T-Mobile's free DIRECTV NOW deal is full of gotchas

The 'Un-carrier' continues to roll out offers that sound too good to be true ... until you read the fine print. T-Mobile's latest DIRECTV Now ploy is an all-out insult to AT&T.

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REUTERS/Rick Wilking

I sometimes feel like a broken record pointing out the flaws in T-Mobile's various "deals." The self-styled "Un-carrier" keeps rolling out offers that are never quite what they seem — its "free" iPhone 7 ploy and big discounts on Pixel Android phones are good examples.

Here we go again. T-Mobile's just-announced plan to win customers from AT&T by giving them a free year of DIRECTV NOW simple isn't worth the trouble of switching.

DIRECTV NOW, which debuted last month, is weaker than other similar streaming video options, such as SlingTV. It has limited content, no record feature, and it has been plagued by technical glitches. Streamed DIRECTV NOW content is also limited to 480p quality, which might be fine if you stream to a phone or tablet. But it's pretty ragged if you cast it to a good-sized monitor or TV. (CIO.com's news service, the IDG News Service, has a more positive view.)

On the plus side, streamed DIRECTV content won't eat into new T-Mobile customers' monthly data allotments. And to be fair, if you were thinking of switching to T-Mobile anyway, the new deal makes now a great time to do so. T-Mobile's network is solid, particularly in major metro areas, and service is generally cheaper than AT&T. You wouldn't have to pay for the DIRECTV NOW, so why not enjoy it?

How T-Mobile's DIRECTV NOW offer works

You have to be an AT&T customer, port your existing phone number over to T-Mobile, and then sign up for a T-Mobile One plan for at least two separate lines. The DIRECTV plan included for free as part of the offer is worth $35 a month, which you get as a credit on 12 bills, for a total of $420, or more than half the cost of a high-end smartphone. However, you get the lowest DIRECTV NOW tier, which AT&T calls "Live a Little." The service includes at least 60 channels.

There is a bit of an irony here. AT&T bought DIRECTV, a satellite TV provider, for $48.5 billion in 2014, and the company now bundles it with other services. Using AT&T's own service as bait to lure customers away is exactly the kind of in-your-face action, T-Mobile's chief, John Legere, loves. "AT&T wants you to think DIRECTV is theirs exclusively, but that's a load of crap," he said in a press release. "Both DIRECTV NOW and the DIRECTV apps stream free on T-Mobile with a faster, more advanced network that covers nearly every American."

The full-featured DIRECTV satellite TV service is available to AT&T broadband subscribers as part of a bundle. If you're an AT&T wireless customer, DIRECTV NOW costs you $35 a month, but you can watch as much programming as you want on your mobile device, and it won't count against your data cap.

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