AT&T Will Force Your Data Plan For Your Unlocked Out-of-Contract "Smart" Phone

I haven't had a data plan in years.

I have my own reasons, I travel out of the country enough that I don't like having a contract if I can help it. I like to keep those costs as low as possible (especially if I'm out of the country & not using it) and spend money on other important things like my business.

That's usually not a problem. I usually just get the basic call/text plan and keep things simple. Fine with me. Because of this, for the past 2-3 years, I've had a flip phone - yes from the stone ages. It was actually quite nice as I'm on my computer enough – I don't need to constantly check my email.

That said, 4-5 months ago, the hardware on my old flip phone was dying (that happens when it's from 2008). I was out of contract with AT&T and so I could have chose to get a new subsidized phone & shiny new 2-year contract with them, but I simply bought a used out-of-contract iPhone 4 from my friend and swapped in my sim card (that whole commitment thing again). Again, no problems. America! Neat.

After using the iPhone as a dumb phone for all intents & purposes (call, text, no data) for the last 4-5 months or so, I get a text message out of the blue from AT&T that they've detected I'm using a smart phone and that all smart phones require a data plan - never mind that I actually had data turned off. That would be only a little annoying if it was just a notification message, but they went ahead, chose a data plan for me, and started billing me from then on.

However, they maintained that just because I was using a "smart" phone (that was not using data & for all intents & purposes a "dumb" phone) on their network, they could automatically start charging me for a data plan that I wasn't using.

Obviously, if you get into a contract with AT&T from buying a subsidized phone, you have to have a data plan – I get that – that's the concession you make when you sign up for that 2 year contract.  But, I bought mine second-hand, out of contract, turned off data, didn't use it and had no intention to in the future.

After about an hour on the phone with them trying to understand "our deal", I think I finally figured it out:

According to AT&T:

They can opt me into a contract that I didn't agree to because I was using a phone that I didn't buy from them because it had the ability to use data that I wasn't using (and was turned off). To top it all off, they got the privilege of charging me for it because I bought a differently categorized device – even though the actual usage of their network did not change at all and I never reconstituted a new agreement with them.

According to them, this is "standard practice."

Their solution: either get a basic phone (pretty hard to find one without failing hardware these days) or if you ever want to use a smart phone (even if you don't buy it from us or use data), you'll still have to have a data plan.

Cool story AT&T.