AT&T quietly increased the cost of its U-Verse service, which can include Internet, television and landline service. The increase isn’t all that much–from $3 to $7 a month depending on service plans–but it’s another example of why you might want to avoid U-Verse altogether.
First the rate increase. The monthly price for all U-Verse TV service plans (with the exception of U-basic) will increase $2 a month. The surcharge, as AT&T calls it, is “to recover a portion of the amount local broadcasters charge AT&T to carry their channels.”
Calling the increase a surcharge allows AT&T to bury the fee in fine print and still advertise the service at the lower rate, a sleazy tactic, but a common one in the world of telecommunications.
The monthly price forallU-Verse High Speed Internet packages will increase $3.00 per month. That increase is pretty straightforward, but the next bit is murky. “Subscribers that are not currently paying a monthly fee for High Speed Internet equipment for Wi-Fi-enabled Wireless Gateway will begin to see a $2 per month charge for that equipment beginning with the January 27, 2013 billing invoice.” That sounds to me like some people will be paying an additional $2 a month on top of the $3 increase. (I have a call in to AT&T for a clarification and will update this post when I get it.) AT&T posted a notice of the increases on its website. Maybe you can figure it out.
Reports suggest some customers are complaining that they didn’t know a thing about the rate increases until they got a bill, and at least one customer told me the same thing. AT&T, though, says notices did go out, and to be fair, it’s easy enough to overlook email from your carrier or have it wind up in the spam bucket.
If U-Verse genuinely provided a solid service, I probably wouldn’t be making an issue out of a relatively small rate increase. But it isn’t, at least where broadband service is concerned.
AT&T calls its broadband “high-speed” Internet and hints that it’s fiber to the home. Actually, it’s neither. U-Verse is a hybrid technology that uses fiber to connect to a local switch, called a cabinet, and then plain old copper from the cabinet to the home. Real fiber to the home is much, much faster.
More important than the false label is the level of service U-Verse provides. Take a look at these offerings for standalone Internet service. It’s so-called Pro service costs $41 a month (not including equipment charges) and promises a download speed of up to (which means you often won’t get it) 3 Mbps. The FCC defines broadband speed as at least 4 Mbps. For another $5 a month you can become “Elite” and get up to 6 Mbps. You don’t get close to cable speeds unless you pay $56 a month for 18 Mbps.
If you buy the Internet service as a part of a bundle that includes TV and landline service, the cost for the Internet component is lower. It’s not faster, but it is cheaper. It turns out though, that U-Verse TV and phone are not available everywhere. I checked and found that these offerings are not available in my neighborhood, and I don’t exactly live in the sticks. I’m in a relatively-affluent section of San Francisco.
If you’re looking for these services, I’d suggest you seek alternatives to U-Verse. Also note that bundling isn’t always the best way to go. Sometimes combining services from several different carriers gets you more bang for your buck.
San Francisco journalist Bill Snyder writes frequently about business and technology. His work appears regularly in CIO.com and the publications of Stanford's Graduate School of Business and the Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley. He welcomes your comments and suggestions.