AT&T can’t help you — NEXT!

By | August 22nd, 2015

William Leeper has been an AT&T customer for 11 years. So when he fell into some hard times and asked them to work with him on his bill, he expected them to help him out. It didn’t go quite as he had hoped.

Leeper has AT&T’s NEXT Plan, an early upgrade program which allows customers to pay 30 percent of the cost of their phone at the outset, then be able to upgrade after just 12 months. The customer must also pay a monthly fee of 5 percent of the purchase price. There are also plans for upgrading at 18 and 24 months. Sprint tried a similar program called One Up, which they dropped after a mere four months, but AT&T’s program seems to be working well so far.

Leeper was having a myriad of problems and contacted AT&T’s customer care to get them resolved. His first issue was that over the course of the 11 years, his bill gradually increased to the point where the service was no longer affordable for him. His second issue was that he had “a mishap” and lost his iPhone 5c. Leeper upgraded to an iPhone 5, purchasing the phone locally, and contacted AT&T to terminate the NEXT Plan. His understanding was that “I can upgrade the device and make no further payments, and I was told that was not an option unless I had insurance.” Which, apparently, he did not. A summary about the NEXT Plan includes the following: “If you cancel your AT&T service before your device is paid off in full, you will be required to pay the outstanding balance.”

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Leeper’s troubles continued. The company he worked for was terminating everyone, and the employees would then be absorbed into another company. Because of this situation, Leeper was not going to get paid for several weeks. His account was set up for an automatic payment date, so he contacted AT&T to push that date out. However, representatives could not override the system. They canceled his payment and told him that his service would be interrupted. Leeper spoke to two representatives and two supervisors, but the issue was not resolved.

He then emailed an executive at AT&T, Mr. Laurie. Customer Appeals Manager Stephanie Wilson called Leeper back, saying she would talk to the revenue management department and call him back, but she did not. She did send an email, after she had reviewed the situation. She told Leeper, “The Financial Department advised me that the payment arrangement cannot be changed at this time, due to the status of the account. To change the arrangement, a payment of at least the $197.48 will have to be paid.

“In regard to the NEXT plan removal, the installment balance is not amended or canceled. Regrettably, if you do not have the phone anymore, it is still your responsibility for paying for it.”

She told him that in order to reduce his bill, Leeper would need to cut down his data usage. Currently, he was using all the 10GB/$100 of his plan. If he wanted to reduce his payments, she advised him to choose a smaller data plan and watch his usage carefully. She pointed out that he could also cancel an additional phone line that he had (which was not under contract) and save himself $21 a month.

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Wilson sent another email, requesting that Leeper call her. After attempting to both call and email Wilson repeatedly, with no response, Leeper contacted Christopher Elliott to file a complaint.

Once Leeper signed up for the NEXT Plan, he was bound to it. AT&T’s stance is that just because he lost his phone, he is not absolved from his contract, and they want him to pay his bill. As far as getting his charges reduced, it is clear that Leeper needs to pare down his data usage – if he cannot afford $100 for 10GB, he needs to choose a plan he can afford rather than expecting AT&T to give him a break on the cost. And he should cancel the line that is not under contract to save himself additional charges.

Leeper is unhappy that Wilson has not returned his calls or emails. Unless he is willing to make the changes she advises in her correspondence to him, what else is there for her to say at this point?

Do you agree? Or is AT&T being unreasonable and should they, as Leeper states, “make an exception and assist me”? Should Christopher Elliott advocate this case?

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