When AT&T announced their new Mobile Share Value plans for their customers, in direct response of T-Mobile’s pricing changes, I was elated to say the least. I was so happy to see capitalism at work, and the effects that direct competition has on the market. It made me feel great, knowing that my 8 lines were going to be taken care of, and that we were going to be given excellent service for the same price as their competition, T-Mobile. Little did I know that a bait-and-switch was brewed up for me, and had sucked me in.

Let’s start at the beginning:

I wrote earlier about my old plan when Verizon’s CEO said that Unlimited data would have to go away eventually, having 8 lines on my family plan, which used to cost us close to $420 per month. Essentially, it added up to starting with a flat rate for data, and then costing $30/month for each device. For 8 lines on my plan, that means $240 for just the lines. Then add how much data you want. At the time, it was no different of a pricing structure that any other carrier had, with the exception of maybe Sprint and T-Mobile, which either didn’t offer the phones we were interested in, or had bad service for in our area anyway.

T-Mobile’s announcement of new plans changed the game. It forced a reaction out of their competition – namely AT&T. AT&T wasted very little time coming up with a new “plan” that would offer a competing deal for their existing customers, so that they didn’t jump ship to T-Mobile – a reality that was happening everywhere as T-Mobile offered to pay everyone’s ETF as well.

The new plans reduced the cost of each line to half of this, just $15/month for each line. When I transferred my service to the new plan then – What I effectively had was a cost of $100 for 10GB of data, plus $15/month for each line. This is why a “family of 4 can get 10GB of data to share for $160.” What they don’t tell you, is that their ads are completely false. It sounds like a great deal, until you get into the fine print, or you flat-out experience the bait and switch on the word “value.”

I just spoke with several AT&T representatives on the phone for about an hour, moving me from basic customer service all the way through to their “Retention department,” which is the department of AT&T that has the power to create custom promotions for customers if their case is good enough. My case is certainly good enough, but they aren’t able to do anything for me. I’m stuck, basically. The representatives acknowledged, and flat-out told me, that there are parts of their new plan that are not shared with people, and that they’re not required to discuss these fine points with customers when signing them up. More to the point, they “apologized” for not telling me critical information that directly influenced whether or not I stayed a customer at AT&T, instead of moving my lines to T-Mobile. They gave me a $25 “inconvenience credit” as well, as if $25 some how justifies what I’m about to be stuck with later. – Offering me a way to get out of my contracts without an ETF on any of the lines would be more justifiable.

There are a number of issues here you need to be aware of BEFORE you decide to become an AT&T customer, and before you decide to renew your contracts with this shady corporation (which I am no longer a fan of, and will be leaving as soon as possible unless they fix this). Here are the problems:

1) You have to enroll in NEXT – and that’s still a lie

To get the $15/line pricing on your phones, you have to enroll in AT&T NEXT… which means you need to pay an extra $30/month to get it, because that’s the added pricing that goes into your brand new high-end smartphone. Sure, you could buy a lower-end phone, and maybe pay $20/month or something… but you won’t get a value that’s advertised at all. No way. You’ll pay a LOT more for your phone with this plan, up to $700 or so in some cases, for your new phone over the next two years. You’ll do that, without any discount what-so-ever for your plan. See the problem there? You actually must pay more money per month to save less than you’re paying.

By enrolling in NEXT, you’ll take the base $40/month per line price, and qualify for a $25/month per line promotion on the plan, effectively making your per-device price at $15 – again, as long as you’re willing to pay an extra $20-$30/month to pay off the phone.

2) $15/month is a promotion. Not a plan

I thought it was awesome that AT&T’s prices were the same as T-Mobile when they came out with this new plan, and I’m saving over $200/month on my bill as a result. It’s a fantastic promotion.

But that’s the problem right there: It’s a promotion. It’s not actually a value plan at all. In fact, ONLY those who are in my plan can take advantage of that promotion, and only on their current contract. If they ever got a new contract, or renewed it, ‘standard pricing’ would apply for that new contract. The exception to this, of course, is if they enroll in the robbery that is the NEXT plan. Then, you can save $25/month on your line too… as long as you’re paying an extra $30 or so to do it. This presents two fundamental problems that makes it impossible for them to justify calling this a “plan,” much less a “value” at all.

3) You can’t add lines and keep the price

One part of being a “plan” is that each line within it is treated relatively the same in terms of pricing. It’s consistent, predictable, and normally equal throughout. Not so with these new plans. My mother went in to buy a new phone, and finally join the AT&T family plan that I’ve been a part of and responsible to for over 4 years. She was looking at a Galaxy S4, and she was inside the store to purchase it when a problem with pricing was uncovered: It was going to cost $40/month to add her to the plan.

“Wait a minute here,” I said. “My plan says $15/line.” – It apparently doesn’t, actually.

You see, what my plan actually says is: “$40/line, with a $25/month credit on existing lines.” The Mobile Share Value plan is a credit promotion. It isn’t at all a plan. If I wanted to add my mother to my plan, it raises the bill for everyone, because it will not cost $15 per month to add it like it is for the rest of my phones. It will be $40/month. In case math escapes you here, or you need a reminder… that’s $10/month MORE than what is was before I went to a “value plan.” Now, as long as we’re an existing line on the current contract, we’re fine, but any other situation means paying more. Of course, If you haven’t figured it out yet, that means…

4) You can’t upgrade your phone and keep the price

Since only existing subscribers on the current contract arrangement can keep the pricing, you aren’t able to upgrade your device and still have the deal, since doing so means renewing your contract, effectively making you under a new contract with a new commitment. Since this “value plan” is really a temporary promotional offer, your promotion will not carry with you to the next contract. Thus your bill WILL DOUBLE for every line that upgrades their device.

Perhaps some people are alright with this… but you’d have to be stupid to upgrade your phone with the knowledge that your bill will double by doing so. This removes all incentives to upgrade… unless of course you’re enrolled in NEXT – Which, as we’ve already discussed a bit, is a complete rip-off. You absolutely shouldn’t upgrade your device if you want to keep this competitive price. You absolutely shouldn’t add any lines to your plan either, since it becomes less economical per person to do so. Right now, for example, each member of my plan has to pay roughly $30/month for their smart phone. That’s an amazing price, but if I added my mother to the plan – as we were about to do today – not only would I have to raise the data limit on the plan for an additional $30/month, but her line would cost $40/month.

If you ever add a person to your plan for more money than the equal share payment of a person on the plan, you raise the bill for everyone. You raise the total amount of money owed more than the total amount extra being paid with the same payments per person, thereby requiring everyone to pay more. That’s just smart math… and if you do it anyways, that’s just being a stupid customer.

What’s the option then?

The option for me right now is waiting until the Early Termination Fees drop to the point where it’s economical to switch to T-Mobile, and then doing it as soon as that’s possible. By selling our current AT&T devices on eBay or a similar marketplace, we’ll make more money for the device sales than what we each owe on the early termination fee. With this extra money, we can pay off AT&T, and be rid of them – Moving to T-Mobile to have all new devices, with unlimited data, at a much lower, and more importantly, consistent price that we know will come with us as we adapt to the mobile market.

If anyone has made it this far reading this, I hope you’ve learned something about this Mobile Share Value Plan that AT&T advertises on their site and the television constantly. It’s a total bait-and-switch. It’s NOT a plan, it’s a promotional offer. An offer that is revoked as soon as you update anything, whether that’s a device, a contract, or the number of lines. The only exception to this… is buying a device outright. If you pay the full price for the phone you want, than you get an updated device without the contract. If you get it without the contract, than you aren’t going to ruin your current pricing.  – Doesn’t help anything in regards to new customers though…  because honestly, who has $600 for a phone?

If you agree that this is a bad deal, ask AT&T about this. Call them on the phone, or visit your local store and verify everything I’ve said. File complaints, verbally or in writing, and get the message across. Personally, I’m going to share this article on the AT&T Facebook page right now, because I know they look at it and respond there. I want them to see this complaint, and to know that I’m taking 10 lines (adding in the opportunity cost of the two people who were going to join before, but aren’t now) to their competition. 

Give me a comment below or something with your thoughts. I’m not going to ask you if I’m missing something here, because I just spent 2 hours with multiple reps, some in high departments and managers, confirming that I’m not. There is no incentive to stay with AT&T now. It has just become a carrier that gets worse the longer you’re with them, not better. Whenever you’re in that kind of situation… you jump ship.

If this mattered to you, use those share buttons below to spread the word. Like it, or tweet it, or up vote it on Reddit or something. Getting the message out there about this nonsense is how things start to change.

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