AT&T Forces Data Plan on User With Off-Contract iPhone

at&tIn a blog post, Joel Runyon gives an account of his experience with AT&T after buying an off-contract second hand iPhone 4. His needs were fairly basic, requiring just a voice and text plan, but as it turns out AT&T subscribed him to a data plan of their choice, without his consent saying that every smartphone needs to be on a data plan.

Runyon writes:

After using the iPhone as a dumb phone for all intents & purposes (call, text, no data) for the last 4-5 months or so, I get a text message out of the blue from AT&T that they’ve detected I’m using a smart phone and that all smart phones require a data plan – never mind that I actually had data turned off. That would be only a little annoying if it was just a notification message, but they went ahead, chose a data plan for me, and started billing me from then on.


According to AT&T:

They can opt me into a contract that I didn’t agree to because I was using a phone that I didn’t buy from them because it had the ability to use data that I wasn’t using (and was turned off). To top it all off, they got the privilege of charging me for it because I bought a differently categorized device – even though the actual usage of their network did not change at all and I never reconstituted a new agreement with them.

While AT&T’s requirement to have on-contract subsidised iPhones subscribed to a data plan is understandable (that’s how they recover their subsidies), applying the same policies for off-contract iPhones is pretty ridiculous. It’s as if the subscriber’s choice isn’t respected at all, even if he or she’s under no obligation (like a contract) from AT&T.

There are a number of solutions to Runyon’s problem — he could move to a feature phone or switch carriers — but that’s not what the issue’s about. AT&T thinks it can,  without consent, force an off-contract subscriber to pay money for a plan which won’t be used, which is clearly wrong.

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Categories: AT&T, iPhone News

  • Po Wah

    Nothing new about that. I had the same problem with them about 3 years ago

  • Jeff Gold

    How is this wrong? It is At&t’s rule. If you don’t like it switch to a different service provider. You should have known the rules before you voluntarily brought your phone and business to them.

    • Zangpakto

      Not really… they have a legal obligation and rules to follow, changing to a different contract requires the person to agree to the new terms. They cannot change without permission when they themselves agreed to the original terms in their documentation.

      That is not morally nor legally correct.

      • Po Wah

        It’s in their TOS, every smart phones requires a data feature on it.

        • Necter Beau

          Leave the court to interpret d TOS. Those things r just necessary evil to reduce legal liabilities. In court, a TOS is seen subjectively than say a contract is. So don’t tell me it’s in their TOS. When fraud is apparent, just document ur case and notice them (AT&T) of their misgivings before going public.

      • Jeff Gold

        My point is if it is a rule then it is a rule. It could be in the original paperwork but when someone setup the line they didn’t add data and it was later “caught”. If it is not a rule then the money should be refunded and the person should call At&t….end of story (actually, no story at all).

        Also, when someone brings an unsubsidized phone, you can’t have it both ways! You can’t say “I don’t have a contract I can leave anytime” in one breath and then say “They cannot change without permission when they themselves agreed to the original terms in their documentation” in the next!!

        If you don’t like it go to Verizon, Sprint, or T-Mobile.

        • Erod

          Lets be reasonable and coherent adults. No company can auto consent an agreement like this, it’s just wrong any way you can possibly look at it. People!!!!! Don’t be ignorants. It AT&T doesn’t want smartphones with data on their network, just deny them the service instead of smartly abuse of your power by doing this. Commonly sense!

          • Erod

            Sorry for the couple misspells and grammar issues.

          • Suckotash

            I understand the passion. Attention everyone in here that thinks it’s “OK” for ATT to force-place this service, it is not legal. Unless its in the TOC they are in breach of any service forced upon another. Would you just take it if your internet provider suddenly bumped up your speed and charged you for it? I thought not.

        • disgusted101

          put the SIM into a “stupid” phone for 1 month or two, then watch if they revert, or sue them.

    • Suckotash

      It is illegal to enter any contract without the other parties consent, period. It’s also illegal to mandate any service without prior knowledge or consent.

      • mitch

        It is necessary to read the terms and conditions in any case.. if it’s too long then deal with it.. at least you get all the information you need and you wouldn’t say I wasn’t told that.. I didn’t know that.. when you activate the account you agree with their terms and conditions.. whether you like it or not…

    • iPhoneHacks

      It looks like the customer clearly didn’t know, and I’m quite sure that would be the case with most customers. Why is it not wrong besides not knowing about it?

  • SteveEJ

    Yea, they did that to me too. When I called (year + later) the CS rep asked me why. I told her the story and she refunded what she could and added some free stuff to my remaining phones. Bottom line, AT&T doesn’t know what they want or demand.

  • Ryan Cerviche

    AT&T seem to be the worst telecommunications company in the history of mankind. Companies just cant do the things AT&T do in other countries, that kind of thing just isnt tolerated in the developed world.

    • disgusted101

      the developed world seems outside the US.

      • Ryan Cerviche

        Certainly what I was implying =p

    • Brandon Hash

      what’s worse is they are one of the little bells from the previous break up (so is verizon for that matter). they were broken up for a very similar monopolization and yet it’s happening again and so far it’s looking like nothing is going to be done this time

  • Twinyoungns

    And that is why AT&T is losing customers to t-mobile….over 2 million iPhone users on tmobile and growing

    • John

      Better switch to Verizon. Having an iPhone 5 with EDGE is pointless.

      • Po Wah

        Verizon is expensive. Also, my iPhone 5 is on 3g 90% of the time if not WIFI. I’m getting 8mbps on the go with Tmobile’s 3G

      • Rounak Jain

        isn’t that 1900Mhz networks rolling out though?

    • Brandon Hash

      even more so losing customers to pay-as-you-go companies such as Straight Talk. can’t really go wrong with $40/month Unlimited everything plan

  • Dave

    Unfortunately this is due to an individual at AT&T and not AT&T themselves, my son has my old iphone4s and that runs on the AT&T pay as you go plan, looks like this individual should be on the same type based on his needs.

  • disgusted101

    American bullies….they think they get away with ANYTHING. Time someone took them to the cleaners.

  • Kraken

    Switch to a small regional carrier. They don’t have data roaming, but they do have roaming for voice/text, which is all that is needed in this case.

    • Brandon Hash

      the problem is, depending on where you live, there is likely not to be any around
      AT&T and Verizon (for all intensive purposes) are monopolizing the industry in the US and being left to get away with it

      • Suckotash

        I agree. (All Intents and purposes)

        • Brandon Hash

          lol, that’s what i get for typing quickly and not checking :p

  • moe22

    so people you now know you must leave AT&T they dont care if you die or live as long as you pay your bill monthly.

  • Necter Beau

    Funny how this article just merely says that AT&T forcing charges on an off-contract phone is “ridiculous”, it is not just that, it is more so criminal, theft, and requires criminal prosecution in the court of law. The Runyon individual needs d counsel of a competent lawyer or better he/she can write them a “cease notice” to halt unauthorized charges. If they continue, u take all paper trails, evidence of their harm and injury toward ur person and file a motion in court and I’m not an attorney and do not intend to nor offer any legal advice but this an educational statement from a fellow American or coearth inhabitor.

  • Abel Goddard

    He needs to fight harder. You absolutely /can/ have no data plan – have them block data to the phone. Done.

  • Todd Carpenter

    My kid decided to borrow his friends iPhone because his battery was dead. So he threw his sim in the iPhone for a day or so. You guessed it, next bill comes out and I’m hit with a iPhone data plan. Took me over 4 hours on the phone to get it reversed and blocked. I’m still pissed. No way should they have added a data plan without my consent. I view this as a form of slamming.

  • Mallan

    AT&T operates as a monopoly and makes up the rules as they go. I switched to their mobile share plan in Dec, have 5 phones and three iPads on the plan. I’ve discovered there are hidden fees and cost not outlined on the web, pamphlets or contract. I am discussing these deceptive practices with the public service commission in my state right now and have filed a formal complaint. So beware. After being a loyal customer for both my personal and business account for 20 years I am going to start my migration away from doing any business with these crooks.

    • Abel Goddard

      Do tell, what hidden fees? Shared would raise my monthly cost (for a similar plan to current) by $15, just based on what they’ve published. What other fees are you talking about?

  • Jeff Gold

    HE HAS NO CONTRACT. That is why he brought his unsubsidized phone there. Companies can change terms all they want if it is in the TOS that your sign. Example: Comcast just sent emails to subscribers that the formally free digital converter boxes are now $1.99 per month. I have been with Comcast for 10 years. I am not under any contract or promotion. If I don’t like it I can leave. Example: Your local grocery store raises the price of milk $.10 a gallon. I can then shop somewhere else. Example: Ford requires a $500 “destination fee” if you buy a new car. That is a total BS fee. If I don’t like it I buy a GM car.

    Bottom line. Read the TOS before you buy anything. IF you were wronged then complain. If you don’t like the rules, vote with your pocketbook and shop somewhere else.

    • Jesse G.

      He has no “contract”… Except he uses their network so there are terms of service. Because he has no contract he is free not to remain with AT&T, that is all it means.

      • Jesse G

        That is to say I agree haha

  • mitchell

    if its not a contracted phone which is a prepaid how can they charge u

  • commonsense

    It seems the correct option should have been to notify the customer and eventually discontinue the cell service until he/she selected a data plan in accordance with company policy.

  • Zero138

    Most carriers don’t allow smart phones with no data regardless of how you got them. This is not an AT&T only thing. Trust me 5 years working wireless. The last 2 spent working for AT&T cor.

  • xero14

    just switch to tmobile 1 month ago happiy as hell only problem is no 3g (chicago) i think ill live. unlimited everyhing $60/month awesome.

    • Zero138

      Unlimited talk text for 50 on go phone and you can use iPhone but same thing no data. There is a site that will save a profile and allow data but I can’t remember the site

  • Mickey

    I have 5 iphones 3 unlimited data (why, simoly to not worry about going over but i should have put them in the $15 plan for 200k data). Anyway the other two are dumb phones that have big dosplays for elder family members that use no smart features what so ever). They have tried to add data each tome i have upgraded and auto terminate the unlimited plans – sooo anoying but each time its worked out after huge frustration. Anyway what impact is it to them to have a smart phone that has all the dat turned off – we live i a free country that values privacy – why do they snoop to see what phone i have each day and what goves them the right to add data plans or even force them down out throat when they are in no way finacially impacted by the phone i choose to us! Verizon unfortunately is worse, lucky tmobile as this may be the best news for them. This is the sort of thing that govt needs to lay down the law and punish abusers same with the crazy txt that are the best cost savings for a carrier.

  • MRq

    $30 Straight Talk plan

  • Always_lostone

    I tried to get just a phone line with a used iphone 4 after the 4S came out an all the CS online said all smartphones need a data plan. I then tried an a ATT store and got the same response, So infront of them I bought the cheapest go phone and in front of them cut the sim down and put in in the iPhone and said “Now I have a simple phone plan without data and no contract.”

  • moz

    I disagree with all the people saying that if it’s in the TOS then it has the same value of law… Think about it people! Lets go the extreme and lets say that the TOS said something like that the customer has to kill someone to get service… Yeah you’ve signed so what? It’s still illegal. The same principle goes for the current situation with AT&T. I say that this individual should go to court to have the judge decide if it’s legal for service providers to push such subscription upon a customer. I bet you he will win hands down! Thank god I’m not with AT&T I would have ended up in the exact same situation!

  • Thomas guide

    I don’t think it’s right what AT&T is doing. Screw them and their
    forced data plan. The guy’s data is turned off, it’s essentially the same
    as a flip phone. However, nobody is going to hire a lawyer and spend thousands of dollars to fight a $30 a month data fee. This guy has a couple of choices. Fight them in small claims court where AT&T can’t bring in any hot shot lawyer or switch to something like smart talk or look around for other carriers. Platinum tel is another good one. Even T-mobile prepaid $50 for unlimited everything is a good deal.

  • Brian Charles

    He needs to file a FCC complaint and then find some others in same situation and file a class action lawsuit.

  • mitch

    this is interesting.. when you say off contract I suppose you mean prepaid Gophone.. how can at&t force a data package on your account if your using an iphone when gophone thru at&t doesn’t support data for iPhones, most BB & 4G devices.. The reps over the phone and at the store pro actively provide this information and its annoying since I need it working.. I was informed that if I use my iphone w/ gophone at&t I can only use it for calling & regular messaging (sms).. no web – well they said will work thru wifi – and mms will not work.. get the ID of the agent who told you that.. I think I need that agent to make web on my iPhone.