This Is Why People Hate the Phone Company, AT&T

By Will Smith

AT&T's triumphant announcement of its long-awaited 3G Microcell calls into sharp relief the fact that we shouldn't have to suffer telecom thievery for much longer

Reading AT&T's announcement that the nationwide rollout of its femtocell product--called the Microcell 3G--is about to begin called into sharp relief the level at which I expect to get screwed by the phone company. About halfway through decoding the PR doublespeak, I had an epiphany. It was if I suddenly saw the words on the page for the very first time. I'm so used to the phone company selling me services I don't need at a price that's unreasonable (bordering on ludicrous) that I'd moved beyond apathy to blind acceptance. Let's break down the femtocell announcement, one paragraph at a time. 

AT&T* today announced that AT&T 3G MicroCell plans to begin its national roll out beginning in mid April, with new markets activating in cities across the continental U.S. for the next several months.  AT&T 3G MicroCell is an innovative solution that allows residential customers to route wireless phone calls and data connections (or sessions) across a home broadband connection. This solution is designed to benefit customers who live in homes that have coverage impediments that consistently interrupt wireless spectrum, such as dense wall and roof construction or unfavorable terrain. 

What does all this mean? It's simple. AT&T will finally start rolling out its 3G Microcell in mid-April, with nationwide coverage coming online over the next several months. The Microcell is a device designed solely to plug holes in AT&T's network--it creates a tiny 3G cellular tower for your use in your home that connects to the rest of AT&T's network using  YOUR  broadband connection. Also, the problems that cause your dropped calls (coverage impediments) are mostly your fault, not AT&T's.  

AT&T 3G MicroCell is the only femtocell to support both 3G data and voice services.  Developed in conjunction with Cisco and in a public trial in select markets since September, AT&T 3G MicroCell is available for a one-time cost of $149.99.

$150!!!! Wow, I have to pay $150 because AT&T's shitty network only works in my bathroom? Should a customer who has signed a 2 year contract worth about $100/month have to pay to extend AT&T's network to cover someplace that they spend 12+ hours a day? That's just insane. Also, it seems kind of neat that the Microcell supports 3G data services, but it's a useless feature. Who's going to spend money on one of these that doesn't already have a $50 Wi-Fi access point? Does anyone not have Wi-Fi now?  Are there smartphones without Wi-Fi? If there are, I haven't used one since I ditched Windows Mobile. 

Consumers manage AT&T 3G MicroCell though their online MyWireless account at Through this online management, only those phones chosen by the customer may use the MicroCell. Customers may define up to 10 lines to have access and up to four may operate on it simultaneously. Minutes used through the MicroCell affect only the account of the phone making the call – there is no requirement to purchase separate service for the 3G MicroCell.

Even if I'm willing to pay $150 to extend AT&T's shitty 3G network, it will only be accessible to 10 lines, and it will almost certainly be a pain in the ass to add or remove lines. So, when my iPhone toting friends are down to play Rock Band, they too can enjoy getting 5 voice mails the moment they leave the house, each from a call that never rang inside the AT&T black hole that is my home. There is one spot of good news here though, buried at the end of the paragraph: AT&T has decided graciously not to charge me a monthly fee for the privilege of fixing its network. But wait, that sentence right before it, about the minutes? Does that mean I'm still going to be charged for minutes, even when dialing out over my broadband connection instead of AT&T's spendy wireless network? Are they fucking kidding me?

In addition, AT&T will offer a companion rate plan option for MicroCell customers – especially customers on Family Talk plans -- who want to supplement their existing voice plans.  For $19.99 a month, individual or Family Talk customers can make unlimited calls through a 3G MicroCell, without using minutes in their monthly wireless voice plan.

Oh I get it now. This is a revenue opportunity. You know, for AT&T. For $150 down, I can use my broadband connection to extend AT&T's shitty network, but if I don't want those calls to eat my minutes I have to pay ANOTHER $20 a month? This is extortion.  

Consumers who select 3G MicroCell calling plans at purchase are also eligible to receive a $100 mail-in-rebate toward the purchase of AT&T 3G MicroCell – effectively making the device about $50. Customers who also purchase a new line of broadband service with AT&T (DSL or U-verse 1.5MB or higher) are also eligible for $50 via mail-in-rebate– effectively making the device about $100.  If a customer is eligible for both rebate options, the customer will be able to get the device for $0, after mail-in rebate.

Ooh, so if I downgrade my cable broadband to 6Mbit/s DSL or promise to pay you $240 next year  in monthly fees for the privilege of using my broadband connection to make your shitty network better, I can get a few bucks off the device? That sounds like a great deal guys! Thanks a bundle AT&T!

*AT&T imposes: a Regulatory Cost Recovery Charge of up to $1.25 to help defray costs incurred in complying with obligations and charges imposed by State and Federal telecom regulations; State and Federal Universal Service charges; and surcharges for government assessments on AT&T. These fees are not taxes or government-required charges. (Edit: plus a whole lot more fine print)

Oh, also we're going to charge you $1.25 (probably a month) because we can. It's not required, but if we put that number down toward the bottom of the bill, with all the other tax crap, most of you probably won't notice. 

So, here's my problem. A femtocell is a device whose sole purpose is to help fill gaps in wireless networks. Instead of using it as a way to turn unhappy customers into happy customers, AT&T is treating the femtocell as another way to squeeze their already victimized customer for another $20 a month. It even seems like a good deal, especially the first time your teenage kid blew out your minutes and landed you a $500 phone bill. But, AT&T, times they're a-changin'. 

One of  those  carriers who aren't sitting on an iPhone monopoly and praying that the 3G network doesn't completely crumble before 4G is ready (you have been investing in 4G, right? You sure as hell aren't spending anything keeping 3G awesome), are going to stop screwing customers by billing based on antiquated concepts like voice minutes used and text messages sent. After all, do you buy gas based on the number of miles driven? Do you pay for food by the calorie? No. Instead they'll switch to a measure that actually makes sense-- billing customers based on the actual amount of data that they use. And when that happens, your $15 unlimited texting plan and $40 pseudo-unlimited data plan will make you long for the days when shitty 3G connections in San Francisco and Manhattan were your biggest problems. 

In the meantime, I'll continue taking calls in the bathroom. Thanks anyway, AT&T.