I've just got back from ten days abroad (from Amsterdam to Israel to several cities in China) and while I was in China AT&T cut off my phone service. Why? Because I'd run up a $2,100 bill.
And how did that happen, when I hardly used the phone at all? Because the iPhone's email app keeps automatically fetching email every fifteen minutes even when it's roaming abroad. I know I am the last person on the planet to discover this, and I'm sure that it's my fault because at some point in the past I must have gotten annoyed by the roaming data warning and turned Data Roaming on, but the way AT&T handled this mistake is insane.
At around $2,000 (I didn't know the amount at the time) they sent me a text message saying only that my "international data use is high" and that I should call a US number (at $2/minute) to "prevent a costly bill". Needless to say, I had no idea what "high" meant, and I wasn't inclined to incur a huge voice bill from China for the privilege of hanging on hold with customer service for the usual 20 minutes simply to find out what this text message meant.
And the next day they shut off my phone and froze my account. To their credit, they have since offered to retroactively put me on an international data roaming plan that would cut the bill to $300 or so, but because I didn't call customer service from China when I got that message, they're having trouble putting this through. So for now, the bill stands.
Needless to say, AT&T could have easily avoided screwing me like this. For instance, they could have:
- Sent the text message earlier, at, say, $200, rather than $2,000.
- Actually written the text message so it was helpful. Customer service told me they couldn't send the horrifying dollar amount "for privacy reasons", but surely a tip like "iPhone users: turn off Data Roaming by going to Settings/General/Network" would have given me something I could actually use.
- Given me the option/suggestion to subscribe to the International Data Roaming package right there in the text message. Or if it had to be done by phone, at least let me know why I should be calling.
- Found a more graceful way to halt my spending without stranding me with a totally dead phone. Surely they could have turned off data without turning off voice, or even left me with text messaging as a lifeline.
Now I have another hour or two on the phone with customer services to look forward to as we try to sort this out. Whatever AT&T made from me in roaming charges, they're going to lose in customer support costs. To say nothing of my good will.
How can AT&T be smart enough to offer a revolutionary device like the iPhone, which is all about delightful user experience, and yet let their own customer communications be a chilling reminder how little phone companies care about their users? There, in a nutshell, is the case for the unlocked iPhone.