AT&T Lies About 3G Coverage, Buys You Off With $250 Credit

Reader Corey checked the 3G coverage map before buying a new iPhone, only to find out that the map was wrong. The story has something of a happy ending, however, because Corey says he’s pleased with the $250 service credit AT&T offered.

Corey says:

Before buying the new Iphone I checked the coverage area for my home and was reported to have full 3G. Excited by this nice but not completely necessary perk I purchased the Iphone. I get it home barely able to contain my excitement, Upon start up I found that I have VERY little edge, let alone 3G. So I set about troubleshooting through handy dandy google but to no avail.

So it came time to call customer support, the lady reported that I should have full 3G in my area and sent an invisible update to my phone and was told that 3 days later a follow up call would come. Fast forward a week and a half. I missed their call due to me driving at the time, so set about getting back in contact with them. I followed the same lines as before; “The site said I should have full coverage but I barely get any blah blah blah.” The report that I should be having full was echoed once again and was transferred to apple care. Her suggestions were all ones that I had done long prior. Here comes the mysterious part…

The Apple rep said that I should only be getting moderate coverage according to the map, ok… So I was transferred to AT&T tech support the very short (short as in testy, not physically, I’m not omnipitent) CSR reported that I should have NO coverage, NONE. So I was transferred back to customer service where I was finally helped by an empathic rep who after a few minutes applied a $250 credit to my account. I feel quite happy about the result yet still peeved that AT&T would sell people on coverage that they do not deliver. Side note: the empathic rep stated that this was his 3rd call about this issue. One rep 3 calls one issue.

I smell that there may be a class action in the air at some point. I printed up the page that states that I should be receiving full coverage and on the site of the printout it states “AT&T does not guarantee coverage.” WHAT!?

I apologize for the length of this email but I feel that this story is not unique to myself and should be passed along to as many people as possible so that they may make informed decisions as AT&T seems unable to sell service honestly.

Good tip, Corey. Anyone else having problems getting coverage in areas that AT&T says should be 3G?

(Photo: jetsetpress )


Edit Your Comment

  1. Geekybiker says:

    Yah, no 3g, little edge? Whats the point of the phone? At minimum they should credit you the data portion of the cost for the length of the contract. $660.

  2. axiomatic says:

    “AT&T Lies…”

    OK I fixed the headline. you can re-post it now.

  3. Reeve says:

    It sounds like you have an express warranty then a disclaimer of said warranty on the same page. If I remember correctly I believe you can disclaim implied warranties but you can not disclaim express warranties.

  4. evslin says:

    @Geekybiker: Isn’t the ETF on their contract going to be around $250? Maybe what they’re saying is if he wants to go elsewhere, they’ll let him out of the contract basically for free.

  5. AgentTuttle says:

    It has just been ruled that Early Termination Fees are illegal in California. []

    Used my evil empire pic again,… yes!

  6. Geekybiker says:

    @evslin: $275 on ATT.

  7. jimv2000 says:

    Why is this on here? I could see if they refused to refund him any money after discovering that the map was inaccurate, but they did right by him and gave him the money. So what’s the problem?

  8. jimv2000 says:

    @Geekybiker: I would imagine that they won’t charge him for his data plan going forward, thus there is no need to refund him $400 (that he won’t be paying anyway).

  9. Is “buys you off” that like some sort of street lingo for “offers compensation that you consider reasonable”?

    What’s next?

    “Your cable is intermittent, Comcast buys you off with partial refund”
    “BoA misplaces deposited check, buys you off with credit for amount of check”
    “Target accepts return, buys you off with full refund”

    @evslin: He has an iPhone. He’s not leaving AT&T.

    The $250 credit also says that we’re basically not charging you more for 3G service. (Over the course of 2 years, 3G is $240 more than Edge.)

    @Geekybiker: A full credit for a partial outage is a bit excessive. I’ve heard that iPhone users can cancel the data plan if you ask nicely. (“I don’t get a data signal in my area” should be a good enough reason.)

  10. elislider says:

    you are NOT required to have a data plan while using the iphone on contract. its just “strongly recommended” otherwise what would be the phone of having the 3g iphone. but you are not required to pay $30/line for unlimited data, despite what probably a lot of the ATT reps will say. Last night we picked up our iphones and the lady that activated them mentioned the “required data plan” and i laughed to myself. we’ll probably drop it from my dads line in a little while since he will barely ever use it i bet

  11. thruhike98 says:

    @Michael Belisle: 1. Good point re. the “buys you off” title.

    2. He could use this iPhone on another GSM carrier like T-mobile. AT&T is the only carrier in a deal with Apple, but the GSM technology works with other carriers here and abroad. The phone only has to be “unlocked.”

  12. @thruhike98: It’s not yet trivial to unlock the 3G iPhone. I have an unlocked 2.5G iPhone, and I’m starting to notice things I give up by using it unlocked and on T-Mobile: like the warranty, timely/”painless” updates, and visual voicemail. It may be a prison, but it is one hell of a comfy prison.

  13. I get no coverage in my area when att’s maps show it (down to a street level) as being available. Can’t use my verizon air card, can’t use my Kaiser on 3g, and both services show it as being available.

    Never thought about calling to bitch though. I’m off tomorrow, maybe I’ll try.

  14. dweebster says:

    Amazing. What’s the point of having a 3G phone without any 3G coverage? I’m sure he could have got a prior model without a contract and saved a wad of dough. It’s a pretty phone, but sheesh – without the network it’s a PDA…..

  15. EndlessMike says:

    @elislider: You’ll remove it then a month later be complaining about the $300 in data expenses he used.

  16. Dyscord says:

    3G coverage isn’t all that prominent in the US yet as opposed to europe. I’m surprised that everyone was making a big deal about a 3G iphone. “We want a phone that has the capability for higher speeds but the majority of us will never be able to take advantage of it.”

  17. kthxbai says:

    Its 90 percent of the reason i returned my iphone 3g… biggist mistake of my life… I live in NYC with NO DATA AT ALL… fuckin att

  18. btccfan2002 says:

    This story is absolutely true. My brother and I bought the new 16 gig Iphones about a week after they came out. After setting them up and programming them, at best we would have one to two bars of 3G in our house when, according to their coverage map, we should have been covered in full.

    In addition, I commute to Manhattan from Northern NJ on the NJ Transit trains. My Iphone3G would lose ALL SERVICE about 3 or 4 times on the ride in – absurd when considering these trains travel through a major metropolitan area – probably one of their biggest potential markets. When it did get service, it would run extremely slow.

    My brother had the worst of it. He told me his phone was dropping calls while sitting on his desk chair, but if he moved to his bed, calls *might* stay connected. He occasionally commutes to Connecticut for work, and his claim was the same – the map claimed Fairfield County and Westchester should be in full 3G – yet on his ride to/from, he would often lose ALL service.

    Long story short we returned the Iphones for full credit from Apple, I’ve yet to hear if AT&T will charge us for the 2 weeks we used the phone. We’re both back with Verizon – who welcomed us back for the same terms we had before we left (which was very reasonable).

  19. btccfan2002 says:

    @etaripamai – exactly my problem as well. If it doesn’t work well in NYC (i attend school in the midwest) I sure as hell don’t think it would function in the cornfields.

  20. endersshadow says:

    I have a 1st gen iPhone and I get very crappy Edge in and around Houston where I’m supposed to have full 3G/Edge coverage. However, in Dallas, coverage is great!

  21. selectman says:

    @Michael Belisle: +1. I have a dream that one day, my children will live in a world free of sensationalist blog headlines.

  22. baconpants says:

    My best friend has the same problem. The AT&T sight says his voice coverage is “best” and “3G Available” yet he only gets 1 bar of coverage and cannot use the phone’s dataplan or voice for that matter. Any advice on what to do? (he was a first day adopter and therefore can’t return for free)

  23. The ATT maps are not updated very often; I left California for a week in Oregon on the coast, but in my case, I had a happy surprise – in a location where my GSM phone hadn’t worked at all three years ago, and where ATT’s maps only promised weak EDGE reception, I got five bars of 3G coverage.

    On the other hand, I used that 3G service to find out that ATT had screwed up my billing and that they thought I owed them $2200 dollars for 145Mb of data charges. The salesperson had somehow neglected to change my plan to “All you can eat” data.

    ATT’s service here in Silicon Valley could use a lot of work; in Willow Glen, where many influential technology folks live, the signal is really unpredictable, going from five bars on one block to nonexistent over most of the neighborhood.

  24. belden says:

    I completely turned on this guy the second he used the words “class action”. I am so sick of EVERY time there is the slightest hint of something making someone unhappy that a lawsuit comes up. Wow, THREE people had spoken with this CSR? Surely that means the millions of iPhone owners deserve compensation.

  25. Reeve says:

    The decision stating early termination fees are “illegal” was not binding. It was not binding outside of CA. It was not binding inside of CA. It is not even binding on the court that rendered the decision. We have a long way to go before early termination fees are eliminated.

  26. coren says:

    @jimv2000: My guess? Warn people that the coverage maps aren’t accurate and not to rely on them. Message gets lost a bit in trying to sensationalize it though

  27. Geekybiker says:

    @Michael Belisle: From what he said, I got that data was so spotty as to be basically unusable. I was assuming he is going to be forced to maintain his $30 a month 3g data plan. $250 credit for a plan that cost $660 isn’t much of a deal when you rarely get to use it. Honestly I wouldn’t want a credit. I’d want a refund and go with a carrier that had a data network in my area.

  28. AgentTuttle says:

    @jimv2000: “Why is this on here?” Maybe this place need not always be bad news.

  29. @Geekybiker: $250 credit for a plan that cost $660 isn’t much of a deal when you rarely get to use it.

    It will cost $720. However, the quality of the signal will almost certainly change in two years, since 3G is still relatively new. The only way that he should get a full “refund” for service yet to be provided is if he cancels the data service, which sounds to be possible. He could always put it back on later.

    Also, he just says it doesn’t work at home, not that it doesn’t work anywhere. My phone doesn’t work (at all) inside my apartment, but since I have wifi I don’t really care that much (and T-Mobile had no sympathy for me, so a 35% concession is pretty good in my book).

  30. LoringGabsta says:


    “…slightest hint of something making someone unhappy that a lawsuit comes
    up. ” I in no way stated that I would be pursuing a suit myself, but can you
    not see how this can be seen as some sort of fraud. I am pretty happy with
    the credit to my account as I can look at it a couple different ways. 1. I
    got my phone for free 2. I’m paying for a edge plan and just so happen to
    get 3G in certain places. I am happy with this resolution but still as my
    email stated and what I think Consumerist is trying to do is make people
    aware of whats going on.

  31. Donavenn says:

    Couple things about the iPhone;

    – The 2.0 software was buggy on launch. As of 2.01, 90% of those problems are fixed. Not the 3G one.

    – If you have absolutely no reception with your iPhone, turn off the 3G. Something about the way the 3G radio operates interferes with the regular communication and authentication with the three cellphone towers you are connecting too.

    – Essentially with this guy, I’d say he’s in the clear. He basically got a free iPhone. 3G doesn’t work in my office or my home without obliterating my regular cell traffic, but most everywhere else it’s fine. A simple wifi setup in any of the places you can’t use 3G, and free iPhone, not a bad deal.

  32. golfinggiraffe says:

    @Michael Belisle: Actually? It is. Overlooked with all the software unlocking news is the hardware unlock. It wasn’t really popular for two reasons: one, you needed to fork over $25 or so. Two, people also jailbroke their phones for third party apps.

    But if all you wanted was the unlock, you just buy one of the unlocking chips, trim off a corner of plastic on your SIM card (doesn’t hurt it a bit, honest), and slide it in with your SIM card. At least from personal experience Visual Voicemail really isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be (do people really not bother listening to voicemail when they know who it’s from?), and there’s a number of free VVM providers (that you can access because you have data access!). You do lose the warranty. Upgrading the software is as normal though.

  33. sam-i-am says:

    I’ll tell you what I’m having trouble with. Getting decent speeds and consistent connectivity on my Tilt ever since the iPhone came out. Now that everyone is at the party it might be time to leave. :(

  34. rayray5884 says:


    Now I’m sure your dad won’t be using quite as much data as I have, ~110 megabytes in 3 weeks, but you’ll probably be quite suprised just how much he will use and how quickly that adds up. Not sure how much AT&T charges but I remember Sprint charged $.03 a kb, and most big carriers keep in line with each other. Without the dataplan AT&T surely would have demanded around $30,000 for the month.

  35. @bluemonq: I don’t consider a hardware unlock trivial. It’s not like downloading Pwnage and hitting “unlock” like you can on a 2.5G iPhone. It won’t be long before nerds solve the problem, but it’s not solved today.

    Currently, upgrading the software to 2.0 for a unlocked/jailbroken iPhone is not normal: you have to build a custom firmware image and now wait for the community to update the tool whenever Apple releases new software. I did it and it’s not hard, but it’s not as easy as hitting “update” in iTunes.

    That last bit is in fact my whole point: it’s easier to play by the rules. The prison cell is very comfortable and the Mothership has provided everything the average user needs to survive.

  36. ZzFDKzZ says:

    I been using 3G for the last 2 years here in NYC. Works great over here.

  37. I’ve heard similar reports – not limited strictly to AT&T. If anyone wants to discuss this issue or similar issues (carriers promising and selling telecom and internet services they can’t deliver) feel free to get into contact with me. I have a feeling this will become a prominent litigation topic as hardware outstrips the capabilities of network infrastructure.

  38. oneliketadow says:

    So you get no coverage, but now you have $400 phone, a $80/mo plan and a $250 credit for a useless phone? Sounds like AT&T is the real winner here.

  39. silver-spork says:

    If anyone in northern New Castle county (DE) is having 3G problems, please speak up. My husband and I were planning on 3G iPhones next month when our current contract with AT&T is up.

    The voice coverage map seems accurate in this area though.

  40. toddkravos says:

    Cleveland, Ohio

    I’ve found a few 3G dead zones and low Edge signal strength while driving. Especially on the highways close to Lake Erie(90/2) But it’s not like I’m checking my mail while driving.

    More annoying are the high rise condos and apartments that sit on the lake (Lakewood,Ohio) 3G coverage is terrible unless you’re up against the window like Spiderman. Then only is it “eh okay”

  41. steininger says:

    @AgentTuttle: Why should the courts be coddling the ignorant of this country who fail to understand that signing a contract is a serious and binding matter? You’re informed of cancellation fees when you sign the contract, well assuming you read the document that stipulates a several thousand dollar expense.

  42. keleka says:

    The signature on the outgoing email on my iphone says:

    AT&T’s motto should be:
    “No bars in many, many places.”

    I had to move because I couldn’t make a phone call from my apartment. Left me stranded during one medical and one veterinary emergency.

    The 3G connection on my AT&T laptop wireless card in my new location is only 2 bars. At least I can make phone calls from here.

  43. ceriphim says:

    Missed the call because they were driving? Whaaa? You must not be from California. Most of the people here seem to consider driving optional while talking, not the other way around…

  44. meandi says:

    Excellent advice (concerning, printing the page to back up your initial impression of coverage) and I have to agree with the “I smell a class action lawsuit”…the contrast in information between Apple and AT&T is something they obviously need to fix.

    I’m also glad you feel like the $250.00 is adequately compensating you, in this matter. Sometimes these situations can’t helped, it’s nice to hear the 2 companies involved are trying to solve the situation, and work with you.

  45. robocop is bleeding says:

    My house is a black hole of AT&T coverage. I emailed to complain after a series of dropped calls made my Mom think she was being stalked by someone constantly going through a tunnel, but they didn’t do much. I checked the map before buying an iPhone and everything.

    In order to get at least some home use out of my phone, I had to set up a wireless network.

    No help from AT&T though. They did offer to sell me a 500$ signal booster, though, so I guess that’s how they hope to pay for these credits.

  46. belden says:

    @LoringGabsta: From []

    Fraud is defined as: “deceit, trickery, sharp practice, or breach of confidence, perpetrated for profit or to gain some unfair or dishonest advantage”

    I can understand being upset because the map they have on their website doesn’t match up with the actual coverage, but I don’t think the mismatch is intentional and I DEFINITELY don’t think it’s maliciously intentional. More than likely, it’s just an old map, the data is screwed up, the used measuring equipment that is not the same as the iPhone’s antenna, etc. Did you or anyone else try another 3G phone at the same location to verify that there is NO 3G coverage there?

    I wasn’t trying to be offensive or call you a liar or anything, it’s just that as a country people want to go to court over ANYTHING, and I teach kids who talk about “suing” anyone for anything that happens and when I ask them, they don’t even understand the basics of the law, and these are the future of America.

  47. coreyp319 says:

    @belden (forgot I had a consumerist login)

    I definitely understand your dismay at how litigious our society has become, although it would be prudent for AT&T to put more effort towards creating a more accurate map of coverage.

    At the least I expect that we might see more on this issue in the future if conditions do not improve.

  48. katoninetales says:

    @elislider: My local AT&T Rep was both helpful and honest. She wasn’t aware that the Blackberry did, in fact, have an online Yahoo IM on the mobile homepage even though the service book for it had been disabled (my ex told me how to reinstall it). However, she gave me no trouble whatsoever about buying a Blackberry with a voice/text plan only and told me I could add the Blackberry package if I wanted it later (my husband is stationed overseas, and I wanted to get the upgrade with new package now because I have little time when I can be in contact–being online for a little while on my work breaks in the mornings helps a lot–and because my old phone died, so I just went ahead and got the family package and mailed him the phone so he could use it on the way home).