How I Left AT&T for Something Better and Saved Money Doing it

Unlike most of the posts you’ll find on the Frugal Geek, this one is going to be somewhat personal, and possibly a little controversial. I try my hardest to be as objective as possible when reviewing a service, device, or program. It’s important to me that each and every subject be covered as impartially as possible and given a fair shake. If the first generation of a gadget was absolutely terrible, that’s not to say that version 2 or 3 won’t be breathtaking. There is one area in which my personal opinion really needs to be expressed and that’s AT&T.

I worked for AT&T once, and so did my wife. We worked hard for the company and did our very best during our time there to reflect good business standards and live up to what we perceived to be a steller experience for our customers. Over time, our jobs changed and our opinions remained somewhat steadfast that AT&T was a decent service provider.

More recently, however, AT&T has hit us with wave after wave of terms of service changes, bizarre and unpredictable charges, and otherwise unacceptable amounts of downtime. Between my wife and I, our mobile service and home U-verse plans cost us between $300-400 per month. This is not including a home phone or any television service at all. This is how much it costs to have smartphones and decent broadband at home. What we apparently aren’t paying for is stable uptime, consistent speeds, or a decent wireless router.

What we got was a flakey router the carrier refused to switch out after multiple visits to our apartment. Each time, they blamed us, that’s right US, for the router’s inability to maintain a solid connection. either a switch we installed down the line interrupted the connection or one of our computers were bogging it down. I may not be an expert on connectivity but after having worked tech support for an umber of years, I’d like to imagine I have at least a basic grasp of how a network works.

The next surprise we received as long-time customers was a terms of service change that put a cap on how much data we can send or receive each month. If we surpassed the cap, overage charges starting at $10 are assessed. This in the middle of a contract, not before or after. This means that unless we give up using Hulu for AT&T’s own U-verse TV service, we would face the potential of having to pay much more for our web connection.

My apartment complex has a contract with AT&T that states residents can only have AT&T U-Verse service for their home internet and no other provider can come out to the complex. This is sadly becoming a problem that most apartment dwellers are beginning to face as service providers fight to lock in territory free of competition. Finding an apartment isn’t so much about floor space and rental rates as it is determining which provider has proprietary control over the complex. My wife and I aren’t big fans of Time Warner, as they too decided to tinker with capping monthly usage, so we hunted for a place that didn’t force-feed tenants their service.

The absolute final straw in this whole debacle came when AT&T announced plans to acquire T-Mobile. If anyone out there believes the official AT&T word about this being a benefit of some kind to the consumer, you’re dreaming. Never has having no or little competition been in the best interest of the consumer. The reason Apple is loved so much by so many people is because they’re providing competition to Microsoft, Nokia, and Google. If Apple dominated every market and bought up their competition it would be better for their bottom line, but there would be no incentive to innovate beyond where they currently stand.

So with that said, I started searching for alternatives. Because we couldn’t have any wired service provided by any company other than AT&T, we looked to WiMax providers popular in the area. One such provider is Clear, which gives their customers unlimited data through the same tower network as Sprint.

I check out their plans and discovered a combo package that gives customers a 4G home modem that can be connected to a router for wireless and wired connectivity as well as a mobile hotspot that gives you access to the internet on WiFi enabled devices wherever you go within Clear’s 4G range. There are devices available through the service that aren’t picky about having a 4G connection, but I chose this one since I spend 99% of my time in a 4G zone.

This means my devices, including my iPad, iPod Touch, and notebook are connected to a pretty solid 4G network no matter where I am. As I mentioned in a previous article, a 4th generation iPod Touch and even an iPad can make a very handy mobile phone if paired with a VOIP service like Line2 or Skype. I managed to get this plan for $60/month which is an extremely steep drop from the outrageous $160 I was paying on AT&T for our limited U-verse connection and a single smartphone.

With almost $100/month saved and a portable hotspot in my pocket wherever I go, I don’t know why I bothered staying with AT&T for so long in the first place. My wife is still on AT&T wireless until her contract is up, but for now I hope AT&T will eventually understand that getting rid of your competition isn’t as big of a benefit to customers as just keeping their service up, and their terms and the rates consistent.

If you have any input on this subject, in agreement or disagreement, please comment below and let your voice be heard.

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Ryan Matthew Pierson