Too Little, Too Late, or, Why I Left AT&T

As a graduate student, I simply cannot afford an iPhone.  The cost for the phone ($199) plus the monthly cost ($70 for voice, $30 for data, $20 for text) means an annual cost of $1,639, plus taxes and fees.

Also – I have to get two, because I live in a techno-equitable home (read: my wife wants one, too).  Now we’re talking approximately $3,278 per year (give or take – I realize that family plans might reduce the cost slightly).  This is not a number we can afford.

Old Phone

Our current plan features old phones (no cameras, much less data), and costs us $90/month for a decent amount of minutes and decent amount of texts (but not unlimited on either).  We don’t use all of the minutes or the texts, but there is no smaller plan on AT&T.

So – as happens every month, I got an email from AT&T yesterday saying that my bill was ready.  I promptly went to to check the amount and due date so that I could actually pay the bill, but was greeted with an unpleasant surprise.  When I tried to log-in to my account, I was greeted with the following:

“For security purposes, access to your account has been locked.  Please call AT&T Wireless customer service at 1-800-XXX-XXXX.”

Really?  I’ve been with AT&T for 9 years (since 2001) – and they won’t even let me log in?  I’ve never had major complaints about their service, but the prices are high, and I don’t appreciate being denied access to my own account.  So – I quit.

Within an hour, we had two new phones (an HTC Hero and Samsung Moment) and a new contract with Sprint.  For $129/mo. we get 1500 minutes to share, and unlimited text, data, web, GPS, TV, and everything else these Android-based phones can do.  Throw in a 19% employer discount, and we’re two happy campers.

And not a peep from AT&T.  I tweeted about our switch, but got nothing.  Didn’t get a call to see if they might be able to cut a deal (though I wouldn’t switch back), and now have no way of even checking how much of a balance I owe.  I’m sure they’ll contact me about that – though.

I offer this as a glimpse into the new consumer reality.  Consumers are fickle creatures, money is tight, and people today expect to both get what they pay for, and feel like their business is appreciated.  I did not feel like I was getting either, and so I left the longest ongoing consumer relationship that I have (had).  And don’t feel one bit bad about it.

As it becomes easier for users to control their own digital destinies (porting over phone numbers, for example, or pay-as-you-go phones) companies will be forced to keep up.  In fact, AT&T and Verizon have made an effort to do just that, as noted by the New York Times:

For all of the analyst predictions that carriers will have to raise their data plan prices, at least voice plan prices are going in the other direction. Verizonand AT&T are lowering prices for their unlimited calling plans.

AT&T has cut its unlimited calling plan, now $70 a month, down from $100. Of course that only covers the voice part of the plan, and only domestic calls.

The cuts bring Verizon and AT&T closer to pricing offered by Sprint and T-Mobile.

But not close enough.  Maybe AT&T will have something more to offer in two years, but I’m not holding my breath.

Edit: hoping to avoid a situation like this one, which I can totally see happening here.

Edit 2: I was contacted on Tuesday by @ATTChrisL on Twitter, who wrote:

“@shaycolson Hi, I’m with AT&T. I’m sorry you’re having trouble. Follow me and DM your contact information and I will try to help.”

I followed @ATTChirsL, and Direct Messaged (DM) him my contact info in short order.  I have yet to hear anything back from Chris.  Will keep you all in the loop.

Edit 3: After a week, I had not been contact by @ATTChrisL in any way, shape, or form.  I tweeted again, this time including the @ATTCustomerCare tag, and got results in a matter of hours. Read more here.


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