AT&T's Customer Service Has No Damn Clue What's Going On With The New iPhone

Reader Micah is under contract with AT&T, and is interested in getting the new iPhone when it comes out. Unfortunately, Micah’s account is not currently eligible for an upgrade, so AT&T keeps telling him that he’ll need to cancel his phone, and pay an ETF in order to get the new iPhone. As far as we can tell, this just isn’t true.

Micah writes (to AT&T):

First I would like to say that I have been a loyal Cingular / AT&T wireless customer for over three years. Unfortunately last year my smart phone was stolen and since I have after hours duties and responsibilities, as many professionals, I was forced to purchase a phone the same day to meet employment regulations; gladly re-upping my two year contract since at that time I was satisfied with the service I received from AT&T (and still am).

Given the nature of my job and on call responsibilities, the ability to VPN to my work / home environment, visual voice mail, true push e-mail integration the new iPhone 3G seams to be a viable choice for myself and others in my situation. To be honest, I was very excited by many of the new features and was planning to rush out and purchase one of the new 3G models as soon as they hit stores and even took a vacation day.

Granted since I was still under contract with AT&T I expected that I would have to pay a higher price than that of the individual switching service or creating a new line (which I may not agree on principal with but I understand the subsidized service model that the cell phone industry works on; I have been overall very happy with the service I received). However, when I visited a local AT&T store and spoke with a friendly representative I was informed that my phone upgrade period was on up until late November. And that while I could purchase any other phone in the store for full price, that I could not purchase the iPhone without canceling my active account and re register in which case they could not guarantee that I would keep the same number and would have to pay a $175 early termination fee.

Finding this hard to believe I called the AT&T Shop division and the AT&T Customer support desk and asked them what I could do in my situation and if I could buy out the remaining 5 months of my “upgrade clause”. One of the representatives at the AT&T Shop suggested that I add a second line to my account which would be the new line that I “activate” the iPhone over and then move the iPhone to my regular line before canceling the existing line and incurring another $175 early termination fee. The second representative I spoke with said that since I wanted to keep my number I would not be able to purchase an iPhone period.

Our lovely tech-obsessed sister site Gizmodo published a internal AT&T memo that says that customers such as Micah (who are under contract, but not eligible for an upgrade) will be able to purchase the iPhone at a price that has not yet been determined.

Upgrade Eligibility and Qualified Upgrade Pricing
Upgrade eligibility will be determined based on standard upgrade eligibility rules. Customers must be upgrade eligible to receive the qualified upgrade pricing. However, not all customers will be qualified upgrades. AT&T has not determined the price of the 3G device for non-qualified upgrades.

All customers will be required to sign a 2-year agreement. There will not be a “no commitment” price for the iPhone 3G.

Note: When the 3G device launches, all active postpaid customers in good standing with a 2G iPhone will be eligible to receive the qualified upgrade pricing for a 3G device regardless of service tenure. (Customers that would not otherwise be eligible due to tenure will be made eligible at launch).

Maybe AT&T should read their own leaked memos.

AT&T Memo to Retail Managers Shows iPhone 3G Policy [Gizmodo]


Edit Your Comment

  1. MayorBee says:

    I think the headline is a little too specific. It would be better stated as “AT&T’s Customer Service Has No Damn Clue What’s Going On”

  2. SBR249 says:

    I hear the revenue sharing agreement between AT&T and Apple has ended. Which means Apple now has absolute no good reason to continue their exclusivity deal with AT&T. Perhaps a CDMA iPhone will be in the works for verizon…

  3. FessLove says:

    Leaked memo’s are exactly official though….

  4. FessLove says:


    Good reason would be the five year exclusive contract apple has with at&t to be the sole carrier for apple products

  5. nrich239 says:

    Maybe it’s lack of knowledge on my part, but what’s to stop you from buying it from the apple store and just dropping your SIM card into the new phone?

  6. Franklin Comes Alive! says:


    Word on the street is you won’t be able to walk out of either an AT&T or Apple store with a 3G iphone unless you sign up for a 2-year contract.

  7. Illusio26 says:

    @nrich239: That’s what I was wondering. I can’t imagine apple wouldn’t want to sell their own phone.

  8. Anks329 says:

    @nrich239: There is going to be some sort of activation in store at about AT&T and Apple. So you’ll either get a new line at that point, or upgrade your current line.

  9. goodcow says:

    The new $30 data plan with no SMS included is BS compared to the old iPhone 2G plan.

  10. squatchie44 says:

    …maybe it says that he can upgrade at launch, and since the 3g iphone hasnt launched yet maybe he isnt able to do the upgrade yet. going out on a limb here.

  11. Cattivella says:

    That’s weird – I’ve been a customer of Cingular/AT&T and I’ve always understood that you could change your phone and plan at any time. If you’re not eligible for upgrade, you have to purchase the phone full price, but you should always be able to change the plan to what you need without having to cancel the previous one. It seems like buying the iPhone then upgrading your current contract/plan to unlimited data would be really simple.

  12. hellinmyeyes says:

    More iCrap provided through a company that just cannot get its shit together. Seriously… You need a phone to make and receive telephone calls and maybe the same for text messages. Anything else is really just whoring yourself out commercially.

  13. soloudinhere says:

    Well, the non contract prices for Europe have been announced, and they’re $799 and $899 in USD. Does he really want the phone THAT much??

  14. theblackdog says:

    @nrich239: iPhones have a completely different plan with AT&T than regular phones, so I don’t think it’s as easy as dropping your SIM card in.

  15. AZTriGuy says:

    The real confusion here is around the “subsidized” price of the iPhone. The revenue sharing model is out, and replaced with the subsidy model (that’s how you’re getting the 8GB iPhone for $199 . . . w/2 year contract). AT&T’s just not saying how much that subsidy actually is. Normally, it’s around $200 for most phones, which would put the real cost of the 8GB iPhone 3G at $399, which is most likely what people like me will have to pay to get this since we’re not eligible for upgrade yet (memo says they haven’t determined that price yet).

    But, no, you won’t be able to buy this and just swap SIM cards. You can’t leave the store without activating the phone first. And, if you read more of that memo, if you cancel your service in the first 30 days (presumably to unlock it and go to another carrier) you have to return the device. After 30 days, you have to just pay the ETF.

  16. rockstarjoe says:

    I’m sure they’ll announce an un-subsidized price soon enough. Probably $399 for the 8GB and $499 for the 16GB.

  17. balthisar says:

    Why don’t we just wait, you know, for the the phone to actually come out before we accuse people of not knowing that they’re doing? If they’d screwed up on launch, then that’s a different thing altogether.

  18. PatrickIs2Smart says:

    If I recall correctly, during the keynote, Steve Jobs said something to the effect of, “Maximum price will be $199 worldwide.” So shouldn’t that apply without regard to whether or not you are upgrade eligible??

  19. Franklin Comes Alive! says:


    So if what you said is true, the ‘non-subsidized’ price for the smaller one will be $199 + one month’s service + $175 ETF. That should come in at a bit over $400, which is probably about right.

  20. castlecraver says:

    The “ravenous wolves” mentality over this 3G iPhone baffles me. Its gonna be another month, folks. You’ll have all your details before launch day, so just relax. You’re succumbing to the marketing tactics, and it doesn’t make you look smart, hip, rich, or in-the-know. It just makes you look like a hype -frenzied rabid consumer.

    Buy it, or don’t buy it. But at least try to keep the decision from making a meaningful impact on your life until release day.

  21. This is especially ridiculous since iPhone customers didn’t get a phone subsidy from AT&T, yet still have to wait a year and a half from their iPhone purchase date for their upgrade to appear.

  22. kylenalepa says:

    I was told by an AT&T representative when I bought my current phone back in October that if I decided to get an iPhone down the line that I’d be able to pay the normal price and they’d just add two years to my current contract. If that is different from the current policy, then I’m going to be pissed.

  23. mike says:

    There will not be a “no commitment” price for the iPhone 3G.

    I say hogwash to this. I plan on buying the iPhone and then dumping AT&T after one month and paying the ETF. Same price as the original.

  24. AZTriGuy says:

    @Heezy: “Steve Jobs said at WWDC that the price would be $199 for 8GB and $299 for 16GB. Why would he announce the subsidized price and not the retail price?”

    Marketing, to show that he’s delivered a cheaper iPhone. That’s the great thing about the presentations he does, he can spin the information however he wants to and doesn’t have to disclose info that he doesn’t want to.

    @kylenalepa: Well, back in October what they told you was right. The only option at that time was to buy the iPhone full price, and what you described was exactly what I did for my wife’s phone in February. Switched her from a Treo to the iPhone. Bought a new phone for the normal price, brought it home, activated it and moved the number over, selected the new contract and that was that. In October, no one could have known what the plan was going to be for the iPhone 3G launch and how the pricing structures would be done.

  25. calvinneal says:

    This is much adoo about nothing. All employees were told of the upgrade policy thru ATT “NewsNow”. The upgrade price policy in quotes is from the ATT Employee Site. About 300,000 people had access to it. Some people cannot read.

  26. Ein2015 says:

    Price of an iPhone: 1 soul.

  27. kylenalepa says:

    @AZTriGuy: I guess you’re right, but still, that information affected my purchase. I would have probably stuck with my old, unlocked phone for a few more months (or gotten a one-year contract) if I’d known that I wouldn’t be able to get an iPhone 3G (which we all knew was coming out at some point).

  28. jackgirl87 says:

    At&t employees are pretty much kept in the dark when it comes to the iPhone. The best thing any person can do is hold out a few more weeks til we get more information. As of right now any iPhone user in good standing ( meaning you pay your bills) will be able to get the new phone at the discounted price. Also for the price of the new data plans they are on par with all other data devices and no longer include messaging. One upside to all of this is that iPhone 3g users will be able to collect the fan discounts which could be a huge savings for most users. We do not have any info on upgrade overrides at this time but one would think that it could be done. So just wait it out and I’m sure we will take care of you. Remeber to be nice to your rep and they will be nice in return.

  29. H3ion says:

    AT&T just announced that the new iPhone will be cheaper (I think the prices were $199 and $299) but the minimum monthly service charge was going up about $10, or $120 per year.

    LG and Samsung both have touchscreen phones coming out if you prefer to deal with a carrier other than AT&T.

  30. karmaghost says:

    @hellinmyeyes: If we’re gunna go with that line of thinking, then I’d say all you really need is a landline phone to make and receive calls at your home. No need for an answering machine; if it’s important they’ll call back, and if you really must stay in touch while you’re on the go, you can buy a pager. Anything else is just whoring yourself out commercially.

  31. Meathamper says:

    Screw them. Here in Hong Kong, we have something very rare: a dependable, reliable, phone carrier that doesn’t cheat you. Which one? Take your pick: 3, Smartone-Vodafone, Peoples, PCCW, it doesn’t matter. But 3 is going to carry the iPhone, though.

  32. wcnghj says:

    What he’ll need to do is sign a 2 year contract extension, then he will get the new iphone for $199.

  33. wesrubix says:

    Why are you even calling AT&T customer service to ask about the new iPhone?

    My eyes can’t roll hard enough. How about doing some research online at like oh I don’t know GIZMODO?!

  34. capnjack says:

    I don’t see the problem here. The new iPhone was just announced, and probably no information is available to AT&Ts CSRs yet. So why would you expect them to know this until the phone actually comes out?