MONEY

Uh-Oh, Maybe Google Is Just as Bad as Comcast

A Google Inc. Fiber broadband network installation box
Julie Denesha—Bloomberg via Getty Images A Google Inc. Fiber broadband network installation box

Google Fiber, the ultra-high-speed Internet and TV service offered in a select few U.S. cities, is taking a page from the classic pay TV playbook by raising rates on some customers.

There is much to love about Google Fiber, Google’s superfast Internet and TV service that launched in Kansas City four years ago and has since spread to Austin, Texas and Provo, Utah, with expansion plans for Atlanta, Charlotte, and Nashville, among other cities. For $70 a month, Google Fiber provides Internet that’s roughly 100 times faster than the national average for broadband. Customers are also given the option of basic Internet on par with other broadband service for free, after paying a one-time fee of $300, or $25 monthly for 12 months.

Perhaps most refreshing of all, however, is that, Google Fiber has shown that Internet and pay TV customer service doesn’t have to suck. In fact, thus far at least, subscribers say that Google Fiber customer service is quite good.

That wouldn’t seem like a big deal in most industries, especially not when it comes to an upstart trying to win over customers from larger existing players. But hated pay TV and Internet giants like Comcast and Time Warner Cable have been bashed as awful, unresponsive, incompetent, and overpriced for so long, that it’s understandable if consumers assumed that this is always how things would be in this business category.

Yet a recent change in Google Fiber prices in Kansas City shows that even Google is capable of resorting to one of the business practices subscribers hate about Comcast—namely, raising rates.

When Google Fiber first launched in Kansas City, in addition to the Internet options mentioned above, subscribers were offered a package with 150+ cable TV channels and the superfast Internet service for $120 per month. According to the Kansas City Star, though, Google just raised rates by $10. New subscribers must now pay $130 per month for the same package. ($130 is also what Google Fiber subscribers pay for the package in Austin, though it looks like it still costs $120 in Provo.)

Google has blamed the price hike on rising programming expenses, among other factors. Regardless of the reason, the change should make it clear that Google is not immune to marketplace forces—and that monthly rates for customers can and probably will keep rising, just like they do with Comcast, Verizon FiOS, AT&T, and any other provider.

Then again, Google Fiber’s price hike only affects new customers. Existing Kansas City subscribers get to keep paying $120 per month for the time being, a policy that essentially rewards these customers for signing up early, and for their loyalty to the service. The standard pay TV price hike, by contrast, punishes loyal customers with monthly bills that rise relentlessly until the subscriber calls to complain and threatens to drop the service.

What’s more, as opposed to the vague, muddled pricing policies of the usual pay Internet-TV businesses, Google Fiber plainly spells out the terms of each plan. The basic Internet service, for instance, is free (after the construction fee) for a minimum of seven years at a given residential address.

Speaking of which, we must point out again that once the initial fee is paid, you can get broadband Internet totally for FREE. Such an idea would be unthinkable for the Comcasts of the world, which jack up fees and monthly rates unconsciously, and which would laugh off the concept of turning off the stream of cash under any circumstances.

TIME stocks

Apple to Replace AT&T in the Dow Jones Industrial Average

The entrance to the Apple Store on 5th Avenue in New York City.
Mike Segar—Reuters The entrance to the Apple Store on 5th Avenue in New York City.

The change will be effective with the open of trading on March 19

Apple later this month will be added to the Dow Jones Industrial Average, replacing AT&T on the key stock market index in the first shake up since 2013.

“As the largest corporation in the world and a leader in technology, Apple is the clear choice for the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the most recognized stock market measure,” says David M. Blitzer, Managing Director and Chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices in a statement.

Rumors had swirled for days that Apple would be added to the index, and the electronics gadgets maker has Visa to thank for the change. Visa’s stock split lowered the adjusted price of Visa, which reduced the weighting of the information technology sector in the index. Adding Apple to the index would help partially offset this reduction, S&P Dow Jones Indices said. Apple’s stock split last June was also a factor, as it brought down the company’s stock price closer to the median price in the DJIA.

Shares of Apple were up slightly Friday, while AT&T shares were lower. AT&T had one of the lowest prices among DJIA constituents. AT&T was also bumped because the DJIA was determined to be over weighted in telecommunications, and AT&T has a smaller market capitalization than rival Verizon.

Apple will officially replace AT&T after the close of trading on March 18 and the change will be effective with the open of trading on March 19.

The last change to occur to the DJIA occurred in September 2013, when three new members were added: Goldman Sachs, Visa and Nike. They replaced Bank of America, Alcoa and Hewlett-Packard.

Apple earlier this year achieved another key milestone: it became the first U.S. company with a market value above $700 billion, which added to an already long list of achievements for the electronics titan.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com.

MONEY The Economy

Internet Activists Near Win in Fight for Net Neutrality

Republicans appear to be ceding the fight against net neutrality for now, but the FCC’s plan still faces stiff opposition.

TIME privacy

How AT&T Wants You to Pay For Your Privacy

AT&T Reports 81 Percent Rise In Q2 Profit
Tim Boyle—Getty Images An AT&T logo is displayed on an AT&T truck July 25, 2006 in Park Ridge, Illinois.

ISP can track your web history and searches

The privilege of not having your every click tracked, saved and regurgitated in the form of targeted ads will only cost you $29 per month on AT&T’s super-fast Internet service.

The company, which just announced it’s bringing its 1-gigabit-per-second service to Kansas City, touts a price tag of $70 per month for the high-speed connection meant to compete with services like Google Fiber. But that’s actually a “premier” offering that allows AT&T to track a user’s search terms and browsing history to serve targeted ads. The standard high-speed service without the tracking costs $99.

AT&T defended the pricing model to The Wall Street Journal by arguing that the ad targeting helps AT&T make more money, which in turn lets customers who participate earn a discount. The model is somewhat similar to the discounted Kindles Amazon sells that show advertising. Companies with free, ad-based services, like Facebook, don’t allow users to fully opt out of being tracked while on their sites.

However, the fact that AT&T is an Internet provider means it could gather a more comprehensive picture of your Web browsing activities than companies with a less intrusive presence. That’s lucrative for advertisers and for ISP’s, but not so great for privacy-minded end users.

TIME Smartphones

You Can Now Rollover Your Unused AT&T Data Into the Next Month

The AT&T logo is seen on June 2, 2010 in
AFP—Getty Images The AT&T logo is seen on June 2, 2010 in Washington DC.

But you'll only have that month in which to use it

AT&T users tired of watching all their extra megabytes melt away at the end of the month have reason to rejoice — the mobile carrier just announced Rollover Data, an upgrade that allows customers to transfer their unused plan data into the following month.

The data that rolls over will only last for one month, which means, for instance, that if you have 5 GB that carried over from last month but only use 3 GB of it, you’ll lose the rest.

The announcement on Wednesday is AT&Ts latest salvo in the tussle with rival provider T-Mobile, which announced a similar rollover feature a few weeks ago.

But AT&T CEO Ralph de la Vega told USA Today that his company, which had pioneered the rollover concept for voice minutes years ago, has been planning to launch Rollover Data for a long time.

MONEY Tech

How AT&T and Verizon’s Loss is Your Gain

A customer walks into a Verizon Wireless retail store in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014.
Andrew Harrer—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Get ready for better promotions, lower prices, and more choices.

Change is afoot, and it’s been a long time coming. After T-Mobile T-MOBILE US INC TMUS -1.64% officially kicked off its Un-Carrier campaign in early 2013, the domestic wireless industry was bound to change. CEO John Legere has spearheaded the company’s Un-Carrier strategy, launching a number of aggressive pricing plans and other offers. T-Mobile has since followed up with a string of other new promotions and initiatives, tempting potential switchers to take the plunge.

Meanwhile, Sprint SPRINT CORP. S -0.79% has been struggling, and the No. 3 carrier is counting on its new leadership to turn the tide. Now, the two top dogs, AT&T AT&T INC. T -2.59% and Verizon VERIZON COMMUNICATIONS INC. VZ -2.41% , are starting to feel some competitive pressure as they lose their duopolistic grip on the U.S. wireless industry — and just this week, both companies tempered investor expectations for the current quarter.

Verizon sticks to the high-end

Verizon kicked things off with a news release on Monday that indicated demand for 4G smartphones remains “very strong,” and the carrier continues to see momentum in this department. On top of that, Big Red saw 75% of smartphone upgrades qualify as high quality.

Then came the bad news. Verizon is spending heavily on promotional offers, which is helping drive volumes this quarter. These promotional expenses are expected to pressure its wireless segment EBITDA and will put a dent in profitability. At the same time, the No. 1 carrier also acknowledged that retail postpaid disconnects are on the rise due to intense competition and promotions from rivals. Translation: Verizon is spending big on promotions but continues to lose customers.

AT&T is also feeling the burn of churn

Just a day later, AT&T CFO John Stephens spoke at an investing conference, similarly indicating that the company expects postpaid churn to increase in the fourth quarter. Though Ma Bell will close out 2014 with “one of [its] best years ever” in terms of full-year postpaid churn, this could be the beginning of a troubling trend.

Stephens explained this is the first year that the new Apple iPhones were launched simultaneously on all four carriers, and because AT&T has the largest install base of iPhone users, it similarly faces higher competition targeting iPhone users. However, this is actually incorrect, as the iPhone 5s launched on all four carriers in 2013.

The CFO also dodged a question about whether or not 2015 will see full-year postpaid churn levels rise compared to 2014 — competition is only going to continue escalating.

Can you hear me now?

None of this is to suggest that AT&T or Verizon are seeing a mass exodus of subscribers that will cripple their respective businesses — far from it. Rather, small cracks are starting to appear in the armor of the top two players. Both companies continue to have the largest subscriber bases in the U.S. and have been relatively resilient to pricing pressures, in part because of public perceptions around rivals’ networks.

Carrier Total Retail Subscribers (MRQ)
Verizon 106.2 million
AT&T 86.3 million
Sprint 45.9 million
T-Mobile 42.0 million

Source: SEC filings. MRQ = most recent quarter. Figures do not include wholesale connections or connected devices.

That’s especially true for T-Mobile, which has long suffered from these negative connotations. But T-Mobile has made impressive progress modernizing its 4G LTE network during the past 12 to 18 months. I personally switched from AT&T to T-Mobile recently and saw my cellular data speeds soar by five times in my area (Denver).

T-Mobile is absolutely catching up in terms of network quality and, over time, it will dispel the perception that its network is inferior — the primary goal of its current Test Drive offer. Once that is achieved, price will be the determining factor, and T-Mobile has shown its willingness to go straight for the jugular when it comes to pricing.

Sprint’s fortunes are a little less clear. The carrier stagnated under Dan Hesse and paid dearly for technological missteps including its original choice of WiMAX over LTE. Meanwhile, the company’s heavy debt load — even after the SoftBank capital infusion — limits its ability to invest heavily in network infrastructure upgrades that are extremely capital intensive.

To be fair, Verizon also has a massive debt load after buying out Vodafone’s stake in Verizon Wireless, but the company’s network is already quite mature, so its capital needs are less intense.

You’re the real winner of competition

Competition is only going to pick up in the coming years. T-Mobile has made it quite clear that it has no intention of letting up anytime soon, and it will continue to push against its larger rivals. The Un-Carrier even believes it can overtake Sprint in total customers by year’s end.

The net result of all of this is that you, the consumer, will benefit in the form of better promotions, lower prices, and more choices.

 

MONEY bills

The AT&T Bill That Just Wouldn’t Die

AT&T store with pedestrians rushing on sidewalk below
Richard Drew—AP

A Chicago woman got more than she bargained for when she tried to change her phone-and-Internet service.

When you have a dispute over a bill with a company, sometimes it’s not enough to respond to a collections notice with evidence that the bill has been paid. Sadly, even if the collections firm appears to drop the matter it can still come up again, and again, and again. This is the tale of the bill that just wouldn’t die.

It’s often harder than it should be to close an account. A small remaining balance, sometimes invisible to consumers, can create a big hassle, leading to collections calls and damaged credit – even bills that are several years old for as little as $50 or $100 can really punish a credit score. That’s bad enough.

It’s hard to understand how simply changing service – rather than canceling service – could lead to that kind of red tape nightmare. But that’s exactly what happened to Cathy Nestor, who lives north of Chicago, when she dropped AT&T’s U-verse TV, phone and Internet bundle three years ago and went with only U-verse Internet service.

The trouble started with a $70-something balance remaining on her old bundled account with AT&T’s U-verse, which Nestor claims she paid back in 2011.

Since then, three different firms have tried to collect on the bill, and Nestor says she provided evidence it was paid each time. Still, by the time she wrote to me, she was on the verge of getting reported as delinquent to the credit bureaus.

AT&T, for its part, disagrees with Nestor’s version of events. The company says the old account was never settled (for reasons we’ll explain shortly) and claims her evidence is faulty. Nestor says that the various collection firms never successfully communicated that to her, or didn’t push back when she told them the bill was paid.

The Confusion Begins

When Nestor dropped her U-verse bundle in 2011 but kept high-speed Internet, AT&T gave her a new account and new account number. She says she paid her new bill, thinking it would include any leftover balance from her old U-verse account. It didn’t. But soon after, she realized the error and says she separately paid the old account bill balance of $72 on Nov. 23, 2011. As evidence, she provided me a copy of an electronic payment from her bank statement. (And we should note that she is currently considered an in-good-standing customer of AT&T’s Internet service — that is, on the new account.)

Then the fun began.

She says she got a letter requesting that the bill on the old account be paid. She says she wrote back with evidence that it had been paid, claiming AT&T must have lost the payment amid the account number confusion. About 18 months later, she got a letter from another collection agent demanding that the bill be paid. Again, she wrote with evidence of payment. Then in January 2013 (“Yes, this has been going on that long!”), she received a letter from yet another collections company, Afni Inc., based in Bloomington, Ill., demanding a $79 payment.

“This account has been placed with our agency for collections,” read the letter. “We are requesting your assistance in resolving this matter. We may report information about your account to credit bureaus.”

“I WILL NOT BE PAYING THIS COLLECTION ITEM,” she wrote to Afni, in all caps. (Nestor provided a copy of the exchange for my review). “AT&T has already been paid, and they have tried to sell this off once before. I have already proven to them they were paid. I do not know why they keep trying to collect this.” She concluded by threatening legal action.

Then, nothing. No acknowledgment of receipt. No, “We’re sorry, we’ll drop it,” notice. No new attempt to collect. Silence. It was tempting to think the matter was closed, but Nestor knows consumers should never assume any such thing.

“Just waiting for it to show up again, you know,” she wrote when she contacted me to complain about the repeated collections.

Unraveling the Mystery

I reached out to Afni, and the firm shed a little light on the situation. AT&T had not sold the debt, but was using Afni as a third-party firm to attempt collection.

“When Afni had this account, AT&T was the owner of it—we did not purchase it,” said Debra Ciskey, director of compliance at Afni. “This account was recalled from Afni by AT&T on Aug. 5, 2013, so we are no longer handling it on behalf of AT&T.”

When I asked Ciskey what “recalled” meant, she said Afni was simply instructed to stop attempting to collect on the debt on behalf of AT&T.

“I am sorry that I am unable to tell you what would have happened to the account after we returned it to AT&T,” she wrote.

Ciskey’s responses suggested Nestor’s fear her bill would become zombie debt was well-founded.

“Terrific. I’m guessing that means I still haven’t seen the end of this,” Nestor said, sarcastically. She was right.

Next, I contacted AT&T, and the firm said that Nestor did indeed still owe the money. Emily J. Edmonds, director of AT&T Corporate Communications, acknowledged the payment Nestor made in November 2011, but said it was applied only to her new Internet service account rather than her old bundled account. That left a $79 balance (Nestor and AT&T also disagree on the old account balance).

“This customer has had an outstanding balance on her former account since 2011 that was never paid, ultimately resulting in the bill being sent to collections,” Edmonds said in a statement. “Once we were notified that the customer claimed to be wrongly charged, we conducted a thorough account review and determined the outstanding balance was indeed still owed.”

She also said Nestor had only contacted AT&T directly once during the three-year dispute to complain.

There’s no way to know who’s right about the payment, unless of course Nestor provided proof that the $70-something check was applied to the old account or AT&T provided proof that it was applied to the new account (which should have led to an account surplus, or reduced bill, if logic serves). But we do know for sure that when the third and final collections firm tried to collect, she wrote back with evidence the disputed amount – or something close to it – was paid, and then Nestor heard nothing more.

Edmonds said she could not explain why Afni didn’t respond to Nestor’s letter with further evidence that the debt was owed, and referred that question to Afni.

Afni says a collector is not required to respond to a consumer disputing a debt if it simply ceases collection. “A response is required only if the agency is going to continue collection attempts,” Ciskey said.

And that is one reason some bills never die; it’s also how consumers come to be reported to credit bureaus as late. While Afni could not pursue the debt any further without continuing the dialog by “validating” the debt, that doesn’t stop AT&T from contracting a different collector, or selling the debt.

Margot Saunders, a debt collection law expert at the National Consumer Law Center, said that’s true. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act requires any firm collecting a debt on behalf of a third party to “verify” the debt if a consumer objects to a collection notice – but only if the firm continues to attempt to collect. Second or third collections firms get to start the process over, and are currently not required by law to keep track of prior collection attempts by others.

Moving Forward

AT&T is now working directly with Nestor to resolve the dispute, so at least for now, she appears to have a happy ending. There is a lesson in her tale, however. She is an example of a concept I call the “exception bin.” Computers and databases are great at handling 99% of transactions. When things follow standard patterns, computers hum along and take care of everything. But once there’s something even a little unique about your situation, you land in the exception bin. And because corporations rely on computers so much, many run into trouble when dealing with items that land in the exception bin. Often, it can feel impossible to get out of it – even if you send letter upon letter providing evidence.

In Nestor’s case, it’s perfectly sensible that she thought she could just keep paying the bills AT&T sent her for U-verse and her account would be current. If you think like a computer, however, you can see how the firm’s computers might handle customers who downgrade from bundled service to a single service. Then, once her bill was handed over to collections, she became an exception that just wouldn’t die. Yes, AT&T used three different firms during a three-year stretch in an attempt to collect a $70-something debt from someone who otherwise seems to be a good customer. And yes, the firm could have seriously harmed her credit over a small bill that she thought she’d paid, that she provided evidence she’d paid, and for which she’d received no response (until the next collection attempt).

So what’s the lesson? In broad strokes, do whatever you can do to avoid the exception bin. Of course, that’s not always possible. Moves happen. Mid-contract cancellations happen. Early service upgrades or downgrades happen. And mistakes happen on both sides. But when they do, realize that your odds of getting caught in corporate red tape go up astronomically. In that case, you must be hyper-vigilant for signs that your exception will soon lead to headaches. Be proactive: Pay a bill, then call to make sure the payment is applied. When you cancel a service, get a letter confirming cancellation and a bill showing a $0 balance. Furthermore, check your credit scores and credit reports regularly for signs of trouble, and dispute any errors as soon as possible. You can get your credit reports for free once a year from each of the major credit reporting agencies, and you can get two credit scores for free from Credit.com along with an explanation of what they mean.

It may seem tedious, perhaps even unfair, but it’s a reality of navigating your way in the 21st Century.

More from Credit.com

This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

MONEY Phones

Sprint cuts rates in half to win AT&T, Verizon customers

The offer is the latest attempt by the third-largest carrier to compete with its larger rivals.

Sprint’s latest plan to compete with its two larger rivals? Woo AT&T and Verizon customers by offering to cut their phone bills in half if they switch to Sprint.

The Overland Park, Kansas company announced that deal on Tuesday, promising “unlimited talk and text” and a matched data allowance at half the rate of what current Verizon and AT&T customers are currently paying for their monthly plans. Billing it as “The Cut Your Bill in Half Event,” Sprint also promised to pay up to $350 toward customers’ early termination fees or installment bill balances in an offer that will officially launch on Friday.

Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure called it “the best value in wireless” in the company’s announcement. “It’s as simple as this: Bring Sprint your Verizon or AT&T bill along with your phone and we’ll cut your rate plan in half. That’s a 50 percent savings on your rate plan every month. And this great deal is not just a promotion. This will be the customer’s ongoing price,” Claure said in a statement.

The limited-time offer is a sign that Sprint, the nation’s third-largest mobile carrier, now sees price competition as the best way to battle AT&T and Verizon. Earlier this year, Sprint and its parent company — Japan’s SoftBank — backed off a $32 billion planto purchase smaller carrier T-Mobile US after the two sides failed to reach a deal that could have created a larger mobile company better suited to take on AT&T and Verizon.

Interestingly, Sprint’s new rate offer does not extend to T-Mobile customers.

TIME technology

AT&T Won’t Be Bringing Wi-Fi to Your Next Flight After All

New York City Exteriors And Landmarks
Ben Hider—Getty Images A view of the exterior of the AT&T store in Times Sqaure on February 21, 2013 in New York City.

Hopes for an ATT LTE-based airborne network are officially grounded

AT&T has nixed an ambitious plan to roll out wireless Internet on board commercial flights, choosing instead to refocus its investments on international markets and video services, the carrier said Monday.

The move comes as AT&T is in the process of buying Mexican operator Iusacell for $1.7 billion and satellite broadcasting service DirecTV for $48.5 billion. Those deals are subject to Mexican and American regulators, respectively.

“After a thorough review of our investment portfolio, the company decided to no longer pursue entry into the in-flight connectivity industry,” an AT&T spokesman said in a statement to Reuters.

AT&T unveiled its plan to offer 4G LTE-based connections in April, putting it in direct competition with existing in-flight service provider Gogo Inc. Shares on Gogo Inc. climbed 10% on news of AT&T’s decision to bow out of the market.

[Reuters]

MONEY

Why Sprint Is in Trouble

Sprint store
Andrew Harrer—Bloomberg via Getty Images

The nation's third-largest carrier is losing customers left and right.

Let’s be honest, most wireless carriers aren’t adored by their customers. But if we look at some of the data on Sprint SPRINT CORP. S -0.79% it appears the company has the most unhappy customers in the wireless industry. Based on the rate at which customers leave the company and two independent surveys, the nation’s third-largest carrier is struggling to please its customers.

Churn rates don’t lie

Let’s start with the wireless industry’s plum line for how well a carrier holds on to its customers — churn rate. Churn is the percentage of customers that leave a carrier for another network. In Sprint’s most recent quarter the company had a postpaid churn rate of 2.18% — the highest of all major US carriers.

In the company’s fiscal Q2 2014 earnings release this week, Sprint said it lost 272,000 postpaid subscribers in the quarter. Net tablet additions hid some of the worst news that a whopping 500,000 phone subscribers left in the three month period. That’s terrible news for Sprint and its investors.

By comparison Verizon had a churn rate of 1.00%, AT&T’s AT&T INC. T -2.59% was 0.99% and T-Mobile’s T-MOBILE US INC TMUS -1.64% was 1.6% in each of their most recent quarters.

Of course there are a few factors that play into churn rates other than a customer being dissatisfied with a carrier, but on the whole the lower the churn rate the better the indicator customers are happy with their current wireless provider.

But let’s assume for a minute that Sprint has a higher churn rate than its competitors for some reason other than customer dissatisfaction. Well, then we could look to other sources for whether or not Sprint’s customers are truly unhappy.

The list no company wants to be on

A recent survey commissioned Zogby Analytics for 24/7 Wall Street showed that Sprint topped a list for one of the worst customer service companies. More than one in five survey respondents said Sprint’s service was “poor.”

This comes as Sprint was fined $7.5 million by the FCC earlier this year for violating “do-not-call” requests by its customers. To be fair, Sprint’s not the only one. AT&T is paying $105 million to settle FTC charges that it added unauthorized charges onto its customers’ phone bills.

But even before this survey came out, Sprint’s been known for its lackluster reputation among the public.

An ongoing problem

Last year Consumer Reports published a survey showing that Sprint was in dead last place among cell phone carriers, according to the publications’ readers. While the Consumer Reports took into account factors like voice calls and data, the most telling indicators came from Sprint’s customer support.

For “ease and speed of getting through phone system to appropriate support staff” Sprint received Consumer Reports’ worse-than-average rating, as did the company’s rating for how well customer issues were resolved. The highest rating Sprint got was “average” for how knowledgeable the company’s staff was. Not exactly a stellar report card.

This is isn’t helping things either

According to data from RootMetrics, in the first six months of this year Sprint had the worst performing network of all the major wireless carriers.

Source: RootMetrics

Sprint trailed the pack in network speed, call performance, and data performance, while barely beating T-Mobile for reliability and text performance.

Fortunately, Sprint’s in the process of updating its old 3G network with 4G LTE and is bringing its ultrafast tri-band Spark network to more cities. On top of that, Sprint just replaced its former CEO with billionaire Marcelo Claure, the founder of the wireless distribution services company, Brightstar. With a new network and a new leader, RootMetrics thinks Sprint’s last place finish could be short-lived.

While Sprint’s clearly making changes to reverse its place among competitors, the company needs to focus on its industry high churn rate. Competition among wireless carriers is stronger than ever, and with T-Mobile’s aggressive offers and superior network, there are some clear benefits for Sprint customers to switch to the “uncarrier” network.

I think Sprint has a long road ahead of it in changing its place in the wireless industry. The company could stand to take a few pages of out T-Mobile’s branding book. Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure reportedly asked his vice presidents “Why would anybody want to buy a Sprint phone?” after he took over the job — and they had no answer. If that’s the case, it’s no wonder why Sprint customers are likely asking themselves the same thing.

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