Thursday, November 03, 2011

AT&T and the mandatory iPhone tax - even out of contract phones must pay

For about two years my son has used my old iPhone on our family plan. He has never had a contract and he doesn't have a data plan. The phone is configured not to use cellular data, it does have text messaging. He has data access only via wifi.

Today AT&T enrolled him in a mandatory data plan because "he has a smartphone". His text messaging stopped working, perhaps because his cellular data was turned off.

This was not completely unexpected, though AT&T's policy has been ambiguous when it came to off-contract customers ...

I called AT&T, put his SIM card into his old phone and they said they'd remove the data plan. However, they haven't done it yet [1], the charge is still showing on our family bill. Instead of enrolling him in the lowest cost data plan, he was auto-enrolled in the highest cost plan - $26/month.

So not only are iPhones carrier-locked in the US, they also incur an unwanted data plan even when they cannot use any cellular data, even when the user has no subsidized phone, and even when the user has no contract.

I am having a very bad week with evil corporations. First Google, now AT&T. If I wasn't already an OWS fan I'd sign up.

I'm researching what will happen if I get an AT&T GoPhone package and swap the SIM card into the iPhone. If that works I'll take both of our kids off the family plan. With iOS 5 on my iPhone 4 we can also drop our family texting plan and simply pay per text. In the meantime I'll review the policies of Sprint, Verizon and anyone else.

AT&T has complicated my life, but perhaps we'll save some money.

For what it's worth, I have filed a complaint with Minnesota's Attorney General. Even with the help of CU I couldn't find a physical address to use for AT&T, though other companies are listed. Evidently they hide well. eHow has it: AT&T Mobility, 5565 Glenridge Connector, Atlanta, GA 30342. (I wouldn't be surprised if they've changed their address to avoid the law.)

[1] On a 2nd call I was told it would be reversed.

See also:

Update 11/4/11: I've been ruminating on what AT&T is trying to do. I think they have a rational goal, which they are pursuing in the blundering and inept manner of almost all publicly traded corporations.

They are preparing for the end of their text messaging revenue stream.

They figure they can hold onto voice for a while; longer than most of us think. They do, however, expect Apple, Google, Facebook and others to steal text messaging. So in the short term they're getting as much money as they can out of text messaging, while ensuring every single customer has a data plan. They can't get away with mandating a data plan for a dumb phone customer, but they would do that if they could manage the outrage.

Eventually they'll give up on text messaging entirely, and make do with data plan revenue. That transition may be painful, so they'll try anything they can imagine to increase data plan usage.

    Update 11/23/11: Our Attorney General sent a letter to AT&T, which prompted a call to my home from a member of their "executive response team". Nice to know they have some sensitivity to these kinds of actions. I'll schedule a discussion with them.

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