Sep 1 2009

AT&T reminds you not to use your phone

My wife received an email this morning from AT&T that said in part:

Our systems have detected that you are transmitting a substantial amount of data while roaming in areas not directly served by AT&T. The Terms and Conditions of our data plans (including unlimited plans) provide an "off-net usage" allowance that is equal to the lesser of 24 megabytes or 20% of the megabytes included in your plan.

I was surprised by this, not only because I hadn’t completely read the terms and conditions (I subsequently did and it’s in there – they can go so far as to cancel my account if they don’t like my network usage – on net or off, voice or data) but mostly because our phones were registering that they were on the AT&T network in all of the places that we travel to regularly.

I called customer service and learned a few interesting facts: 1) despite the phone indicating it is on network, sometimes it isn’t (in our case the town where we spend many of our weekends turns out to not be on their network); 2) AT&T has a new policy of going after "abusers" of the system (the Ts&Cs aren’t new – their aggressive enforcement is); and 3) going after abusers means that if we continue to use off-net data services they will either cut of our data when we’re outside of AT&T’s coverage area or simply terminate our account.

I can’t be the only person to see the unbelievable irony in AT&T’s action. Not only do they have one of the lowest quality networks in existence, and a very limited network outside of the major metro areas, and aren’t actually identifying to customers when they are on network vs. off network (presumably to give the perception that their limited network is actually larger than it really is), and they are the exclusive seller of one of the most powerful (read: data consuming) smartphones, but now they are threatening to cut off our service for using our phones for what they were designed for. My wife summed it up perfectly (and I think reflects a sentiment that is widely held): "If they didn’t have the iPhone I would drop AT&T!"

Even more amusing was the fact that my call to customer service was terminated when the call was dropped (there are many many dead zones around Boulder). My wife joked that we should send AT&T a termination letter stating that we weren’t going to honor the contract because their network coverage was so poor.

I think AT&T is walking into a PR nightmare if they start shutting people off like this. It’s one thing to have a crappy network. It’s another to punish your customers for your shortcomings.