If Only I Had Another 61 cents a month I could…
Courtesy Lee Hutchinson, ArsTechnica
The Verge and other sites are reporting that AT&T wireless customers will be seeing an additional charge on their bills this month in the form of an "administrative fee" of $0.61.
Enlarge / Oh, hello there, new fee.
The fee affects post-paid individual customers (i.e., people who receive a monthly wireless bill) and also corporate IRU customers (IRU stands for "Individual Responsibility User" and refers to a corporate account paid by the phone’s user instead of the user’s employer). According to some back-of-the-napkin math by The Verge, this new little fee could net AT&T several hundreds of millions of dollars per year.
AT&T has said that the fee will go to "certain expenses," including "interconnection and cell site rents and maintenance." The addition of an "administrative fee" sounds disturbingly shady (rather like the infamous "shipping and handling" fees on "AS SEEN ON TV!"-style products), but AT&T isn’t the only one playing the shady fee game: 9to5Mac notes that Verizon Wireless charges a $0.91 admin fee, and Sprint’s admin fee is a whopping $1.99.
The fee is already appearing on wireless bills, and there isn’t really a recourse for consumers who don’t want to beef up AT&T’s administrative coffers—or is there? TheTechBlock has a short pieceexplaining that the AT&T wireless customer agreement contains language that AT&T might have overlooked. Specifically, the agreement notes that AT&T will disclose billing changes to customers at least one cycle in advance, and if it fails to do so, the customer can cancel their contract without paying an early termination fee.
Whether or not this administrative fee qualifies as a "change" under the terms of the agreement is questionable, but it’s possible that the fee might give customers the option to get out of their contracts with AT&T if they wish. Don’t count on trying that avenue without a fight, though; "customer agreements" are by their nature almost never structured to give any advantages to the customer.