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.