This just in... Traverse City, Mich., is not part of the United States. Either that or the folks at AT&T Wireless (NYSE:AWE) need a geography lesson.

You'd think the "nationwide, no roaming fees" calling plan I subscribe to would include, for example, the wide nation. That's what nationwide means, right? I can start in Maine, wander down the coast all the way to Florida, then -- if I want -- head west, dialing as I go my merry way.

According to AT&T Wireless, however, you have crossed into another country if you make a phone call from South Hill, Va., on your "nationwide, no roaming" plan. Because this past month, I also got socked with roaming fees on a call I made from South Hill.

What "nationwide, no roaming" apparently means to AT&T Wireless is "nationwide, no roaming fees on our system." It's funny how much gets lost in the translation from English to, er, English. It seems that the common-sense way to describe what AT&T Wireless provides is "systemwide, no roaming fees." Because I've got a big honking fee from Traverse City, South Hill, and Charleston, S.C., that says "nationwide, no roaming" it ain't.

How does one know when one is "roaming"? The only place in the entire country where my phone has ever said it was on roam mode is just outside Fool HQ in Alexandria, so the absence of a message on your phone is no excuse not to know you're no longer on the network. My AT&T Wireless customer service rep informed me that the best way to know was to either take a coverage map or call the company before making a call to see if I'm on the network or not.

See, it's not "nationwide, no roaming." Because if it were, I wouldn't need some stupid map. I'm in Kansas, I'm in the nation, dial away. Mexico? Not so much -- use the hotel phone.

My customer service rep then proceeded to ask if perhaps I'd like to upgrade to another service plan, which also fails to make the distinction between "nationwide" as the world defines it and "nationwide" according to AT&T Wireless. Gotta give those folks credit for boldness, if not responsiveness. Yes, I'd like another plan. With a different company.

I've heard stories of the decline of many old brand names due to legions of bad customer service and product management -- the proverbial death by a thousand cuts. This particular one was from a friend who, after a horrendous experience with AT&T (NYSE:T), decided he would never spend another penny on that company's products. And he hasn't.

Companies that railroad their customers with products that do not deliver as they were marketed may be able to exist, but unless they're monopolies, they won't prosper. Nationwide is different from "nationwide"? "Take a map?" Please.

I'm sure people from rural areas reading this are saying, "Yeah, welcome to our world, city boy." Thanks for the welcome, but do I need a passport to get to you?

Sure am sorry to see Traverse City go. It was great when it was part of Michigan.