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AT&T Mobility Reps Provide Wrong Answer To ETF Question

at&tFrom the no duh department, the folks at AT&T Mobility were “secret shopped” by the folks at the Consumers Union. They asked what the early termination fee (ETF) was for a wireless contract with their company. Guess what: they got different answers, depending on whom they talked to. And you know what? It happens with every aspect of service at AT&T. At least that’s been my experience.

The AT&T website clearly says up-front in the wireless agreement: $175 early termination fee after 30 days of service.  CNN Money is also reporting that a $175 ETF is the “official answer,” according to AT&T spokesperson Mark Siegel.

While I am not surprised that different AT&T reps give out different answers, I am also equally unsurprised that AT&T has dragged their feet on implementing pro-rated ETFs. Sometime in 2008, they’re going to prorate, or so they say. When and what it’s going to look like is still a mystery.

To provide a little historical perspective, back in 2000, AT&T Wireless–a truly different company than today’s AT&T wireless unit–had quite a different policy on early termination fees, particularly for it’s massively popular Digital One Rate plan. The Digital One Rate plan was one of the first nationwide no-roaming, no long-distance in the U.S.–truly setting the standard for all other carriers to eventually follow.

What was the ETF for this groundbreaking plan? 1 year contract, $120 ETF, reduced by $10 a month. They also did stuff like backdate plan changes (e.g changing from one minute level to another so you didn’t overpay for usage in either direction) and generally provided exceptional customer service. AT&T Wireless was the shiznit in the early part of this decade.

The carriers claim they need these hefty ETFs to subsidize the cost of the “free” or “cheap” handsets they provide with their two year ball-and-chain. Do you really think that 12 to 18 months into a 2 year contract they haven’t already recouped the cost of that handset? Not pro-rating the ETF is simply a stick to keep the customer, well, a customer.

While I hate contracts, particularly with wireless carriers, customers should have the option to get a free or reduced-cost phone under contract, if they so desire. I would prefer that to be the exception rather than the rule, but that’s just my feeling.

So, AT&T, when are you going to “reveal” your pro-rated ETF plan? You could surprise everyone and simply drop the whole concept of subsidizing a handset. No subsidized phones, no contract, no ETF to have to collect. Simple as that. Unlikely, but it sounds nice, doesn’t it?


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