Thursday, November 03, 2011

Giving your old iPhone to your kid: working around AT&T's mandatory data plan

This is the season for corporate evil. First Google nukes my memory, then AT&T Wireless messes with our family mobile phone plan.

So I'm replacing Google Reader share and my kids phone plan at the same time. So much for my cognitive surplus.

The boys iPhone use had been working out well. They've been using battered old iPhone 3G and 3GSs inherited from Emily and I. Added to our family plan each kid costs us are $12/month with no data and $7.50/month text [2]. The phones are parental controlled - so no browser access, but when there's wifi they get email. They also get Navigon for GPS (no data needed), lots of apps [3], music, tv shows [4], movies, etc.

That just changed. AT&T whacked us with an automatic $30/month mandatory data plan on a phone that has never used cellular data [5]. (and, coincidentally, knocked out the texting service when cellular data was disabled). I won't go through the sordid details here, but do follow the link if you're interested. If you're in MN, feel free to do like me and submit a complaint to our AG.

Supposedly the fee has been reversed [6]. Now I need a plan B.

We can rule out paying a monthly data fee in the absence of a contract. That's what AT&T is lusting after. With a subsidized iPhone they have to send part of that fee to Apple, with an 'bring-your-own-iPhone' (BYOI) they keep the whole thing. This is what they live for.

So the options are some combination of:

  1. Sell the old 3Gs/3GS and use the money to buy two refurbished iPod Touchs. Buy cheap dumbphones for the kids. One guy uses his voice/text so little we could drop his coverage.
  2. Study other vendors and see what their BYOI policy is. Consider switching next summer/fall and pay the exit cost for Emily's 4S.
  3. Get an iPhone 4s and an iPhone 4 under contract. I take the 4s. Sell my iPhone 4 and the brand new iPhone 4 and accept the minimal AT&T data fee $15/month. Dump the text plan, have AT&T turn off texting for the kids, and use Facebook messenger. (since Emily and I can use Apple's messenger service).
  4. Drop our family plan altogether. Kids use Paygo SIMs, maybe with jailbreaking. Emily and I go single with separate discounts and cheaper LOS. Could save significantly.
  5. We're paying $30/month for family messaging unlimited with mobile-to-mobile calling. I think AT&T snuck that one in during a recent service change. They're good at being bad. If we do a minimal data plan for the kids, and I put iOS 5 on my phone, we can drop this money sucking item.
  6. Jailbreak and use with T-mobile paygo

Hmm. There are some good options in here. I might start with #5 for now -- since the costs are about the same. Then I'll look at the other options.

Maybe I can make AT&T pay for making me think about this. And if I can help others, then they'll pay some more.

- fn-

[1] List $10/month plus another $2 in unlisted fees. In general true base charges from AT&T are 20% higher than listed charges. [2] Unlimited family plan/4.  [3] Because FairPlay allows kids apps and any media to be shared, and iPhone games are inexpensive, an iPhone is the world's cheapest game console by a large margin. [4] The 12yo spends his chore money on Dilbert cartoons for $2/apiece.  [5] Curiously when they did this they also disabled SMS/MMS. So SMS/MMS works without a data plan, but when a data plan exists it is used. Feels like a bit of a scam.  [6] AT&T gets about $5,500 from our family every two years. In other words, our mobile plan costs rival the costs of operating a car. That may be why they reversed. Or not; we are small in their eyes.

See also:

Update 11/4/2011: I bought a $15 data plan for one child, put the other's SIM in a dumbphone and discontinued worthless SmartLimits. So I'm behind $10/month for now. I'm concerned about tracking data usage even with YouTube, Safari and iTunes locked out. I'm planning to test a H2O Wireless SIM Card (no jailbreak or unlocking for AT&T phones, voice/text only) then test an AT&T PAYG SIM (voice/text). I'm also testing Facebook Messenger and looking to SMS alternatives. If I take the boys off the family plan I'll port their numbers to Google Voice (take that AT&T!).

Although the H2O website doesn't say anything at all about iPhone users, there's a MyH2O app on the App Store. However the H2O wireless cards expire after 30 days, so they're better suited to a heavy voice/data user than to our guys; there's really no saving over our family plan.

I still don't understand the AT&T PAYG plans. Their web site isn't too helpful. Is it really $30/month minimum, or is that somehow an initial payment with an expiration > 30 days? Consumer Reports tells us ... "AT&T's prepaid Go Phone service was among the lowest-scoring no-contract services in our Ratings."

BTW, Google search is a complete failure on this topic. The spammers have won.

Update 11/30/2011: How it ended. Victory! Lots of links to related strategies.

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