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The only thing I will suggest is to replace the choclate with a new phone. My sister went through 3 of them before switching to another phone. The choclate was a poorly designed phone. Let me know if you need more help.
You cannot force your phone to work on extended network when it's in range of your home networks tower... but you can set it to ignore extended networking. when in the main menu (vx8500) hit 0 and type in all 000000's into the password that comes up. I haven't had this specific phone in my hands for a while, so I can't remember the exact menu, but it's in there under something similar to "Network"> "roam">"home only".
In the vx8550 you actually dial ##program(7764726)8550 to get into the same menu.