Friday, May 23, 2014

Don't Look Behind the Curtain

The curtain is the one that revealed the Wizard of Oz wasn't so wizard-ly after all.  In our case, if you find a good bargain in wireless, don't mess with it.  Today's biggest bargains are found by switching from one of the main carriers' plans to one of the bargain prepaid operators.  You could save as much as 50%.  This is a big deal when your monthly bill goes from, say, $90 to $45.  Be aware, these bargains come at a price.

Savings come from dealing with these companies in the cheapest way possible, either online or with offshore customer service.  Sometimes you need to ignore the little annoyances, including the ones that cost a few dollars.  One reader shared his story about dealing with one of the America Movil companies.  He was thrilled to have a big gob of Data for, say, $45 per month, and all the Talk & Text he could eat, only to be surprised that taxes were added.  Now he's closer to $50 per month.  He then took advantage of a $2.50 discount for Auto-Pay and found himself paying closer to the expected $45 per month.

Our friend then bought a new phone and found out it took a different size SIM.  He wasn't too put off about having to PAY for a new SIM, but later he found he was charged for "FREE" Shipping.  He called to complain and the carrier was happy to credit his account by adding one week of service.  He thought that was a good deal until he was notified that his Auto-Pay took place on the old date.  He called back to have them correct the Auto-Pay date which they were happy to adjust.

So far, so good, right?  Nope. When you change the Auto-Pay date you lose the $2.50 Auto-Pay discount.  That was a "promotion".  Our boy realizes dealing with the "alternative" carriers is different than dealing with the major carriers.  Getting a bargain does have a few "costs".  Just don't look behind the curtain.  Come Toto.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

America Movil and AT&T to Part Ways

The back story behind the AT&T/DirecTV merger is that if the combination is approved, AT&T becomes a new competitor to America Movil in Latin America.  AT&T executives have already resigned from the America Movil Board of Directors, and AT&T has placed their ownership in America Movil up for sale. This could also directly affect US wireless customers.

Any changes would be slowed by existing contracts, but let's look at what could happen with America Movil and AT&T no longer giving each other favorable treatment:

  • America Movil may need to pay higher roaming fees to use the AT&T network which may require higher prices, or reductions in features or data limits for US users, or potentially roaming available in fewer areas.  Remember, Straight Talk, NET10 and TracFone have no US network of their own.
  • AT&T customers may no longer have preferential roaming abilities in America Movil areas in Mexico and other Latin American countries, most notably our favorite deal of .25/minute Mexico roaming on AT&T GoPhone.
  • T-Mobile may rise to become the roaming leader in these Latin American countries, either with existing deals made outside of America Movil or with new deals that may offer greater competition to AT&T.
Of course, none of these changes may occur.  There are millions of dollars at stake and all of these companies may need to maintain the status quo to survive in a falling-rate environment.  Indeed, the sky may not be falling.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Cellular One in Montana Shuts Down

A sharp-eyed reader in Montana has reported that Cellular One (MTPCS) of Montana has decided to discontinue service as of the end of July, 2014.   This leaves some rural properties still being operated by this Cellular One in Lousiana and Texas, and the Broadpoint network in the Gulf of Mexico.  As with many shrinking local operators, Cellular One couldn't find a buyer for their network or their spectrum.  AT&T will offer some discounts for Cellular One switchers and they also offer superior coverage on the old Alltel network.

Over the years we have been checking in with Cellular One to see if we could update our Montana coverage maps and found indeed, none of the areas shown as "future coverage" ever materialized.  Also, Cellular One's Rating slips down a notch due to their need to roam on other networks for urban coverage.

It's also a shame that no other operator will step in take over the network.  Even at "free" the network must be too expensive to operate.  I'm sure we will hear more stories like this.