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Last Updated: February 22nd, 2011

The state of North American cellular contract plans might be something that makes Europeans shake their heads in disbelief, but when it comes to phone pricing, Americans have always had it pretty good. Hand over your soul for two years, get Phone X for free (after MIR). Well, it looks like AT&T doesn't think that's the best way to go. No, that doesn't mean cheaper tariffs; don't be silly. Instead, it means more expensive phones, of course! AT&T has just about had enough with the likes of Wirefly and Let's Talk offering their phones for free online, when they could be making $200 on them in their own retail stores.

As a result, AT&T handsets will, from March 8th onwards, only be vendible in bricks-and-mortar stores or on the carrier's website. Walmart and Radio Shack's online sales are also done through the aforementioned duo of online sellers, so you may well have to give their websites a miss, and head straight to your AT&T-approved local if you're looking to pick up our recently-reviewed HTC Inspire 4G. It's an interesting tactic from AT&T, and one that is surely a defensive move in the light of a certain exclusive's lapse.

We've gotten in touch with our friends at Wirefly, and we'll let you know what they think of this move when we hear back. Stay tuned. We'll also have to wait and see whether or not this affects the Amazon Wireless sales channel as well.

This is the email sent out to Let's Talk affiliates, which makes this sound pretty official to us:

We're reaching out to let you know of an upcoming change to our carrier offering.  Effective March 8th, 2011, LetsTalk as well as other web indirect agents, including Simplexity (Wirefly), will no longer be able to offer AT&T Wireless as a carrier option to our customers.  The primary reasons given for this change in AT&T's business strategy were centered around AT&T cost savings and retrenchment.  We realize this may cause an impact to your business and will do everything we can to assist you with this transition.

Update: Wirefly posted this official blurb on their blog:

A Letter to Our Valued Customers from the CEO

Since 2003, Wirefly has remained the Internet's #1 authorized retailer of cell phones and plans. We have achieved this success by delivering on our promise of:

  • 1. Better Selection
  • 2. Greater Savings
  • 3. Straightforward Pricing
  • 4. Free FedEx Shipping Both Ways
  • 5. Your Satisfaction Guaranteed

Unfortunately, circumstances prevent us from being able to deliver on this promise with regard to AT&T phones. It is therefore with regret that I must inform you that effective March, 2011, we will no longer offer AT&T products and services on Wirefly.com.

If you purchase an AT&T phone through Wirefly, you are still protected by the Wirefly Satisfaction Guarantee, offering free returns for any reason for up to 30 days after purchase; and of course, you can still bring your phone to a local AT&T store at any time for questions, assistance, or warranty issues.

As circumstances allow, we will work with AT&T toward the goal of offering their products and services again in the future.

In the meantime, our priority continues to be delivering a superior way to shop for the latest offerings from Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile, Sprint, and our expanding list of prepaid carriers including Net10, TracFone, and soon MetroPCS, Boost Mobile, and Virgin Mobile.

Sincerely,

Andy Zeinfeld
CEO

Source: Wireless and Mobile News via Pocketnow

Brian O'Toole
Having learnt his writing techniques reading e-Books of Sherlock Holmes, Brian now spends his time /kicking, lurking, SSHing and encoding.
  • Kane

    Sounds like AT&T is going back in time instead of forward. Millions already shop online for their phones and this number will only go up. Thanks to this move, those customers will now look at other carriers, and AT&T will shed subscribers even faster.

    And if they pull out of Amazon Wireless as well, I will officially consider whoever came up with the idea retarded.

    • Kane

      Btw, awesome thumb, haha.

    • Keith

      Shed subscribers? You realize that AT&T consistently adds subscribers quarter after quarter right? I mean if you are going to act as if you know maybe at least glance at the quarterly reports.

      • Coldman

        Yes, shed. Let's have a look at this post-Verizon iPhone quarter with phones that can't compete in price with other carriers, shall we?

        • Androids

          Seriously?? Man this is a first for me on any Android site.. Does nobody read before they post? Might want to try googling your statement on your android first! The iPhone is bombing on VZW.. Missing expectations left and right.. Seriously.. Not going to type anymore.. Google what I just wrote instead..

  • David Ruddock

    Unfortunate, I wonder if Verizon is considering this as well.

    It's a pretty shameless grab for cash under the guise of "protecting consumers." Eg, logic being that because of 3rd party online resellers, the "advantages" to buying from AT&T stores are being undercut and consumers aren't getting AT&T product service from these 3rd parties, etc. Or something equally dumb.

    In reality, they want you to pay that brick and mortar premium and get their rip-off phone insurance, overpriced accessories, a plan that exceeds your needs, and convince you to get unnecessary/obsolete AT&T "premium" services tacked onto your bill.

    • Androids

      Actually 3rd party online retailers are the number one guilty party of slammed or fraudulent charges. Read the fine print on all of their websites. And not one cell phone company cares less if u get insurance or not. It is not their product it is asurian's. They make way more off retail non contract phones than insurance..

  • apollostees

    At&t had better shape up or ship out.
    1. The lowest score of the big 4 from consumer reports.
    2. Iphone no longer exclusive.
    3. Lame Android selection
    4. The dropped calls issue (wheather real or imagined it's a problem)
    5. In general it's cool to dis At&t

    • Androids

      Lame android selection? The inspire and the atrix ? Exactly which carrier has better Android devices than them two? Please enlighten me..

      • Ellett

        Atrix - the most overpriced, gimmicky phone in years. Consider yourself enlightened.

        • Androids

          And which carrier has a better Android device than the inspire and the over priced gimmicky atrix again?

        • Ellett

          The market is constantly changing, but on an average day, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint all have better Android line ups than AT&T.

        • Ellett

          No other carrier practices such arrogant lock down practices or pumps in such much bloatware as AT&T either.

        • Androids

          Way to give a great example.. Still waiting for the names of the better android devices on those carriers than the atrix or inspire? Are u a politician? Cause u sure know how to avoid questions..

        • Ellett

          I kind of thought you could go look for yourself, but to pick two, Verizon Thunderbolt and T-Mobile myTouch 4G. Inspire and Atrix might have been good devices before AT&T hacked them up, but for instance AT&T has disabled high speed uploads and once again they've attempted to lock the ROMs.

        • Androids

          Thunderbolt is a sweet device I will give ya that one.. Disagree about the My Touch though.. Anything on T Mobile's network is pretty much off the list unless your heading to Europe for a couple years.. As good as their customer service is I wouldn't recommend them for high end smart phones. Low end nokia's.. Definitely..

  • ghetto

    Att needs to just fold already. Who even uses them? My DSL was so retarded I couldn't even pay my bill. The couldn't find my account ...lol

    • Androids

      Wow a lot of braniacs on this site. First they are talking wireless here not home products. Although your input was very educational.. And who has AT&T? They are the largest communications company in the world.. So I am guessing a couple people have them. With 95.5 million wireless customers alone in the US more people have them for cell phones than another other carrier..

      • David

        You must have never heard of Verizon

        • Androids

          Yeah I have heard of them.. Them and AT&T are identical in so many ways it is ridiculous. And the fact that folks try to argue one is better than the other is equally ridiculous.

    • Eric

      I had a MT4G and it was an excellent phone before I stripped off all of the bloatware and with CM7 it was amazing. What was the problem you had? It has excellent build and call quality, it was very fast and I consistently got 6MB down. I use a Vibrant or N1 as my daily drivers and very rarely drop a call. TMobile bends over backwards in the event I have a question or problem which is more than I can say for Sprint where I was for 10 years before making the switch. How long were you with TM and what were the problems? Lastly, and I am not an Apple fan by any stretch of the imagination, but there is no Android phone that comes close to the feel or build quality of the Iphone 4 and I am shocked that no one has built an Android phone that can honestly compete and that's really sad.

      • Androids

        Loved their customer service but their coverage was not as good here.. They are by far the weakest of the top 4 in US coverage.. Never got over 1MB dl.. No reception at all at work or home and half the places in between.. Live 20 miles from STL.. Will let someone else handle the iPhone statement.. It is an Android site afterall.

  • Eric

    I fired them as my phone and internet provider at work and then I talked my mother into firing them for the same services at her home. I could write a book about the headaches they created for me at my business. I have never dealt with a company that cares so little for their customers. If you have AT&T, fire them and make your life a little easier.

    • Androids

      This is fun.. I like replying.. Ok again home and business copper products.. Yeah those systems are over 90 years old in some places.. And yes old AT&T products in some areas do indeed suck. AT&T also has uverse in some areas though, and it kicks ass.. Read the reviews.. And get this.. They have won the JD powers award for customer service 3 years in a row with that their Uverse.. Does anybody ever form opinions based on education, experience, or facts anymore?

      • Ellett

        I recently switched to Uverse Internet and have been pleased with service and performance. But Uverse TV doesn't hold a candle to Dish Network in picture quality or features, and Uverse phone is vastly overpriced. My home phone bill is $3.45 a month plus $.015 a minute, i.e $.90 an hour, including most of Europe, with great quality calls.

  • ahugo68

    Let's face the facts. You may get a cheaper price on a phone through one of these sites but they all make you sign secondary contracts. I am willing to bet that most the people that have bought from wirefly have had a problem with your plan and are the ones b+t+ching about your carrier for messing it up. While in reality it was the thrid party company that messed it up.

    • krisguy

      Yep. Seen it a few times in an AT&T store.

      Customer: "Why am I being charge this $XXX fee?"
      Rep: Looking at letter from Wirefly: "This is from Wirefly, the site you ordered your phone from. They charged you $XXX because you dropped your features you added when you bought the phone. Their contract with you states you will get charged a fee if you change your services within 6 months."
      Customer: "I want it refunded right now."
      Rep: "You will need to talk to Wirefly, since it is not an AT&T charge."
      Customer: "I'm never doing business with AT&T again. CANCEL MY LINE NOW!"
      Rep: "I can cancel the line right now, but you will have to return the phone to Wirefly or else you will have an ETF from AT&T."
      Customer: "DOUBLE FEES! You are charging me a fee for taking off texting, and you'll charge me again if I don't send the phone back?!?!?!?!"
      And so on.........

      • Androids

        Yep there is a great example of why they are making this move.. Crazy hugh? In this very comments thread folks have said they believe AT&T customer service sucks.. You might laugh at this one.. But just like Domino's listened to it's customer's and took it's customer's suggestions and improvered their product and service.. AT&T is following suit.. Some folks think their customer service sucks.. So they are listening.. And doing something about it.. Starting with the scam artist 3rd party online vendors.. Who do u think is next?

        • Androids

          Ok ok I will tell ya. Big Red! With in a quarter.. They are smarter than AT&T and they will quickly see why AT&T made this move..

          Been fun.. Peace...

  • bobomb

    AT&T must really hate getting new customers and keeping old ones. This is insane.

    • Androids

      Man Ahugo must be the only one that reads are knows any facts regarding this topic. Again why are u defending wirefly and let's talk? See AT&T is making moves to improve the perception it customer service is equal to that of the other 3. And these two websites account for more negative feedback than all the 3rd party outlets combined. Including all satellites, major retailers, and other 3rd party online retailers.. For someone who has had service with most major carriers it is laughable that anyone thinks any of them are dominating customer service. With a slight exception given to T Mobile. They do have pretty solid customer service policies.. But the other 3? Give me a break!

  • haha hehe

    wow androids why is it that you try to start a fight just because a persons opinion is different than yours. are you currently employed by att

    • Androids

      Nope.. Not trying to fight.. Just trying to put facts out there instead of incorrect opinions.. Makes it easier going forward to have intellectual debates and conversations regarding topics. Unless u find incorrect blathering helpful? I do supply communication companies and have every single one of them as clients..

  • Simon Belmont

    Wow, this is pretty lame. Why am I not surprised AT&T is pulling this?

    Almost everyone I know whose bought a new phone recently either bought online from a third party or via a heavily discounted deal at a store like Best Buy. Way to take a step backwards, AT&T.

    • Coldman

      Exactly. It's like buying Monster cables vs getting normal prices nowadays.

  • ahugo68
  • rethinkpossible

    I work for AT&T at the retail store level. And every time someone comes in who made a purchase from a third party always is never told or shown the basics of their devices. We are more than happy to educate our customers and make sure their experience is completely satisfying...

  • http://www.slipshft.com Slipshft

    As a current AT&T customer, I can say that they have not responded to the problems they have with customer service. Instead they have created new ways to increase their profits in the form of fees, while the network is overburdened with traffic. I had no problems with the "call dropping" feature of their network until recently, and it is getting worse as they add more users to the already strained network. Since things with AT&T are only getting worse, I will be leaving them for another carrier.

  • thetech

    As someone involved in the business I have to agree with Androids...its all about customer satisfaction. At&t desperately wants to win that JD Powers award for customer satisfaction and they feel that eliminating this "stumbling block" will go a long way to improve overall customer satisfaction. Watch, the follow up to this might be a LOWERING of phone prices in those brick and mortar stores, so you all may benefit from this in the end.

    • Andrew

      Why does AT&T feel the need to kiss ass to JD Powers so much?

      The way I see it, they just want to control the profits. They felt that "kick-backs" were not enough but having 100% profits was more satisfying. This August, my AT&T contract will be over and I will put AT&T on my rear-view mirror for good.

    • MarkD

      I've never had a complaint with ATT in my 6 years. Every time there's been an issue, it's been taken care of quickly. Even if it was my own fault, such as suddenly going way over my usage on texts and being able to add an unlimited plan retroactively.

      When I had a mix-up with Wirefly, an ATT agent stayed on the line and patiently listened to me argue through 4 different people at Wirefly.

      But at the end of the day, I got what I wanted buying ATT service through Wirefly, and it's not worth it for me to stay with ATT at an even greater cost financially.

  • MarkD

    I understand that some, if not most people may not think like me, but I personally find the cellphone world to be a bit ridiculous.

    I have internet at home, but I still pay around $100 a month for 2 lines WITHOUT internet. We've owned several phones, but never paid for one.

    Honestly, Wirefly is about the only reason I would stay with a carrier. So after 6+ years with ATT I think I've bought my last upgrade.

    I understand gadgets are cool, but I don't understand sooo many different models, and people shelling out hundreds over and over for the latest versions, or so many useless additional services and apps. None of it justifies the cost to me.

  • http://jigarbpatel.blogspot.com Simply Ridiculous

    This sucks big time!!

  • http://buyatt.com/ AT&T Uverse

    When big companies make counter productive decisions in order to save money, it usually doesn't take long for them to see it backfire. This is what happened with Boeing and their outsourcing for the creation of their 787s. Online sales in the telecom world are about the same as their retail sales. I'm sure the AT&T will work out some kind of deal to make sure that their phones and service get sold by an affiliate that is qualified,especially WireFly.