AT&T has angered many this week, when customers were flatly denied the ability to cancel service without paying an Early Termination Fee (ETF). There have been two, separate, material changes to the AT&T Terms and Conditions over the past month. Under AT&T’s Customer Code, a customer is allowed to cancel without paying a termination fee should AT&T make a material change to the customer’s terms of service.
Over a year ago, all carriers agreed (under terms set forth by the CTIA), that customers would be allowed to terminate service without paying a termination fee, should a carrier make any material changes to their terms of service. This previously was a hotly-debated issue, as some carriers actually insisted that a carrier could hold a customer to their contract term, while removing consumer benefits inside of the service itself.
The first Material Change started in late February, when AT&T modified its Arbitration Clause. Essentially, the new terms mandate that (not only can you not sue AT&T, for virtually any reason) but that you must arbitrate on AT&T’s terms. Worse, if you lose arbitration, you must now pay AT&T’s (exponentially higher) arbitration fees. This makes arbitration risky, unequal, and unfair to the consumer. It clearly is a material change to your contract.
The second Material Change stems from the Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) portion of the contract. Essentially (and as we previously reported), AT&T has added new terms that prevent the customer from webcasting (and in some cases, placeshifting), using their phone. If that’s greek to you, it basically means you can’t use the phone for Skype Video Calling, nor can you hook your phone up to a Slingbox or PC to share TV with a friend. Originally, these terms (first introduced in late March) went as far as to prohibit Slingbox viewing altogether, but AT&T revised them after consumer outcry.
Each of these are clearly material changes to your contract. In the first case, they limit how you can dispute AT&T problems (gee, like this one). And, in the second case, they limit what you are allowed to do with your phone (flying in the face of FCC mandate issued in the Comcast/BitTorrent ruling). So, you do indeed in our opinion have the right to cancel service for either reason.
What AT&T Should Do: Per their own Customer Code, AT&T must immediately open a 45 day window, where anyone can cancel service (for these reasons) sans ETF. Anyone that cancelled because of these reasons, but was still charged an ETF, should have those fees immediately refunded or credited back to them. And, we will take this one to the FCC if they don’t… but we strongly, strongly encourage you to file a complaint yourself.
AT&T Media Relations Director Mark Siegel, when contacted late last week, was unaware that any changes had been made to the AT&T Terms and Conditions.
We are continuing to work with AT&T to attempt to bring them up to speed, on their own contract changes, and their own Customer Code.
Hundreds of customers have reported in to PhoneNews.com as being shot down or generally refused in canceling their contracts, without paying a termination fee. Only a few (literally, a few) have reported getting their ETFs waived during or after cancellation.
What you should do: Cancel service in protest. AT&T clearly bungled this one, but they’re continuing to bungle it. Until they reform, port out as soon as possible to another carrier (even a prepaid one like Boost Unlimited). You can always come back (or port back) after 90 days as a new customer, and take advantage of new customer deals on phones.
Then, if/when you are charged an ETF, file BBB and FCC complaints. It’s simple, and takes about 10 minutes each to do.
The more people that cancel service, and are wrongly charged an ETF, the more people will complain to the FCC. Unfortunately, in this one, if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. We’ve cancelled our three accounts in the offices already (and yeah, they charged us over eleven ETFs).