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AT&T Mailing More Warning Letters to Customers Exceeding Their Usage Allowance

Phillip Dampier February 17, 2014 AT&T, Editorial & Site News, Internet Overcharging 3 Comments

att-logo-221x300AT&T wants customers to pay attention to their broadband account’s monthly usage limits: 150GB for DSL or 250GB for U-verse. Customers who exceed their allowance are more likely than ever to get a warning letter from AT&T threatening overlimit fees if they continue to ‘use too much’ Internet.

AT&T customers in Texas, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Florida have shared identical warnings with Stop the Cap! received during the last 10 days — in each case it was the first warning notice received about exceeding AT&T’s arbitrary allowance:

Dear AT&T High Speed Internet Service Customer,

We want to remind you that your AT&T High Speed Internet service includes 150 gigabytes (GB) of data for each billing period.

You have exceeded 150 GB this billing period.

We’ll waive the charges for additional data this month and notify you as your usage approaches 150 GB in future months.

The next time you exceed 150 GB you’ll be notified, but not billed. However if you go over your data plan in any subsequent billing period, we’ll provide you with an additional 50 GB of data for $10. You’ll be charged $10 for every incremental 50 GB of usage beyond your plan.

AT&T imposed usage caps a few years ago but has generally not enforced them, even when usage meters show an excess of 500GB in Internet traffic. Some AT&T customers still have no access to a working usage meter, making compliance even more difficult. Stop the Cap! has yet to receive a verified copy of a billing statement actually showing overages billed to customers, but the increasing number of warning letters may indicate overlimit fees are forthcoming for persistent ‘violators.’

We recommend that customers receiving these warning letters send a warning of their own by calling AT&T and threatening to cancel service over the issue of unacceptable usage caps. Let AT&T know that you consider usage-based billing a deal-breaker and you will begin exploring your options with other providers. Remind AT&T that they already earn a lot of money from you and that any overlimit fees that appear on your bill will mean the immediate termination of your account.

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AT&T Sued for Suspending Workers Without Pay After They Report On-the-Job Injuries

Phillip Dampier February 12, 2014 AT&T, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't No Comments

att truckThe U.S. Department of Labor has filed a lawsuit against AT&T accusing the company of suspending workers after they report workplace injuries.

The department filed the lawsuit against The Ohio Bell Telephone Company, which operates as AT&T, on behalf of 13 employees who were disciplined and suspended without pay from 2011-2013. The complaint alleges AT&T has repeatedly given one to three-day unpaid suspensions after workers reported injuries that occurred on the job. AT&T claims the workers violated the company’s workplace safety standards, but the Occupational Safety and Health Administration found AT&T only handed out unpaid suspensions after they formally reported the injuries.

Employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who raise concerns or provide information to their employer or the government. Employees who believe they are a victim of retaliation for engaging in protected conduct may file a complaint with OSHA’s Directorate of Whistleblower Protection Programs.

“It is against the law for employers to discipline or suspend employees for reporting injuries,” said Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health. “AT&T must understand that by discouraging workers from reporting injuries, it increases the likelihood of more workers being injured in the future. The Labor Department will do everything in its power to prevent this type of retaliation.”

Five of the Ohio employees in the suit are based in Columbus; two in Brooklyn Heights; two in Canton; and one each in Akron, Cleveland, Gallipolis and Uhrichsville.

Among the suspension cases cited are these from 2012:

  • An AT&T technician repairing a cable in Uhrichsville fell from a letter and suffered fractured vertebrae. He returned to work six months later. AT&T accused him of violating its ladder policy, put a written disciplinary warning in his employee record, and penalized him with a one-day unpaid suspension;
  • An AT&T worker struggling to free a 28-foot extension ladder caught in foliage in North Canton pulled a muscle in his back and sought medical treatment and returned to work 10 days later. AT&T claimed  he violated its policy regarding ladders. The worker was issued a written disciplinary warning and assessed a one-day unpaid suspension;
  • An AT&T technician in Lake Township stepped in a drain hole and injured his back while removing a 28-foot extension ladder from the top of his vehicle. He visited a doctor but missed no work time. AT&T again claimed the worker violated its ladder policy, issued the employee a written warning and placed him on unpaid suspension for one day.

The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, Eastern Division.

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More Hackery on Broadband Regulation from the AT&T-Funded Progressive Policy Institute

Phillip "Follow the Money" Dampier

Phillip “Follow the Money” Dampier

“In the 1990s, U.S. policymakers faced critical choices about who should build the Internet, how it should be governed, and to what extent it should be regulated and taxed. For the most part, they chose wisely to open a regulated telecommunications market to competition, stimulate private investment in broadband and digital technologies, and democratize access.” — Will Marshall, guest columnist

Is competition in Internet access robust enough for you? Has your provider been sufficiently stimulated to invest in the latest broadband technologies to keep America at the top of broadband speed and availability rankings? Is Net Neutrality the law of the land or the latest victim of a Verizon lawsuit to overturn the concept of democratizing access to online content?

I’m not certain what country Will Marshall lives in, but for most Americans, Internet access is provided by a duopoly of providers that must be dragged kicking and screaming to upgrade their networks without jacking up prices and limiting usage.

Marshall is president and founder of the Progressive Policy Institute, a so-called “third way” group inspired by centrist Democrats led by President Bill Clinton in the 1990s. Unlike traditional liberals suspicious of corporate agendas, these Democrats were friendly to big business and welcomed the largess of corporate cash to keep them competitive in election races. It was under this atmosphere that Clinton signed the bought-and-paid-for 1996 Telecom Act, ghostwritten by lobbyists for big broadcasters, phone and cable companies, and other big media interests. Long on rhetoric about self-governing, free market competition but short on specifics, the ’96 law transformed the media landscape in ways that still impact us today.

ppiMedia ownership laws were relaxed, allowing massive buyouts of radio stations under a handful of giant corporations like Clear Channel, which promptly dispensed with large numbers of employees that provided locally produced programming. In their place, we now get cookie-cutter radio that sounds the same from Maine to Oregon. Television stations eagerly began lobbying for a similar framework for relaxing ownership limits in their business. Phone companies won their own freedoms from regulation, including largely toothless broadband regulations that allowed Internet providers to declare victory regardless of how good or bad broadband has gotten in the United States.

Marshall’s views appeared in a guest column this week in The Orlando Sentinel, which is open to publishing opinion pieces from writers hailing from Washington, D.C., without bothering to offer readers with some full disclosure.

Marshall

Marshall

While Marshall’s opinions may be his own, readers should be aware that PPI would likely not exist without its corporate sponsors — among them AT&T, hardly a disinterested player in the telecommunications policy debate.

Marshall’s column suggests competition is doing a great job at keeping prices low and allows you – the consumer – to decide which technologies and services thrive. There must be another reason my Time Warner Cable bill keeps increasing and my choice for broadband technology — fiber optics — is nowhere in sight. I don’t have a choice of Verizon FiOS, in part because phone and cable companies maintain fiefdoms where other phone and cable companies don’t dare to tread. That leaves me with one other option: Frontier Communications, which is still encouraging me to sign up for their 3.1Mbps DSL.

“The broadband Internet also is a powerful magnet for private investment,” Marshall writes. “In 2013, telecom and tech companies topped PPI’s ranking of the companies investing the most in the U.S. economy. And America is moving at warp speed toward the ‘Internet of Everything,’ which promises to spread the productivity-raising potential of digital technology across the entire economy.”

Nothing about AT&T or the cable companies is about “warp speed.” In reality, AT&T and Verizon plan to pour their enormous profits into corporate set-asides to repurchase their own stock, pay dividends to shareholders, and continue to richly compensate their executives. It’s good to know that PPI offers rankings that place telecom companies on top. Unfortunately, those without a financial connection to AT&T are less optimistic. The U.S. continues its long slide away from broadband leadership as even developing countries in the former Eastern Bloc race ahead of us. Verizon’s biggest single investment of 2013 wasn’t in the U.S. economy — it was to spend $130 billion to buyout U.K.-based Vodafone’s 45% ownership interest in Verizon Wireless. Verizon’s customers get stalled FiOS expansion, Cadillac-priced wireless service, and a plan to ditch rural landlines and push those customers to cell service instead.

AT&T financially supports the Progressive Policy Institute

AT&T financially supports the Progressive Policy Institute

“A recent federal court decision regarding the FCC’s Open Internet Order has prompted pro-regulatory advocates from the ’90s to demand a rewrite of the legal framework that allowed today’s Internet to flourish,” Marshall writes in a section that also includes insidious NSA wiretapping and Internet censorship in Russia and China.

Marshall’s AT&T public policy agenda is showing.

Net Neutrality proponents don’t advocate an open Internet for no reason. It was AT&T’s former CEO Ed Whitacre that threw down the gauntlet declaring Google and other content providers would not be allowed to use AT&T’s pipes for free. AT&T has since patented technology that will allow it to discriminate in favor of preferred web traffic while artificially slowing down content it doesn’t like on its network.

“Pro-regulatory advocates” are not the ones advocating change — it is AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast, among others, that want to monetize Internet usage and web traffic for even higher profits. Net Neutrality as law protects the Internet experience Marshall celebrates. He just can’t see past AT&T’s money to realize that.

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AT&T Forced to Slash Prices In Face of T-Mobile’s Price War

Phillip Dampier February 3, 2014 AT&T, Competition, T-Mobile, Video, Wireless Broadband No Comments
AT&T has returned fire in a price war with T-Mobile designed to retain its customers and attract new ones.

AT&T has returned fire in a price war with T-Mobile designed to keep its customers and attract new ones.

AT&T Mobility has cut $40-100 a month off the price of plans targeting some of its most lucrative customers — families with multiple phone sharing a lot of data.

Under its newest offer announced Saturday, a family with four smartphones sharing a 10GB data allowance will see their bill cut from $200 to $160 a month effectively immediately. Any family plan customer with 10GB or higher usage allowances will also see their bill cut by $40-100 a month.

The price cut comes in response to fierce competition from T-Mobile, which has repeatedly bashed AT&T in its advertising campaigns. Now a customer with three smartphones will find AT&T’s new plan price just $5 more than what T-Mobile charges, although T-Mobile’s offer includes unlimited data.

“This is about being competitive,” said David Christopher, chief marketing officer for AT&T Mobility. “We feel we have the best network and the best value in the marketplace,” Christopher said.

AT&T is also offering a $100 bill credit for each new line added or for activating each new tablet, mobile hotspot, or AT&T’s wireless home phone service until March 31.

The contrast in pricing between AT&T, hounded by T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless, which has largely ignored the price war, is striking. Verizon Wireless charges up to $125 more a month for its family plans with identical data allowances and features.

att-plan-comparison

The new offer requires no contract, and phones must be purchased at full price either up front or in installments. Existing, on-contract customers with subsidized phones will pay more.

AT&T has also stepped up customer retention efforts, handing out hundreds of dollars in service credits to some threatening to leave for T-Mobile.

Customers are receiving an average of $55 a month in service credits over the next year by tweeting complaints to AT&T’s social media team: @ATTCustomerCare and @ATT

Those on family share plans with several lines of service complaining that AT&T is charging too much and are planning to switch to T-Mobile are being offered discounts such as $70 a month in service credits for the first six months and $40 a month for the next six months after speaking to an AT&T representative arranged through Twitter.

Customers get a less charitable response in AT&T stores where some employees have dared customers to switch to T-Mobile claiming they will be unhappy with the slow data service and coverage areas. In short, no service credits or retention offers are available from in-store representatives. Customers must appeal to AT&T’s social media team to get a discount.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/ATT New Mobile Share Value Plan for Families 2-1-14.mp4

AT&T explains the new pricing for their Family Share plans. (1:27)

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Kansas’ Senate Commerce Committee Members Well-Compensated by Big Telecom

lobbyist-cashThe Kansas State Legislature website makes it very difficult to find exactly who wrote and introduced Senate Bill 304, the laughingly titled, “Municipal Communication’s Network and Private Telecommunications Investment Safeguards Act.

In fact, the bill should be titled, “The Big Telecom Duopoly Protection Act,” because it makes it almost impossible for any publicly owned network to get off the ground and compete in the state of Kansas, even in places where the nearest cable or DSL connection is dozens of miles away.

Instead of naming names, the legislature’s website prefers to show the bill introduced by the Committee on Commerce, sponsored by the Committee on Commerce, and referred to the Committee on Commerce for further consideration. Since they apparently wrote and co-sponsored the bill, we don’t expect it will take them too long to rubber stamp their approval.

The Republican-dominated members of the committee are already well-acquainted with the state’s largest cable and phone companies, as their campaign donations from 2012 illustrate:

  • Sen. Julia Lynn (R), Chairperson: AT&T ($1,750), Comcast ($1,500), CenturyLink ($1,000);
  • Sen. Susan Wagle (R), Vice-Chair: Cox Communications ($1,750), AT&T ($1,500), Kansas Cable Telecommunication Association ($1,250), Comcast ($1,000), CenturyLink ($1,000);
  • Sen. Tom Holland (D), Ranking Member: AT&T ($1,000);
  • Sen. Pat Apple (R): AT&T ($1,000), Comcast ($1,000), Kansas Cable Telecommunication Association ($250), Time Warner Cable ($250), Verizon ($250), CenturyLink ($250);
  • Sen. Jim Denning (R): CenturyLink ($250);
  • Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau (D): AT&T ($1,000), Cox Communications ($1000), Kansas Cable Telecommunication Association ($250);
  • Sen. Jeff Longbine (R): AT&T ($2,000), CenturyLink ($1,750), Cox Communications ($500);
  • Sen. Jeff Melcher (R): CenturyLink ($1,000);
  • Sen. Robert Olson (R): AT&T ($1,750), Comcast ($1,500), CenturyLink ($1,250), Cox Communications ($750);
  • Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook (R): Comcast ($1,000).

Data: Project Vote Smart, 1/30/2014

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Anti-Community Broadband Bill Introduced in Kansas; Legislating Incumbent Protection

What company is behind the effort to ban municipal broadband in kansas.

AT&T is a frequent backer of anti-community broadband initiatives, as are some of the nation’s biggest cable companies.

The Kansas Senate’s Commerce Committee has introduced a bill that would make it next to impossible to build publicly owned community broadband networks that could potentially compete against the state’s largest cable and phone companies.

Senate Bill 304 is the latest in a series of measures introduced in state legislatures across the country to limit or prohibit local communities from building better broadband networks that large commercial providers refuse to offer.

SB 304 is among the most protectionist around, going well beyond the model bill produced by the corporate-backed American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). At its heart, the bill bans just about any would-be competitor that works with, is run by, or backed by a local municipality:

Sec. 4. Except with regard to unserved areas, a municipality may not, directly or indirectly offer or provide to one or more subscribers, video, telecommunications or broadband service; or purchase, lease, construct, maintain or operate any facility for the purpose of enabling a private business or entity to offer, provide, carry, or deliver video, telecommunications or broadband service to one or more subscribers.

For purposes of this act, a municipality offers or provides video, telecommunications or broadband service if the municipality offers or provides the service:

  • Directly or indirectly, including through an authority or instrumentality:
  • Acting on behalf of the municipality; or for the benefit of the municipality;
  • by itself;
  • through a partnership, joint venture or other entity in which the municipality participates; or
  • by contract, resale or otherwise.
Tribune, Kansas is the county seat of Greeley County.

Tribune, Kansas is the county seat of Greeley County.

This language effectively prohibits just about everything from municipally owned broadband networks, public-private partnerships, buying an existing cable or phone company to improve service, allowing municipal utilities to establish broadband through an independent authority, or even contracting with a private company to offer service where none exists.

The proposed legislation falls far short of its intended goals to:

  • Ensure that video, telecommunications and broadband services are provided through fair competition;
  • Provide the widest possible diversity of sources of information, news and entertainment to the general public;
  • Encourage the development and widespread use of technological advances in providing video, telecommunications and broadband services at competitive rates and,
  • Ensure that video, telecommunications and broadband services are each provided within a consistent, comprehensive and nondiscriminatory federal, state and local government framework.

Proponents claim the bill is open to allowing municipalities to build broadband services in “unserved areas.” But upon closer inspection, the bill’s definition of “unserved” is practically impossible to meet anywhere in Kansas:

“Unserved area” means one or more contiguous census blocks within the legal boundaries of a municipality seeking to provide the unserved area with video, telecommunications or broadband service, where at least nine out of 10 households lack access to facilities-based, terrestrial broadband service, either fixed or mobile, or satellite broadband service, at the minimum broadband transmission speed as defined by the FCC.

Even the FCC does not consider satellite broadband service when it draws maps where broadband is unavailable. But this Big Telecom-backed bill does. Even worse, it requires would-be providers to prove that 90 percent of customers within a “census block” don’t have access to either mobile or satellite broadband. Since satellite Internet access is available to anyone with a view of the southern sky, and the most likely unserved customers would be in rural areas, it would be next to impossible for any part of the notoriously flat and wide open state to qualify as “unserved.”

Each rectangle represents one census block within one census tract that partially covers Greeley County. Under the proposed legislation, a community provider would have to visit every census block to verify whether a private company is capable of providing service, including satellite Internet access.

Each rectangle represents one “census block” within a larger “census tract” that partially covers Greeley County. Under the proposed legislation, a community provider would have to visit each census block to verify whether a private company is capable of providing broadband service, including satellite Internet access.

To illustrate, Stop the Cap! looked at Greeley County in western Kansas. The county’s total population? 1,247 — the smallest in the state. Assume Greeley County Broadband, a fictional municipal provider, wanted to launch fiber broadband service in the area. Under the proposed bill, the largest potential customer base is 1,247 — too small for most private providers. Still, if a private company decided to wire up the county, it could with few impediments, assuming investors were willing to wait for a return on their investment in the rural county. If SB 304 became law, a publicly owned broadband network would have to do much more before a single cable could be installed on a utility pole.

Census Block 958100-1-075, in downtown Tribune, has a population of 10.

Census Block 958100-1-075, in downtown Tribune, has a population of 10.

To open for business, Greeley County Broadband would have to spend tens of thousands of dollars to independently verify its intended service area — the county — is unserved by any existing broadband technology, including satellite and mobile broadband. The authors of the bill intentionally make that difficult. Just one census tract in Greeley County (#9561), encompassing the county seat town of Tribune (pop. 741) has dozens of census blocks. Some are populated, others are not.

Greeley County Broadband now has several big problems. Under the language in the bill, a municipal provider must first define its service area entirely within its borders — in this case Greeley County — and base it on contiguous census blocks. That means if pockets of qualifying potential customers exist in a census block surrounded by non-qualifying census blocks, Greeley County Broadband cannot include them in its service area.

Census Block 958100-1-075 — essentially at the intersection of Broadway Ave. and West Harper St., right next to City Hall — has a population of 10. AT&T Mobility’s coverage maps show Tribune is covered by its 3G wireless data network (but not 4G). That census block, along with every other in the area, would be disqualified from getting municipal broadband the moment AT&T upgrades to 4G service, whether reception is great or not. It doesn’t matter that customers will have to pay around $60 for a handful of gigabytes a month.

But wait, Verizon Wireless declares it already provides 4G LTE service across Greeley County (and almost all Kansas). So Greeley County Broadband, among other would-be providers, are out of business before even launching. Assuming there was no 4G service, if just two of those ten residents had a clear view to any satellite broadband provider, Greeley County Broadband would not be permitted to provide anyone in the census block with service under the proposed law. Under these restrictions, no municipal provider could write a tenable business plan, starved of potential customers.

Kansans need to consider whether that is “fair competition” or corporate protectionism. Is it a level playing field to restrict one provider without restricting others? If competition promotes investment in technologically challenged rural Kansas, would not more competition from municipal providers force private companies to finally upgrade their networks to compete?

In fact, the bill introduced this week protects incumbent cable and phone companies from competition and upgrades by keeping out the only likely competition most Kansans will ever see beyond AT&T, Comcast, or CenturyLink’s comfortable duopoly – a municipal or community-owned broadband alternative. Providing the widest possible diversity is impossible in a bill that features the widest possible definition of conditions that will keep new entrants out of the market. Community-owned networks usually offer superior technology (often fiber optics) in communities that are usually trapped with the most basic, outdated services. While the Kansas legislature coddles AT&T, that same company wants to mothball its rural landline network pushing broadband-starved customers to prohibitively expensive, usage capped wireless broadband service indefinitely.

verizon 4g

Seeing Big Red? The areas colored dark red represent the claimed coverage of Verizon Wireless’ 4G LTE network in Kansas. Under SB 304, these areas would be prohibited from having a community-owned broadband alternative.

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AT&T U-verse Expansion Peaks This Year; Company Raked in $6.9 Billion in Profits Last Quarter

att-logo-221x300AT&T’s investment in U-verse expansion is expected to peak this year as part of its “Project VIP” effort to bring the fiber to the neighborhood service to more areas and offer faster broadband speeds to current customers.

AT&T is spending $6 billion over three years to broaden the footprint of U-verse, which now earns AT&T 57% of its total consumer revenues. In 2013, AT&T earned $13 billion in revenue from U-verse, up 28%.

AT&T’s investment in U-verse is dwarfed by the company’s efforts to benefit shareholders. In the last quarter of 2013, AT&T realized $6.9 billion in profits on revenue of $33.2 billion. For 2013, AT&T repurchased 366 million shares of its own stock for around $13 billion and paid out another $10 billion in shareholder dividends. Together, the total return for shareholders for the year was $23 billion and in the last two years AT&T achieved a new record benefiting shareholders with $45 billion in returns. In contrast, AT&T will spend just $6 billion on the current round of U-verse upgrades, with those markets left out likely pushed to wireless-only service if the company succeeds in winning approval to decommission its rural landline network.

Most of AT&T’s revenue growth is coming from its wireless business, particularly wireless data. After AT&T eliminated its flat rate plans, monetizing data usage has become very profitable — $23 billion per year and growing at 17% annually. Because increasing wireless usage forces customers to upgrade to higher cost plans offering more generous usage allowances, AT&T’s average revenue per customer increased by 3.9% — the highest in the wireless industry and the 20th consecutive quarter of customers collectively paying higher cell phone bills.

“The next steps are to make our networks even more powerful and layer on services that will drive new growth in the years ahead,” said AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson.

AT&T is counting on even higher customer bills as the company moves forward on several revenue-enhancing initiatives:

  1. Moving an increasing number of customers away from subsidized handsets. AT&T Next allows wireless customers to get a new handset every year, but in return AT&T no longer subsidizes equipment purchases. Instead, most Next customers finance their current phone and will finance their next one, assuring AT&T of a constant revenue stream for equipment. AT&T expects to gradually move away from phone subsidies altogether;
  2. Data plans for cars are forthcoming, as auto manufacturers install wireless capability in new vehicles. Many are signing agreements with AT&T that will make it easy for current customers to add vehicles to their existing plan, but customers of other carriers may find signing up for a new plan prohibitively expensive;
  3. Internet-connected home security systems are getting a major marketing push in 2014 with advertising blitzes and other promotions. The alarm systems are connected to and use AT&T’s wireless data network;
  4. AT&T customers are being pushed to wireless data plans with much higher data allowances than they need, delivering extra profits for AT&T with no impact on its wireless network;
  5. AT&T wants to begin selling “sponsored data” services to companies willing to foot the bill for accessing preferred websites. AT&T calls it “toll-free data” but Net Neutrality advocates complain it monetizes data usage and establishes a unlevel playing field where deep pocketed companies can help customers avoid AT&T’s usage meter while others have to contend with customers worried about their data allowance.
http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/ATT Next -- Get A New Smartphone Every Year from ATT Wireless 1-2014.flv

AT&T explains its Next program, which lets customers upgrade to a new smartphone every 12 or 18 months. AT&T doesn’t tell you the plan is effectively a lease that benefits them by not having to pay a phone subsidy worth hundreds of dollars to discount a phone they will eventually refurbish and resell after you return it. AT&T Next, as intended, is an endless installment payment plan that never stops as long as you keep upgrading your phone. You also can’t leave AT&T until you pay your current phone off. (1:30)

A new way for AT&T to end phone subsidies.

A new way for AT&T to end phone subsidies.

Despite fierce competition from T-Mobile, AT&T so far has seen little impact from T-Mobile’s aggressive marketing. AT&T added 566,000 new contract customers in the last quarter and sold 1.2 million smartphones to its customer base. AT&T’s customer churn rate — the number of customers coming and going — remains very low despite T-Mobile’s latest offer to cover AT&T’s early termination fees to encourage customers to switch.

Stephenson says AT&T’s superior wireless 4G LTE network and its larger coverage area make customers think twice about taking their business to a smaller carrier.

In 2014, AT&T laid out these plans during its quarterly results conference call this week:

  • U-verse will get an expanded TV Everywhere service allowing customers to view programming on smartphones and tablets inside their home and out;
  • U-verse broadband speed enhancements should be available to at least two-thirds of customers, with speeds up to 45Mbps;
  • LTE coverage expansion targets are expected to be ahead of schedule;
  • AT&T will begin a “big effort” on network densification — adding overlapping cell towers and small cell technology in current coverage areas — to handle network congestion;
  • AT&T will focus on improving its wired and wireless networks to prioritize video delivery;
  • If approved by the government, AT&T will use its acquired Leap/Cricket brand for aggressive new no-contract plans marketed to customers with spotty credit without tainting or devaluing the AT&T brand;
  • AT&T will use its agreements with GM, Ford, Nissan, Audi, BMW, and Tesla to offer AT&T wireless connectivity in new 2015 model year vehicles.
http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg ATT Latest Results Good 1-28-14.flv

Bloomberg notes AT&T’s latest financial results are ahead of analyst expectations. Despite competition from T-Mobile, AT&T’s customer defection rate is at a historic low. (2:03)

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AT&T’s Promotion Backfires; T-Mobile Exploits It In Press Release With Fake AT&T Quotes

Phillip Dampier January 29, 2014 AT&T, Competition, Consumer News, T-Mobile, Wireless Broadband No Comments

att tmo war

A new promotion from AT&T that matches T-Mobile’s offer to pay any early termination fees incurred from switching carriers has backfired, to T-Mobile’s amusement.

In full-page newspaper ads appearing this week, T-Mobile says AT&T just made switching to T-Mobile risk-free, because if customers don’t like T-Mobile’s service, AT&T will foot the bill to switch them back:

T-Mobile recently announced they would pay early termination fees if customers broke up with AT&T and traded in their device for a new one at T-Mobile.

Now AT&T has made that offer essentially risk free. Because if anyone isn’t happy with T-Mobile, AT&T will pay to switch them back. Who says AT&T doesn’t have heart.

The bad news for AT&T though, is once people switch to T-Mobile and experience the fastest nationwide 4G LTE network in the country, lower service costs and fewer restrictions, they won’t switch back. But let’s not think about that. Let’s just thank AT&T for being so darned nice.

Not satisfied with that missile shot across AT&T’s bow, T-Mobile also issued a press release titled “Americans Everywhere Celebrating As AT&T Dismantles Death Star,” that includes fabricated quotes from AT&T’s executives:

BELLEVUE, WA — Jan. 28, 2014 —T-Mobile US, Inc. (NYSE: TMUS) today announced that pretty much everyone at the company is overcome with emotion and still kind of processing the decision by now-ex-rival AT&T to leave the dark side, step into the light, and join hands in supporting the Un-carrier consumer revolution.

“Call it an awakening,” said Ralph de la Vega, president and CEO of AT&T Mobility, “but I felt it was time to really stir things up and put the customer first for a change. And by “customer” I’m referring to our former customers who switch to T-Mobile, because our current customers don’t really qualify.” De la Vega said that the new T-Mobile switching offer was custom designed to entice its millions of contract customers to go ahead and give T-Mobile a try. “If for any reason you don’t love T-Mobile’s 4G LTE network, which is now faster than ours[i], we’ll actually pay you up to $450 to come back to AT&T, I kid you not.”

Ok, De La Vega didn’t actually say that, but he might as well have. Thanks to AT&T’s apparent change-of-heart and incredibly generous $450 T-Mobile customer buy-back campaign, insane numbers of its very own customers and even families of AT&T employees are enjoying a risk-free, zero-cost opportunity to switch to the Un-carrier. If customers making the switch are not completely satisfied with T-Mobile and its state-of-the-art nationwide 4G LTE network (now fastest in the U.S.), AT&T will cover the costs for customers switching back to their own slower network, up to $450 with trade-in. Details of the new AT&T offer can be found at att.com/att/switcherpromo.

“Wow. I mean … wow,” breathed John Legere, president and CEO of T-Mobile. “I guess we all have moments of doubt. You know? Like, can the darkness ever be defeated? But that they’ve singled us out in this way is just so affirming. I guess we must be doing something right. I mean, if AT&T can change, it feels like anything’s possible.

“It’s kind of like that scene where Darth Vader’s lying there and Luke helps take off his helmet,” Legere continued, “and you see that, okay, sure, Darth Vader’s pretty ugly, but he’s human after all.” [....]

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Before Being Lured Away from T-Mobile With Promises of $450 from AT&T, Read the Fine Print

switchAT&T is offering T-Mobile customers — and only T-Mobile customers — up to $450 to switch their wireless service to AT&T, but is the switch actually worth it? A close inspection of AT&T’s fine print suggests some customers might want to think twice.

According to AT&T, beginning Jan. 3, under the limited-time offer, T-Mobile customers who switch to AT&T can trade-in their current smartphone for a promotion card of up to $250, which can be used toward AT&T products and services.  Trade-in values will vary based on make, model and age of the smartphone, but many of the latest and most popular smartphones will qualify for a value of $250.  T-Mobile customers can receive an extra $200 credit per line when they transfer their wireless service to AT&T and choose an AT&T Next plan, buy a device at full retail price or activate a device they currently own. The “Next” plan offers customers a chance to upgrade to a new device every year under an installment plan that divides the retail price of the phone over 20 months.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CNN The Most Dangeous Man in Wireless 1-8-14.flv

The Wall Street Journal’s ‘Digits’ explores the open marketing warfare between AT&T and T-Mobile. (3:34)

Although $450 sounds like an outstanding deal, some Wall Street analysts that usually panic when a company seems to be giving away the store, are still sleeping well at night.

“It’s not as great an offer as it appears on the surface,” Michael Hodel, equity analyst at Morningstar tells MarketWatch. “The fine print is critical.”

  1. Not every smartphone will qualify for the $250 “promotional card.” Only the latest model smartphones showing no signs of wear and tear are going to earn full value. Customers with older feature or basic phones will not qualify for anything at all. Customers may be able to get just as much selling their old phone themselves.
  2. AT&T is not offering a cash rebate. The value of the “promotional card” and the $200 ‘switch from T-Mobile’ bonus can only be spent on AT&T products and services. The promotional card will help defray the cost of buying a new smartphone from AT&T (which may not have the best price) and the $200 bonus will appear as a credit on a future AT&T bill.
  3. By accepting the $200 bonus, customers give up any device subsidies, an important distinction if you want an Apple iPhone. AT&T’s device subsidy on this phone is higher than $200.
  4. AT&T has tighter credit standards than T-Mobile. Customers with spotty credit may be asked to put down a deposit with AT&T before the company will take your business.
Legere

Legere

AT&T argues its offer will benefit T-Mobile customers by giving them access to the larger coverage area of AT&T’s wireless network and more widespread 4G service. But AT&T customers pay higher prices for access to that network. A T-Mobile customer is more likely to be sensitive to the price of the service — one of the strongest marketing points T-Mobile has in its favor. Most customers unhappy with T-Mobile’s less robust coverage tend to cancel service at the end of their contract (or earlier) and switch to either AT&T and Verizon Wireless.

According to an October report from MoffettNathanson Research, a typical T-Mobile family with 3-5 lines on a single account usually save around $50 a month off AT&T’s prices. That represents $600 a year in savings.

T-Mobile’s scrappy and aggressive marketing has had an impact, particularly on AT&T. Just a few years earlier AT&T tried to buyout T-Mobile in a consolidation move rejected by the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division. After the merger collapsed, incoming T-Mobile CEO John Legere has long forgotten whatever niceties existed between the two companies when they were trying to join forces. Legere has been on the attack against both AT&T and Verizon Wireless all year, and the effort is clearly beginning to pay off as T-Mobile adds customers.

Last year at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) Legere called AT&T’s network “crap” on stage. So when Legere crashed AT&T’s party at this year’s CES convention, still sporting his pink T-Mobile t-shirt, AT&T’s security guards threw him out.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CNN The Most Dangeous Man in Wireless 1-8-14.flv

CNN calls T-Mobile’s John Legere the most dangerous man in wireless, for exposing “disgusting” AT&T and Verizon’s over 90% gross margin on their wireless services and their consumer unfriendly business practices. (2:41)

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AT&T Acquires AWS Spectrum from Frequency Squatter-Speculator Aloha Partners II

AT&T today announced it has agreed to buy 49 Advanced Wireless Services (AWS) spectrum licenses from a venture that has done nothing with the frequencies since acquiring them at auctions dating back as early as 2004.

Aloha Partners II, L.P. has no intention to use the frequencies it controls, so it has sold part of its spectrum portfolio to AT&T. The acquired licenses cover almost 50 million people in 14 states, including California, Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas.

Aloha Partners II is selling a considerable amount of its AWS portfolio to AT&T for an undisclosed sum. The venture never used the frequencies, although it controlled some of them as early as a decade ago.

Aloha Partners II is selling a considerable amount of its AWS portfolio to AT&T for an undisclosed sum. The venture never used the frequencies, although it controlled some of them as early as a decade ago.

The acquisition will complement AWS frequencies AT&T already controls in the band, which ranges from 1710 – 1755 and 2110 – 2155MHz.

att_logoFinancial terms were not disclosed.

Carriers have complained regularly about spectrum shortages but some consumer groups charge carriers and spectrum squatters are not putting the airwaves they already control to use. Spectrum has become such a valuable asset, some investors have pooled resources to buy licenses only to resell at a profit later.

Before today’s announcement, Aloha Partners II was the 8th largest owner of wireless spectrum in the U.S. The venture owns AWS spectrum concentrated in 12 of the top 50 markets including many of the leading high-tech areas like San Francisco, San Jose, Denver, Austin and San Antonio.

In 2004, Aloha Partners II purchased 15 licenses covering 38 million pops from the Federal Communications Commission in the Advanced Wireless Spectrum (AWS) auction. In 2007 and 2008 Aloha Partners II purchased an extra 37 AWS licenses covering 12 million pops from Nextwave Wireless.

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