Northwest like Seattle and Portland. I lived in metropolitan Seattle and kept close to the main interstates. I had service when I needed it for the first year or so.

After a while my motorcycle and I began to venture into places like Vancouver Canada, the Cascades Highway and the San Juan Islands. In those places there was no Sprint PCS coverage, but sometimes I could choose the analog roaming option. I remember the first and only time I did that. It was a six minute phone call to Seattle from Winthrop in the Cascades. That call cost $14. Roaming really wasn't an option in terms of economics.

As the years went by I began to venture further and further into nowhere land as far as my Sprint CS coverage went. I recall a night just a year ago sitting above Summer Lake in Oregon. There we were at 7,500 feet elevation in the middle of nowhere. I didn't even think of trying my cell phone. Then two others I was riding with flipped open their phones, called the wives at home and bingo � the calls connected. I tried my Sprint PCS phone � no go. After they finished I had to ask � "What carrier are you using?" "Verizon" they both responded. "I got tired of that Sprint PCS crap and switched a few months ago" noted one.

I did the honorable thing and visited my Sprint PCS representative. He offered a plan for unlimited roaming for an additional five dollars a month. Sounded like a good thing and he promised I'd get all the same access as Verizon customers had. Even had the charts and graphs to prove it. Knowing they might ding me for leaving the plan, I opted for the package and gave it a try.

There I was, touring through the northwest one afternoon in the middle of scenic beauty with not much metropolis nearby. I needed to make a call back home and pulled out the phone. Next thing I heard was this � "You have reached the Cellular One network for which you currently don't have access to at this time � beep � beep - beep- beep. Super, I'm paying five bucks more a month so I can hear blocking messages like this.

Then there was the escapade of the numerous dropped calls during the pre-routing for the Trollhaugen Dualsport last June. Less than a mile from I-90 and just below Snoqualmie Pass I'd dial, get my party and within a minute the call would drop. This made for lots of fun trying to arrange for inner tubes to be delivered during a flat tire episode. I finally asked Tom Samuelson who I was riding with if I could make the call on his cell phone � a Verizon line of course.

After that I went to visit my local Sprint PCS representative and asked him to check my account. How much would it cost to terminate the plan and move to another carrier? "Nothing he responded." So I ditched the plan and went over to the Verizon representative next door and signed up.

Verizon's tag line in the current round of advertising is "There's only one reason to use Verizon � It's the network." Right. At least for me and perhaps for you as well if you like to ride out to the boonies with any frequency.

A few weeks later my final Sprint PCS bill arrived. I was charged $300 for terminating the plan based on the fact we'd added an extra line 18 months earlier. That's not what the rep told me when I asked so I called customer service. Several times the call was mysteriously dropped, others times there were moments of perpetual hold and finally after two days of trying to get some recourse I was finally put on the line with a supervisor who would absolutely not back up the information the Sprint PCS representative provided me when I initially inquired about termination fees before my exodus. So after eight years as a customer there I was with a $300 bill which I believe the attorney general's office will find amusing.

There are plenty of other nightmare stories about Sprint PCS (troll the web and Google "Sprint PCS Nightmare") as well as companies like T-Mobile, Cingular and Nextel. The message here is two fold. If you're riding a motorcycle extensively beyond the main roads having good cell coverage is critical. But before you switch carriers you'd do well to get it on paper that there are no additional charges when your make the changeover.

See you in the boonies.

TM/Summer 06


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