T-Mobile slapped with $40 million fine for playing fake ringtones on rural calls

Christian de Looper
T-Mobile has agreed to pay $40 million after the FCC found that despite promising to end the practice, T-Mobile was still playing fake ringtones on calls to rural areas in an effort to make customers believe that the call had been connected.

T-Mobile has agreed to pay a hefty $40 million fine levied by the Federal Communications Commission after an investigation found that the company was playing fake ringing sounds to customers who were calling rural areas, making them believe that their call was going through when in fact the call had never connected.

The issue is specific to rural areas. When a customer calls a rural area with spotty connectivity, it may take a few seconds for the call to connect — and a carrier may have to hand the call off to a local carrier to handle the call. That’s not the problem, though — the issue is that T-Mobile was filling those seconds with a fake calling sound, implying that the call had connected even if it had not.

When FCC laws changed in 2014 to prohibit this practice, users and carriers both complained — and the FCC started looking into it. T-Mobile then claimed that it had solved the issue, when in fact it had not. And now T-Mobile is facing a $40 million fine for not complying with the law.

According to the FCC, false ringing sounds “cause callers to believe that the phone is ringing at the called party’s premises when it is not.” It also said that uncompleted calls “cause rural businesses to lose revenue, impede medical professionals from reaching patients in rural areas, cut families off from their relatives, and create the potential for dangerous delays in public safety communications.”

On top of the $40 million fine, T-Mobile will also have to stop the practice within 90 days and issue reports to the FCC every year for the next three years ensuring that it is still in compliance.

Of course, T-Mobile won’t necessarily have much of an issue in paying the fine. Earlier this year, the company announced record-breaking revenue for the fourth quarter of 2017, proving that the so-called Un-Carrier is only on the rise. For the fourth quarter of 2017, the company added a hefty 891,000 subscribers. A lot of this increase are related to the perks that come with being a T-Mobile subscriber — like discounted movie tickets, Netflix subscriptions, and other “free stuff every Tuesday.”