Thursday, April 12, 2012

Another reason why I dislike AT&T

It's all my fault really.  Eleven year old don't really need phones, do they?  But, she was starting middle school, and her mother had said something that was interpreted as a promise.  So, she got a phone.  We bought an inexpensive feature phone with a slide out keyboard.  Those crazy kids, they sure do love to text.  We added the unlimited text plan, because we'd heard enough stories about pre-teens' runaway bills.  She did not have a data plan, because that's just dumb.  The phone was nice enough, and she picked out a case that she liked. 

She was very responsible with it. Mostly.  If it is turned on at school, it is taken away.  She never had her phone taken away.  She kept it charged on a makeshift stand.  She answered when we called; she texted us when she needed something.  She went to bed when we told her, and didn't text after lights out.  At least, not very often.

However, for as great as a gymnast as she is, she sure can be clumsy.  So, in hindsight, it seems inevitable.  We had investigated the insurance scam when we purchased it, but the $50 deductible and $5 per month fee seemed to not make any sense for a phone we'd paid $20 for.  Then, it happened.  We heard the distinctive crunch of electronics hitting wood -- hard wood.  Perhaps the "eco" part of the Samsung phone name is code for thin plastic.  The phone didn't survive this drop.  Well, that's not entirely true.  The back half seemed happy and ready to work its magic.  But the front half, the half with the number buttons and the screen -- that half was decidedly not happy.

Tears from the small one and anger from the big ones came.  Hope in the magic of the father with the electrical engineering background rose, then plummeted.  Where does this spring go? The phone was not going to survive.

Two years had not passed. One year had not passed.  A new phone was not going to come cheaply.

We searched for alternatives.  Google Voice on her iPod touch was  re-enabled.  We inventoried our phone collection.  The cheap-o old phone we had was around. Has anyone seen the charger? No? Well, look for it.  The charger couldn't be found. 

We are victims of Moore's Law; we have plenty not-quite-shiny toys around the house, gathering dust, and being used as futuristic props in the land of make believe.  Behold, a pile of old iPhones.  We've been good customers.  That is, we've spent a lot of money to have nice shiny toys for us that we pay a lot of money to use.  We're such good customers that we've learned that in corporate speak, "unlimited" means "has a limit," just as we had learned earlier that "nationwide coverage" means "may sometimes work where you live." 

Our options solidified: we could buy a crappy phone at full price or we could reuse an old phone that we have.  Is that even a choice?

The SIM card slid in with a satisfying click.  The newly charged phone began searching.   Network found.  Days old text messages arrived.  Joy!  Paranoid parents find and disable all settings that use data and 3G.  It's an iPhone when she's home on our wifi network, but when she's out in the wild, it's a phone.

Over the next weeks, she learns some of the reasons we'd upgraded.  The battery wasn't holding a charge well.  Deal with it.

Then, on a rainy spring morning, my email box receives a message from AT&T.  AT&T sends me many messages, most of which I archive.  I happened to read this one. 

A data plan is now enabled on her phone? Are you kidding me?  Yes, AT&T has a policy (everyone loves policies).  They spy on their network, which I suppose makes sense.  They noticed she is using an iPhone.  The policy says if you have a smartphone, you get a data plan.  But we're not using data!  They have a policy.  $30 per month (plus fees?) has been automatically added.

I am pulling the SIM card out of her iPhone.  She'll have to live without until I can find a handset. Oh, pulling the card isn't enough. They need to update the EME or IMI or something.

My father worked for various incarnations of AT&T for over 30 years.  They send him a check every month -- something called a "pension" that you can read about in the history books.  The first stock I ever owned was symbol T.  AT&T created Unix, the computer operating system that inspired me personally and professionally.  The C programming language.  The transistor.  Information theory.  The laser.  Legends Ritchie (I have a playing card signed by Dennis Ritchie, and you don't. I win.), Pike, Cheswick, Shannon and more worked there.   AT&T powered the best phone ever, first.  I really, really want to like AT&T.

But I don't.

Does anyone have an AT&T non-smart cell phone they aren't using?