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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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  • Too bad. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by NettiWelho ( 1147351 ) on Sunday February 03, 2013 @09:26AM (#42777085)
    Yes, too bad, for the AT&T.

    It is usually good business to do stuff that make customers want to continue using your services.

  • Welcome to... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by OpenSourced ( 323149 ) on Sunday February 03, 2013 @09:26AM (#42777087) Journal

    ...your new serfdom.

  • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) * on Sunday February 03, 2013 @09:27AM (#42777089) Homepage Journal

    Too bad the corporations own the government, needed laws restricting companies from screwing over customers no longer get passed here. More corporate rights, fewer human rights.

  • Mind boggling (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AbRASiON ( 589899 ) * on Sunday February 03, 2013 @09:28AM (#42777103) Journal

    I've heard stories as described in the subject previously from Americans and it's /fully completely mind boggingly insane/
    I can't even contemplate how it's legal in any possible way. I know you guys get shafted on terrible policies / regulations and I guess 'social norms' of how things are meant to be with cell phone usage but err yeah this takes the cake.

    In Australia what's described in the subject, simply wouldn't occur, at all.
    I have a BlackBerry Bold 9000 as my spare phone and use it purely as a voice only 2g phone, no data at all. My provider has no issue with this at all. If I put that same SIM inside an iphone or my Galaxy S3 - I simply end up with no data, my tough luck - if I want it, I need to call them and add a data plan to my account.

    You can also get phones unlocked here, you can buy phones outright and you get different priced plans - so purchasing an outright high end smartphone can be paired with a fairly minimal data and voice plan if you just use it for casual browsing / twitter / facebook and you're near wifi all the time.

    I realise getting angry isn't really a solution for you guys - but based on the article? I would be angry, extremely goddamned angry. It simply shouldn't be legal.

  • by steelfood ( 895457 ) on Sunday February 03, 2013 @09:30AM (#42777115)

    Yeah, I believe that one. That's about the last thing anybody does with an iPhone anymore. I'm always a bit surprised it still has the ability to make calls each time Apple announces a new version.

  • I love the EU (Score:5, Insightful)

    by drolli ( 522659 ) on Sunday February 03, 2013 @09:44AM (#42777199) Journal

    Euro problems or not, but for the customers its great here in Europe.

    I never had the situation here that a mobile provider tried to force me onto a certain mobile phone. The reason for this is that the European union has a lot of laws regarding the availability of services everywhere and that no competitor may have a disadvantage by closed markets. In the same way the mobility of the cititzens should not be limited.

    Soemthing like: "If you use the phone which we did not sell you, we charge extra" would bring you into an overkill of lawsuits. Its not accidentally that MS needs to show the "browser choice" screen in Europe. Its not accidentally that Apple and other ebook publisher got got into trouble here. it not accigentally that Apples warranty conditions clashed here. It is not accidentally that the "one mobile provider sell the iphone" idea broke down in the EU more quickly than elsewhere.

  • by bogaboga ( 793279 ) on Sunday February 03, 2013 @09:53AM (#42777247)

    I whole heartedly agree. Trouble is, most Americans think the [mighty] USA is the best place to be.

    They view themselves as being superior to others nations, after all they have the strongest, the best of everything, including democracy.

    No wonder companies like At&T treat them that way.

  • Re:Too bad. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 03, 2013 @09:54AM (#42777261)

    Yes, too bad, for the AT&T.

    It is usually good business to do stuff that make customers want to continue using your services.

    You're delusional.

    And I'll have proof of that in a month when not a fucking thing will change, including this policy or AT&Ts revenue.

    Sorry, but there are always plenty of addic, er customers in the cellular arena. These companies' new sales pitch should simply be "FUCK YOU".

    Don't like it? Get rid of your cell phone. All phones will be considered "smart" on every plan on every carrier very soon. Again, part of the "FUCK YOU" commitment to feed the addicts that refuse to quit.

  • Re:Too bad. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jhoegl ( 638955 ) on Sunday February 03, 2013 @10:08AM (#42777329)
    AT&Ts service is crap compared to Verizon.
    In fact there are many places AT&T does not work, but Verizon does.
    They are small places like a club, a restaurant, or even the grocery story, but people still stick with AT&T.
    Again, choices are pretty much limited in this category, so... that is why they can pull this crap.
  • by fustakrakich ( 1673220 ) on Sunday February 03, 2013 @10:09AM (#42777339) Journal

    Good to know who the FCC works for... This isn't regulation. It's a protection racket.

  • by houghi ( 78078 ) on Sunday February 03, 2013 @10:24AM (#42777437)

    Legal and moral are two different things. It is legal what is happening. It is still wrong.

    From Wikipedia: The FCC works towards six goals in the areas of broadband, competition, the spectrum, the media, public safety and homeland security.

    So it isn't an organization that has the consumers interest at heart, And in this case, they have not.

  • by Archangel Michael ( 180766 ) on Sunday February 03, 2013 @10:45AM (#42777545) Journal

    We don't need more laws, we need more honor. You cannot legislate honor. The problem is, honor is an outdated notion that is contrary to "law".

    Honor is doing what is right, no matter what, even when nobody is looking. Too many people want to screw the next guy and get away with it that we need laws to stop them from doing the wrong thing. They are brazen in their deeds. Quoth the asshole, "it isn't illegal, that makes it okay"

  • Re:Too bad. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SJHillman ( 1966756 ) on Sunday February 03, 2013 @11:00AM (#42777677)

    If coverage area is your only metric, then yes, Verizon is the bestestest ever. However, there are other metrics. My primary metric is cost, so I'm on Virgin Mobile in spite of the limited coverage. For some people, the extra coverage is worth the money, for me it is not.

  • Re:Too bad. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by johnlcallaway ( 165670 ) on Sunday February 03, 2013 @11:12AM (#42777759)
    Why would AT&T want a customer that doesn't use data? Better to charge them fees and make them go elsewhere, or hope that they will start to use data. Same thing happened to my son-in-law, but I changed his plan to a $5 plan, and he does use data from time to time. So it all worked out.

    Contrary to popular belief, businesses only want your money if they make more money than you cost. If you don't fit into that mold, they will be very happy you go elsewhere.

    Welcome to capitalism. I have had AT&T for years, but only because the services they offer are the ones I want and am willing to pay for. Seems you and many others don't understand how that process works. Don't like it, go elsewhere. If AT&T really wants you around, they will try to keep you.
  • Re:Too bad. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Runaway1956 ( 1322357 ) on Sunday February 03, 2013 @11:37AM (#42777901) Homepage Journal

    So - unlock it. It's out of contract. Unlock the damned thing, and if anyone ever asks, then it's "I bought it this way, I don't know shit!"

  • by rufty_tufty ( 888596 ) on Sunday February 03, 2013 @11:42AM (#42777931) Homepage

    To summarize your post.
    "I realise that a company has screwed you over. You are an idiot because knowing what you know now you should have gone to someone else."
    I'm sorry but no!
    The point is they have been amoral and done something at could screw over other people. The world needs to hear this and the company should be dragged through the coals because of this.
    Not that it will happen mind and yes really the only way a consumer can attack a large company is to take their business elsewhere, but that is only painfull to a company if lots of people do it.

  • by Phrogman ( 80473 ) on Sunday February 03, 2013 @11:53AM (#42777985) Homepage

    Corporations have no honour, and never will. Their sole purpose is to make more money for those who own them, or their shareholders. They know no morality if that will limit profits.

    The phone companies have us all by the short and curlies and can do whatever the fuck they want. Up here in Canada they are all essentially the same - they charge too much, for too little and they have a monopoly effectively, with zero real competition. Like the cable companies I am sure they collaborate to keep the prices artificially high.

  • Re:Too bad. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by SomeKDEUser ( 1243392 ) on Sunday February 03, 2013 @12:12PM (#42778091)

    Dude, better anything than Rogers basically requires you to exist and not try.

  • Re:Too bad. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Eivind Eklund ( 5161 ) on Sunday February 03, 2013 @01:04PM (#42778387) Journal

    So you need to split your charges into "Smartphone support tax" and "Data plan", and not bundle them.

  • Re:Too bad. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 03, 2013 @01:14PM (#42778467)

    Be that as it may, this means of responding to that problem is incorrect. A client was opted into a plan he did not want, without his consent or even informing him of this. THAT is an egregious way to treat a customer.

    If the data plan is mandatory, for the reasons you stated, clients need to know that the moment they sign up. If it is so easy to detect that they are using a smart phone, then they should get a "service denied because you are on an invalid plan" error the moment they plug their card in, so they can call support and hash that out.

    That may create more friction, but it is more honest and more appropriate than the "ha! gotcha!" practices going on now.

    This makes me glad I don't use AT&T.

  • Re:Too bad. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Voyager529 ( 1363959 ) <voyager529 AT yahoo DOT com> on Sunday February 03, 2013 @01:35PM (#42778613)

    They begin with" I never asked for a data plan when I bought my LG flip phone." ...part of the data plan is used to offset the higher level of support required with smartphones, and unfortunately only about 10% of Iphone users actually no how to use them, and the rest need hand holding...Now these people want no data but want support in connecting via wifi to check their email, facebook, use company vpns, play words with friends, and all the neato things they can do. They want support for it, but without paying the toll....for that type of device to be used on the network, he would recquire a data plan, and as such one was added. He is free to go back to his old phone.

    The correct response to this situation is, "We are more than happy to assist you with problems that your LG flip phone experiences. We can continue to give you voice and text messaging service on the iPhone you're presently using, but we cannot provide any assistance with its operation without a data plan added. If you'd like to add a data plan, I'd be more than delighted to assist you with the problems you're having with your handset".

    I understand that support costs money, and that having a "support only" contract or a 'pay-per-incident' is only going to make your job even harder as half of the time will be spent arguing with customers who believe that they are entitled to free support. However, an iPhone can send and receive calls just as effectively as the basic phones in the absence of a data plan, and I don't think that automatically adding a data plan to a monthly fee of a customer who has decided to forgo both support and data service, with no ability to opt out of either, is the kind of customer policy that should be defended. He may technically be free to go back to his old phone, but that doesn't mean that it's possible - if his phone breaks and he's six months out on his contract, even another dumbphone costs $150 or more. To someone who's going to feel the squeeze of $20 a month for data service, that's a lot of money to ask him to cough up at once.

    Yes, people - especially nontechnical people - are going to expect that data service and quality technical support both come out of thin air and are magically free, and I do certainly concede that this is not accurate, practical, sustainable, or fair to AT&T. That doesn't justify the fact that there is no "sudo rm --data-plan --phone-support" command for someone who genuinely wants neither. By the way, T-Mobile will let you have any service level you want as long as you either bring the phone with you to T-Mobile, or buy the phone outright instead of doing a carrier subsidy, so somehow, a carrier with a lot less money is able to do what these customers want and keep the towers running.

  • Re:Too bad. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Sunday February 03, 2013 @01:53PM (#42778763)

    They begin with" I never asked for a data plan when I bought my LG flip phone." An I point out they are using an iphone, they usually claim they are not even though we can see it on the network, from the time they stuck their sim card in it. And most of the time they lie about it. We used to be able to lock down smartphones without any data, but the problem is that part of the data plan is used to offset the higher level of support required with smartphones, and unfortunately only about 10% of Iphone users actually no how to use them, and the rest need hand holding. I call it the George Jetson syndrome, they only have one button to press, and they whine about doing that. We started getting tons of users with off contract Iphone they were given, bought, or found, and they stuck their sim cards in them. Now these people want no data but want support in connecting via wifi to check their email, facebook, use company vpns, play words with friends, and all the neato things they can do. They want support for it, but without paying the toll.

    This is entirely your fault. The carriers that is. You complain about people wanting support without paying the toll. Yet you charge people the subsidized phone monthly service rate even though they have an off-contract phone. (T-Mobile is the only major carrier who doesn't - they'll cut your monthly fee $10-$20/mo once you're out of contract and paid off the "subsidy" for your phone purchase.)

    You're the one who decoupled the relationship between "service" and "toll", and turned it into one amorphous "monthly service fee". You can't act like it's all fine when it favors you (off-contract phone owners paying subsidized service rates), then in the next breath complain about it when it doesn't favor you (non-data plan users asking for non-data support for their phone). You're currently charging them a toll for a subsidized phone, even though it's not a subsidized phone. Turnabout is fair play - give them the damn support.

  • Re:Too bad. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by oji-sama ( 1151023 ) on Sunday February 03, 2013 @04:20PM (#42779853)
    To be fair, 38 of the states have higher population density than Finland. And the whole USA has twice the population density. One might think that more users would result in better coverage.
  • Re:Too bad. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Miamicanes ( 730264 ) on Sunday February 03, 2013 @06:54PM (#42780889)

    > The U.S. might be better served by associations of smaller companies that have cross-sharing deals

    Oh Jesus/Xenu/FSM, please, no. That's what mobile phone service in the US *USED* to be like 10+ years ago. You couldn't drive from Miami to fucking Orlando or Tampa, or from Dallas to Houston, and use your phone in the other city, without getting assraped by both your provider AND the local company whose network you were roaming on. Southeast Florida was PrimeCo territory, Central Florida was Alltel. Southeast Florida was BellSouth mobility, Central Florida was GTE Mobilenet. AT&T had service in Miami and Orlando, but not Tampa, Naples, or most of the Turnpike between Fort Pierce and Kissimmee. Airtouch or Voicestream (the companies that, post-merger, became T-Mobile) had flickering flames of service in parts of Miami, Orlando, and Tampa, but you were pretty much SOL in the other 95% of the state. MetroPCS was dirt cheap in Miami, but your phone was LITERALLY a paperweight the moment you left Dade+Broward+Palm Beach Counties because they couldn't roam off-network AT ALL.

    The day AT&T and Cingular (formerly BellSouth Mobility) merged, customers of both cheered. Ditto, for when Verizon (formerly PrimeCo) merged with Alltel.

    Half the reason Sprint became so totally dominant in Florida in the early 2000s (a lead they held up until they completely squandered it over the past year or two) was because they were the first carrier that honestly and truly allowed you to use your phone anywhere in the state (and most of the remainder of the country, for that matter) without paying a cent in roaming fees.

    As bad and fucked up as American mobile phone service is today, it was UNFATHOMABLY worse 10-20 years ago. Even back in LATE 2001, I remember going to Dallas with a friend who had AT&T who couldn't use his phone there to make or receive calls without paying something outrageous like $5 per day plus 89c/minute for airtime. The nearest place where he could use his phone without paying to roam was Houston (well, maybe Austin... I'm not sure).

  • Re:Hmm... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Demena ( 966987 ) on Monday February 04, 2013 @04:09AM (#42783597)

    That never occurred to me. All those different standards. We did have CDMA here also for a while but it never really caught on and (I think) that the government eventually took back its spectrum.

    There are some advantages to having the government in control of some things. Every function that has been returned to or sold to private enterprise has suffered. We now have toll roads, electrical failures are common, public transport is too expensive to use etc, etc., ad nauseam. There are some advantages to government monopolies and regulations in some areas.

    We had a government toll bridge in Melbourne once and they collected tolls for several years - until they figured out that ninety percent of the tolls were spent on collecting it. So they just dropped it. Improved traffic flow increased its carrying capacity and sped up transport considerably

    Turns out that government inefficiencies are often better than private enterprise efficiencies and profit.

The party adjourned to a hot tub, yes. Fully clothed, I might add. -- IBM employee, testifying in California State Supreme Court