Two-year contracts are a drag for all sorts of reasons, but AT&T just found a way to make them even more annoying. The carrier has quietly altered its upgrade terms to stipulate that customers have to wait for the full 24 month term to be up before getting subsidized pricing on an upgrade. You can see the before and after versions of Ma Bell's upgrade page below.

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It would be one thing if the change only affected new contracts from the effective date of June 9th, but it also pushes back the upgrade date for anyone whose contract ends after March 1, 2014. So if you bought your current device on contract after March 1, 2012, your eligibility date is now 4 months later than it used to be. The new policy also apparently requires that upgrades are within the same "device category" if you are sharing an upgrade with another line on your plan. Check out the internal document below for more confirmation.


This is yet another example of AT&T mirroring the actions of Verizon, which made similar changes back in April. We also told you at the time this was going to happen. Don't worry, though – carriers keep telling us the US wireless industry is highly competitive.

[AT&T Upgrade Advantage, AT&T Blog]

Ryan Whitwam
Ryan is a tech/science writer, skeptic, lover of all things electronic, and Android fan. In his spare time he reads golden-age sci-fi and sleeps, but rarely at the same time. His wife tolerates him as few would.

He's the author of a sci-fi novel called The Crooked City, which is available on Amazon and Google Play. http://goo.gl/WQIXBM

  • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

    Sucks for all the people in existing contracts this applies to (ones expiring after March 2014).

    • Ryan

      Indeed, its just another ploy to keep people locked in. What's even more sleezy is that they're also doing it to some people who were on contract prior to the policy change. So it's just a back-handed method to prevent people of choice.

      • Cory Wilson

        If I hadn't gotten a nexus 4 I would be very irritated now. My contract doesn't end till the middle of March. But I after I got stuck for another 2 years with a phone I hated after a few months, I decided I was done with subsidized phones forever. Love my Nexus 4, and come March I'm going to Tmobile, can't wait!

      • John O’Connor

        I thought material changes to the contract would allow you to leave without paying the ETF. Any word on this @archon810:disqus

        • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

          I'm not proficient in these matters, and they're always YMMV. Go ahead and try it out if you're ready to leave, but be prepared to actually cancel your service.

          • John O’Connor

            Not too worried myself as I have always sstayedaway from att as a carrier especially when they acquired smaller (compared to todays behemoths) carrier. Strictly on Verizon and sprint my u.s needs for the time being.

        • http://www.androidpolice.com/author/cody-toombs/ Cody Toombs

          I'm not entirely sure of how this works either, but I don't believe this counts. As far as I'm aware, this isn't a change to the contract as it is a change to a policy that allowed somebody to score a subsidy before the contract term was complete. Put another way, AT&T just got rid of a perk that was effective in convincing customers to re-up a contract before it was finished.

          I'm pretty irritated with this because my last renewal was in April 2012 and I already knew my upgrade was coming up this November. I even knew what I would be getting... I kinda hate that the next phone I buy is so heavily dependent upon the particular timing of my last upgrade. On the other hand, at least it puts my next upgrade into the ballpark of when HTC and Samsung will release their next flagships.

  • vs8

    Once my contact is up, I'm leaving contracts behind.

  • paxmos

    Buy unlocked phones...screw carriers' contracts

    • Bryan Pizzuti

      I love how people are going to buy unlocked phones, and still pay their carrier the same per-month fee for services. Your carrier thanks you for not taking advantage of your phone discount and leaving them even more profits to be had. They aren't going to charge you less because you brought your own unlocked phone.

      I'm pretty much stuck with AT&T based on my coverage requirements. Be damned if I ever let them off easy though. I insist on getting my subsidized phone from them and eating into their profits.

      • paxmos

        It has its advantages. First, you buy any phone you like without the carrier bloatware on your phone, secone the phone can be used with any GSM carrier domestic or internationally should you travel abroad which in my case, I do that. In my area T-Mobile has a very good coverage, and my phones are Penta Band, so they work with T-Mobile. You can also sell your phone and move on to another one, no wait for another few months as your contract dictates so. I am currently saving $25 a month with T-Mobile's plan in comparison with same plan on ATT....So, pretty much saving money and am not at their mercy. Do the numbers........

        • David Z

          Too bad T-Mobile reception where I live is shitty

          • Bryan Pizzuti

            Same here. They won't even sell them anywhere around here the coverage is so nonexistent. Stores got too many complaints and had to basically pull all their products.

        • DaveTexan

          It really depends on your usage pattern. The way I use my cell phone (<200MB data per month(the rest is wifi), average 300-400 minutes talk time, no text), T-Mobile does not have a good solution. (closest is 1500 Minutes with 30MB of data for $30 + overage) Also the coverage is frequently 0-1 block at home. Luckily it works okay at places where I do shopping and traveling. I currently pay $50 for 500 minutes and 200MB per month and I got a $450 phone for free. With the new plan they give more minutes and data which I don't use and lose my phone subsidy. It's like a $450 price increase for 22 months. (the free upgrade used to be every 22 months.) So in my case AT&T still offers a better deal for now and the price is much lower than Verizon and Sprint. (both force you to pay $80-$100 minimum per month) As far as I can see the big 4 US telcos are all raising prices. Grass is not (much) greener anywhere.

      • GazaIan

        "They aren't going to charge you less because you brought your own unlocked phone"

        That all depends on the carrier we're talking. Some carriers limit you to certain plans if you're buying a phone from them, whereas you have more flexibility if you BYOP.

        For example, T-Mobile's 30 dollar plan can't be used if you finance a phone from them, but you can use it if you bring your own phone (or also if you fully pay off your phone, then cancel your plan and switch).

      • lettcco

        you can still stick it to AT&T and use their network. Just get a unlocked phone with pentaband and get a straight talk sim that uses AT&T network.

      • newsjunkieintl

        With an unlocked phone you can use an AT&T-base MVNO and only pay for service. I can name a half dozen that give you an "AT&T" sim card with unlimited voice and text with 1GB - 1.5GB data for $45 - $65 per month total. No separate data package, that's all inclusive.

        You are still using AT&T, but not paying AT&T's post-paid prices.

  • steelew

    Straight talk here I come...in November-ish.

  • Cory Wilson

    Made my comments on Engadgets article, but to summarize this is just bad business. Let's face it why did they bring about early upgrades anyway? Because there prices were so inflated you were paying your phone off well before 2 years anyway and if you were on the fence about staying with them, alot of people would end up staying because they couldn't wait till the end of their contract to get a new phone. Now everyone on the fence about staying will be forced to wait until the end of their contract and most likely will leave. At&t your going to loose customers #its not complicated

    • Cody

      I totally agree it's a dumb decision on the ATT part. I am an example, I have been lured into new 2-year contracts in the last 6 years by the early upgrade incentive. Now that they don't offer it any more, by the time my 24-months is over, I'll do a complete reassessment and may switch to another carrier.

  • Jahf

    I've been up for an upgrade for a few months. Still planning to switch (back) to T-Mobile. Just need to move to a place with a T-Mobile tower. My next phone will definitely not be subsidized. For now I'm still using my 3+ year old Captivate.

    • Cory Wilson

      Wow lol I have had 2 phones since my Captivate. Your going to love having GPS when you get a new phone. I bit on an upgrade from my Captivate to an HTC Vivid last March and man do I regret that. The Captivate had me spoiled with its insane development scene, all the vivid ever had was modified stock roms and cyanogenmod roms with issues that impaired it from being a daily driver. So I bought a nexus from Google in December, and I plan on taking it with me to Tmobile when my contract is finally up.

  • Plow Rox

    Gee lets see why is this good for the customer.....? It isnt! T-Mobile should start running adverts letting AT&T customers know that theres a wellcome home for them when they stop being enslaved to AT&T! Talk about shooting your own foot off! like those 4 lousey months make that big of difference?! Now the loss of 4 months will steel peoples hearts to screw AT&T over it! This will cost them in the long run! I bet comcast has room on the bus to "going out of bussiness by screwing the paying customers" Plenty of room!

    • Bryan Pizzuti

      Shouldn't even cost much if T-Mobile only runs the ads in the 3 or 4 municipalities where they actually have coverage. Sorry, but out of the top 4 signals in my area, T-Mobile is around #12. If not worse.

      • ThePhanein

        Good for you because it has the best Signal in my area.

      • ScottColbert

        So glad your experience is the same for everyone else in the country. What would we do without you?

      • Dart

        We get it. The service in your area with T-Mobile is bad, so you can probably stop replying to every post mentioning T-Mobile now.

        Just because it's bad in your area doesn't mean it's not great in others. Time to let go.

      • topgun966

        If you get a newer unlocked phone you should be fine. You will be on ATT anyway. ATT was forced to sign a reverse roaming agreement with Tmo after the failed takeover attempt. So you should be able to use ATT towers as long as your phone supports those freq.


    Verizon quietly did this last month, i have to wait til april 2014 for my upgrade >_<, Vgnex is starting to show its age even though its over clocked

    • Geoff Johnson

      I wouldn't say it was quiet, it was on all the Android and tech sites. I think it was more than a month ago too.

      • LANCE

        i said quietly because my non techy co-workers(all on verizon) had no idea their upgrade dates moved. one guy his was in october now its march

    • Mike Larrabee

      It's almost like AT&T and Verizon are in collusion with each other?! Noooo...that can't be it.

      • AndroidShiz

        Ummmm, they are. Especially now that there's rumors of Google owning wireless spectrum. Wouldn't be surprised if Google starts it's own wireless network in the next few years.

  • Darshan Karia

    Phew, you had me worried for a minute. I am eligible for early upgrade on 20th June, 2013...

  • Vijay Yalamanchili

    "So if you bought your current device on contract after March 1, 2012, your eligibility date is now 4 months later than it used to be", I think the date needs to be July 1st 2012. If you started a 20 month contract before July 1st 2012 it would expire by March 1, 2014

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/author/cody-toombs/ Cody Toombs

      AT&T contracts are 24 months, but the Advantage Program allowed customers to end an existing contract without paying an ETF under the condition that a new 24-month contract was signed.

  • cy_n_ic

    So...you get to upgrade less often, limit your choice of devices, and only one gig of data a month?

    Whats the opposite of crazy generous?

  • RH

    Dropped at&t last November, went to straight talk, wouldn't go back to a contract again.

  • yentrog31

    Seems like they're herding everybody to T-Mobile.

    • Bryan Pizzuti

      What, the un-carrier with the un-network? No thanks, I like to have actual signal on my phones.

      • Matthew Griffin

        Just because T-Mobile isn't great at your location doesn't make it so for everyone else in the country. In my area, Verizon has a consistently worse signal than T-Mobile.

        • Bryan Pizzuti

          That depends on whether you're talking the country of the USA or the country-side. T-Mobile doesn't bother with rural areas and barely bothers with suburban areas. They just can't afford it. That's life, deal with it. Not everyone lives in a city you know.

  • John Smith

    Can't you break your contract over this change.

    • topgun966

      Yes you can. Under the law in the US, they are modifying a contract that you and ATT signed. You have 30 days from the time its announced. Even if you are only 1 month into a brand new contract, congrats.

  • boballistic

    That's why I'm glad i didn't get an android that is outdated 3 months after it comes out.

  • Garry DeWitt

    Go go Tmo

  • http://www.androidpolice.com/author/cody-toombs/ Cody Toombs

    Hmm, I have a hunch that this might turn into an opportunity for companies like Amazon and Best Buy. They might start offering early upgrades to customers that buy through them. Equally, I wouldn't be surprised if Apple also pushes the 5S with an early upgrade option like it did with a few of the iPhones in the past. With the two largest carriers in the country changing policies like this, there will be a lot of incentive for companies to eat a little bit of cost to take advantage of customer demand for faster upgrade cycles.

  • http://www.stevenmattera.com Steven Mattera

    Good thing my next phone will be a Galaxy S4 Google Edition.

    • AndroidShiz

      Google edition all the way. But I'm probably going for the 32 GB HTC for $50 less than the 16GB Sam. The micro SD on the Samsung version only holds pics and music I've read.

      • http://www.stevenmattera.com Steven Mattera

        There are scripts out there to let you use your SD for apps. I'd rather have 64GB for apps and 16GB for photos and videos. (Seeing as I stream my music with Google Music.) Too each their own. =D

  • http://www.friv3.co/ friv 3

    The details are well-explained and very concise.

  • Zak Taccardi

    Can you opt of of your contract with no cancellation fee if you're one of the affected?

  • paleh0rse

    Jesus... I made it by just five days! (I signed my last 24-month contract on February 23rd, 2012).

  • topgun966

    I would never do anything but the Google option again. 350 for my n4 and Tmo's 70 unlimited plan (yes i know there are cheaper but I need the true unlimited data and LTE).

  • cdg2191

    Yes they changed, that's what wireless companies do is change ALL the time. That's why it's a competitive business. It clearly states in the first page of the contract that everyone signs, terms and agreement are subject to changing upon anytime without customer notification. Most don't read the contract that they signed. So it doesn't matter what they change, everyone has to deal with it. Just because it states its for 24 months, doesn't mean you have to wait till then. I work for customer service, call in and say your phone isn't working, you don't have insurance and out of warranty, they WILL upgrade you it just has to be over the phone. Yes, I have att. Yes I have termination fees, and yes I will be canceling because of this but only because that's the reason I stayed with att is because of early upgrading. I don't get good coverage or pricing but I didn't have to wait two years to get a new phone, but that's all changed, and I'm dealing with it, not crying about it. There's nothing we can do to change it. Just like with throttling of data. People sued, and only ONE person Matthew Spacarelli actually was heard about the situation. Trust me, AT&T does not care what people think is right or wrong, it's all about the competition. Don't like it? Don't stay with them. Simple as that.

    • cdg2191

      You have 14 days from the day you get your device to decide whether or not you want to stay with them, if you don't like them, return your device and go somewhere else. AT&T is not a prison, you are not forced to use their service, I don't see why so many people are acting as if it is. Put your big girl panties on and adapt to the situation don't protest it. The only result you will get is pissing yourself off even more than they did.

  • richard

    Find used cellphones and other electronics market value on http://www.tagtotrade.com

  • dorkside

    Wait a sec, isn't Ma Bell the old AT&T?