T-Mobile fined $40m for scamming rural users with Potemkin ring-tones

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2018/04/17/local-ring-back-tone.html


don’t worry Ajit will fix it for them.


Even with wired telephones, the “rings” that the caller hears are unrelated to the rings on the receiver set. It has been that way for decades at least.



I don’t disbelieve you. I’m just curious to know how unrelated we’re talking. If the “rings” the caller hears are generated only after the circuit is completed, then I’d argue that’s still related, even if the sounds are in sync with the actual ringer signal sent to the receiving phones.


Just another way that the man who appointed Pai is looking out for their interests [snort].


The FCC has fined T-Mobile $40,000,000, but will not require the company to issue refunds to the customers it scammed.

Apparently, too big to fine, and then the assumption that , heck! what can rural users do about it anyway.


Basically, during the SIP (session initiation protocol) phase the intermediary bucket brigade of nodes will signal back to the originating device that a device at the far end should be ringing. And if all parts of the system are functioning correctly, it will probably be ringing, unless the ringer’s turned off by the user.


I’m not exactly a citation, but I was a Telco engineer for a few years after college. @simonize is right, it’s been that way since day one. The voltage that rings your phone is pretty powerful - it had to drive electromagnets to make the little hammer hit the bell, back in the day. When everything went transistorized, they didn’t change the standard. I think it’s 100V, 20Hz.

The rings you hear are generated by a little noisemaker in the telephone office. They both have the same rhythm, 2 sec on, 4 sec off, but they’re usually out of phase. If you think their phone rang twice, it could actually have rung 1-3 times.


I’m ringing right now.


Am not disappoint.

eta: I might suspect that you are always ringing.


Roger That!


That’s great information! It’s supposed to work pretty much the same in the SIP world, just in software.

RFC 3960 provides an example rule-set for a SIP system set up to behave like POTS [Plain Old Telephone System] which is what T-Mobile was doing in this case.

Example Rule Set (in non-engineer speak)

  1. Unless the cell phone being called sends an “I’m ringing” message, never play a ringing sound on the phone of the person making the call.

  2. If the cell phone being called sends and “I’m ringing” message to the system, and there’s no other data (sounds) being sent, play a ringing sound on the phone of the person making the call.

  3. And finally, If the cell phone being called sends and “I’m ringing” message but then starts sending data (sounds), start playing those sounds and skip the ringing.


Who was the CEO back in 2014?
How golden was his parachute?
Which group of customers is he fucking over now?


As a rural T-Mobile customer, I am now expecting my bill to go up in order to cover this fine.

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You lucky duck. Truly rural customers don’t get T-Mobile coverage.

So, it sounds from others like you’re essentially right. The the thing that makes the T-Mobile case special is not that the “ring” that the caller hears is un-syncronized with the ring on the receivers phone which has been the case for a long time, but that T-Mobile sent those tones when it had not yet connected to the phone on the far end, which it is not supposed to do.


True, I do live near an interstate highway.

Hang on - T-Mobile USA charges for unanswered outbound calls? Really? I first read this and thought “Well that’s a bit silly, ringing before the call routing completes, but I’ve seen (heck, I’ve configured) phone systems that do weirder things” and was wondering what the fuss was about beyond technical correctness. To find out the issue is that people are charged for making a call that does not connect speaks volumes about how wrecked the US telecoms market (companies, ICANN, FCC, et al) really is; if a British telecoms company started charging for unanswered calls in either direction (regardless of if the other end rang), they would loose a lot of customers rather quickly (that and OFCOM would probably have some choice words to say to them).