Goodbye AT&T!

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Goodbye AT&T!

By Paula Bernier, Executive Editor, IP Communications Magazines  |  May 01, 2011

This article originally appeared in the May 2011 issue of INTERNET TELEPHONY.

You know those websites that disgruntled customers start about companies with which they’ve had a less than ideal experience? Well, I used to think they were a bit over the top. But after my last two experiences with AT&T (News - Alert), I’m starting to understand what drives these individuals to create such forums to vent about what sometimes seems like a complete disregard for the needs and interests of their customers.

In my case, it all started when I dropped my iPhone (News - Alert) at an industry event. When I reached down to pick up the phone from the tile floor, the screen was cracked. Bummer.

But I had no idea what a bummer it all was until I returned home and tried to get a replacement.

It all started out just fine. My husband and I collectively mourned the loss of the device, but agreed that the situation was easily fixed. So my family and I happily went into our local Apple (News - Alert) store with the expectation that we could trade in the broken device and pay a reasonable amount to get an even better and newer iPhone.

However, AT&T quickly put the kibosh on that plan, telling us that I was not far enough into my contract to qualify for that. (I had two months left in the contract until I was eligible for an upgrade.) To get the latest iPhone, the AT&T rep on the phone told us, we’d have to lay out more than $400. (Considering that a story on the AT&T-T-Mobile deal in The New York Times mentions that the companies value a subscriber at $578, I would like to posit that not allowing me to upgrade my iPhone for around $200 instead was clearly a mistake on AT&T’s behalf.)

Under different circumstances we may have just waited for the contract to reach the point where we could upgrade with a reasonable cash infusion, but I was headed to Barcelona for Mobile World Congress (News - Alert) the next week, so I needed a phone.

So, we went home, where my husband dug up his old iPhone. We put my number on his new iPhone and his number on the old iPhone. That, we agreed, would allow us both to continue to use the devices with which we were most comfortable (and me to have a decent camera), Meanwhile, we would wait for our AT&T contracts to expire and, when they did, take our business to Verizon (News - Alert) Wireless.

Bad idea. When we plugged in the phones to recharge and sync, our entire address book disappeared. That was especially problematic for my hubby, who coaches two sports teams. So, in case he was having any second thoughts about dropping AT&T, those ideas had at this point disappeared altogether from his mind.

I went to Spain with my “new” iPhone and had a grand old time. As I was hearing and writing about all the advances, innovations and customer-focused efforts under way in the cellular industry, I would from time to time use my iPhone to check e-mail, and converse and text with colleagues at the event, or with family at home.

Bad idea. Although I called AT&T twice before leaving for Spain, once to get on an international plan and then again just to confirm that I was on the correct plan, I just this week received an AT&T bill that was $200 more than the already high cellular bill that we usually receive.

The problem was that, although the AT&T representative who I talked to initially about the plan suggested that I sign on temporarily for a low-end international package, I surpassed the amount of data usage on that plan, so was hit with a lot of expensive overage fees as well as 50-cent texting fees (he didn’t mention extra international texting costs in our conversation).

When I called to complain, the AT&T contact center rep was not at all understanding. But after 30 minutes on the phone she agreed to credit us some of the balance by making it appear as though I had been on an international plan with slightly higher data usage. Of course, that was a good thing, but arriving at that result required a lot of convincing time and brain damage on my end. And her suggestion that I should have been repeatedly checking my data usage while traveling seemed both unrealistic and was frustrating, given the initial rep never talked about how to do that and told me outright that it would be a non issue unless I did a lot of heavy surfing or sent photos or videos (which I did not).

That said, I don’t care if Verizon’s network that supports the iPhone has purportedly lower speeds. I don’t care that AT&T is now offering a lower cost iPhone. And, as a customer, I don’t care that AT&T expects to strengthen its coverage via the proposed T-Mobile deal.

I’m just biding my time.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi