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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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  • Non story here. (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 03, 2013 @09:28AM (#42777097)

    Every contract needs two parties to agree. If he didn't legally accept the terms of the current service then he can stop paying for it. Might also help to move to another service.

  • by acidfast7 ( 551610 ) on Sunday February 03, 2013 @09:29AM (#42777105)
    ... from the Apple Store when I was in US (549 USD). I wanted to use it for a month while I was there and I was shocked that you guys STILL don't have reasonable prepaid-SIM options. I consider reasonable to be filling in an online form, having it mailed to an address with credit already on it, getting on SMS when it's low on credit and recharging online or at a kiosk with a scratch card&SMS solution.
  • Old news: Verizon (Score:4, Interesting)

    by stevegee58 ( 1179505 ) on Sunday February 03, 2013 @09:29AM (#42777113) Journal
    Verizon was pulling the same trick years ago. They were even trying to include LG env3 phones in the data phone category which is a joke of course.
    The current crop of non-data phones available from the carriers is a joke. Want a full qwerty keyboard for texting? Forget it, that's only on a data phone.
    It's basically a plot to get everyone on board with the more expensive data plans.
  • by Compaqt ( 1758360 ) on Sunday February 03, 2013 @09:30AM (#42777121) Homepage

    Sure, the carrier's are the spawn of the devil.

    But all this (having to get your phones from a carrier instead of buying a phone outright and then buying service) isn't just their fault. It's also the fault of users, who like the ability to get a "free" phone, which is really being payed for by their monthly payments.

    But, beyond that, it's the fault of the government (the Fed, specifically), for lending out free money, basically. 0 or (in a sense, even negative) interest rates. Think about what percent you get for your savings account. The price signals being given out are simply to consume, consume, consume.

    The same loose money policy which was responsible for the housing bubble is also responsible for the smartphone bubble (though it's possible that's about to burst []).

  • by hessian ( 467078 ) on Sunday February 03, 2013 @09:31AM (#42777129) Homepage Journal

    The problem with the cell phone carrier market is that there are relatively few providers, and worse, consumers do not demonstrate loyalty to any one, but switch when better deals are offered on the others.

    This means the only factor that matters is price and availability of features the market wants.

    As a result, this news story will have zero effect. Every few months another atrocity comes out about some cellular carrier or another, but the audience just doesn't care.

  • by Slicker ( 102588 ) on Sunday February 03, 2013 @09:34AM (#42777147)

    My contact was over and I wanted a smartphone but not a data plan. Sprint, AT&T, and Verizon all said that if I used any kind of smartphone, I must have a data plan. My brother bought a Nexus One outright and his carrier discovered this and added a $30 charge per month for data against his will. My plan was to use WiFi only for data...

    Each carrier responded by calling me and telling me that that is their policy and therefore I was not wronged. I responded that I think law trumps company policy. As far as the FCC was concerned, that was it... they had done their due diligence, I suppose..

    I send an email to one law firm that specializes in class action suites but never got a response.

    If a lawyer anywhere on this planet would be willing to take up this as a class action suite, I will strongly support it. I am a web developer, I can build an excellent web site to begin the process of finding the many, many other victims.

  • by JWW ( 79176 ) on Sunday February 03, 2013 @09:47AM (#42777221)

    Yep. It makes you think - Why do so many industries way of operating today look like organized crime?

  • by TaoPhoenix ( 980487 ) <> on Sunday February 03, 2013 @10:13AM (#42777369) Journal

    Maybe the answer is to use their own sales processes against them in the opposite direction.

    I have an iPhone. On AT&T. With no data plan. That's the spec required here, right?

    So let's go play a little. Go to the "stores" aka those mall outlets, rather than someone in corporate. Just like we/they/someone says about Greater ______ ****wad, the workers in those stores have to earn their living doing real work rather than being a faceless voice of policy. So my example is from AT&T. It could be different on those other carriers.

    1. Go to AT&T Store. "Hi. I want to end my contract. What if any fees do I need to pay to get out of it?" (Sometimes/often you'll have a minimum left on the "subsidy".) End your contract. Or, if this was that "second hand phone" you might just go to step 2.
    2. "I want a Go-Phone plan on this phone. $100, so that the minutes last all year." By making a purchase, you are directing the discussion. There's nowhere for them to wiggle you.

    Put facetiously for slashdot humor effect, you can go all baby-steps on this.
    "Go-Phone plan. You still sell those, right? I like the Meatloaf ad on TV. He's my hero."
    "Yay. Now I can be just like Meatloaf. Or something. Here's $100. In the $100 option the minutes last a whole year right? Good."
    GoPhone *doesn't have* data. Since we all know companies don't like giving away stuff for free, and you handed them five $20's, "of course you can't get free data". Which is ... wait for it ... what we wanted. There's nowhere for them to charge anything else because you handed cash to the sales person at an AT&T store.

  • Re:Contracting law (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ACluk90 ( 2618091 ) on Sunday February 03, 2013 @10:32AM (#42777475)

    Then, as much as it sucks and as much as I hate to say it, they are in the right.

    No, they are not. Well, maybe in the US you can throw out all your rights by making a contract. But I want to give you an example of what happened here in Switzerland a few years ago (and Switzerland has one of the weakest customer protection laws in Europe):

    All ISPs advertised and made contracts for 'upto xxx MBit/s', this was general industry practice. Suddenly there was a court ruling invalidating almost all of these contracts. Why? You signed that you give them money and they did not promise any service ('upto xxx' can also be 0 MBit/s). Thus these contracts were one-sided and could thus never be in the sense of one of the parties. They were thus invalid.
    Solution: Now they all include a minimum bandwidth in their contracts and have to face compsation demands when their service is not working (as they are in breach of the contract in this case).

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

    by aurispector ( 530273 ) on Sunday February 03, 2013 @10:33AM (#42777481)

    Your sarcasm meter may need recalibrating, but you're right about the new ad campaign.

    This kind of shit is exactly why people hate AT&T. I wonder what kind of language exists in their user contract that makes them think they can do this sort of thing?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 03, 2013 @10:44AM (#42777537)

    From someone who doesn't have a cell phone now and doesn't intend to ever get one, why do you HAVE TO HAVE a cell phone? Exactly what does a cell get you that you cann't live without?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 03, 2013 @10:46AM (#42777555)

    Lack of loyalty is a GOOD thing. In the EU, they made things even easier for people to change, when they said you could keep your number if you switch from one company to another. When that happened, prices dropped a lot, and the quality of their offers went up.

    What the US lacks, is true competition, and for that, the government is to blame more than the corpses themselves.

  • Re:Welcome to... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Midnight Thunder ( 17205 ) on Sunday February 03, 2013 @10:57AM (#42777655) Homepage Journal

    Are there any laws in the US that allow you to break contract for free if you don't agree with the newly enforced 'contract', that you didn't sign?

    I am sure there should be laws anyhow on changing terms of service if the customer didn't agree to them?

  • 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 ETF with a new phone works out to roughly $15 per month over the course of a 24-month contract. Why doesn't the price of service drop by $15 starting on the twenty-fifth month? And why does bringing one's own unlocked GSM smartphone, buying a voice-only plan, and using Wi-Fi for all data result in a data plan getting crammed [] onto the customer's bill?

  • by Pascal Sartoretti ( 454385 ) on Sunday February 03, 2013 @11:33AM (#42777891)

    Yeah, I believe that one. That's about the last thing anybody does with an iPhone anymore.

    My kids use my old iPhones. They have pre-paid minutes, and no data plan. And Wifi in many places.

    I'm always a bit surprised it still has the ability to make calls each time Apple announces a new version.

    And you might even be more surprised that an iPhone 3GS, released in 2009, is still supported by the latest iOS version. Please show me any smartphone vendor whose products still get software upgrades after more than a few months...

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

    by SJHillman ( 1966756 ) on Sunday February 03, 2013 @11:41AM (#42777927)

    $35 unlimited data is working out pretty well. How's your $70 very-limited data working out for you?

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

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 03, 2013 @12:34PM (#42778205)
    I work as a manager in a call center for ATT and while I disagree with my employer 90% of the time I am the guy who usually gets these type of users escalated to me. 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. No one opted him into a "contract" he was informed 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.
  • Re:Too bad. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mesterha ( 110796 ) <chris.mesterharm ... m ['il.' in gap]> on Sunday February 03, 2013 @01:16PM (#42778485) Homepage

    This doesn't make much sense. If the support for data plans is expensive then just refuse to give data support for people who don't have data plans. Of course, there is the associated cost of dealing with them on the phone and refusing to help. This could be offset by offering them a minimal data plan or a data support plan.

    The real reason ATT doesn't want people to use this option is that lots of people would drop their data plans. There's a lot of wifi around and many people would be satisfied with just wifi. I guess this opens up an opportunity for someone to come up with a way to get a phone to report a false id to the cell phone company.

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

    by TheRedSeven ( 1234758 ) on Sunday February 03, 2013 @01:45PM (#42778689) Homepage
    I'm with you for the whole thing, until the last 2 sentences.

    My contract with my carrier consists of (roughly--there's lots of legalese in there) the following: Carrier provides A, B, and C services at X service level agreement, and I pay Carrier $YY for the privilege.

    Nowhere in the contract I signed does it say that I give the carrier permission to change the services provided or add additional services without my express permission, nor does the contract say that they can charge me extra for any additional services that they may deem I 'require' at some point in the future. If you wish to make a unilateral change to my contract, I consider that a breach or a "material change of contract" that allows me to quit without penalty or ETF.

    If the policy is "If you bring your own smart phone to our network and put our SIM in it, we will change your services and costs," that had damn well better be in the contract I originally signed, or it is immaterial to the agreement we have. End of story.
  • Re:Too bad. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by trevelyon ( 892253 ) on Sunday February 03, 2013 @01:45PM (#42778691)
    I hate to say but I've read the contracts from Sprint, T-mobile and AT&T and they basically all have screw you clauses. They are customer hostile contracts and the reason I've gone to pre-paid now. It's sad but this is the face of corporate america now, bad lock-in contracts pervade so many sectors in the US now from cable (tv, phone, internet) to fitness centers. Many places now won't even let you see and take away the contract to go over it (you have to read and sign there or sign on a digital pad only to be given a paper copy that is readable after). It's simply shameful. I won't even waste my time listening to companies that don't let you properly review their contracts. If their contracts have hostile terms (allowing them to change the contract but not you) it shows even they don't believe in their quality. If they had a good service they wouldn't need such terms.
  • Re:Too bad. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Gription ( 1006467 ) on Sunday February 03, 2013 @03:13PM (#42779421)
    It is kind of fun to see a European visitor come to grips with the size of the US. They can look at the maps but it just doesn't compute.
    As an example: The driving distance between Seattle and New York is about the same as the distance from Stockholm to Tehran.

    On the other hand...
    The "competition" between all the big communications companies really works out to competing on how to lobby congress to keep themselves entrenched and to avoid rolling out real technical change that might cost them a dime.
    Don't complain... They paid for their government. You didn't!!!
  • Re:Too bad. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by green1 ( 322787 ) on Sunday February 03, 2013 @03:22PM (#42779481)

    On the bright side, if they won't let you take it away to evaluate before signing, you have a much better case to have the contract thrown out as you obviously were not able to make an informed decision before signing (part of the basis of contract law)

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

    by Anguirel ( 58085 ) on Sunday February 03, 2013 @04:20PM (#42779847)

    The old adage is that Americans think 100 years is "old" and Europeans think 100 miles is "far away".

    The U.S. might be better served by associations of smaller companies that have cross-sharing deals (similar to how most small Credit Unions can allow you to use almost any other Credit Union's services without charging a fee). You still get your local-level service for your most common usage and when negotiating details, but have cross-country utility when you need it.

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

    by Miamicanes ( 730264 ) on Sunday February 03, 2013 @06:31PM (#42780695)

    The problem is, AT&T is expensive, but if you don't really care about the cost, everyone else sucks in at least one major way:

    Verizon's LTE coverage is "broad" (lots of cities with at least one spot of coverage), but "thin" (airport? Absolutely. downtown? Probably. Indoors in a fringe suburban area where AT&T has solid LTE coverage? Forget about it.) That said, Verizon has usable (if slow) coverage just about anywhere that's remotely populated, and most places that are really, really rural.

    T-Mobile is awesome in the areas where they're awesome, and sucks horribly in the other 80-90% of the country. As a practical matter, if you live in a market where they're good, as long as you're in your hometown they'll be really good about 80% of the time, tolerable another 15-18%, and totally suck the remaining 2% or so. When they're fast, they're almost as fast as Verizon. When they're slow? Er... well... when roaming on AT&T, you're limited to EDGE speeds (though it appears they at least have the decency to let you connect via UMTS/HSPA, even if it's throttled, and don't LITERALLY force EDGE connections).

    Sprint? OK, total epic suck just about everywhere right now, and likely to stay that way for at least another year or two. They were good up until ~3 years ago, and tolerable up until ~2, but the moment the iPhone hit, their network totally went down the shithole because most of their towers are serviced by literally two T-1 lines... one used for voice calls, control, and 1xRTT data, and one used for EVDO data. They've been putting band-aid fixes in place for the past year and adding another T-1 or two, but ask anybody with Sprint... until the day they switch on LTE and finish their NV deployment in your area, it just keeps getting worse and worse and worse every day. And just when you think it can't possibly get any worse (I was getting ~26kbps down, and ~40kbps up the day I finally walked away after ~14 years with them), you run speedtest one day and see SINGLE-DIGIT speedtest scores. And even in the cities where they've officially "turned on" LTE, their LTE coverage hasn't even gotten to where their wimax coverage WAS two years ago, so they still mostly suck.

    AT&T isn't quite perfect in every way... there are areas (mostly fringe suburbia indoors, but NOT necessarily rural areas) where Verizon is slow-but-solid 1-2mbps where AT&T wheezes and struggles to do EDGE, but I've only seen a couple of them... and they're definitely the exception rather than the rule. In the western parts of urban Dade & Broward counties in Florida, AT&T totally spanks Verizon in most places. Verizon TOTALLY cherry-picks dense areas and almost completely ignores suburban areas when deploying LTE. In contrast, AT&T has LTE in fewer markets... but in those markets, pretty much the whole area is solidly blanketed with LTE.

    That said, I firmly believe the government needs to forcibly break up AT&T again into at least 3 different companies: one that owns the wireless, one that owns the fiber/copper backhauls & rights of way, and U-verse. Then, the fiber/copper backhaul company would have every incentive to sell fiber to AT&T's competitors... and AT&T would be instantly stopped dead in its tracks from being able to launder surcharges and fees states agreed to 10-20 years ago to fund fiber deployments and use them to build out its wireless network instead.

    AT&T's own execs have said publicly that they don't want to spend any money building or maintaining anything with wires anymore. It's time for the FCC to take them up on their offer, and force them to divest their entire wireline holdings to somebody who DOES. Not just the old copper POTS network they don't want, but the fiber runs and rights of way that go along with it as well. Right now, AT&T doesn't want to spend resources on fiber (unless it directly services one of their own towers), and they don't want anybody ELSE to be able to do it, either.

  • Hmm... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Demena ( 966987 ) on Sunday February 03, 2013 @07:47PM (#42781265)
    I am in Australia. I have a minimal plan. Found overage wherever I want to go. Australia is the size of the USA (possibly excluding Alaska) but has less than one tenth of the population. We seem to do OK.
  • Re:Hmm... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Demena ( 966987 ) on Monday February 04, 2013 @09:08AM (#42784589)
    Oh, most comparisons don't work but some do. I once lived in a (mining) town where if you had drawn a circle of a hundred miles radius there would only have been about 5,000 people inside that circle. Internet was dial up at about 6 bits per second. But nowadays it has good cellphone coverage. Within a few more years everyone who does not have fibre to their home will have a radio equivalent with less than satellite lag. (Google "Australia NBN"). Oh! And nine tenths desert would probably be more accurate than fifty percent. Depends on what you call desert I guess.

    But what I was originally alluding to is the comment about Europeans coming to grips with size and distance. I once heard a pommie in a pub mention he was a long haul lorry driver and seem proud of it. When I joked that he must have a lot of stamps in his passport he replied than no, he had never needed a passport. Apparently a hundred miles was a "long haul". In many places in Australia that wouldn't have got you to the next petrol (gas) station. Check out "" you might find it entertaining.

I owe the public nothing. -- J.P. Morgan