When Your Unlimited Phone Plan Suddenly Has Limits

PHOTO: In this Oct. 19, 2009 file photo, the AT&T logo is on display at a RadioShack store in Gloucester, Mass. On April 21, 2014, AT&T said that it plans a major expansion of super-fast Internet services to cover as many as 100 municipalities.

Dear ABC News Fixer: I have three phone lines with AT&T, and back when I got them in 2008 they required that you purchase an unlimited data plan for each phone. Things were great until I upgraded my fiancee’s phone from an iPhone 3GS to an iPhone 4 in October 2010.

I activated the new phone at an AT&T store. I specifically told the clerk that I did not want to lose the unlimited data plan. He assured me that everything would stay the same, and I foolishly believed him.

Much later, I started getting notifications that we were going over the limit on that phone. I found out that AT&T had changed my plan without my permission. When I asked for paperwork with my signature consenting to this change, they say they couldn't provide it. They said there's nothing they can do and it's been too long!

The last time I called, the AT&T rep told me their corporate office could change it back by inputting a special code in the computer. However, they refused to give me the phone number for someone who could fix this. I have been an AT&T customer for years. All I want is my data plan back.

- Christopher Vega, Santa Rose, Calif.

Dear Christopher: The weirdest part is after you upgraded your fiancee’s phone in October 2010, you upgraded the other two phones – yours and your mom’s -- to an iPhone 4S and an iPhone 5, but both of those phones remained on the original unlimited data plan even though your fiancee’s did not.

When we contacted AT&T’s corporate offices to ask about your account, they said that consumers need to complain within 100 days of a change. You were obviously way outside that timeframe. But you told us you didn’t notice the disappearing data right away because the clerk had signed you up for paperless billing and you were auto-paying your bill each month. As a result, you didn’t realize there was a problem until mid-2012, when you began getting notifications about going over the limit.

AT&T told us they stopped offering their older unlimited data plans in June 2010. Now customers are steered toward a variety of new choices, such as a 20GB “bucket” plan that can be shared over three lines with unlimited calling, texting and unlimited messaging to select foreign countries, plus cloud storage.

In the end, someone from AT&T’s office of the president called you and said that given all the circumstances, they were willing to reinstate your unlimited data for $30 or you could choose one of their newer plans. You opted for your original unlimited data plan and are happy with the fix.

The lesson for the rest of us? If you have an old unlimited plan that you want to keep for a new phone, be sure to check your account immediately after activation and in the months that follow. If the data plan is not what you ordered, complain immediately.

And generally, when choosing a cell phone carrier, research which company performs best in your geographic area. Take advantage of the carrier’s trial period, and if you notice dropped calls or other performance issues, get out of the contract before early termination fees kick in. Trying to back out after the trial period will be an exercise in frustration.

- The ABC News Fixer

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