AT&T customer service again

This morning I found a text message and two emails from AT&T on my iPhone. The text message said

AT&T Msg : Youve [sic] used 65% of your data plan. Any overage bills @ $15/200MB. Tip: Data is unlimited over Wifi. Learn more at

The emails both said

Our systems have detected that you are nearing your data plan limit. Your base plan has a monthly allowance of 200MB. Data usage which exceeds your plan allowance will be billed at $15 per each additional 200MB.

To check your data usage online and upgrade to a 2GB plan simply click here. For additional information about data plan requirements and tips on managing your data usage visit

*Important: In general, domestic data usage will be reflected within 24 hours. In some cases it may take up to 72 hours to be reflected in our systems.

Thank you,


This was a little disconcerting, as I’m only a few days into the current billing cycle. Had I been mistakenly watching YouTube videos of QI over 3G instead of WiFi?

I launched the myWireless app and navigated to the data usage screen,1 which said I’d used less than 12 MB.

Saying that 12 MB is 65% of 200 MB is an order of magnitude error, the kind of error Megan McArdle specializes in. It seems too far off, even for a company famous for considering a second of talking to be a full minute.

I also checked the data usage for the other phones on our account; they were similar to mine and nowhere near the monthly limit.

So after stewing for a couple of hours waiting for Customer Service hours to start, I called AT&T and talked to a very nice woman who confirmed the numbers I was getting from myWireless and then started talking to supervisors because she couldn’t explain the problem. Eventually, this explanation emerged:

  1. My data usage is, as myWireless says, nowhere near the limit.
  2. Because of this mixup, if my data use happens to go over 200 MB this month, they will call me and bump me up to the 2 GB plan automatically so I don’t get the hit with the high overage charges.
  3. They’ve seen warning messages like this before, typically when a user gets a new iPhone (my daughter got one yesterday and is on the family account) and 3G usage starts.2

Items one and two were nice to hear and were consistent with my usual experience with AT&T customer service reps: they dig in and try to solve my problem, whether it’s technical or billing. Unfortunately, item three is consistent with my usual experience with AT&T’s automated customer service: it’s buggy, slow, and gives inexplicable results. I get the sense that most of AT&T’s human customer service time is spent fixing mistakes made by its automated customer service infrastructure.

  1. Now that I’m in a new billing cycle, myWireless will give me the data usage, something it wouldn’t do before. So that’s an improvement. On the other hand, in keeping with AT&T’s reputation for high quality software, myWireless typically crashes when I go to it via the fast app switcher. 

  2. The jokes write themselves. a) AT&T’s network is so overburdened, they’re trying to scare you away from any 3G use. b) AT&T warns you away from their network because they’re afraid you’ll discover how crappy it is. c) “Someone’s trying to use our 3G! We must stop him!“