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March 30, 2008 7:52 AM   Subscribe

How can I prevent a certain cellular phone service provider from continuing to steal money from my son's college fund, nay, food from his very mouth?

AT&T Wireless is sneaking into my family's home at night and robbing us of our dreams for the future. I don't single out this company either. Given our minimal cell phone usage, it appears that any monthly plan available from any carrier in our area would entail absurd overcharging.

Based on the minimum plan, and our level of usage, we have been paying an average of 60 cents per minute to use our phones. There are times when we definitely need the phones. It's just that those times are few and far between. In the meantime we are clearly only helping AT&T CEO Randall L. Stephenson afford the full time janitor to polish the solid gold handles on the flush toilet on his yacht!!!

(Catches breath.) So switching to pre-paid phones would seem to be the only reasonable approach. And now for the questions:

1) Will it be possible to keep our current numbers (this is not a super high priority, we're just curious)?
2) Will it be possible to keep our current phones (which we like) without resorting to some sketchy unlocking technique?
3) How will the change interact with our current indentured servitude, er... contract?
4) Should we stay with AT&T or is there a better pre-paid option?
5) Can anyone recommend any particularly excellent articles/blog posts expressing righteous indignation over the openly racketeering cell phone industry?
6) Is there any citizen/legislative movement happening to put a stop to this egregious consumer bloodletting?

AT&T Nation 700 Family Talk Plan
His & Hers Sony Ericsson W810i phones
Located in Western Massachusetts

We have asked the internet many of these questions, but now we want to know what the very clever part of the internet thinks.
posted by donmateo to Work & Money (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
we want to know what the very clever part of the internet thinks.

I think you should stop being so melodramatic. It is a turn-off to even people who agree with your general points.

I am quite happy with T-Mobile's PAYG offering. If you start by adding $100 of credit at once, then credit will not expire for a year, and you can extend the expiration date by a further year by adding a smaller amount of credit. 10¢/min.
posted by grouse at 8:02 AM on March 30, 2008 [5 favorites]

1) Will it be possible to keep our current numbers (this is not a super high priority, we're just curious)?

Yes. I moved my number across three providers without too much misery, although it means that people can't reach you for a few days.

2) Will it be possible to keep our current phones (which we like) without resorting to some sketchy unlocking technique?

If you stay with AT&T, you probably can.

3) How will the change interact with our current indentured servitude, er... contract?

This is crazy, I know, but only AT&T can answer that - not the internet.

4) Should we stay with AT&T or is there a better pre-paid option?

American pre-paid plans are uniformly all shit, but I was comparatively satisfied with Virgin Mobile. You'd need a new phone, though.
posted by cmonkey at 8:04 AM on March 30, 2008

I've been using Virgin prepaid wireless for about a year. I've been really happy with the service. Virgin has just added a few more prepaid plans with rollover minutes, as well.
posted by astruc at 8:11 AM on March 30, 2008

Response by poster: odinsdream: We use less than 100 minutes per month on average. A month comes along now and then where we use 300 or so. It is unlikely we would ever use as many as 550 (AT&T's lowest offering) and with rollover minutes... well, you get the idea. Our desired budget would be: as little as possible to cover our minuscule usage.

grouse: The bit you quoted was me being obsequious. The melodrama came earlier in the post. But thank you for the info about T-Mobile!
posted by donmateo at 8:15 AM on March 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you only use 100 minute a month as an entire family, pre-paid plans make a lot of sense.
posted by k8t at 8:20 AM on March 30, 2008

Best answer: 1) number portability supposed to work and not discriminate between prepaid and postpaid accounts.
2) If you stay with ATT you can use the ATT-locked phones. Usually.
3) You are stuck with your contract until it expires. sometimes have stories about how people get out of contracts when some of the terms change. I think the phone companies are wising up to this.
4) You'll need to stay with ATT if you want to use those phones (or you can google for davinci team and find creative ways to unlock SE phones). If you unlock the SE phones you can use them with T-Mobile and ATT only. If you go with some other carrier you'll have to buy new phones.
5) Phone companies are not charities. You can screw them by using 100% of your minutes and just leaving keeping the phones engaged in a call in the mobile to mobile family talking 24/7/365. The "value" they are offering are for people using the phone a lot, but they hope you don't.
6) Probably not going to happen. Mobile phones are not required by law so you could always go back to POTS. Remember, you agreed to the contract from ATT so it is sort of your fault you have buyer's remorse now.

You could easily save $120 a year plus all the bullshit taxes by switching to the family talk 550 plan. Or dump the family plan and get the minimum minutes on just one phone until your contract ends, unlock and do prepaid on the other phone. That may not work if your phones were subsidized based on getting a family plan though. Read your contract. Once you're out of the contract you'll have more flexibility.

Note when you jump ship from post paid to prepaid you'll have to have both accounts active when you want to move the number. If you quit your account at ATT and then ten minutes later want to move the number, you're screwed.
posted by birdherder at 8:22 AM on March 30, 2008

I have Virgin Mobile service and their phone. The phone cost <>
In essence, I try to keep cellular service in its place - for emergencies, including "what should I pick up at the store" emergencies. It's not a good tool for involved bonding.

What this means is that, even though the sound quality and gadget quality of the cheap Virgin Mobile phone isn't that great, that's fine, because that's not its job; its job is to work when I need it and not to cost a lot of money.

Which is to say: if you want inexpensive dependable service, Virgin Mobile is dandy. I hope you'll go for it, because, if, in the future, everyone has expensive cell phones and stops using land lines, then land line service will go downhill and/or get more expensive. Which would be unfortunate, because cell conversations always have that little nearly-imperceptible delay that makes real-time talking a little less real; it's subtle enough that I think not a lot of people notice. But I do, and even if you don't, it does make a difference.

So, up with cheap cell service and keeping the land line for real conversations.
posted by amtho at 8:22 AM on March 30, 2008

First paragraph should have been:

I have Virgin Mobile service and their phone. The phone cost < $20 and is so-so. If it's important that I have a real conversation with someone, I use my land line; I wish everybody did this.

(It looked OK in preview, but my non-HTMLified less-than-sign seems to have made everything that followed into an HTML tag.)
posted by amtho at 8:24 AM on March 30, 2008

The Howard forums have sub-forums on all the pre-paid providers here.

I prefer T-mobile To Go because my phone is unlocked so when I go overseas I can pop in a sim card there and have cheap service overseas too. Also, the minutes last a year so it works out to about $8 a month for me.
posted by sharkfu at 8:35 AM on March 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

To second sharkfu: when it comes to cellphones, the Howard Forums crowd is almost certainly more clever than the Ask Metafilter one.
posted by box at 9:44 AM on March 30, 2008

I'll third that, but if you are unfamiliar with HowardForums, it can be a bit daunting at first. I think it's a lot better to go in there and have an idea of what might be a good solution and then people can point out some things you might not have thought of before. At least that is what I did last time, having been turned onto HowardForums by responses to my own AskMe question.
posted by grouse at 9:48 AM on March 30, 2008

Were I you, I'd consider simply getting some prepaid AT&T motorolas. For $100 you get the phone plus $100 of airtime (either at $1/day + $0.10/min or for $0.25/minute flat--we do the latter). Buying $100 at once allows you a year to use those 400 minutes up. You can add airtime whenever needed and extend your usage time as well as the balance. (And there are bonuses for buying bulk minutes before your time runs out)

It sounds like your normal months would put you out $25 and the high use months would be $75 but you'd have the flexibility you need and not be locked into a contract.
posted by moof at 12:37 PM on March 30, 2008

We have Page Plus Cellular. You're not going to find cheaper minutes anywhere. You can get minutes for 8 cents with only a $25 card, and for less than 6 cents with an $80 card. (Note that you have to buy separate cards for each phone; this is true of all carriers, however.) For comparison, T-Mobile to Go is among the most popular carriers, and among the cheapest. A $25 card gets you 130 minutes, or 150 (IIRC) if you've reached Gold Rewards. A $100 card puts you on Gold Rewards and gives you 1000 minutes. (Gold Rewards, in addition to getting you slightly cheaper minutes, also extends your airtime expiration to 1 year. They also have a very limited selection of websites you can use. If you use the AOL IM on their phones, will lose time the entire time you're logged in, so beware.) So minutes will run you from about 17 cents on a $25 card to 10 cents on a $100 card, vs. the 8 cents per minute on a $25 card with Page Plus. I looked at the coverage map, and parts of western MA are covered, other parts are roaming; you'd need to look at the map itself to see if your area is covered. They do have good coverage overall.

You will need new phones, and they will need to be Verizon phones. Alternatively, you can buy phones from them directly online. (Their website is here.) You can go to Wal-Mart or Target and buy a Verizon pre-paid phone for around $30. Do NOT activate it with Verizon. Call Page Plus and they will walk you through the activation and give you 100 minutes per phone to start at no charge. Currently they do not have data service, so picture messaging and web surfing is out. Text messaging works normally. Refill cards are good for 120 days, but as long as you refill before the 120 days expire, your unused minutes will roll over.

Hope this helps!
posted by azpenguin at 5:33 PM on March 30, 2008

You will probably have to pay money to break your contract, since they gave you a "free" phone when you signed it, right?
posted by Jacqueline at 2:43 AM on March 31, 2008

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