In 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.
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.