Tuesday, March 25, 2008

About AT&T's LIMITED Unlimited Data Plans

Last week I received this email from a reader:

Here's a link that I think might put a kink in your broadband plan. This is kind of an issue that has concerned me about other cellular carrier's broadband 3G as well.

It appears that the phone companies want to be able to sell lots of datacards/usb modems/etc. but they dont want people to know explicitly that its not unlimited. I think its fair if they limit it, but they need to be more explicit in their verbiage.

Verizon is going that direction now by stating their top end data plans as 5Gb for $59.99, but I think there's still a lot of confusion in the marketplace. Most customer's still believe their data plan to be "unlimited" and feel entitled to use the connection as though it were "unlimited" and they get mad when they find out that that is not the case.

[FIX YOUR THINKING: Then they should call it "The High Use Plan" - but that wouldn't get customers would it?]

This link from DSLREPORTS.COM says that AT&T is taking the same stance and may not be expressing it very clearly either.

You may want to add this as a caveat to your article lest people be led astray.

Here is the DSLREPORTS article in its entirety (My comments in red):

For years, Verizon Wireless was advertising their EVDO service as unlimited, but quietly imposing a 5GB monthly cap. That advertising charade ended courtesy of NY's attorney general last fall.

* Then why would AT&T want to subject themselves to the same litigation?

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.

* This is a completely fabricated story on the part of Gearlog and NOT what AT&T will (or should) tell you

AT&T's website still advertises "unlimited" data for Blackberry and PDAs [And iPhones} provided you don't tether, but we'd be interested to see if any users have tested the boundaries with smart phone consumption alone.

* I come close to or exceed 5GB almost every month on my iPhone

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.

---------- FIX YOUR THINKING COMMENTARY ----------

Immediately this scared me because over the last month and a half I've been using AT&T's 3G service almost exclusively for my home and office. I've already recommended and installed it at two of customer's houses. I knew that I had used it to download Leopard updates to several computers and that my email alone would probably be over 20 megs a day!

* My actual usage per AT&T's website was 145 GIGABYTES!

I had gotten the reader email early in the morning, and went to my local AT&T store where I purchased the modem, as soon as they opened. I spoke with the management and my salesperson and asked why I wasn't told about this. They said, "Because there isn't a cap." I showed them the DSL REPORTS page the reader email alerted me to. They said they hadn't seen that and said it must be inaccurate. I grabbed a couple brochures and left the store feeling somewhat relieved.

I got into the car and read #10 at the bottom of the page on the "Wireless Data Plans brochure":

• A 5 gigabyte (GB) usage limitation applies. See Terms and Conditions for additional details.

I called AT&T and got connected with "a senior executive for wireless data at AT&T". (I knew who to call because I had previously worked with AT&T) I was told immediately that they were aware of the DSLREPORTS.COM report and that it was entirely false.

While on hold for "the AT&T senior executive" I had pulled out my brochure. I read her #10 on the brochure.

The response exactly as stated by a "senior executive for wireless data at AT&T":

"To describe it in a short and precise manner. We do not and will not charge for overages on any "UNLIMITED plan". Our computer systems are in the process of being updated. At the moment our system can not recognize an "all you can eat" type service so you must be billed after a certain limit. To bypass this, we made a high cap of 5 gigabytes. After this point you ARE billed at a rate of zero dollars and zero cents per megabyte over the 5 gigabyte limit. When our system is fully updated in June, the UNLIMITED plan will be truly unlimited. We are required to place that statement in our brochure because we do keep detailed billing after 5 gigabytes."

When asked why the iPhone "unlimited plan" doesn't mention this "zero charge system billing" and why the brochure doesn't just say exactly what I was told. I was told:

First, AT&T is quite aware of Verizon's poor decisions on customer service regarding this issue and canceling high usage accounts that went over a 5 gigabyte threshold. Second, you have been given a simple answer. It's a tad more complicated than that. Third, from a marketing and legal perspective if something were not to go as planned with our system upgrade and mass 3G deployment in June of this year, we could face litigation if we made a promise we are not able to keep it."

So, there you go. I stand behind my article that recommended switching from cable modems to 3G internet.

DSLREPORTS, whom I have had a lot of respect for in the past, seems hellbent on the issue of exposing this as some sort of scandal. It's not!!!


Anonymous said...

You are full of crap, AT&T DOES cap at 5GB, just look at their sign up page

FYT said...

You are the one full of something ... or high on something may be better.

The article you commented on SPECIFICALLY says I spoke with the VP of Wireless Data at AT&T. He explained THOROUGHLY that the cap is requirement of the system backend and MUST have a cap - if a cap is imposed you MUST state it in your disclosures, brochures, etc. This is a requirement of the FTC.

If you would actually read (rather make stuff up to get readers) - AT&T DOES have an "artificial cap" but you are billed zero dollars and zero cents after 5 GIGS - keeping tabs on EVERY megabyte you go over.

Just for your info as well - the cap on AT&T's unlimited phone/voice service is 3000 minutes. (But you are billed zero dollars and zero cents after 3000 minutes for EVERY minute over.)

Just admit you were wrong and move on ...

Unknown said...

I have to vouch for you/
I was an AT&T customer up until a month ago. I went over the 5 gig cap continually, which was imposed almost a year ago, and never heard a word from them. If you go to their user messenger board, which I still contribute to at times, no one has said anything about being cancelled, much less charged $3500. My contract expired, so I thought I'd give Sprint EVDO a try. Everything was beautiful until yesterday, when i got the news they are capping at 5 gigs too. (Ten days after my 30 day trial was up too, the bastards.) Hopefully they are as lax as AT&T is, because their 3g network is far superior. If not, oh well.

Unknown said...

Well after June, has AT&T changed their terms of service?

You would think they would have an interest in correcting all the stories posted about the 5GB limit if they are the only company without it.

FYT said...
This comment has been removed by the author.