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AT&T Scores Last (Again) in Consumer Reports’ Ratings; Oddly AT&T Reseller Scores Highest

AT&T has once again scored dead last in a nationwide survey (subscription required) of wireless providers commissioned by consumer magazine Consumer Reports.

Among national coverage carriers, Verizon Wireless again scored the highest, but not highest overall when including smaller independent and regional carriers.  Top honors were won by Consumer Cellular, a relatively small company in Portland, Ore. that ironically depends on bottom-rated AT&T’s network to deliver service.  What sets Consumer Cellular apart from other carriers is its near-exclusive focus on selling phone service to America’s senior population.  Working with groups like the AARP to market simple cell phones to older, less technologically-comfortable customers, over 85% of Consumer Cellular customers are over the age of 50.  The vast majority are occasional cell phone users, primarily using cell phones to make and receive calls.

Regional carrier U.S. Cellular, which used to top Consumer Reports‘ surveys, scored second.  Most U.S. Cellular customers are in the Pacific Northwest, Midwest, and parts of the East including New England.  CREDO, better known under its former name Working Assets Wireless, scored third.  It provides service over the Sprint network.

Among major-sized providers, only Sprint managed to escape the poor ratings for value received by AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile.  Also ironic, T-Mobile continued to score better than AT&T, which is still working feverishly to acquire the German-owned carrier.

AT&T also did poorly in delivering reliable voice and data services, according to respondents.  Customer service was also deemed lacking.

Consumer Reports

“Our survey indicates that subscribers to prepaid and smaller standard-service providers are happiest overall with their cell-phone service,” said Paul Reynolds, electronics editor for Consumer Reports. “However, these carriers aren’t for everyone. Some are only regional, and prepaid carriers tend to offer few or no smart phones.”

Consumer Cellular being a prime example. 

Consumer Reports surveyed 66,000 Americans for its 2011 Wireless Satisfaction Survey and found little had changed from last year.  The consumer magazine recommends consumers who don’t make or receive a lot of calls or are not addicted to wireless data services consider a prepaid plan instead of a two-year contract.  Competition in the prepaid arena continues to force prices down, and most providers offer month-to-month service plans that can be automatically renewed through a checking account or credit card, eliminating any hassle purchasing “top up” cards.

Most of the prepaid providers resell service provided by AT&T, Sprint, or Verizon Wireless.  Two that don’t: MetroPCS and Leap Wireless’ Cricket, received little regard from those surveyed.  MetroPCS scored second from the bottom and Cricket didn’t make the ratings at all.  Two prepaid plans to consider first: TracFone, excellent for occasional calling, and Straight Talk, sold by Wal-Mart — better for those who like to talk a lot on their phones.  If you don’t need the sexiest handset around, Stop the Cap! also recommends Page Plus, which relies on the Verizon Wireless network, especially if you don’t need a lot of data services.

MetroPCS’ Nasty Terms of Use: ‘We May Not Provide You a Meaningful Data Experience’

Phillip Dampier May 25, 2011 Consumer News, Data Caps, MetroPCS, Net Neutrality, Online Video, Wireless Broadband Comments Off on MetroPCS’ Nasty Terms of Use: ‘We May Not Provide You a Meaningful Data Experience’

Unlimiting the ways a cell phone company can limit your service.

MetroPCS pitches its 4G/LTE plans to customers looking to save money over the bigger players in the marketplace.  The upstart provider, based in Richardson, Texas, serves just over a dozen major metropolitan areas with no-contract plans that deliver lower prices in return for smaller coverage areas.  As larger providers heavily sell their “next generation 4G” networks, MetroPCS has also been promoting their own “unlimited talk, text, and web” 4G/LTE plan that offers an “unlimited” experience for $60 a month.  But there is a catch, only revealed when customers click the fine print link that opens the Terms of Use.  The document is a poster child for Net Neutrality, because it allows the company to block, throttle, prioritize, alter, or inspect any web content.

Here is what MetroPCS advertises:

Here is a selection of the Terms and Conditions which tarnish a great sounding deal (underlining ours):

You acknowledge and agree that the Internet contains Data Content which, without alteration, will or may not be available, or may not be providable to you in a way to allow a meaningful experience, on a wireless handset.

You acknowledge and agree that such alteration that MetroPCS may or will perform on your behalf as your agent may include our use of Data Content traffic management or shaping techniques such as, but not limited to delaying or controlling the speeds at which Data Content is delivered, reformatting the Data Content, compressing the Data Content, prioritizing traffic on MetroPCS’ network, and placing restrictions on the amount of Data Content made available based on the Agreement. You further acknowledge that MetroPCS may not be able to alter such Data Content for you merely by reference to the Internet address and therefore acknowledge and agree that MetroPCS may examine, including, but not limited to Shallow (or Stateful) Packet Inspection and Deep Packet Inspection, the Data Content requested by you while using the MetroWEB Service to determine how best to alter such Data Content prior to providing it to you.

If we notice excessive data traffic coming from your phone, we reserve the right to suspend, reduce the speed of, or terminate your MetroWEB Service. In addition, to provide a good experience for the majority of our customers and minimize capacity issues and degradation in network performance, we may take measures including temporarily reducing data throughput for a subset of customers who use a disproportionate amount of bandwidth; if your web and data Service Plan usage is predominantly off-portal or otherwise not provided by MetroPCS during a billing cycle, we may reduce your data speed, without notice, for the remainder of that billing cycle. We may also suspend, terminate, or restrict your data session, or MetroWEB Service if you use MetroWEB Service in a manner that interferes with other customers’ service, our ability to allocate network capacity among customers, or that otherwise may degrade service quality for other customers.

MetroPCS also wants customers to know their service is not intended as a home broadband replacement, and states it is only to be used for basic web services, including e-mail and web browsing and downloading of legitimate audio content.  Video streaming is naughty.

MetroPCS Introduces Pay Walls for 4G Users: Web Favorites Locked Out Unless You Spend More

Phillip Dampier January 4, 2011 Broadband Speed, Competition, Consumer News, Data Caps, Editorial & Site News, MetroPCS, Net Neutrality, Online Video, Public Policy & Gov't, Video, Wireless Broadband Comments Off on MetroPCS Introduces Pay Walls for 4G Users: Web Favorites Locked Out Unless You Spend More

Hammer Time: MetroPCS introduces 4G/LTE service plans that establish pay walls for familiar web content.

Want a sneak preview of America’s Internet experience without real Net Neutrality?  Look no further than MetroPCS which has managed to turn the clock back to the early days of “mobile web,” where carriers pre-selected content and blocked much of the rest.  Want access anyway?  Then spend some time with a spreadsheet to figure out what service plan you’ll need and start counting out some ten dollar bills because MetroPCS promises a Long Term Expensive 4G  experience.

The business press focused on MetroPCS’ new pricing — delivering what the company calls “a selection of data access levels to meet customers’ lifestyles.”  But some public interest groups considered today’s announcement the first gauntlet thrown in the Net Neutrality war since the FCC voted to approve a watered down version of the open Internet policy last month.

MetroPCS called their new plans a boon to customers.

“Our customers told us they wanted more video, more sharing of their content and more Web browsing capabilities – they want to have it all with the value and no annual contract that only MetroPCS can deliver,” said Roger D. Linquist, president, CEO and chairman of MetroPCS. “Our 4G LTE network can deliver unlimited voice and mobile broadband data services and, with these new service plans, consumers are in the driver’s seat on how much additional data access and real-time entertainment content they want to pay for on a monthly basis.”

But many customers will discover the company’s road to good intentions pitted with potholes, toll booths, roadblocks, and diversions.

Just getting on this data highway to hell could be very confusing to customers who will need to think about what websites and services they need, want, or can live without, and then finding the corresponding service plan that makes it all work.

MetroPCS says it has three new pricing levels to consider:

  • The $40 service plan offers unlimited talk, text, 4G Web browsing with unlimited YouTube access.
  • The $50 service plan includes the same unlimited talk, text, 4G Web services and unlimited YouTube access as the $40 plan. Additional features include international and premium text messaging, turn-by-turn navigation with MetroNAVIGATOR™, ScreenIT, mobile instant messaging, corporate e-mail and 1 GB of additional data access, with premium features available through MetroSTUDIO™ when connected via Wi-Fi, including audio capabilities to listen and download music and access to preview and trial video content.
  • The $60 service plan provides the same premium features as the $50 plan, plus unlimited data access and MetroSTUDIO premium content such as 18 video-on-demand channels and audio downloads.

You'll need a smart phone to figure out what pricing plan actually delivers the services you need.

A customer could be forgiven if they assumed the $40 plan provided “unlimited web browsing,” which will be interpreted to mean they can access all of the content contained on those websites, but they would be wrong.  Beyond YouTube, MetroPCS customers will need to spend at least $10 more to access embedded video and audio, play online gaming, and access other rich media services.  Want to view videos from a website that isn’t among the carrier’s “preferred content partners?”  Forget it.

What about Skype, Netflix and other popular services?  Nuh uh.

Only the $60 monthly plan delivers unlimited data, along with pre-selected video and audio you can access… or not.

Free Press Policy Counsel M. Chris Riley called MetroPCS’ foray into the toll highway business a profit padding scheme.

“In December, the FCC chose to disregard wireless protections in its Net Neutrality order, and MetroPCS’s new scheme is a preview of the wireless future in a world without protections on the mobile Web. Such blocking of websites, services or applications would clearly be prohibited and deemed unreasonable on a cable or DSL network. Are these the kinds of restrictions the FCC really wants to promote on wireless networks?

“The open Internet order approved in December stated that the FCC was not implicitly approving practices on the mobile Web that violate its rule against unreasonable discrimination – and now we’ll see whether the agency is willing to do anything about such practices. Silence in the face of ongoing violations is no different from outright approval. If MetroPCS is allowed to engage in rampant discrimination and blocking of Internet applications and services, will Verizon be next? Will AT&T extend its history of blocking services like VoIP and Sling on its LTE network in the future?

“MetroPCS’s plan will restrict consumer choice and innovation in a developing mobile market, all for the sake of further padding its bottom line. The FCC must not stand idly by while carriers are engaging in anti-consumer and anti-competitive behavior, and we urge the agency to investigate.”

[flv width=”640″ height=”500″]http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/MetroPCS 1-4-10.flv[/flv]

It’s too bad the company that regularly lampooned their wireless competitors in witty commercials has now adopted the same “gotcha” tricks and traps that will leave customers trying to figure out why they can’t access the web content they thought they paid to receive.  Watch a series of amusing MetroPCS ads and a brief review of the company’s new 4G phone courtesy of TheStreet TV.  “Hello. Hello. Hello.”  (7 minutes)

Unlimited Flat Rate International Calling Arrives for Just $5 A Month – Why Do We Need to Drop Flat Rate Internet Again?

Phillip Dampier June 25, 2009 Data Caps, MetroPCS 4 Comments

One of the arguments used by those who want to engage in Internet Overcharging is that people already “pay for what they use” for gas and electric service, so why shouldn’t they adopt the same attitude towards Internet service.

metropcsHistorically, people did used to pay for their usage of online services, before there was a World Wide Web.  CompuServe, QuantumLink, PeopleLink, Delphi, GEnie, AOL, among many others used to provide access to dial-up users for a fee which varied depending on the amount of time spent accessing the service.  Rates during business hours were outrageous (CompuServe charged upwards of $12-16 per hour in the 1980s), but more reasonable during the evenings.

But as costs to provide the service declined, providers rapidly abandoned that type of pricing for flat rate, unlimited access for one monthly price.  Internet Service Providers worked the same way, with customers first using dial-up modems to connect for one monthly price.  Nobody worried about watching the clock or meters.  It has worked that way ever since, with highly profitable results for broadband providers.

MetroPCS Coverage Map (click to enlarge)

MetroPCS Coverage Map (click to enlarge)

Now, some of these companies hunger for more of your dollars, and they are attempting to convince you their pricing should be similar to utilities like gas, electricity, and water (while conveniently not allowing themselves to be regulated like those providers).  They scrupulously avoid comparing their service with telephone companies, which are really the closest cousins to broadband service.

Now we know why.  While some broadband providers want to move away from flat rate pricing, telephone companies are moving toward flat rate pricing.

In addition to unlimited local, statewide, and nationwide flat rate long distance plans, MetroPCS, a regional prepaid mobile telephone provider, has announced a new unlimited international flat rate calling plan for just $5 per month.

To be eligible for $5 Unlimited International Calling,  customers must choose an unlimited calling plan starting at $40 per month.  For an additional $5, customers get unlimited calling to 100 countries.

MetroPCS sees this new international flat rate plan as a “game changer” in the industry, drawing large numbers of new subscribers who love to call overseas.  The company may even attract tourists who sign up with a “throwaway” basic mobile phone just for the duration of their visit.  The costs for the service are dramatically lower than roaming rates, especially for international calls, even with the price of the phone.

The only downside?  MetroPCS operates in only a limited number of cities, although they maintain roaming agreements with Leap Wireless (Cricket) to extend their coverage.  Once one company offers flat rate international calling, others will certainly follow, potentially establishing a new paradigm for truly unlimited mobile phone calling, regardless of where you call.

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