AT&T Hates Their Customers

Every time I have an interaction with AT&T wireless, it is an agonizing and drawn out horror of an experience. Because I know this, I only call then when absolutely necessary. Basically this is when they break things and I need to figure out why my stuff is busted.

I spent about four hours on the phone with AT&T after my wireless data was mysteriously half-broken. When someone decided that they were pissed off or didn’t want to be helpful, I just hung up and called back in again. There really isn’t any point in taking up any more of my time.

After one of their higher-level techs spilled the beans that AT&T has implemented some new program of removing functionality that customers are paying for based on the IMEI of the phone assigned in the customer account.

Why should you care? I thought that it was interesting that I was no longer getting the service I was paying extra to make sure I received. I spoke to another rep in business sales (another good trick to get decent service is to go through business services as normal customer service is always pissed off, semi-literate, don’t care, or a combination thereof) and he said that he had lost data service on his blackberry about a week ago and that he was likely having the same problem.

Through the course of my research of trying to figure out what they screwed up so that I could tell them how to fix it (this is the only way to handle any telco, by the way), I found several other interesting tidbits.

I took a bit of a longer view of how AT&T manages their customers and their service agreements in order to be prepared for my encounter. Ever since data plans have been offered, consumers have been using the abilities that were built into the phones for this purpose to attach tablets, laptops, and other peripherals to the data service on their phones. This hasn’t been a very big deal until recently and, much like SMS was before it became popular, it was largely free as it was not commonly used by the average consumer.

Now that it has, it is worthwhile to take note of some of the strange language in the agreements for their “unlimited data” plans, which aren’t so unlimited:

DATACONNECT PLANS
DataConnect plans may ONLY be used with AT&T-certified LaptopConnect (PC Data) Cards and eligible AT&T-certified customer owned and maintained (COAM) devices for the following purposes: (i) Internet browsing; (ii) email; and (iii) intranet access (including access to corporate intranets, email, and individual productivity applications like customer relationship management, sales force, and field service automation). The parties agree that AT&T has the right to impose additional charges if you use more than 5 gigabytes in a month. Prior to the imposition of any additional charges, AT&T shall provide you with notice and you shall have the right to terminate your service.

PDA/BLACKBERRY PLANS WITH TETHERING
PDA/BlackBerry plans with Tethering may ONLY be used with AT&T-certified RIM BlackBerry devices and PDAs for the following purposes: (i) Internet browsing; (ii) email; and (iii) intranet access (including access to corporate intranets, email, and individual productivity applications like customer relationship management, sales force, and field service automation). PDA/BlackBerry plans with Tethering may be used to tether such PDA and BlackBerry devices to a Personal Computer. The parties agree that AT&T has the right to impose additional charges if you use more than 5 GB in a month. Prior to the imposition of any additional charges, AT&T shall provide you with notice and you shall have the right to terminate your service.

Source from the AT&T Wireless Terms of Service.

The bold is theirs.

Apparently this is enforced rarely and only as a hammer to punish customers that piss them off.

As you might expect, this has been found and reported a couple of times and usually at Howard’s Forums and reported here by dslreports.

‘Unlimited’ AT&T Wireless Data Plans About To Be Capped?
Rumblings among insiders about implementing 5GB quiet cap, like Verizon…
09:33AM Friday Jan 11 2008 by Karl
tags: prices · business · wireless · bandwidth · Cingular Wireless
An anonymous AT&T insider yesterday hinted to us that the company’s wireless division would soon be implementing a 5GB monthly usage cap on some unlimited data plans. We contacted AT&T for official comment and were told that there’s no changes in store that they’re aware of, but they’d nudge us if anything official came along. Today we’re seeing some discussion over at Howard’s forums that would seemingly confirm there’s some changes coming:

Click for full size

I just heard that the pda plans will no longer be unlimited but will be capped at 5 gigs. Users will not be billed overages but people with constant overages will be contacted to try to reassess the users needs. The new plans are nationwide so I’m not going to disclose my market but they are getting rid of the media bundles and M2M messaging. Text and data is now separate. PDA plans will be lowered to 30 bucks to match blackberry personal and media net unlimited is lowered to $15 bucks.According to the poster, the plans will be live in a few weeks. Assuming these looming changes are true, AT&T may want to start removing the word unlimited from their advertising material. Verizon, who similarly advertised an unlimited service that actually had a 5GB monthly data cap, was busted last October by the NY Attorney General for false advertising. When we hear more on these rate changes we’ll let you know.

..and reported again a couple of months later:

AT&T’s 5GB Wireless Broadband Mystery Cap
Heavy users can prepare to pay a fortune…
03:13PM Tuesday Mar 18 2008 by Karl
tags: business · wireless · bandwidth · Cingular Wireless
For years, Verizon Wireless was trying to have their cake and eat it too, by advertising their EVDO service as unlimited, but quietly imposing a 5GB monthly cap. That advertising charade ended courtesy of NY’s attorney general (no, not client-9) last fall. Back in January, AT&T insiders insisted that the company was preparing to apply a 5GB monthly cap of their own to their unlimited HSDPA service. The company’s terms of service already states as much:The parties agree that AT&T has the right to limit throughput or amount of data transferred and/or deny, disconnect, modify and/or terminate Service if you use more than 5 gigabytes in a month. If you require more than 5 gigabytes per month, ask us about our DataConnect 5GB Overage plan.That plan doesn’t appear anywhere on AT&T’s website. Gearlog called in to ask about the plan, and found that actually using AT&T’s wireless broadband network in any volume can be a very pricey proposition:if you call in, you’ll find it’s $350/month for 5GB, plus $0.50 per megabyte (really, $.0005 per kb, but my megabyte formula is more readable.) Since you’re probably a heavy downloader, let’s think of that as $500 per gigabyte. Yes. They want to charge you $350 for exactly what you’re paying $60 for. Want 10GB instead of 5GB? That’ll cost you $2,850 for that month. Now, to be fair, an AT&T rep told me that they’ll probably give you a pass for a month or two if you accidentally go over 5GB. Then they’ll give you a call and try to convince you to move to the Punitively Expensive Plan.AT&T’s website still advertises “unlimited” data for Blackberry and PDAs provided you don’t tether, but we’d be interested to see if any users have tested the boundaries with smart phone consumption alone.

Note that life as a bandwidth hog on Verizon’s network is no easier. Buried amidst all the fawning adoration of Verizon Wireless for their recently announced unlimited yammering plan was the fact that they implemented some very pricey data overage charges of their own.

I had thought that perhaps it was possible they were mad at me for actually using the service I was paying for, but there was no way I was even using a significant fraction of 5G down a month.

So I looked on Howard Forums and saw that a whole bunch of people were having the same problem. I contributed a bit to these threads with the information I gathered from my hours of talking to AT&T representatives, and then focused on fixing my problem.

After this, and several other misadventures, I don’t suggest anyone even talk to customer care. Just don’t bother. It is a waste of time. If you want to do it at all, do it to make AT&T lose money. It costs money to staff call centers though, as it turns out, AT&T will soon be charging you to speak to a human. It really is amazing how minimum requirements of business are becoming features that one gets billed for using.

So after all this, I had a surprisingly simple solution to my problem.

I went to an AT&T storefront. I told them that business customer care told me that I needed a new SIM. I asked them to delete my data plan and the phone that was currently in my account. They scanned my IMEI number from the back panel of my phone, added a data service to my account, scanned in the new SIM card and gave it to me.

All was fixed and operational again after a few minutes.

The point of this is that cable and telco companies, who have re-established their monopolies, are increasingly using business practices that lock in customers instead of satisfying them. Since the consumers have no choice, the are billed a regulated amount as set by the government.

This is the case because much of this infrastructure was built with your tax dollars. Many of these companies have benefited from this but conveniently forget about this when they ask for less regulation because “they built the network and now it is theirs to do what they want” as is the argument for many companies net neutrality defiant behavior.

So do what needs to be done to defeat the problems generated by companies that don’t really care if they break services that you have come to rely on to do your business. Take the path of least resistance and remember that you owe them no consumer loyalty, because they do not appreciate or respect your patronage.

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