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AT&T Businesses Cellphones Wireless Networking

AT&T: Don't Want a Data Plan for That Smartphone? Too Bad. 798

An anonymous reader writes "Joel Runyon recounts a tale that will be familiar to many people who have bought secondhand smartphones. After his old dumbphone died a few months ago, Runyon picked up a used iPhone. He just needed it for basic phone capabilities, and used it as such, turning data off. However, AT&T eventually figured out he was making calls from a smartphone, and they decided he needed a data plan, even if he wasn't going to use it. They went ahead and opted him into a plan that cost an extra $30 a month. Quoting: 'According to AT&T: They can opt me into a contract that I didn't agree to because I was using a phone that I didn't buy from them because it had the ability to use data that I wasn't using (and was turned off). To top it all off, they got the privilege of charging me for it because I bought a differently categorized device – even though the actual usage of their network did not change at all and I never reconstituted a new agreement with them.'"
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AT&T: Don't Want a Data Plan for That Smartphone? Too Bad.

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  • Consumer Cellular (Score:5, Informative)

    by msk ( 6205 ) on Sunday February 03, 2013 @09:30AM (#42777125)

    Since you have a phone that can use AT&T data (even though you don't want), switch to Consumer Cellular, which uses the AT&T network but doesn't force you into a data plan.

  • Welcome to America (Score:5, Informative)

    by DiSKiLLeR ( 17651 ) on Sunday February 03, 2013 @09:36AM (#42777153) Homepage Journal

    That sort of shit doesn't happen anywhere else in the world.

    You can use any kind of phone you want, and get whatever kind of plan you want. You aren't forced to use a dataplan just because you have a smartphone.

  • by blahbooboo ( 839709 ) on Sunday February 03, 2013 @09:36AM (#42777155)

    There are several ways you just didn't know where or how to get them. To name a few options, T mobile sells prepaid sims in their stores and online, eBay has prepaid pre carded t mobile sims, straight talk sells pre paid sims.

  • by Slicker ( 102588 ) on Sunday February 03, 2013 @09:37AM (#42777161)

    Every major carrier instituted this policy right about the same time. The first thing I did, was try to change carriers.... before filing an FCC complaint. I really want to fight those bastards.

  • by Simply Curious ( 1002051 ) on Sunday February 03, 2013 @09:38AM (#42777167)
    I have wifi available everywhere except in transit. I have no need of a data plan whatsoever. It would be nice, however, to have my phone be more user-friendly, able to notify me of mail, and have a few games on it for passing the time.

    Of course I would be doing more with it than just making calls. However, I would not be doing more on the network than making calls. The requirement of a data plan prevents that.
  • by zm ( 257549 ) on Sunday February 03, 2013 @09:42AM (#42777189) Homepage
    They charged him highway toll because he has a car capable of doing highway speed, even though he never drives on a highway.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 03, 2013 @09:44AM (#42777197)

    As much as the blog poster would like us to believe that is the entire story. It's obviously not.

    Here's why.

    AT&T has mass data entry (or as CSR's refer to it "Massive Destruction of Effort") which does various things like add missing promotions/features and deleting invalid service plan/feature/promo combinations placed on it by sleezy first and third party sales agents.

    In the case of the blog writer, what obviously happened is that the iPhone started using mobile data. In the billing system, there are three classes of devices which I'll just refer to as "dumbphones", "smartphones" and "data devices." A "dumbphone" has a voice plan, and can only opt into optional small data plans. A Data device meanwhile is only a data device and the voice part is optional (since a tablet or usb stick has no voice system.) The Smartphones (previously Windows Mobile and Blackberry devices) require a data plan to work, and the Mass Data Entry system probably detected data use (eg signaling data) without a data plan and forced it onto one to prevent the user from using data for free.

    So what the blog writer should have done escalated the problem nicely and told the agent to restore the voice plan to what it was, or cancel the service.

  • by acidfast7 ( 551610 ) on Sunday February 03, 2013 @09:46AM (#42777219)

    T-mobile is horrible because the minutes expire after a year and it costs roughly 20 cents/min. Straight talk is a monthly plan for at least 30USD/mo.

    Both options are terrible, at best.

    Here (Germany), I can walk into a store, show ID, get a prepaid SIM put it into the phone, buy a recharge card for as little as €5, scratch the foil, send as SMS and have €5 immediately (at .05€/min or .€.05/MB).

    Another way to think about it is that, I can walk into almost any third-party store and for €30 walk out in 15 mins with a new functioning Nokia candy-bar phone with credit. Can't really get that in the US?

  • by jbolden ( 176878 ) on Sunday February 03, 2013 @09:50AM (#42777233) Homepage

    AT&T is regulated by the FCC. The contract has a termination clause which generally works out fairly close to a fair price for the subsidy he got on his original phone. The policies are regulated by the FCC and the FCC agrees.

  • Re:This is why (Score:5, Informative)

    by vlm ( 69642 ) on Sunday February 03, 2013 @09:53AM (#42777253)

    I've been prepaid / non-contract since the early 00s when I got sick of paying $80 for two dumbphones and switched to about $8/month/phone prepay. I think the business logic "big cell providers" use, is anyone dumb enough to sign a contract is dumb enough to be taken advantage of in pretty much any technically possible way. I mean how dumb do you have to be, to pay $120/month for two years for a $300 phone? Thats $3180. I'm getting the same service for a grand total of $780 over the two years (24*20+300). I'm sure I'll find some way to spend the $2400 I'll save merely by selecting an alternative billing method.

  • by Malenx ( 1453851 ) on Sunday February 03, 2013 @10:03AM (#42777303)

    There are lots of re-sellers who provide you with the same networks but don't require crap like this. http://www.pagepluscellular.com/ [pagepluscellular.com] is what my wife uses.

    I've deactivated my phone completely and use it with google voice / voip on wifi for free. http://sipdroid.org/ [sipdroid.org]

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 03, 2013 @10:09AM (#42777345)

    It's actually very easy. Every phone comes with what's called IMEISV which is a code that relates to phone model and software version.

  • Re:Mind boggling (Score:5, Informative)

    by realityimpaired ( 1668397 ) on Sunday February 03, 2013 @10:16AM (#42777385)

    It's in the service agreement, I think... smartphone = required data plan. Don't like it, don't buy a smartphone. If you want an idevice, then get an iPod. There are carriers in the US who don't act like this, or at least who won't charge that much for adding data, and it's his own damned fault for using ATT when he already had an unlocked phone he could use elsewhere. (and if it's about coverage on the ATT network, use one of the many MVNO's who use their network).

    Here in Canada that wouldn't happen either... carriers will quite happily let you have a smartphone on a non-data plan, because if your device leaks and accidentally uses data they can charge you at $50/GB. ($0.05/MB is not uncommon for per-use data, and some carriers charge $1/MB for per-use data for the first few MB). But a few years ago, the big 3 did act exactly as described in TFS, before they realized that they could extract more money by not forcing you onto a data plan. (I think it says something that even though I work for one of the big 3 and get an employee discount, it's still cheaper for me to have a plan on a fight brand for one of the competitors).

  • Re:T Mobile (Score:4, Informative)

    by realityimpaired ( 1668397 ) on Sunday February 03, 2013 @10:24AM (#42777435)

    This. They'll mail them internationally, as well... my parents bought one for an upcoming road trip through the US (well, driving from Ontario to Florida where they're going to catch a cruise around the carribbean, then driving back a week later), and for $10 they got a prepaid SIM with unlimited incoming texts, low rate for outgoing texts (even international), and a reasonably low per-minute data rate. They can top-off online, or by phone with a credit card, and probably at a retail POS as well.

    Plans *do* exist in the states, but they don't usually advertise the good ones on their website because they'd rather you take the $2/day plan.

  • by Secret Agent Man ( 915574 ) on Sunday February 03, 2013 @10:28AM (#42777459) Homepage
    I have a prepaid cell phone using T-Mobile. While it's true that the minutes expire after a year, if you put any amount of additional minutes on it (i.e. even $5 worth, for example), the timer is reset for all of your existing minutes. Additionally, after putting a certain amount of money into it over time (I forget the precise amount - been a few years), the cost is about 10 cents a minute. It's probably not the best deal, but considering I only have to put ~$50/year into my phone for talk and text (and the phone itself was only $30 off the shelf), I consider it a bargain.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 03, 2013 @10:34AM (#42777489)

    Hello there.

    We have noticed that your car your car has an OnStar system installed therefore we are enabling your OnStart service at X / month.

    If you do not wish to use this OnStar service please buy a car without OnStar capabilities.


  • Re:Straight Talk (Score:3, Informative)

    by fair use ( 948368 ) on Sunday February 03, 2013 @10:36AM (#42777503)

    After my AT&T contract expired, I switched to Straight Talk for my iPhone. $45/month unlimited everything (well, not unlimited data but a lot of data). They also use AT&T's network. Its been working great.

  • by realityimpaired ( 1668397 ) on Sunday February 03, 2013 @10:48AM (#42777567)

    Your phone's IMEI identifies the make/model of the phone.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IMEI [wikipedia.org]

    You can't use a cellular network without transmitting your IMEI to the network. It's one half of the authentication circle required to actually make a cellular phone call.

  • by arekin ( 2605525 ) on Sunday February 03, 2013 @10:59AM (#42777673)
    For a while a few of my friends and I were on a family share plan with AT&T. One of my friends had his phone die and started using his girlfriends unused iPhone. Sure enough after a month we started seeing the extra data plan on the bill. Called AT&T, and not only were we told that he would be charged for using the data plan, but he was not due for an upgrade despite having never signed a contract for his line to begin with (he had his phone from a previous plan). While we are not still in a family plan, every one of us have switched to sprint, who are not only significantly cheaper, but also have way better customer service.
  • by Rhys ( 96510 ) on Sunday February 03, 2013 @11:15AM (#42777777)

    Because despite having fallen off contract, the sucker blogger wasn't bright enough to get off a contract plan and onto one of the various, usually cheaper, monthly plans.

    Then if AT&T or any other provider dicks you around with your monthly (like T-mob is with their "no tethering on the unlimited data plan"), you can either 1) break the terms of the plan, because you can always go buy a new sim and top-up cards from a physical store and they can't track you and block your credit card or 2) jump to a different provider.

    Sure there's the inconvenience of a new number, but that's what google voice and similar services are for.

  • by Teckla ( 630646 ) on Sunday February 03, 2013 @11:19AM (#42777807)

    I have a prepaid cell phone using T-Mobile. While it's true that the minutes expire after a year, if you put any amount of additional minutes on it (i.e. even $5 worth, for example), the timer is reset for all of your existing minutes. Additionally, after putting a certain amount of money into it over time (I forget the precise amount - been a few years), the cost is about 10 cents a minute. It's probably not the best deal, but considering I only have to put ~$50/year into my phone for talk and text (and the phone itself was only $30 off the shelf), I consider it a bargain.

    I do the same. PAYG T-Mobile - 10 cents/minute - top off the minutes once in a great while - end up paying less than $6/month for my cell phone service. And my phone was only $20 off the shelf.

    If and when I'm ready to upgrade to data and a smartphone, T-Mobile has earned my business for treating me so well. I also highly recommend them to anyone and everyone. I think AT&T and Verizon are abusively expensive and unfair to customers.

  • by realityimpaired ( 1668397 ) on Sunday February 03, 2013 @11:20AM (#42777825)

    So what should i get if I want an Android 4 device but I want to use it on Wi-Fi?

    A carrier whose terms of service don't require you to have a data plan for a smartphone.

    ... And probably the wherewithal to call the carrier up and request that they block data use.

  • Re:Too bad. (Score:5, Informative)

    by irving47 ( 73147 ) on Sunday February 03, 2013 @11:44AM (#42777949) Homepage

    It's only illegal if it's tied to a contract.

  • Re:Too bad. (Score:5, Informative)

    by desertrat_it ( 650209 ) on Sunday February 03, 2013 @11:45AM (#42777951) Homepage

    I use Ting - they are a division of Tucows, use the Sprint network, are no-contract, and have reasonable monthly fees and no overage penalty (they just move you to the next tariff). I have an Android smartphone which I can use without any data plan if I so wish.


  • by loshwomp ( 468955 ) on Sunday February 03, 2013 @11:57AM (#42778003)

    AT&T tried this on me, twice in five years. The first time was immediately after I accidentally launched the "browser" in my ancient Treo 650.

    Each time a simple phone call was all that we needed to have them undo it. Annoying, yes, but probably not even on the top 20 list of things I hate about AT&T.

  • Re:Too bad. (Score:4, Informative)

    by francium goes boom ( 1969836 ) on Sunday February 03, 2013 @12:04PM (#42778045)

    My T-Mobile $30 a month pay as you go, with 5gb of HSAP+ 32 data is treating me very nicely. Full HSPA+ coverage for me and my standard travel area.

  • Re:Too bad. (Score:5, Informative)

    by camg188 ( 932324 ) on Sunday February 03, 2013 @01:01PM (#42778377)

    No matter what carrier your using the money is going to one of those two.

    In the US, Sprint, Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T Wireless (formerly Cingular) own almost all the cell towers and lease bandwidth out to the various mobile virtual networks [wikipedia.org]

  • Re:Too bad. (Score:5, Informative)

    by s4ltyd0g ( 452701 ) on Sunday February 03, 2013 @01:18PM (#42778497)

    I call bullshit, no cellular phone provider actually provides support for the handsets. It's all "you have a signal, the rest isn't our problem, see the handset manufacturer".

  • by big_e_1977 ( 2012512 ) on Sunday February 03, 2013 @01:45PM (#42778687)

    Buy a yourself a used cell phone. Don't activate it. You still will be able to call 911 due to a federal law that forbids cell phone companies from blocking 911 calls from inactivated cell phones. If you have to call friends and family instead of 911, then it is not life or death matter and nor truly an emergency.

  • Re:Too bad. (Score:3, Informative)

    by chasisaac ( 893152 ) on Sunday February 03, 2013 @04:04PM (#42779751) Homepage
    As someone who has two iPhones on T-Mobile for over year each they have never made us opt-in to a smartphone plan. We use out old dumbphone plan. Have a iPad Mini with Verizon and use data sharing as needed.
  • Re:Too bad. (Score:3, Informative)

    by no bloody nickname ( 2429300 ) on Sunday February 03, 2013 @05:43PM (#42780317)

    To be fair, it takes far fewer towers to cover all of Finland compared to the United states

    Yes, but the US also has vastly more population. And, more importantly more population per square meter.
    Finland comes in at the 201st place with regards to pop density at 16 ppl per square km. The US has 34!
    What the hell does it matter that the US is big? The cost is amortized over the number of end users you have.
    It's not like rail or power lines where you need right of way; all you need one single location in each area for a
    cell tower.

    You guys have on average twice as many people in a given area who need access to cell phones and yet you
    still manage to get your ass severely beat by the Finns with regards to coverage. Just accept it: Your phone
    providers suck - hard.

  • Re:Hmm... (Score:4, Informative)

    by adolf ( 21054 ) <flodadolf@gmail.com> on Monday February 04, 2013 @03:21AM (#42783441) Journal

    Yes, but don't you all use GSM down there? In the States, we've got variations of CDMA, GSM, PCS, and iDEN, all of which are mutually incompatible, and all fighting for spectrum.

    In a place where any one of these were universal, having excellent coverage is only a roaming agreement away. I'm unsurprised that Australia can have excellent coverage even with its relatively sparse population.

    But up here, we don't do it that way because it'd be too easy (or something), hence the cellular nonsense that you read about with some frequency on /..

A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that works.