AT&T. Absolute bollocks.

I thought mobile phone companies in Ireland were bad until I came over to the US.  My experience so far has been with AT&T and, in spite of the best intentions of the eager foot soldiers in the stores, the company itself leaves a lot to be desired.

Right now they are in the news for attempting to push through a merger with fellow GSM-carrier T-Mobile, something that I agree would be very bad news.  T-Mobile was going to be my next carrier once my contract (a ludicrous two-year imposition that most carriers tie you to in the US) expires in early 2012.  But if the government approves the merger then I may have to go CDMA (Sprint, Verizon) as T-Mobile will probably end up adopting the totalitarian approach of their larger cousin.  And we know consumers are not happy with AT&T.

In the year-plus I’ve been with them they have capped data plans, increased termination fees and locked down Android phones.  I also experienced, when travelling through the Dakotas, virtually no data coverage whatsoever in five days.

The latest show of might from my good friends at AT&T is them denying me the right to use my Motorola Atrix (my phone that I own) when travelling abroad unless I agree to an expensive roaming plan with themselves.  On a call with one of their representatives I asked him for my unlock code so that I could use my Irish SIM in the phone, and I was given a four-point response as to why that was not possible.

It was basically a patronising list of items that were none of their damn business: if you use a foreign number then friends and family won’t be able to reach you in an emergency (bollocks as all my friends and family have my Irish number), you won’t be able to access voicemail (bollocks as I use Google Voice for voicemail) and two other reasons I can’t even remember.  Probably because I was repeating the mantra: ‘you’re a stupid c*nt, you’re a stupid c*nt’ in my head.

He finished off his little spiel by telling me that I could avail of great deals with a roaming plan from AT&T (how convenient).

Not being particularly satisfied with the response, I took to Twitter, and some helpful AT&T lad responded to my tweet by investigating for me.  Sadly his response was not particularly useful either.

So according to AT&T my phone (and let’s be clear – this is my phone, bought outright in an AT&T store and not subsidised by them) cannot be used by me.  If I want to, I can go out and buy an unlock code online for about $25.  But I don’t see why I should have to.  I don’t see what right AT&T have for locking it down in any manner whatsoever.

But do they have any leg to stand on?  Is their roaming plan such an absolute steal that I am rendered a total clown for not biting the bullet and switching on roaming?

Not likely.

This is what AT&T would have charged me to use my phone in Ireland.

This is my mobile activity while using my Irish phone in Ireland with unit and total costs for both carriers (Irish per minute call costs averaged out as they varied depending on which network I called).

So in total I spent the equivalent of about $30 while away for the week, sending 95 texts within Ireland, 8 texts abroad and spending 12 minutes on calls.  The cost of that to me had I unlocked my phone and availed of AT&T ‘best roaming rates’ would have been over $70.  Even if I’d bought their ‘World Traveler’ package for $5.99 and taken advantage of 99c rather than $1.39 per minute call rates, I would only have saved $4.80 (12-times-40c).  So it would have actually cost me more.

It’s incredibly short-sighted of AT&T (and other carriers – let’s face it, I’m sure many of them behave like this) to alienate their customer base for a quick buck.  My mobile bill is about $90 a month – more than the $70 they battled to try and squeeze out of me in this fiasco.  Losing my custom in early 2012 will cost them a lot more than $70.


Ban the phone pests

My obsessive nature has caused me much pain over the years whether it be ensuring that I walk on pavement cracks with both feet or that my beard is shaved evenly on both sides.

One thing I obsess about frequently are drivers who have absolutely no regard for other people and no regard for the laws by which they are bound.

However, there were several breakthroughs in Irish legislation this summer with regard to road safety that may help us turn the corner.

The first was the implementation of random breath-testing. The second was the introduction of a ban on the use of hand-held mobile phones while driving. The penalty for this offence is a fine of up to EUR2000 and, as of the autumn, two penalty points on their licence.

Our Minister for Transport, Martin Cullen, has been strongly criticised for the delay in the penalty points being implemented as part of our recent Road Traffic Act. The transport spokeswoman for the opposition Labour party, Roisin Shortall, said: “If we are to improve road safety and reduce both crashes and road deaths, then all the provisions of the new Road Traffic Act must be implemented without further delay.”.

It’s a fair point. The death toll on Irish roads this year is 244 with another three added to the list this bank holiday weekend.

The focus has been on drink-driving with the Road Safety Authority (RSA) working with our Gardai to try and educate our mis-guided Irish brothers who think that the cost and inconvenience of taking a taxi home from the pub is far less than the cost and inconveneience of being killed, or killing someone else.

But as I walk the streets of Dublin I can be sure that every minute or so I’m going to see some reckless bastard tearing down the road with one hand on the wheel and the other pressing the mobile phone to their ear.

Figures just released in the UK show that last year there were 13 deaths that were directly related to drivers using mobile phones. Another 429 accidents which resulted in serious injury were directly attributed to drivers using mobile phones. And these are just the ones that can be proven. You can be sure that the real figures are much higher.

If you take in to account that driving using a hands-free kit is just as dangerous, it’s frightening how far this can be taken.

This week a 31-year old lorry driver in the UK is starting a four-year jail term for killing a woman while behind the wheel of his seven-and-a-half-ton lorry because he was distracted by using a mobile phone .

00031_001And take a look at this girl. This is 11 year old Rebekka Hudd who last month should have been celebrating her 21st birthday. Instead, her parents are laying flowers on her grave. She was killed by a driver using his mobile phone. He was fined UKP250.

Rebekka’s mother, Lynda, said regarding drivers who flout the law: “Sometimes I hoot at them and they throw the phones on the floor because they know they are in the wrong. Others just stick their fingers up at you.”

And that, my friends, is a microcosm of what we’re dealing with.

That is why a couple of penalty points and a small fine (in the UK, it’s UKP30) is not good enough. Driving while using your mobile phone is dangerous and needs to be equated to drink-driving.

It’s time to ban mobile phone users from the road. It’s time to send a message that using your mobile while driving is so serious that it will cost you your licence – and for some people that may mean their job and livelihood.

But that’s only half the problem. The other half of the problem is that the laws are not enforced. The only way to effectively enforce them is to have officers on the roads in unmarked cars, ready to pull over unsuspecting drivers who think that they are in the clear because they can’t see flashing blue lights behind them.

If a Nanny State is what is needed to improve safety and save lives then let’s do it.