The Madness of Cell Carriers

I just had to share this little nugget of stupidity concerning cell carriers. My wife and I have been with AT&T since AT&T bought out Cingular, so we were originally Cingular customers. As you can imagine I bought the iPhone the day it came out in 2007 and have had one ever since. I have also clung to my grandfathered unlimited data plan for dear life, but all that changed last week. Last week I finally woke up and realized that the unlimited data plan was no longer the best option for me anymore. In the year since I've had my iPhone 5 I've only used 7.5 Gb of data, just a little over 1/2 a gig a month! Add to that my teenage daughter, who we recently bought a iPhone 4s for (I outright bought the phone, unsubsidized, from a friend). I wanted the flexibility to buy my daughter a small monthly plan, just enough talk time to be useful and a way I can text her and locate her when I need to. So I shopped around and got her on an AT&T pay-as-you-go plan for about $30 a month...what a ripoff! If she talks a bit too long to her grandma or a friend then all the sudden we can't call her after a football game anymore...this just didn't work.

What I came to realize is a rather simple truth about cell phone and cell phone plans. It only makes sense to buy a phone outright (unsubsidized) and buy a pay-as-you-go or contract free service if you want a totally unlimited plan and are the only person in your family with a cell phone. What most people don't understand is that cell phone plans naturally have a subsidy built into their monthly rates, so you are paying each and every month towards a new phone whether you got a new phone from the cell carrier or not. Don't believe me? Go into your cell carrier and ask them what kind of month discount you get on their cell plans if you bring your own cell phone. Unless your cell carrier is T-Mobile they are going to look at you like you came from another planet. So in order to get the most out of your cell phone contract you must take them up on their offer to get a new phone every 2-years.

Now, getting back to my stupidity story...I finally decided to bite the bullet and just add my daughter onto our family AT&T plan. My wife and I aren't eligible for upgrades until next year, but by adding my daughter onto our plan this year I now have at least 1 phone eligible for upgrade each and every year (a nice bonus for a tech geek like me that drools over the new iPhone every year). So what I want to do is pretty simple(ok, maybe not):

  • Change my wife and I over to a shared data plan
  • Port my daughter's pay-as-you-go AT&T number over and add her to our shared data plan
  • Order the new iPhone 5s with this new line of service on our shared data plan
  • Switch my iPhone 5 with the new iPhone 5s

So I go into an AT&T store the day before the iPhone 5s goes on sale and tell them what I want to do. The AT&T technician tells me that I can do everything I want to do online from home (stupid AT&T item #1...he was wrong) and that I am going to need to do it from home because my wife isn't with me. You see, I had enough foresight to have my wife add me on to her cell plan as an authorized person, but it seems only the account holder can actually add a line to the account (stupid AT&T item #2). So I go home and climb on the AT&T site and there is nothing that allows me to port a pay-as-you-go AT&T number over to a shared data plan. So I called AT&T and got a hold of a really nice and knowledgeable account specialist. He told me that he can do everything I wanted done except for porting the pay-as-you-go number. Only a physical AT&T store can do this because it requires a new sim card (stupid AT&T item #3...seems he is wrong). I explain that I really need to do this tonight so I can order the new iPhone 5s when it goes on sale at 3am eastern time. He tells me to go ahead and order the phone over the internet just as I was buying a phone with a brand new service and then when I get the phone take it into an AT&T store and have them port my daughter's old number and switch the sim cards...easy. He also told me that AT&T was going to start selling the iPhone at midnight eastern time (stupid AT&T item #4...wrong again).

So I go to bed and wake up just before 3am eastern and go to the AT&T website (I really should have known better). After hanging the website several times I finally get to where I want to go and select the option to add a line to my shared data plan account. However, when I get to the part where I select my phone for my new line of service the iPhone 5s wasn't an option (stupid AT&T item #5...AT&T didn't update this portion of their website with the new iPhones at 3am). So I give up and buy the phone from the Apple website instead, and it was shipping in 1-3 problem. So I get my new iPhone 5s the following week and go into my nearest AT&T store and when I asked them to port my daughter's old number they told me I needed to go to a corporate store (stupid AT&T item #6...why can't they mark their stores properly?). I finally get to a "corporate" store and they can't help me either. You see, there is no way to port a phone number from an AT&T pay-as-you-go plan to an AT&T shared data plan. They just simply can't do it (stupid AT&T item #7...they can port numbers from other carriers but not from their own company). Luckily my daughter at this point had not been using her phone for very long at it was pretty easy for her to just change phone numbers, otherwise I would have pushed the issue and I probably would have found someone else at AT&T that would have told me something else.

Lesson Learned: Cell phone companies have grown so large and complex that even their own employees have no idea how they work. It wasn't that I was dealing with unintelligent people, they all seemed like they knew what they were talking about and truly wanted to help me, but when they are all given different training the customer gets taken for a wild no one!

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