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OPINION & ANALYSIS

‘Hellish odyssey’: Why cancelling my Italian phone contract took six months

Ending a contract with your phone or wifi provider in Italy can be trickier than you might expect. Reporter Silvia Marchetti shares her "nightmare" experience and explains the steps to be aware of.

'Hellish odyssey': Why cancelling my Italian phone contract took six months
Knowing what to expect before you start can take some of the stress out of cancelling an Italian phone contract. Photo by Elisa Ventur on Unsplash

Signing contracts with phone providers takes just a few minutes but getting rid of them by shutting down landlines and Wi-Fi services may take months.

It can be a real nightmare, as all telecom carriers have pretty much the same rules of cessazione del contratto (contract termination). 

You find yourself left hanging while automatic answering machines and ‘virtual assistants’ drive you crazy. Then, when you manage to get through to a real person, you spend hours talking with different customer service call centers across Europe to make sure your request has gone through.

But in the meantime, while you wait to sever ties with the phone company, you keep paying the monthly bills until it is certain that you are no longer their client.

They make it really hard for you. I spent half of this year chasing after my phone carrier to cancel the contract as I was paying for very poor, glitchy WiFi. The real problem is having to deal with many different call center staff to whom you have to explain the whole story from the beginning, and they often don’t speak Italian or English well.

READ ALSO: How to use your Italian ID card to access official services online

The first thing I did is to call the customer service and communicate that I no longer wanted to be their client explaining the reason, they said, ‘OK, it is done, no worries, within the next 30 days (the time needed to process the request) your contract will end’. 

Make sure you always ask for the ‘numero pratica’ (procedure number) for when you need to follow up. 

But of course it couldn’t be that simple. They told me I would be getting a confirmation sms on my mobile within the next 72 hours. That never happened, so I called back and this time they said I had to wait for the operator itself to call me to ask if I really wanted to cancel my contract, to double confirm the request. 

I received two phone calls after three weeks, during my working hours when I couldn’t answer, and each time I called back I was told I had to wait for another call.

Few people are aware of the tricky fact that if you do not verbally re-confirm the termination request it is void.

Months passed by and nobody called. Four times I picked up the carrier’s call and the connection broke off just as I said ‘Buongiorno’, so I called back the customer service and was told (by what must have been the ninth person I spoke to) that a verbal cancellation request isn’t enough, and the only way to make sure it went through was emailing the request to the company with my landline number and a copy of my ID.

I sent an email and it bounced back, so I sent a PEC, or ‘certified’ email – including the numero di pratica – and made sure I received confirmation that it had safely landed in the recipient’s mailbox.

You’ll need to beome familiar with Italy’s registered email (PEC) system. Photo: Mario Laporta/AFP

I waited, another two months went by and I had to keep paying the bills as my WiFi and phone services were still ‘on’ but no internet whatsoever. So I decided not to pay them anymore, or delay the payment deadline. That’s when the carrier started sending a private postman to deliver a notification of unpaid pending bills. 

It turned into a six-month hellish odyssey, almost every morning I called the customer service asking about my request status and they would reply I had to wait for the verbal confirmation call from the carrier. I gave them three other numbers they could reach of my relatives to increase the chances that if the operator did call, someone could confirm the deactivation.

The most frustrating aspect, as with most bureaucratic issues in Italy, is that la mano destra non sa cosa fa la sinistra (the right hand doesn’t know what the left one is doing) meaning each call center agent would say the opposite from another, unaware even that I had forwarded a PEC. So you start quarrelling over the phone, and it does no good.

In August, finally, after re-sending the PEC four times, someone from the phone company reached one of the numbers I had left, belonging to a person who lives with me, who verbally confirmed that I no longer wanted to be their client. Three weeks later my landline and WiFi were dead.

READ ALSO: Disappearing PECs: How lost emails can land you with big fines in Italy

As a result, I now solely rely on mobile connection and ‘fear like the plague’, as my granny used to say, getting entangled again in another phone carrier’s trap. 

This has taught me never to believe when a provider says all you need to do is tell them over the phone ‘hey I want to cancel my contract’, and then wait for their call to confirm it.

There’s an ancient Latin saying: verba volant, scripta manent (spoken words fly away, written ones remain). Sending an official request via PEC to the correct addresses, with numero di pratica, is the best thing to do. 

Calling up a few times to make sure your pratica has been approved is key, if so, make sure you ask the person you talk to send you via email a confirmation that on set date your landline will cease and you will no longer be paying bills.

If too much time goes by, and you keep getting bills, feel free not to pay them. When the phone carrier realizes this it will simply cut off your landline, which is exactly what you want, and there are no legal risks given the PEC was delivered months before.

This however is possible only if you pay the monthly bills by credit card or bollettino postale (postal payment slip). If you have a direct debit (RID) it’s best to rush to your bank to deactivate it when you make the official cancellation request. 

Credit cards can also be tricky: every month for five years I created a ‘virtual card’ to pay my bills and avoid fraud, but often the carrier’s online payment platform wouldn’t accept it. In the end this also wore me out. 

Phone and internet companies should make customers’ lives easy, not complicate things. In Italy however few things run smoothly. 

If you’ve cancelled a phone or internet contract in Italy, what was your experience? Have you got any tips for other readers? Please let us know in the comments section below.

Member comments

  1. Hi Silvia, interesting and traumatising experience you had with your telecom company. Imagine how hard it would be to call if you only have a smattering of Italian language. Something I learned very early on when I arrived in Italy 10 years ago was nobody, no matter who they are responds to email or PEC mail. I was told in my very early days simply cancel all direct debit payments and write by recorded delivery to head office giving 30 day’s notice of termination and ignore everything that they may send you and of course don’t use their service. Apparently that works. I have broadband with WindTre and if you go to their online terms and conditions you can download a termination of service form to complete and send to head office. I haven’t tried it yet but expect to early next year when I change my broadband service. I will of course cancel my DD after 30 days has expired. Kind regards Ian.

  2. Earlier this year I switched my landline and internet from TIM to Vodafone and I have to say it went really smoothly. Vodafone handled the practical side and I just had to confirm with TIM. I only wanted to switch because Vodafone were offering a much better deal. TIM were only offering a similar deal to new users. Even after trying to persuade TIM to offer me the same deal rather than lose a customer there was no budging.

  3. Whilst we had a nightmare transferring our TIM landline from one address to another within the same commune (it took two years and the intervention of the sindiaco).
    However when fibre optic broadband became available and we transferred from TIM to Windtre the switch over happened within two weeks, because we used the transfer code available on every telephone bill we received.

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TRANSPORT

OPINION: Why are Italians so addicted to cars?

In a country as attached to the car as Italy, what would it take to get more people to use greener transport? Silvia Marchetti looks at what’s behind the country’s high levels of car ownership.

OPINION: Why are Italians so addicted to cars?

Many foreigners I speak to are shocked by the ‘car first’ mentality that rules in Italy, and by Italians’ degree of addiction to any wheeled vehicle. 

There’s practically one car around for each Italian. Between 2010-2020 the population dropped but there were three million more cars on the roads, despite soaring living costs and falling salaries. 

Italy’s rate of car ownership is the second-highest in Europe after tiny Luxembourg. All Italian regions have a lot of cars running but surprisingly, the number of passenger cars which is the highest at EU level can be found in the Alpine regions of Valle D’Aosta and the northern autonomous province of Trento, where particular regional statutes envisage special tax incentives helping locals to buy new cars.

Most Italians just don’t like walking. They aren’t active travelers who’d opt for a bike, and can’t go even 500 meters without a wheeled vehicle, be it a Jeep, motorbike, Vespa or motorino. 

But it’s not really their fault. People in Italy haven’t been educated on eco-friendly modes of transport, simply because infrastructure like bike lanes, pedestrian paths, high-speed trains, efficient trams, subways and buses are rather lacking. And there aren’t many walkable pavements in cities, let alone in old villages. So the car is Italians’ second home. 

READ ALSO: These are the most (and least) eco-friendly towns in Italy

There’s an historical reason for this, too. After the second world war, during the economic boom when Italy finally rose from the ashes of the defeat, owning a cinquecento or maggiolino was a status symbol. In the 1960s my father would squeeze eight friends into his cinquino and drive around all night, sharing the fuel cost. Then the car fad turned into a frenzy, and now it’s an obsession.

Iconic Italian car and motorbike models fuelled a post-war fad – which has become an obsession. (Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP)

Whenever I need to go somewhere far from my house I wish I could do the entire trip by public transport and ditch my car, so as to avoid having parking problems too. I remember once when I was at university there was this huge party near the Colosseum, I drove around for an hour looking for a parking spot and eventually I gave up, went back home really frustrated. 

Car sharing also is something totally foreign to Italians. You just need to look around in the morning at rush hour to see that there’s just one person per car, which is totally unsustainable climate-wise.

READ ALSO: Rome ‘among worst cities in Europe’ for road safety, traffic and pollution

Even in areas like Milan, where public transport is more efficient than in the southern regions, people still stick to their car or motorino which just proves how it’s a matter of mentality rather than of transport provision. 

On the other hand, if I want to visit Tuscany or Umbria from my house in Rome’s northern countryside, there aren’t even any direct connections.

My Italian millennial friends refuse to take a bus or tram to the gelateria a few blocks away from their home – the car is the rule, and they don’t care if they risk a fine for double parking, or parking in front of a building entrance. Forget walking, it just isn’t ‘done’.

Italy will soon invest some €600 million in projects aimed at improving bike and pedestrian lanes under initiatives funded by the PNRR, but the mindset of drivers must also modernize for all this money to be really effective. 

OPINION: Why cycling in Rome isn’t as crazy as it sounds

Italy needs an information campaign to raise awareness of environmental and health issues, and this must start inside schools and continue in college. Families also should educate kids to healthier transport modes, and stop buying those ‘micro cars’ when they’re 13 which don’t require a driver’s license. 

I often ask myself what it would take to get Italians – but also other nationalities – out of their cars, or off their noisy motorino with illegal upgrades that make a hell of a noise. Rising oil prices haven’t done the miracle in making car ownership unaffordable. 

Hiking car prices would kill the industry, so the only way is to give tax breaks or incentives to families who keep just one car and manage to share it, or raise taxes if each family member has one. 

Perhaps in a very remote future, interconnected green transport from the doorstep to the destination might be the solution, but at the moment that’s science fiction.

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