In a letter sent to consumers, AT&T announced that as of Nov. 17, 2017, the company’s Consumer’s Choice plans, Illinois’ best local phone deals, will end.
Why is this happening?
In July, the Illinois General Assembly passed a rewrite of the state Telecommunications Act that eliminated the requirement that AT&T offer traditional landline service. To pass the legislation, the General Assembly had to override a gubernatorial veto. The Illinois House voted 90-22 to override the veto, and the Illinois Senate voted 43-1.
Unfortunately, in that legislative process, AT&T also successfully lobbied to end a requirement in the Telecom Act that it offer three Consumer’s Choice plans: Consumer’s Choice Basic, Extra and Plus. The plans were originally created by CUB under a legal settlement with AT&T about a decade ago, and their prices were frozen at under $20 a month, under the Telecom Act. The plans were the best local phone deals in Illinois, if not the country.
Does this mean I’m losing my landline on Nov. 17?
No. AT&T still must get final approval from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to eliminate 1.2 million traditional landlines for businesses and households.
Under the legislation, AT&T has to give customers 255 days notice (roughly eight and a half months) before petitioning the FCC to end landline service in Illinois. Since the bill has passed, AT&T has said traditional landline service is “not going away anytime soon…It could take a number of years.”
The FCC is currently discussing the transition to alternative phone options. You can make a public comment on that case. Also, asking it to protect phone customers.
What does AT&T’s letter mean?
The letter announces that AT&T is “updating” its residential voice offers, and as of Nov. 17, 2017 three plans–Consumer’s Choice Basic, Extra and Plus–will be eliminated. (The plans won’t be offered to new customers after Oct. 3.) AT&T has repeatedly said that home phone service isn’t going away, it’s getting better. CUB argues that it’s not getting better, just more expensive, and this letter proves it.
So what are my choices?
Letters sent to Consumer’s Choice customers said people who take no action will automatically be switched to alternative AT&T plans on Nov. 17. These new offers appear to be identical to Consumer’s Choice plans—except they’re more expensive.
Consumer’s Choice Basic customers will be automatically switched to “Call Plan 30.” It covers 30 local calls (to places within 15 miles from your home) for a monthly rate of $5.25, $8.25 or $11.50—depending on where you live in Illinois—plus 6 cents for each additional call over the 30 included calls.
Consumer’s Choice Extra customers will be pushed onto the “Local Unlimited Package,” which offers unlimited local calls for a monthly rate of $11, $14, or $16.50, depending on where you live.
Finally, Consumers’ Choice Plus customers will be automatically switched to “Illinois Complete Choice Basic” for a monthly rate of $18, $21, or $21.75, depending on where you live. The plan covers unlimited local calling and two calling features.
There will be no installation or activation charges associated with these changes.
Again, Consumer’s Choice customers who take NO action will be automatically switched to these plans.
How much more will I pay?
The current Consumer’s Choice Basic plan is $3.05 a month, $6.03, or $9.50, depending on where you live. So switching to Call Plan 30 will increase your monthly rate by 21 percent to 72 percent.
Consumer’s Choice Extra costs $9, $12, or $15 per month, depending on where you live. That means switching to the Local Unlimited Package will increase your monthly rate by 10 percent to 22 percent.
Consumer’s Choice Plus costs $16, $19, or $19.70 per month. Switching to the Illinois Complete Choice Basic Plan will increase your monthly rate by 10 percent to 12 percent.
Remember that the new plans’ prices are not under a price freeze, like the Consumer’s Choice plans. So these prices could go up. Check your bill each month!
What if I don’t want to be automatically switched?
If you want to choose a plan other than the one AT&T will automatically switch you to, call the company at 800-288-2020 by November 16, 2017 to choose another plan.
Other than the new plans listed above, AT&T’s letter also mentions another plan that’s more expensive than the Consumer’s Choice plans: Complete Choice Enhanced. It’s $38 per month and includes all local calls and up to 9 calling features.
So what should I do?
It depends on your calling needs. For now, the best option for most people seems to be doing NOTHING and getting automatically switched. Once the switch occurs, and you’ve gone a few months on the plan that AT&T chose for you, check to see if there is an option that better meets your needs.
Will this change lead to a service interruption?
AT&T says no.
If I have questions for AT&T, what’s the best number to call?
Does AT&T’s letter impact long distance?
No. The Consumer’s Choice plans were local phone deals, for calls to places within 15 miles from your home. Long distance is not affected by the changes.
What are my choices beyond landlines?
AT&T also offers alternatives to traditional landline service, but many of those options are either more expensive or less reliable, or both.
Cellphones: Most cellphone plans include unlimited talk and text, with data usage fees. Not including the cost of the phone itself, a single plan with unlimited talk and text and data usage ranges between $30 and $80, including monthly line fees. These are averages. Prices will vary based on the number of lines, and data plans vary across networks. Unlike traditional landlines, cellphones need to be charged, they can be plagued by poor service in “dead zones,” and they may leave 911 dispatchers guessing about your location.
Advanced 911—which can trace the exact location of a cellphone—won’t be fully implemented in Illinois until 2020, at the earliest. Also, AT&T’s 14-state wireless 911 outage earlier this year doesn’t give traditional landline customers confidence that the company can provide satisfactory alternatives.
Bundled Packages: The AT&T service traditionally called “UVerse” includes a bundle of TV, Internet and home phone. For the first two-year contract, the company charges $99.99 a month. Comcast offers a “Double Play” package that includes Internet service and home phone service for $54.99 a month for the first year. Digital phone service like this requires a pricey broadband connection, and you can’t make calls during an Internet outage or a power outage (without a battery back-up).
AT&T’s Wireless Home Phone: The service allows users to connect their home phone to AT&T’s wireless network, offering them unlimited talk and features like voicemail and caller number ID for $20 per month. Note: This service uses a “mobile device” to connect a home phone to AT&T’s wireless network. You pay a $45 activation fee, plus $99.99 for the device (if you don’t sign a 2-year contract). AT&T warns that the service “is not compatible with home security systems, fax machines, medical alert and monitoring services, credit card machines, IP/PBX Phone systems, or dial-up Internet service.”