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AT&T customers, check your plan once in a while

CNET's Dong Ngo, an iPhone user, discovered he has been charged by AT&T for MobileTV, a service that's not available for the iPhone.

Dong Ngo SF Labs Manager, Editor / Reviews
CNET editor Dong Ngo has been involved with technology since 2000, starting with testing gadgets and writing code for CNET Labs' benchmarks. He now manages CNET San Francisco Labs, reviews 3D printers, networking/storage devices, and also writes about other topics from online security to new gadgets and how technology impacts the life of people around the world.
Dong Ngo
3 min read
AT&T charges an iPhone user with a service that's not available on the iPhone. Screenshot by Dong Ngo/CNET

I've been a customer of AT&T ever since 2003, when I got myself my first cell phone ever, and I've been a very good one. The proof: I set my bill to autopay from day one and even convinced a few friends to move to AT&T (mostly so that we don't have to use the minutes to talk to each other.)

I found out Thursday that AT&T hasn't been very nice to me.

I called the company's customer service as there was a noticeable increase on my August bill. A helpful customer representative named Gilbert immediately took care of the false charge without much ado. While waiting for him to get the job done, I ran through my online bill and found a monthly charge of $9.99 for MobileTV service, which I had no idea existed in my plan.

I brought this up to Gilbert and we found out that I've been paying for that service since forever (the last bill kept on the record, May 2008, also showed that I paid for it.)

MobileTV is a service available only to select AT&T smartphones. The service is generally included on the new handset as a trial. I must have accidentally subscribed to it way back when I was still using the AT&T Tilt (I moved to the iPhone 3G in August 2008) as, honestly, I didn't recall even trying this; I hardly ever watch TV. The sad truth is I wouldn't have been able to use MobileTV at all for more than a year even if I had wanted to, as the service has never been available to the iPhone.

I explained that to Gilbert and asked if I could be refunded in full for the time I obviously couldn't use the service. After taking some time to talk to his manager, he told me that according AT&T's policy he could only refund me up to three months. "Basically if you don't wanna change anything on your plan after three months, that means you are happy with it," Gilbert added.

I asked him for a copy of the policy, but he told me I needed to go to a store to get a copy of that. I tried to find that online but none of the AT&T's terms of service mentioned anything about the refund policy. In doing this I, by the way, couldn't find any place where the company's terms of service would enforce the fact that customers must be informed on what they pay for, either.

I tried to reach AT&T for comment and further information on its policy, but so far my call hasn't been returned.

Anyhow, what bothers me the most is the fact that when you get the iPhone, the AT&T (or Apple) representatives who sign you up will inform you that you'll need to pay for a unlimited data plan and there's no way out of it. They then go ahead and change your phone plan to meet this requirement. Yet, at the same time, in my case, they didn't remove or even inform me about a subscription-based service already on my plan that I wouldn't be able to use with the iPhone.

And this didn't happen twice, first when I purchased the iPhone 3G in August 2008 and the second time when I upgraded to the iPhone 3GS just a while ago.

If only AT&T had a policy to make sure its customers know what is in their plan so that unsuspecting ones like me won't have to waste $10/month for something that's never used. Hopefully this will change in the future.

In the meantime, if you use AT&T, make sure you check your bill once in a while, because chances are you might be paying for something you can't use at all.