[Note - see the updates on this one. AT&T is falling victim to its own complexity.]
The Devil is usually an elegant gentleman. Makes sense, doesn’t it? There’s a certain elegance to the best devilishness. Tobacco industries once had that knack, but today AT&T excels.
I just learned of a small contract change AT&T made in November 2009 – eight months ago. It doesn’t impact us yet, but it will when we get our new phones and new contracts. It’s a beauty.
Before I explain what changed, let me describe what was once possible. I’ll use my son as an example – call him “John”.
John is on our family plan. We pay $10 a month for that. He had my old Nokia (out of contract), so he’s not on a subsidized phone contract. A neighbor gave him an old Samsung Blackjack (Windows Mobile); he likes the keypad so we switched SIM cards. No contract, no data plan.
Of course if he fired up a browser, on the old Nokia or the old WinMobile Blackjack the data would flow. Sprint allows customers to disable data flow on a browser-equipped phone, but AT&T does not. In this case John is enrolled in a “smart wireless” plan where I’ve set his data flow to zero (costs $5/month).
What we’d like, of course, is for him to have a phone with WiFi services – like my old iPhone. Similar to the the Blackjack, but data when WiFi is available. That’s what we were planning on.
Ok, now here’s where things get really evil.
If you have a post 11/09 contract, there’s fine print that says that if AT&T considers your phone a “smart phone”, it must have a data plan even if the phone is fully paid for and has no ongoing subsidy. If you put your SIM card in one of those phones, AT&T will detect it and automatically enroll the subscriber in a data plan. (Supposedly the least costly plan.)
A data plan, by the way, that’s pure profit for AT&T. The money is not being used to pay off a subsidized phone, and it’s not going to, say, Apple. It’s pure AT&T profit.
Old WiFi equipped smart phones (RIM, iPhone, some Samsung) etc just got a lot less valuable. If a customer is going to get dinged for data services anyway, why not get a new phone and a contract?
Wow. Philip Morris would be proud of AT&T. This is high grade evil. AT&T is still a master of the complexity attack.
- Gordon's scale of corporate evil (AT&T is up there)
- John's head explodes: AT&T rebate paid with an AT&T debit card
- Head still exploding: The AT&T mobile phone rebate card scam
- Google good, AT&T and old FCC evil
- Mobile phone fraud - The accidental data charge and other scams (includes 10 mobile phone scams)
- AT&T is a partner to phone scams that target the vulnerable elderly
- AT&T sends more SMS Spam, locusts infest exec underwear
- Annals of idiocy - AT&T spams customers about a TV show
- A deal with the Devil: We move from Sprint to AT&T and towards an iPhone (I didn't realize HOW devilish!)
Update: As noted in comments AT&T is catching up with Verizon, just as when they recently doubled or tripled the penalty for early contract termination. Those two are Scylla and Charybdis.
Update 6/11/10: It occurs to me that one of my state Senators is Al Franken, and that in Obama administration consumer protection isn’t a joke. I’ll write his office. Who knows, maybe he’s ready to take on the mobile phone companies (though he does have his hands full these days)…