AT&T Finds Yet Another Way To Nickel-And-Dime Its Broadband, TV Customers

from the innovation! dept

While AT&T's marketing wing often likes to pat itself on the back for "innovation," the company's real skill set revolves around finding creative and ways to nickel-and-dime its own customers. Like the multiple times the company was caught aiding drug dealing directory assistance scammers, IP Relay credit card scammers, or crammers because it was getting a cut of the profits. Or the time the company started charging everybody more money for broadband if they wanted to protect their own personal privacy. Or the company's well-documented net neutrality shenanigans.

This week, AT&T's under fire yet again for some new bill changes that will, once again, result in users paying the company significantly more money. More specifically, the company has announced that it will now keep broadband and TV customers' money if you cancel in the middle of a billing cycle:

"AT&T will start charging customers for the full month after they cancel TV or Internet service, ending its customer-friendly practice of providing a prorated credit for the final month. Even if you cancel on the first day of a new billing period, you'll be charged for the full month and service will continue for the rest of the month whether you want it or not. To avoid paying for a month of service you don't want, you'd need to cancel by the last day of the previous billing period. The change will take effect on January 14, 2019 and apply even when a customer is paying on a month-to-month basis and no longer under contract.

Interestingly, the same company that has whined fairly incessantly about the logistical impossibility of adhering to state level privacy or net neutrality rules in the wake of federal repeals (a problem its own lobbyists created), isn't imposing the new rate system on users in states with tougher consumer protection standards:

"The new policy of charging for the full final month does not apply to any accounts in California, Illinois, and New York. The change also doesn't apply to "U-verse TV, AT&T Phone, or AT&T Internet accounts in Michigan," AT&T said.

AT&T is applying different policies in those states in order to comply with local regulations. “A limited number of customers will continue to receive prorated credits, either as a result of local or state regulations or for other specific reasons," AT&T told Ars.

Standing alone this may not be that big a deal, but cumulatively AT&T's nickel-and-diming matters very much to consumers.

You'll recall AT&T just got done jacking up streaming TV prices on the heels of its massive merger with Time Warner, just like deal critics had warned. AT&T then quickly doubled an already bogus "administrative fee" on the company's wireless customers, alone netting AT&T an additional estimated $800 million per year. AT&T's now hinting it will raise streaming prices even higher (AT&T's version of competition). This is of course on top of existing TV and broadband rate hikes, usage caps, hidden fees, and other soaring consumer costs.

Most of this is occurring for two reasons. One, AT&T's desperately trying to bounce back from the utterly massive debt load it incurred from the one-two punch of the DirecTV and Time Warner mergers. As is usually the case, the one paying for our mindless merger mania is usually... you. Two, because AT&T and other telecom and media giants have been on a tear effectively neutering all federal oversight of their efforts, there's nobody really in power interested in doing much about it. The above example makes it pretty clear why AT&T and Ajit Pai have also tried to neuter state consumer protection authority.

Getting ripped off in this fashion is the price tag for the nation's mindless obsession with merger mania, and the entirely false, yet oddly persistent, dogma that blindly deregulating the telecom sector somehow creates a free market connectivity Utopia. After several decades of this approach clearly not working in telecom you'd think more people would be keyed into the fact that letting natural monopolies dictate policy only really benefits investors and executives. But our collective, almost willful ignorance on this subject is nothing if not stubbornly persistent.


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Dec 2018 @ 6:55am

    Don't forget AT&T's program to sell the Internet history of its users en masse to cops without any warrant.

    https://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/oct/25/att-secretly-sells-customer-data-law-enforcement-he misphere

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DeathWoks (profile), 10 Dec 2018 @ 8:03am

    AT&T has always done this.....

    I used to work at a call centre in Canada. I did tech support for a shipping company, so we had to be nice, and quick. We had to answer a call, by the second ring....

    There was a AT&T WorldNet tech support department, and a "Save Team" in the same building. they were not allowed to answer the phone, till the customer had been on hold for at least 30 minutes!!

    The AT&T "Save Team" needed to offer at least three other products, packages, or services to the customer, before they could cancel anything for the customer. Oh, and they needed to stay on the phone for at least 10 minutes, if they were going to cancel!

    AT&T - They are best..... at..... something!!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 10 Dec 2018 @ 8:15am

      Re: AT&T has always done this.....

      The AT&T "Save Team" needed to offer at least three other products, packages, or services to the customer, before they could cancel anything for the customer. Oh, and they needed to stay on the phone for at least 10 minutes, if they were going to cancel!

      If my experience canceling DirecTV (I cut the cord) was my experience, they stopped this for the States. My call lasted roughly ten minutes max. Five minutes of me politely explaining that even their $300 retention offer was not worth it since I was saving more than double that a year alone by cutting the cord. Another five going through the motions to actually cancel.

      Comcast OTOH? They 100% follow your example. That was a minimum of three calls, each lasting an hour or so. it took three because clearly, the first two did not want to mess with their numbers. So they said they canceled my account. Told me I would not be charged and even gave me how much I would be refunded for the remainder of the month. But then did not cancel the account. So the next month I was charged. Only by bumping it up to their higher level customer support did I finally find someone to actually take the KPI hit, cancel my account AND gave me my money back for the previous two months that their support staff f-ed up. The phone reps did not properly enter the notes about me wanting to cancel. But they could not delete the online chat record where I first asked to cancel and was told to call customer support to do so.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        I.T. Guy, 10 Dec 2018 @ 8:34am

        Re: Re: AT&T has always done this.....

        I love knowing the inner-workings of a call center. I once told a rep that if they didn't get my issue resolved within the next hour I would keep calling back and hang up, making their dropped call stat go through the roof. Mysteriously after that statement a manager got on the line and was more than happy to help.

        I hate being an asshole but sometimes it works.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Smartassicus the Roman, 10 Dec 2018 @ 10:25pm

          Re: Re: Re: AT&T has always done this.....

          I recently did something similar at a comcrap (I despise copmcrap) store, which I'm very glad is now nearby - it saves me hours of BS on the phone. I had to exchange a box that was going bad and the poor guy started his sales pitch and I looked at him and said 'stop, I know you have a job to do, but i'm in no mood for your bullshit sales pitches and if you try that again, I'm going to slip and fall and get free cable for life and a new house on ten acres to go with it. Swap the box and I'm gone. It's that simple.'
          I left happy and in under five minutes.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 11 Dec 2018 @ 6:47am

        Re: Re: AT&T has always done this.....

        Comcast staff are formally told to bring up the barely minimum to identify you then close their CRM system down and NOT to take notes.

        Their training system actually says if they note a cancel request they will be immediatelty fired without severance.

        They are also told once on the floor to lie to customers and promise discounts that are never recorded or kept.

        They are also told if the customer is over 70 they must tell a supervisor who will add further fake charges to the account if the customer sounds frail or confused.

        Multiple staff have had their families threatened with violence if they try to blow the whistle.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Dec 2018 @ 8:29am

    To avoid paying for a month of service you don't want, you'd need to cancel by the last day of the previous billing period.

    [final day of billing period]

    "Hello, this is AT&T, how may I help you?"

    "Yes, I'd like to cancel my service"

    "Please hold while I transfer you."

    "Sorry, all our staff are busy at the moment. Average time is $TIME LEFT IN DAY minutes. We value our customers."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 10 Dec 2018 @ 9:48am

      Re:

      Nah its more like:
      "Hi this is NAME, how can I help you?"
      "I'd like to cancel my account"
      [fifteen minutes of upselling]
      "No problem, I can help with that. Please note that this will take up to 24 to 48 hours to take effect in our billing system. If this goes into a new billing period, you will be charged a normal rate, but you will not be charged for the following month."
      "No cancel now! I will be billed at midnight tonight."
      "I am so sorry. but It takes time for your order to process through our system. This is designed to ensure your security is maintained at all levels of our company. I promise you that it will be canceled within 24-48 hours. Have a good day!"

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 10 Dec 2018 @ 10:19am

    Anyone ever hope that the industry treats Pai like they treat us??
    They got what they want, after promising everything & then deliver nothing.
    I would laugh and laugh and laugh to see Pai leaving the FCC and ending up on the street shaking his oversized novelty mug for spare change when the telcos decide there is no reason to give him a cushy place to land after he carried their water.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Jinxed (profile), 10 Dec 2018 @ 11:56am

    "The change will take effect on January 14, 2019"

    Under AT&T's new stupidity, shouldn't this be rounded up to Feb 1, 2019?

    Asking for a friend.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    David (profile), 10 Dec 2018 @ 12:33pm

    This just confirms that I was right to drop AT&T a few years ago. I had AT&T internet, land line and 4 cell phones. My internet is now over 10 times faster. My land line is now less than $50 a year. My cell phones now get a signal at my house without having to go upstairs.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 10 Dec 2018 @ 12:51pm

    WE REALLY NEED...

    An evaluation of the Raise in prices since 1999, till now..
    And how much of the profit compared to Top wages, WENT UP..

    REALLY..
    Would love to see the Top wages double/triple, including bonus's.. While the Stocks SAT, not going up.. And if we can show it, can we take them to court?
    NOPE, not unless you are a Stock holder..OH! I forgot, you signed a funny piece of paper..(I BET) that says you WONT take them to court and you have no voting rights EITHER.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Another AC, 10 Dec 2018 @ 5:47pm

    This was done in Canada, but not for long

    Once the complaints about the these billing schenanigans sky-rocketed, the CRTC banned the practice. I don't expect the FCC to be of any help though.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Bob (profile), 12 Dec 2018 @ 3:05am

    Cox was very different

    When I called to cancel TV in 2009, the cutomer service rep said "Yes sir I'll take care of that for you." The silence after that was uncanny. No offering of two free months, no special bundle pricing for the next 2 years, no effort to retain me at all. I was expecting a long drawn out fight and got complete and quick cooperation.

    Now Verizon was another matter. Many years ago it took three months to stop the billing when I called to cancel the extra phone line I had been using for a business fax. The line went dead in 3 seconds, but the billing....ugh.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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