Tuesday, June 9, 2009

It's About The Customer Service

[Updated below]

Yesterday's announcement of new hardware and software for the iPhone was welcome news. I'd been waiting to see some of the improvements to the WWAN radio to take advantage of the faster speeds Europe and Asia has already had for years on their mobile networks. I will be buying a new iPhone 3GS (the "S" stands for "Stupid Branding" in my opinion) very soon after they become available.

However I am disappointed and irritated with at&t at the slowness to implement MMS and tethering, and their general mercenary tone-deafness with regard to customer service and existing customers upgrading their iPhone hardware.

Leaving aside for the moment at&t's astounding, out-right refusal to unlock iPhones when users request it, in clear violation of US federal law, I find the idea that at&t tells me when I "qualify" for upgrade pricing on a new mobile phone completely absurd. And they've been screwing customers like this for years.

Ars Technica is reporting:
For current iPhone customers, however, the options are a little tricky. "Upgrade eligibility varies with each customer, but in general you will become upgrade-eligible the further you are into your service agreement," AT&T spokesperson Seth Bloom told Ars. Typically AT&T will allow for full subsidized pricing after about 18 months. AT&T's website wasn't updated at the publish time, but you can check your "eligibility" online via Apple's online ordering page. (For those of us on staff who bought an iPhone 3G on launch day last year, it looks like we won't qualify for subsidized pricing until this December.) We have already heard expressions of severe dismay from many other iPhone 3G users being told they cannot upgrade before 2010.

If you're not eligible for standard subsidized pricing, you can get an "early upgrade" to the iPhone 3G S for $399 for a 16GB model or $499 for a 32GB model. If you just want an iPhone 3G, you can get an early upgrade for $299. None of those options are much of a deal, but if you want an iPhone 3G S as soon as possible, that's what it will cost you. Either way, upgrading will include a new two-year contract and an $18 upgrade fee.

Hello, at&t! When you treat customers like this you do not endear your company to your customers. This is, of course, the ongoing complaint I have with at&t: they treat us like children, and after-thoughts. It doesn't help that they are the only real choice for mobile 3G connectivity, either. They know they have us by the short hairs and they act like it. Verizon and Sprint simply are not options for anyone that travels outside the United States, like I do, who still wants to use their mobile phones internationally.

In all fairness it is not just iPhone users that at&t treats this way. They screw all 3G phone users on the data plans and text messages and every customer they have has to deal with this "qualifying" just to buy a new phone bullshit. We need some serious federal regulation on these mobile providers to force them to be more consumer friendly and to be more competitive with providers in Europe and Asia. If more Americans traveled with their mobile phones outside the US I think they would be appalled at how far ahead the rest of the world is in the field of personal communications.

Get yer act together at&t. It will only benefit you.

[Update] Now that the iPhone will support 7.2 Mbps HSDPA it really will be a truly international phone. Now if at&T will just get their damn act together and upgrade the domestic 3G network I'll be a little happier with them.

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