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Service providers would rather charge you a break fee than upgrade your contract. (Jupiterimages/(c) Jupiterimages)
Service providers would rather charge you a break fee than upgrade your contract. (Jupiterimages/(c) Jupiterimages)

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Are you stuck in a cellphone contract? Add to ...

It's a strange thing when you feel as if a cellphone carrier doesn't want your business.

I recently thought about upgrading my iPhone. I've been generally pleased with my carrier's service so far, so I thought I'd give them a call and see how much it might cost me to get a 4S while still continuing with my contract. I knew I had about a year left.

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I got on the phone with a customer service rep, and told her I would be happy to continue with a contract, and would even be willing to sign on for another three years. I just needed to know how much it would be for the new phone and the monthly fee.

My customer service rep told me that to get a new 4S, I would need to pay $150 for the phone, with a phone plan of minimum $50 per month. That sounded fine - I had checked the deals offered by several competitors and it was competitive. But then came the kicker - Because I still had 10 months left on my contract, I would also have to pay $150 to cancel it.

"But I don't want to cancel my contract," I said, confused. "I want to continue my contract with you, and sign a new contract with you for another three years. Just with a new phone." Surely to keep a customer and land another three-year contract, they would waive the $150.

But my argument fell on deaf ears. The rep told me that the $150 cancellation fee was non-negotiable, whether I got a new contract or not. I was passed along to a supervisor, but got the same story.

I was perplexed. They were essentially penalizing me for signing a new contract with them, and purchasing a more expensive phone.

My protests continued: There was no incentive to stay with them as a carrier, because I could easily just wait 10 months and sign with someone else. Why would a company rather get a quick $150 now, instead of $1,950 (at least) in business from me for the next three years? How does that make business sense in the competitive world of mobile phones?

When I expressed my dismay, the supervisor told me that the other carriers all had the same policy. She also added, "I see what you're getting at, but you're .01 per cent of the population."

"You mean, most people are willing to pay the $150 just to get a new phone?" I asked.

"Yes," she said.

Maybe so. Regardless, they lost me as a customer. Although I've yet to try them out, I found several websites with interesting suggestions for breaking a contract without paying a penalty.

Check and see if there have been any changes to your cellphone agreement since you first signed your contract, advises Cellphones.ca. Changes will be noted in the bills you receive each month. Because of the Material Adverse Clause in your contract, says writer Scot Cerullo, you have a right to terminate without paying an early termination fee, should any terms or conditions change.

Mr. Cerullo also suggests finding legitimate "dead spots" and making lots of calls from those areas, so that you can accumulate a large number of dropped calls. Then, call and ask for a supervisor and use your dropped calls as ammunition to complain about the service. Sneaky, sneaky.

Though it's not specifically about cancellation fees, YoungandThrifty.ca offers a step-by-step guide on how to save money on your cellphone contract. And WhatsYourTech.ca suggests selling your cellphone contract to someone else. There are numerous websites to do so, including CellClients.com, CellSwapper.com and Cell Plan Depot.

I'll probably wait out my contract and just go elsewhere after it's up. Frankly, I don't need a new phone right now, and this is quite the incentive to just be happy with my dependable old 3G. However, I'd be interested in hearing about whether any of these methods worked for other people. Tell me in the comments section below.

An earlier online version of this article incorrectly referred to upgrading to a 4G iPhone. It should have stated a 4S iPhone. This online version has been corrected.

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