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Verizon and AT&T’s ‘Early Upgrade’ Trojan Horses: Flimflam – Pay Twice for Your New Phone

trojan horses

Now what: AT&T Next and Verizon Edge

Wireless carriers know that the average relationship between a smartphone and its owner is becoming shorter every day. Sometimes the relationship is over when a customer drops or loses their phone and needs a replacement. Others simply covet the next best thing. When a large enough contingent of customers is willing to open their wallets and let their money fall out, what’s a poor wireless company to do? Ignore the pile of twenties falling to the floor? Not on your life.

AT&T last month announced it was dumping its 20-month early upgrade offer, following Verizon (again) which announced it was pulling the rug out on a similar plan in April. ‘Customers should wait a full 24 months before expecting a new subsidized phone,’ said both companies.

Then came scrappy T-Mobile, the company AT&T originally wanted to put out of business. TMO decided to apply some European competitive logic in the U.S. market. No more two-year contracts with nasty termination fees, declared CEO John Legere. But no more “phone subsidy” either. In return for the end of contracts, customers should expect to pay retail price for their smartphone, but at least they can finance it through T-Mobile and have the somewhat affordable monthly installments added to their bill.

Now, in a remarkable about-face for Verizon Wireless and AT&T, the features and promotions diet imposed on customers that has eroded discounts, ended early upgrades, and slapped on early termination fees and opaque junk bill charges might be coming to an end. Early upgrades are back… for a price.

It is the first step in a major shift away from the North American wireless business model which traditionally offers customers cheap devices at massive discounts known as “device subsidies.” Since the early days of cell phones, wireless companies in the U.S. and Canada typically grant customers up to $350 off their phone purchase in return for a 24 month contract (until recently, 36 months in Canada). But wireless providers don’t just give away free money. Carriers get back every penny of this subsidy over the life of a cell phone contract by setting their plan rates artificially high.

T-Mobile isn’t giving away the store either, but at least everything is on sale. By jettisoning the subsidy, T-Mobile’s plan rates are dramatically lower than those offered by its competitors. That is no surprise because TMO no longer has to worry about recouping device subsidies.

When a customer walks into a T-Mobile store, they can buy the latest iPhone for $650 or agree to finance it at the retail price through the carrier. They can even buy it somewhere else. But T-Mobile’s new Jump plan also offers customers a chance to “jump” to a newer phone every 6-9 months with its trade-in program. For avid phone upgraders, the end effect is like leasing your phone. You will always have a device newer than the next guy, and you will always be paying a monthly fee for the phone itself. That looks a lot more attractive than trying to wait 24 months with AT&T or Verizon or frequently buying a new phone for north of $500 and trying to recoup part of the cost by selling your old phone on eBay or Craigslist.

Wall Street would normally punish carriers that do anything to shorten the 24-month traditional upgrade cycle because investors generally hate the whole concept of the phone subsidy. It costs companies liquidity to tie up money fronting that $350 discount and waiting up to two years to get the money back. But since T-Mobile can immediately book the full purchase price of a phone for accounting purposes and does not need to show the amount of money dedicated towards phone subsidies, analysts are not pummeling the stock into the ground.

As Stop the Cap! has written for more than a year, the wireless Golden Calf Wall Street really wants to worship is a cell phone plan priced artificially high to recover a subsidy providers no longer give. That’s a plan only Ma Bell and its shareholders could love. But nobody thought AT&T and Verizon Wireless could get away with it.

Silly people.

Introducing The Wireless Trojan Horses: AT&T Next from AT&T and VZ Edge from Verizon

yay att

Yay!: No more expensive subsidies and extra free money

AT&T yesterday introduced AT&T Next — the company’s response to T-Mobile’s Jump with AT&T’s usual gouging touch.

The highlights of the plan include:

  • No membership, activation or upgrade fees;
  • Buying a new phone under AT&T Next does not require a down payment, any finance charges, or early payoff penalty;
  • Customers can trade-in for an upgrade after one year or keep the device for 20 months and own it.

VZ Edge is still a rumor, but leaked promotional material indicates it is nearly identical to AT&T Next, with some important exceptions:

  • VZ Edge appears to be an extension of Verizon’s existing 12-month financing plan, limited to two devices at a time with a combined financed balance not to exceed $1,000;
  • First payment due at time of purchase with a recurring finance charge of $2 for each month there is a remaining balance;
  • No upgrade fees, no contracts, no pre-payment/payoff penalty;
  • Customer qualifies for their next upgrade after 50 percent of their current phone’s retail price is paid;

The leaked document does not include details about the disposition of your device when beginning an upgrade. Presumably, Verizon will accept it for trade-in or the customer can pay the remaining balance off immediately and own it.

What sets Verizon and AT&T far apart from T-Mobile are the prices of their service plans. Both AT&T and Verizon are effectively ending their subsidy program for those participating in these early upgrade plans. Customers must purchase (or finance) their next device at the regular retail price, which will range between $500-650 for most top-of-the-line smartphones.


But neither Verizon or AT&T are lowering their service plan pricing, which was specifically designed to recoup a subsidy they are no longer providing. T-Mobile has appropriately lowered their plan pricing because the company no longer needs to win back that $350 subsidy they might have given you for the newest Apple iPhone or Galaxy device. That means you are effectively paying AT&T and Verizon twice for the same phone. It’s Wall Street’s dream come true: kill the subsidy and keep the money still being charged to recoup it. That amounts to as much as $29 a month out of your bank account and into theirs.

For now, only those itching for fast upgrades will get the pinch, at least until AT&T and Verizon decide this is the new and improved way to sell phones to everyone without a two-year contract. Now if we can only get AT&T and Verizon to rescind the contract taken out on our wallets….

AT&T/Verizon Roaming Agreement Ends in Montana; Rural Customers Left Without Service

no serviceVerizon Wireless customers and public safety personnel are upset that the cell phone company was caught unprepared after a rural roaming agreement with AT&T expired at the end of June, leaving police officers without communications and others with no way to reach 911.

AT&T no longer permits Verizon Wireless customers to roam on its acquired former Alltel network, which has dramatically reduced service in Geraldine, Absarokee, Ft. Benton, Browning, Harlem, Evaro, Cascade, Stanford, Lincoln, Ennis, Virginia City, and Great Falls.

Lincoln resident Gayle Steinch is living with the result of that business decision. She has a single bar of service on her Verizon Wireless cellphone at her house. It is her only phone — she dropped landline service in 2007.

“And I live a half a block off the main street,” she told the Great Falls Tribune.

Verizon's road to no bars in rural Montana.

Verizon’s road to no bars in rural Montana.

Capt. Gary Becker of the Montana Highway Patrol told The Montana Standard troopers in the area haven’t been able to communicate on their cell phones or their computers installed in their cruisers since the roaming agreement expired. Becker said police have to travel at least 30 miles to get any usable reception from Verizon.

Jessica Constantine, manager of the AT&T Elite Wireless store in Butte, said AT&T “had a roaming agreement with Verizon and we allowed them to use our towers for three years. The contract is over.”

And with it, Verizon Wireless network reception.

The agreement was part of a deal between AT&T and Verizon over Verizon’s 2010 purchase of Alltel. Federal regulators required Verizon to divest itself of certain Alltel territories for competitive reasons, transferring those customers to AT&T. As a result, territories that used to be well-served by Alltel’s CDMA network are now being converted by AT&T to GSM and data service, exposing Verizon’s sparse home cellular coverage in several parts of the state.

“They had years to prepare for AT&T switching off Alltel’s old CDMA service Verizon was dependent on, and Verizon did little to nothing,” said Jim Brown. “The Verizon person I spoke with told me it did not make sense to build a network out here because the only thing it would serve are crows. But they promised they would at least try to equal the coverage Alltel used to give us. That never happened and still isn’t.”

Verizon denied there was a major service loss in rural Montana. Bob Kelley, corporate spokesperson for Verizon, said that the change in service was planned and its impact would be limited to “less than optimal” service. He confirmed there were no unexpected outages.

lincolnAfter negative media coverage reported Verizon’s inability to provide quality cell service in rural Montana, the company agreed to temporarily deploy portable cell towers to improve coverage.

The “COWs”— cellphone towers on wheels — are stationed in Lincoln, Virginia City, Lima, Broadview, between Absarokee-Fishtail, as well as in Jackson, mostly meeting the needs of law enforcement monitoring the Rainbow Family Gathering last week. Verizon is also deploying repeaters that can re-broadcast signals and enhance range, as well as add coverage to existing permanent facilities. The company is planning on adding permanent towers this week in Marion and Tarkio. Additional permanent towers are also planned for Lincoln and Columbus by the end of August.

That cannot come soon enough for some customers.

Cell tower on wheels

Cell tower on wheels

“Verizon brought up this 40-foot [temporary] antenna, but you really can only get service on it on Main Street,” said Steinch, the manager of The Bootlegger, a Lincoln bar and restaurant. “We had a guy in here this morning who has a towing company who missed out on an $1,800 job because his cellphone didn’t get the call.”

Service has deteriorated so badly in rural Montana, some AT&T stores had lines of soon-to-be-ex-Verizon customers snaking out the door, and at least one reported it was completely sold out of cell phones and wireless broadband devices.

“Dillon sold out of cell phones yesterday,” said Constantine, “because everybody in Lima who was using Verizon just flooded the Dillon store.”

Verizon subscriber John Ulias found his cellphone useless at his cabin in the Little Belt, as did many of his neighbors in that area.

Although Verizon told Ulias and the Tribune subscribers should still be getting service in the Little Belts area from a Verizon antenna in Stanford, Ulias said that isn’t the case.

“I gave the Verizon representative the cell numbers of two of my Little Belt neighbors after he told me we should be getting service up there,” Ulias told the newspaper. “The guy called me back and said his calls went straight to their voicemail.”

Montana residents affected by the disruption of Verizon Wireless service seeking to file a complaint should contact the Office of Consumer Protection at the Montana Department of Justice by emailing: [email protected], faxing 406-444-9680 or calling 800-481-6896 or 406-444-4500.

For customers planning to switch carriers because of reception issues in Montana, Verizon is waiving early termination fees. For those customers the company can convince to stay, discounted service will be available along with discounts on a Verizon Network Extender, a portable in-home mini-cell tower that interfaces with a home broadband connection. To pursue either option, prepaid consumers should call Verizon Customer Service at 1-888-294-6804; all others should call 1-800-922-0204.

In New York and New Jersey, Verizon is attempting to convince some rural residents to abandon their landline service in favor of Voice Link, which relies entirely on Verizon Wireless reception.

“I have one word for my friends back east: don’t,” said Brown.

Canadians Win Mobile Bill of Rights: $50 Limit on Overlimit Fees, No More 3 Year Contracts?

WirelessInfograph_engCanadian telecom regulators have announced new rules that will limit “gotcha” fees for mobile customers caught exceeding their data allowance, push for an end to the ubiquitous three-year service contract, and force carriers to unlock cell phones after 90 days.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) this week unveiled a new consumer’s Wireless Code governing wireless service. The new rules were introduced in response to more than 5,000 consumer comments received by the regulator over service pricing, opaque wireless contract language, and policies that kept customers locked into long service contracts with expensive exit penalties.

On the surface, the new rules seem to aggressively rein in Bell, Rogers, and Telus — Canada’s three dominant carriers. Among the new provisions taking effect Dec. 2:

  • cancel your contract at no cost after a maximum of two years;
  • cancel your contract and return your phone at no cost, within 15 days and specific usage limits, if you are unhappy with your service;
  • have your phone unlocked after 90 days, or immediately if you paid in full for your phone;
  • have your service suspended at no cost if your phone is lost or stolen;
  • receive a Critical Information Summary, which explains your contract in under two pages;
  • receive a notification when you are roaming in a different country, telling you what the rates are for voice services, text messages, and data usage;
  • limit your data overage charges to $50 a month and your data roaming charges to $100 a month;
  • pay no extra charges for a service described as “unlimited”;
  • you can refuse a change to the key terms and conditions of your contract, including the services in your contract, the price for those services, and the duration of your contract; and
  • all cell contracts must use plain language and clearly describe the services customers receive and include information on when and why customers may be charged extra.

[flv width=”480″ height=”290″]http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CBC New CRTC wireless rules ban contract break fees after 2 years 6-3-13.flv[/flv]

CBC Television’s “The National” explains the CRTC’s new Wireless Code and how it will impact Canadian cell phone customers. Many are skeptical the CRTC will outwit the wireless industry.  (4 minutes)


“Every day, Canadians rely on wireless devices while in their homes, at their jobs, at school or traveling abroad,” said Jean-Pierre Blais, chairman of the CRTC. “The wireless code will contribute to a more dynamic marketplace by making it possible for Canadians to discuss their needs with service providers at least every two years.  The code is a tool that will empower consumers and help them make informed choices about the service options that best meet their needs. To make the most of this tool, consumers also have a responsibility to educate themselves.”

Canadians pay among the world’s highest wireless charges and most are offered contracts lasting three years. In the United States, two-year contracts are standard. But in both countries, once the contract is fulfilled customers do not receive a discount on services going forward.

“The biggest scam of all is still allowed under the new rules: wireless companies don’t lower your bill if you buy your own phone or fulfill your contract, so you are still paying their subsidy-recovery phone rates either way,” complains Thomas Harcourt in Toronto. “Once again, the wireless companies got the ears of the commissioners and despite thousands of angry Canadians, they watered down our ‘Bill of Rights’ into more bait and switch. You can almost see where the wireless lobbyists had their way with the language.”

Most Canadian wireless carriers welcomed the new rules and the industry participated in hearings contemplating their creation. The new federal rules will supersede conflicting, sometimes stronger provincial regulations, which some observers suggest is a decision in the carriers’ favor.

A closer review of the new regulations exposes several that were tempered, perhaps after industry objections.

[flv width=”640″ height=”380″]http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/BNN Wireless Code of Conduct CWTA 2-11-13.flv[/flv]

Back in February, BNN talked with Bernard Lord, a representative of the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association about what policies they hoped to see in a national wireless “code of conduct.” The industry got most of what it wanted in the final Wireless Code. (8 minutes)

The CRTC did not ban 3-year contracts outright. Instead, they tied contract termination policies and fees to the device subsidy phone companies give customers to cheapen the upfront cost of equipment.



In Canada, a new smartphone selling for $699 might be discounted to $99 with a three-year contract. For the next 36 months, customers gradually pay back that discount, called a device subsidy, in the form of an artificially inflated rate plan. Most companies amortize that payback rate over the life of the contract. Under the new CRTC rules, companies must recoup their device subsidy within 24 months.

“We didn’t focus on the length of the contract, we focused on the economic relation,” CRTC chairman Blais said. “So, in effect, it’s equivalent to those asking for a ban of a three-year contract without us actually banning three-year contracts, because what we’re saying is the contract’s amortization period can only be for a maximum period of 24 months.”

Carriers can still charge early termination fees during the first two years and can also recoup any remaining unpaid subsidy during the third year as the regulations begin to cover more customers already under three year contracts. Customers who bring or buy their own device can also be charged an early termination fee up to $50 during the first two years of the contract.

Since the rules will apply only to new cellular contracts signed after Dec. 2, 2013, current customers will have to wait before the new Wireless Code fully applies to them. That means wireless carriers can lock you to the old rules if you buy a new phone before December until your contract ends or is amended.

“I think a lot of consumers, if they were thinking of going to the mall and picking up a new phone and signing a contract, they should think twice about doing so,” Michael Geist, the Canada Research Chair in Internet and e-commerce law at the University of Ottawa, told CTV News.

[flv width=”640″ height=”380″]http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CBC 3-year contracts to end 6-3-13.flv[/flv]

The CBC tells you when you can rip up your three-year contract. But be careful. The new rules don’t take effect until December. Many complain cell phone service is far too expensive in Canada. (4 minutes)

Wireless carriers claim consumers may eventually pay the price for the rules changes, with some hinting they will increase the upfront price for devices or raise rates to cover the shortened window of time they can recoup a device subsidy.

cwta_logo“This requirement does limit consumer choice in the marketplace, and could make a customer’s up-front purchase price of a smartphone more expensive than current offerings,” said Bernard Lord, head of the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA).

The CWTA also hinted rates may also increase to cover the “major technology development and costs associated with implementing and complying with the new code.”

Ken Engelhart, senior vice president for regulatory affairs at Rogers told BNN a new smartphone under the old three-year contract was typically priced at around $100. Under a two-year contract, that smartphone might cost $300 upfront.

The CRTC’s language banning overage charges for “unlimited” service does not offer consumers any relief from speed throttling. The CRTC says speed limits are acceptable as long as they are “clearly explained” in what the regulator calls a “fair use” policy.

Language that covers contract changes also leaves some wiggle room for carriers to make changes and in certain cases, even increase customer rates while the contract is in effect. The new rules specify customers must make “informed and express consent” to approve a contract change. But the rules might allow a carrier to consider those changes as accepted if a customer does not expressly complain and/or continues to use the phone after a specified deadline. Carriers can also make changes without consumer consent if they involve reducing the rate for a single service or increasing the customer’s usage allowance for a single service.

The limit of data overage charges ($50) and international data roaming charges ($100) are welcomed by most Canadians to avoid bill shock. But most wireless carriers will likely impose usage “toll booths” to avoid uncollectable customer overages. When a customer reaches their limit, they will be given a choice of having their service cut off, opting to cover the overlimit fees, or upgrade their plan.

[flv width=”640″ height=”380″]http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/BNN Wireless Code of Conduct PIAC 2-11-13.flv[/flv]

BNN talked with John Lawford, executive director of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre about the things Canadians hate most about their wireless phone companies.  (February 11, 2013) (4 minutes)

Frontier’s Latest Gambit: Frank the Buffalo Is Company’s First-Ever Mascot

Frontier's new mascot

Frontier’s new mascot

I’m sure more than a few readers work for a company with a marketing department that churns out advertising and imagery that leaves you shaking your head wondering what they were thinking.

There are some employees at Frontier Communications who are head-scratching this week as the company unleashes “Frontier’s First Ever Spokesman.”

His name is Francis Abraham Buffalo (his friends get to call him “Frank.”) He’s a… buffalo.

An internal memo obtained by Stop the Cap! informs employees Frank is prepared to bulldoze his way through “the clutter and get consumers buzzing.”

“Think of the Aflac duck and the Geico gecko,” a Frontier executive writes. “People have a truly positive association with them that translates into a positive feeling for those companies.”

But can a new mascot really change perceptions about a company more than the quality of the products or services a company provides (or doesn’t)?

For the record, your editor has never been particularly moved by either the duck or the gecko, and I, along with many other Americans, stopped watching television commercials years ago with the advent of the DVR. I have also never bought a product or service based on anything other than its merits and price. Frontier’s buffalo will not change that.

The mascot search involved a nationwide focus group of at least 800 customers and non-customers who were shown a series of “try-outs” involving lip-synched ducks, pigs, and various other creatures you may have last encountered as roadkill.

“Frank was the top choice, lifting our preference rating over the competition by 8 points and decreasing the competition by 3 points.  That’s a net 11 point increase for Frontier and solid support that we’re on the right path,” the company trumpets.

frontierOf course, their cable competitors can always suggest while Frontier is busy playing with animals, they are delivering far faster broadband service and a better package of phone, broadband, and television service that does not involve a third-party satellite dish stuck on your roof.

Even some Frontier employees were less than enthusiastic about the endeavor, already predicting the response ads from the competition.

“I thought the pig would’ve been a better choice,” writes one. “I can just see the competition running ads about not getting ‘Buffaloed’ by Frontier!”

Most of the excitement among employees seems to emanate from the office that envisioned the campaign and spent a lot of money to make it happen.

“A landmark decision in the continuing evolution of Frontier,” jokes a Frontier worker less than thrilled with the result.

Even Frontier executives admit that Frank might be a big, fat target:

“We have also heard some concerns from our employees that we are proactively addressing in the campaign so our competitors won’t take advantage of our new brand spokesperson.”

“Frank will be a boffo buffalo. A solid, truth-talking machine that doesn’t like fuss or tricks – and neither do we.   We play it straight — price guarantees and no contracts make it easy for consumers to understand our products and services.  So if anyone asks, Frank is not here to “buffalo” or trick anyone (call Cable if you want that!).  He doesn’t deal with BS or malarkey, and that means no hidden fees, no surprises.”

Phillip "It's actually an American bison" Dampier

Phillip “It’s actually an American bison” Dampier

Frontier is asking for advice on how to make Frank a better buffalo and offer any additional feedback. At Stop the Cap! we are always willing to help, so we publicly offer advice for our hometown phone company.

  1. The American buffalo is actually the American bison, but that probably sounds too French (it is actually Greek, but nobody wants to get too close to Greece these days). The bison’s story is remarkably similar to phone companies like Frontier. It once roamed across the American landscape in great herds but was targeted to near extinction. Just like your landline. It still maintains “near threatened” status, and is only gradually making a comeback with the help of conservation efforts. While our ancestors shared their lives with the bison, most people today will only meet one in a zoo or park. We are unsure why Frontier would want to associate itself with an animal best known in the past and unlikely to be seen today.
  2. Lip-synching animals (and babies) has become cliché. We were not too impressed with the voice talent Frontier decided to use for their animals either. Instead, check out Telus, western Canada’s biggest phone company. They turn animal wrangling into an art form, using various critters in their ads for phone, broadband, and wireless service. Telus compliments their animal friends with Canadian musicians to visually and musically deliver whatever message the company wants to share.
  3. While Frontier may have eliminated some of its old tricks like contract termination, equipment, service protection, and surcharge fees from customer bills, many of us have long memories of the surprise steep cancellation fees charged when dropping landline service that we kept for 20+ years. Others found Frontier’s inadequate DSL only slightly less annoying than the $100+ service termination fee thrown on the last bill. Some of those fees are still being charged to customers, including a particularly silly broadband account service order charge that still stings departing customers. It is hard to accept Frontier’s new marketing messages when the company is still baiting the traps.
  4. Frontier’s reputation problem does not come from poor advertising. It comes from a poor selection of products and services. Frontier until recently has simply refused to keep up with the reality of today’s broadband market. Sorry, basic DSL will no longer cut it, particularly when a competitor arrives. Cable can still out-class Frontier’s broadband products even after upgrades to ADSL2+ and VDSL. Frontier bills are still loaded with surprise surcharges and extras that raise the out-the-door price, sometimes even higher than what cable charges. The more important question to ask focus groups is why people do business with Frontier. Is it because they have to or they want to?

Frontier still does not evoke “cutting edge” anything. Frontier FiOS, inherited from Verizon, is the child nobody wants to talk about.

For years, Frontier only offered ADSL at speeds that stopped keeping up with cable a decade ago, even in large metro areas like Rochester, N.Y. When the company advertised “up to” in association with broadband speeds, it meant it: advertise up to 12Mbps but deliver service as slow as 3.1Mbps. With VDSL, 25Mbps might be doable, but cable already offers 30/5 or 50/5Mbps that is a sure thing.

Frontier’s landline service is generally reliable and works even with a power outage if you have a wired phone. But the company charges too much for a phone line many people are now jettisoning in favor of their cell phone and the company is still pushing long distance calling plan bundles that are now irrelevant. Does anyone under 35 know what a toll-call is?

Frontier’s “television” service for most customers is a third-party reseller agreement with a satellite provider with its own contract and conditions. Exciting? Not exactly.

There isn’t much to see here. AT&T and Verizon have spent money to earn money. The only major success story from AT&T’s landline business is its U-verse platform. Verizon FiOS delivers the most formidable competition cable operators like Time Warner Cable and Cablevision have seen. Even CenturyLink has invested in Prism, a fiber to the neighborhood system that can deliver a true triple-play package of services that give customers a reason to stay.

Frontier has Frank the Buffalo and some long-overdue technology upgrades that probably won’t win back a lot of customers.

So what are the strengths Frontier can sell?

  1. In most markets, Frontier has no hard limit on broadband usage. That is an attractive selling point where cable operators slap usage caps on customers. Usage caps can and do trigger customer defections;
  2. Frontier phone service is generally more reliable than cable or Voice over IP. Talk to customers in storm-struck areas who lost power and cable, but their phone line kept on working;
  3. Frontier ADSL2+ and VDSL can outperform rural cable operators who have either oversold their shared network or don’t offer higher DOCSIS 3 speeds yet;
  4. Frontier Wi-Fi, if vastly expanded, can be a useful free add-on and selling tool in areas served by cable operators that do not offer the service. But Frontier Wi-Fi hotpots have to be more commonly encountered to make a difference.

Above all, Frontier must keep upgrading its network to stay competitive. Once you lose customers, they can be extremely hard to get back. For many of us, establishing an account with the phone company meant significant installation fees and several days before a crew would turn up to connect service. Frontier knows perfectly well going back to the phone company after leaving is a high hurdle many never attempt.

The best mascot a company like Frontier can adopt are real customers and employees talking about their satisfaction with the changes Frontier is making. Without that, the customers that left will probably always think of Frontier as yesterday’s news. Using an American buffalo that neared extinction itself is probably not going to change that perception.

[flv width=”640″ height=”380″]http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Frontier Animal Mascot Tryouts 4-13.flv[/flv]

Here are Frontier’s animal mascot tryouts. (1 minute)

Is T-Mobile’s No-Contract, Buy Your Own Phone Pricing a Good Deal?


T-Mobile has scrapped the traditional two-year cell phone contract.

T-Mobile’s shift away from subsidized smartphones and standard two-year contracts could be a game-changer for American wireless consumers, but does the scrappy carrier have a good deal for you or mostly for itself?

T-Mobile is and has been America’s fourth largest carrier — the smallest among those offering nationwide home coverage. The provider has lost contract customers for years. T-Mobile’s coverage has been less than great in many areas and it often did not offer the latest and most popular smartphones. After its merger effort with AT&T was shot down by the Department of Justice for anti-competitive reasons, T-Mobile has attempted to remake itself by changing the rules under which most of us buy mobile service.

The biggest change of all is the end of the subsidized phone. For years, cell phone companies have offered free or low-cost phones to customers, earning back that subsidy by charging higher monthly rates and locking customers to two-year contracts with early termination fees. T-Mobile will still give you an affordable phone, only now you will pay it off in small installments over a two-year financing agreement.

What difference does this make? Customers who bounce from one two-year contract to the next may not see much difference. But if you keep your phone longer than two years or buy one elsewhere, your monthly rate with T-Mobile will no longer include an artificially higher price designed to recover the phone subsidy you no longer receive.

It also means nothing traps you with T-Mobile. If after six months you find their service unbecoming, you can leave without hundreds of dollars in termination fees. But customers on financing agreements will continue to make their payments for equipment purchases, and those phones will not be unlocked for use on another carrier until the remaining balance is paid off.


A typical T-Mobile customer looking for the latest iPhone will pay a $100 down payment and then finance the remaining balance, paying $20 a month for 24 months. Your monthly rate will start at $50 a month, which includes unlimited talk and texting, and a 500MB data allowance. If that is insufficient, an extra $10 a month will buy you an extra 2GB of data. If you want unlimited data, that plan is available for an extra $20 a month.

T-Mobile says their plans will save you $1,000 over the life of a two-year contract with AT&T or Verizon. We think they are exaggerating a bit.

Like their competition, T-Mobile is moving away from budget-minded “minute plans” that bundle calling, text and data. Instead, T-Mobile charges at least $50 a month for unlimited talk/text and a small data plan whether you want those features or not.


The Associated Press found that although T-Mobile ends up being the cheapest, the savings over its rivals is closer to $700 on average. The price over two years for a 16-gigabyte iPhone 5 with unlimited calling, unlimited texting and 2.5 gigabytes of data usage per month, excluding taxes, is:

  • T-Mobile: $2,020
  • AT&T/Verizon: $2,635 (2-3GB data plan)
  • Sprint: $2,840 (unlimited data plan included)

Some other things to consider:

  • Once your phone is paid off, your ongoing T-Mobile bill will no longer show a phone subsidy payback built into prices charged by other carriers;
  • You can pay your phone off early, with no penalty;
  • T-Mobile’s 4G network is a mix of HSPA+ and LTE. The more commonly encountered HSPA+ network gets good marks for speed, but a number of densely populated T-Mobile coverage areas surprisingly often default to their older 2G network, which is painfully slow. LTE is only available in about seven cities at the moment, so it is still a rarity;
  • T-Mobile’s unlimited service is free from tricks and traps like soft caps and speed throttles. It also performs better than Sprint’s unlimited service on its overloaded 3G and spotty Clearwire 4G WiMAX network. Sprint’s LTE network is on the way… slowly. It seems to be rolling out first in small cities you have never heard of;
  • T-Mobile’s coverage in rural and exurban areas is frankly terrible. Travelers on main highways may not encounter many signal gaps, but those living in small towns or off the beaten path may get a roaming signal or poor or no reception from T-Mobile’s own towers at all. The frequencies used for its data service also do not work as well indoors as its larger rivals.

[flv width=”640″ height=”380″]http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/T-Mobile Ad 4-2-13.flv[/flv]

T-Mobile channels Oprah in this new ad as the big four wireless cowboys get in touch with their feelings. But only one is ready to don a pink hat and ride off on his own. (1 minute)

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Stop the Cap!