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


steven36

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from the innovation! dept

 

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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:

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"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:

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"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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