Why do AT&T's data plans differ between phone platforms?
June 26, 2007 11:29 AM   Subscribe

Wireless data plan pricing annoyance. To wit, how can AT&T justify charging what they do, apparently based on the phone platform?

Here's the deal. I have a Nokia E62. AT&T (at the time still Cingular) told me that to have an unlimited data plan, I needed to shell out $49 extra a month, on top of the current price plan. (Even better, as of today they have apparently eliminated this PDA plan for non-AT&T branded phones - currently, my phone would qualify as a Blackberry and would cost me $79 extra per month if I wanted unlimited data!)

However - if I happened to have had a Windows-based phone, rather than a Symbian one, I could have unlimited data for $20 extra a month. They insisted this was because the Windows based phones were typically for corporate use, and the corporations paid a premium to lessen the burden on the end users (which sounded to me like so much bullshit).

Now the iPhone pricing is announced. The basic data plan starts at $49.99, and includes unlimited data. How the hell can the company tell me that I have to pay that much for the data plan alone, if the unlimited data for the other phone models is only a $10 to $20 markup from the normal rate plans? In a word, this is complete bullshit. The cost per kilobyte should not at all be affected by the model of phone used to download it.

I spent about an hour talking to people at the company, trying to get them to justify to me why data would cost more for them to send to a specific phone model, using the same network. I told them it was basically like telling me that broadband users would have to pay more if they preferred using a Mac vs Windows. No progress, of course - like talking to a wall.

This has been annoying me for some time now. What I want to know is this: First, is there a real, actual, technical reason behind the pricing difference, or do I have a legitimate beef?

Second, if I am justified in my outrage over the disparate pricing plans, should I be talking to someone about a class-action suit on behalf of all of the Symbian phone users currently getting scalped by what look like sweetheart deals between Microsoft and AT&t on one platform, and Apple + AT&T on the iPhone?
posted by caution live frogs to Technology (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Well, if the price is uncompetitive then people won't buy it and AT&T will be forced to lower the price. But this is a boutique item marketed just as much to the fashionable as the technical and I expect it to be a big initial success. If the market can bear it, its a fair price.

Secondly, I was an early sidekick user and t-mobile supplied the same kinds of semi-overpriced phone + data packages without letting us go ala carte. I believe this has changed as the service got older and the phone less sexy/less new.

Lastly, the pricing subsidizes a lot more things than plain old cell service. They're offsetting their initial support costs which will be pretty ridiculous when all these new users start calling in about all the problems they will have with this new platform. The training of their staff. All that advertising that got you interested in the phone in the first place. Who knows how much apple gets as in kickback for making the deal with at&t for being its exclusive carrier.

I think the pricing could be a little cheaper, but as-is I think its pretty competitive right now. I'm sure in a year you'll be treaetd like a regualr wireless customer.
posted by damn dirty ape at 11:39 AM on June 26, 2007

how can AT&T justify charging what they do

They think that is what the market will bear. They don't have to justify mobile data pricing plans to anyone other than their stockholders.

You have no grounds for a class-action lawsuit.
posted by grouse at 11:41 AM on June 26, 2007

damn dirty ape: The OP is saying that the new iPhone plan is cheaper than what he can get with his Nokia.
posted by grouse at 11:43 AM on June 26, 2007

Why not just switch to another provider and deny them your business? Then tell all your friends and do the same?

T-Mobile isn't dirt cheap or anything, but I've never seen any evidence of any really ridiculous behavior in their pricing. I think that unlimited data costs $29 or $39 extra on top of any plan, and that's regardless of the device (it's even regardless of whether you're using plain-old GSM data or 3G). Occasionally they run promotions but I'm not aware of any obvious discrimination based on device type.

You could also try talking to your state's Consumer Protection office, if they have one, or write a letter to the AG or other official, but I suspect that AT&T is within the letter of the law.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:43 AM on June 26, 2007

The trick here is to move to another service provider. Or is there something compelling you to stick with AT&T you didn't explain to us?
posted by chunking express at 11:45 AM on June 26, 2007

If they're changing the rates on you, that's a change in your contract terms, giving you the right to exit your contract without early termination fees. If you can, find a friendlier provider.
posted by marionnette en chaussette at 11:55 AM on June 26, 2007

1) You have no case for a lawsuit. Don't let the iPhone hype crawl under your skin and make you crazy.

2) There are a number of reasons.
- Because that's what the market can take.
- Because of deals between the companies (Someone could be subsidizing someone, but we'll never know who or in what way.)
- The infrastructure/technology involved. The iPhone uses slightly older slower data infrastructure, so AT&T might want to encourage its use so they don't feel the pressure to roll out the newer high-speed technology everywhere.
- Shareholder value. the iPhone might be a bit cheaper, but they lock you in as an AT&T customer for 2 years, which looks good on the bottom line.

There are probably a lot more, but as everyone has said, there are still quite a few carriers in the US and you can shop around.
posted by Ookseer at 12:04 PM on June 26, 2007

You can get cranked up about this or you can just solve the problem. They ask you what phone you have. You lie.

Problem solved.

It's a SIM-based system and you can swap from one phone to another. Tell them you have a Nokia 6682 and want the $20 all you can eat plan. Then go on with your life with your E62.

As others said, you have no basis for a class action suit. They can charge $6969 a month if they want. Nobody will pay it but that's their right in a free capitalist society. Unless things have changed in recent years data plans are not regulated as voice plans are.
posted by phearlez at 12:15 PM on June 26, 2007

Just be happy you aren't in Canada. The best data plan I can get is $10 for 10mb/month, plus $.03/kb afterwards. That's right, three cents a kilobyte. Fucking jackals.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 12:23 PM on June 26, 2007

The 60$ iPhone plan is actually a voice+data full plan.

The "smartphone" plans are not supposed to be used for tethering (connecting via computer). There isn't a fee if you do tether, but they can cancel your contract. The more expensive plans allow tethering.

They also charge more for devices which are.. well, more usable. Really, even with an unlimited plan for my RAZR, I'm not going to be using it that much. So they're betting that most people even with the "unlimited" plan will use it less (or more) depending on type of phone.
posted by anaelith at 12:42 PM on June 26, 2007

I dont know where you are getting your numbers from however.

I pay 29.99 for unlimited data with my Blackberry, a 7130c on Cingular / AT&T

and the numbers I just saw for the Iphone start at 59.99 not, 49.99.

But the basica answer to your question is. They charge what people will pay.
posted by crewshell at 12:43 PM on June 26, 2007

I pay $29.99 a month on AT&T for unlimited data and I'm on my fifth Symbian device.
posted by donovan at 12:58 PM on June 26, 2007

The rep you spoke to is incorrect. Symbian phones and WM5 phones (presuming both have a keyboard) use the same data plans.

The N75, like any other keyboardless phone can use the MEdia plans.

The iPhone plans are nothing more than a Media plan paired with a voice plan, except apparently the iPhone doesn't do MMS (or doesn't get an MMS bucket)
posted by wierdo at 1:03 PM on June 26, 2007

Just tell them you have a WM smartphone. My unlimited data costs $20/month.

I moved the data plan to my girlfriend's Nokia, and it works perfectly.
posted by mphuie at 1:27 PM on June 26, 2007

Thirding what others have said about telling them you have a different device. I won't call it a "lie", though, because I've never talked to them about it. As far as Cingular/AT&T is concerned, I'm still using my old Nokia T616. I carry it as a backup on the road, but I'm on my 3rd Palm Treo, still on the old $19.99 MediaMax 200 plan, which works just fine, so I have no reason to discuss my hardware with them. If AT&T ever decides to try to charge me more, I'll just say No. My phone is unlocked, and I'm not under contract.
posted by Bradley at 1:45 PM on June 26, 2007

You can get Sprint SERO (unlimited data) for $30/mo as well, includes 500 anytime minutes.
posted by Four Flavors at 3:54 PM on June 26, 2007

Nth-ing the lie. I have a treo650 and razr v3xx i swap back and forth between. I pay the $20 data plan and have never had an issue on my treo.
posted by thilmony at 5:37 PM on June 26, 2007

I pay $29 for my E62 data plan + $39 for 450 rollover mins and $9 for unlimited sms. If you're paying more you're paying too much, I think. When I signed up there was a plan that would cost $39 on the E62 that was only if you wanted Blackberry connect... did you get that?
posted by n9 at 5:48 PM on June 26, 2007

I switched to t-mobile, not because they were necessarily cheaper (I don't know offhand if they are for my usage mix) but because they don't even try to make me jump through those hoops. They act more like a carrier: I give them some money, they provide access to whatever device has their SIM in it, end of story. In my interactions with them, they've often not been very competent, but they haven't been downright malevolent like some cell providers.

It's possible that Cingular plans are phone-specific because they have some sort of cross subsidy going on. Maybe Apple got them to offer a lower price to iPhone customers in return for having the iPhone be Cingular-only. Cell carriers' pricing schemes seem to come out of some opium den second in murkiness only to the airlines'.
posted by hattifattener at 11:06 PM on June 26, 2007

Well, the long and short of it is that I would like to use more of the web features on my phone, but can't get a handle on the damn prices. Several people have told me to use the plain MEdia net plan - although tech reps for the company keep insisting that I will be charged extra because that plan isn't supposed to be used to access non-MEdia net websites.

I can't switch companies because we just re-signed when purchasing new phones. I'm also a bit stuck because of two weird things - (a) for some reason the company insists that we are on a business plan (which we are not, but they keep telling us that we are), and (b) the family plan we do have includes three lines - mine, my wife and my mother-in-law. None of us have land lines. Changing companies now would be a huge pain (and a contract-break fee). To keep our numbers, we would have to take a trip to the state in which we purchased the plan. I don't want to drop my number, and signing up for a number that is local to us now would mean my mother-in-law would find herself living in a small town, using an out-of-state home phone number - a much bigger hassle for her than it is for us.

They do know which phone I have - although I do suppose nothing would stop me from telling them I have purchased a different phone - but I still cannot understand how they justify telling customers that they will be charged differently based on the phone OS.

I do not need a Blackberry plan - my phone is Blackberry compatible, with full keyboard, but I don't use it with a Blackberry server. I don't need any SMS messaging, as I rarely use it. I don't need to tether the phone. I would just like to be able to check my email, pull up Google Maps, and occasionally look up something on the web as needed. I'm just still pissed at this company for not offering a simple, basic data rate for ALL of their phones. I can understand charging differently for higher amounts of data, or even for 3G vs. older transfer technologies, but phone OS? I still call bullshit.

The thing that really jerks my chain is that we went cellular years ago to get away from AT&T. Now they bought our cellular provider, and I'm not especially pleased.
posted by caution live frogs at 5:39 AM on June 27, 2007

I can't switch companies because we just re-signed when purchasing new phones.

Yes you can. If they truly did raise your data plan rate a few days ago, that gives you an out on your contract without the cancellation fee, like I posted above.
posted by marionnette en chaussette at 3:43 PM on June 27, 2007

You keep saying that, marionnette en chaussette, but it doesn't look like caution live frogs's rates, as most people would understand them, were raised. Rather the cost of an different plan that he chose not to exercise before has been raised. Good luck convincing anyone that this is an adverse material effect allowing you to break your contract without charge.
posted by grouse at 3:57 PM on June 27, 2007

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