Anyone Else Having Issues w/AT&T Off Network Data Usage?

Discussion in 'iPhone Tips, Help and Troubleshooting' started by imgonephishin, Jul 23, 2009.

  1. imgonephishin macrumors regular

    Jan 3, 2003
    OK. So I'm having an issue with AT&T. Sorry for the long post and thanks for reading.

    I bought an 3GS earlier this month and have been loving it. I live in Central PA and, like most of the country, the ATT service is spotty. State College has 3G, but at my home and at work I only get Edge. The connection in my office is usually 1 or 2 bars and goes in an out of "No Service." Sucks, but what can you do. I'll live.

    Yesterday I received a text from ATT that said my "Off-network wireless data usage is violating the terms of my contract." Please contact blah blah blah...

    This surprised me because I have data roaming turned off and have never seen any other network than ATT show up on the phone. I gave a call and this first rep seemed to be unsure of what year it even was. He was convinced I had traveled out of the country and had data roaming on no matter how hard I tried to convince him this wasn't the case. I asked to be transferred to someone else and he disconnected me. Sweet.

    Called back and 2nd Rep also had no idea but this one knew how to successfully push the transfer button on his phone and got me to a different person. 3rd rep told me that the message was my phone data usage when using partner cell networks. She said that where ATT doesn't have coverage they rent partner cell towers and pay a hefty fee for any data usage on their networks (makes sense so far). Her first solution was to turn off Data Roaming and that would solve things. I told her that had been off since day one and double-checked to confirm it's still off.

    She said, oh, well then it must say "Off network" instead of ATT in the corner. I told her that I check my phone dozens of times a day and it has NEVER said anything but ATT or "No service" during the day. The connection is either listed as 3G, E, or o. She said the "o" stands for Off-Network, but I told her I was certain it stood for GPRS, which is just an even slower standard than Edge. She said, "No, I'm sure that stands for off-network and you're costing us a lot of money. This is a warning, but if it happens again, we'll have to suspend your service." It was pointless trying to argue the little "o" point, so I moved on. Then, here's the kicker, she quoted the amount of data that flagged the infraction as 17K, which she made sound like it was a lot. "That's quite a bit of data to transfer." WTF?!? Not GB... Not MB... KB...

    There are countless thousands of people who are in the legal gray area by using unauthorized tethering (which I haven't done because I don't have a need for it) for free and using several gigs of data. And they're upset with me over 17 KB?? (Note, I'm not condemning tethering, but just pointing out the absurdity of my situation.)

    At this point, I was getting frustrated that I seemed to know more about this issue than any of the reps who were supposed to be helping me. Her solution of how to avoid data roaming? Be careful to not use any programs that might use data while at work and turn off email Fetch, don't open maps, safari, etc... I told her I didn't think that was a very reasonable solution and especially since my network always shows as ATT, it shouldn't be my problem. I asked if there's a way to just not have a data connection when I'm not supposed to (i.e., what I'd expect the data roaming switch to do in the first place). No such luck. It happens automatically. Data roaming only affects international service, she told me.

    She told me there was no other solution and wouldn't name the amount of data that would trigger a flag. So, let me get this straight. You're threatening to suspend my service, because you gave me unlimited internet, and then bitch when I actually use it in a situation when I'm supposed to use my psychic powers and know that I'm not allowed to use it? I would much rather they just didn't allow any data access to other networks, than get annoyed because I used 17 KILOBYTES that they offered to me.

    Has anyone else had a similar problem and if so, what did you do?? I'm pulling my hair out. Thanks!
  2. -aggie- macrumors P6


    Jun 19, 2009
    Where bunnies are welcome.
    Everything you stated was true, and the reps you got were totally stupid, even the last one. I'm not sure why you got the text message, since from what I've seen that is when you go over 6 MB (small, but much larger than your 17 KB). I'd send a letter to AT&T and try to get a formal response to your issues, since you clearly did nothing wrong, IMO.
  3. kornyboy macrumors 68000

    Sep 27, 2004
    Knoxville, TN (USA)
    Wirelessly posted (iPhone: Mozilla/5.0 (iPhone; U; CPU iPhone OS 3_0 like Mac OS X; en-us) AppleWebKit/528.18 (KHTML, like Gecko) Version/4.0 Mobile/7A341 Safari/528.16)

    My wife and I got a family plan when we bought her a 3GS opening day. Everything was fine for about 2 weeks and then her plan automatically switched to an individual plan. The reps that I spoke to insisted that we made a mistake and clicked something that we should not have online and it switched. The problem was that neither of us had been on the website the day they said it changed. On top of all that, they wanted to charge me $18 to switch it back because they precieved it as my fault. My bill should come out in a week or two so we will see what happens. Customer service is crappy with AT&T.
  4. imgonephishin thread starter macrumors regular

    Jan 3, 2003
    Good point about writing a formal letter. That might get me further.

    What really has me peeved is that they said this was my "warning" and if it happens again, my account would be probably be suspended. How can I be warned about something when they can't even explain how I exactly I did something wrong?

    I heard everyone gripe about ATT's network before I switched over, and thought they were just exaggerating. Didn't think it would only take two weeks for ATT to piss me off as well. ;-)

    All of this wouldn't be a problem if they actually had decent coverage where I lived!
  5. imgonephishin thread starter macrumors regular

    Jan 3, 2003
    OK. I'm all about honesty and full disclosure. So, I was certain that my phone had never said "Off network" before. I was sure of this because I the ATT reception in my office stinks and that's the first thing I check when I turn on the phone is to see whether it says ATT with 1 bar or 2. :p

    But, just this morning after my original post it did say Off Network for about 5 seconds after turning it on. I don't know why this is suddenly appearing and wasn't before, but it's there. I'm willing to concede that maybe it said it yesterday and I didn't notice and that's why I got the message last night.

    But, this leads me to my point: They're going to offer the "service" of partner cell towers and then get annoyed when I actually use it? What if I'm driving and listening to my MLB broadcast and I go through an area that's off-network? I'm supposed to keep checking my phone every minute to ensure I'm on ATT?!? If so, there should be a way to opt out. I'd rather just have a data connection that just works or doesn't work than have worry about my service being suspended if I don't notice I'm in the wrong network. Anyone know if that's possible? I'm guessing not. I'll call ATT again either way. Sigh. Thanks. :)
  6. sgiles1 macrumors newbie

    May 23, 2008
    I also got a text warning me of my "excessive" off network data usage. Yes, I was off network for a week on vacation in a neighboring state. The problem is that I never once thought it was an issue to use data when off network. They didn't charge me anything, but the warning text message was disconcerting and I called ATT to ask what the issue was. She said she had no idea and that I should ignore it. I have been with ATT for many years and have used data off-network a few times, but this is the first time I have been given a warning. Is it ok to use off-network data? If so, then how much is ok?
  7. ratbatblue macrumors 6502

    Sep 12, 2007
    I'll soon be traveling to an area of the country where I'm pretty sure there are no AT&T towers, so after reading the OP's story, I called AT&T to ask about this. After initially saying that AT&T doesn't charge for or restrict off-network roaming, the rep backed off and said, "Well, you'll get a text message on your phone that your data usage off-network is excessive, then you'll have to give us a call." When I asked how much is "excessive", she hemmed and hawed and finally said she thought it was 20MB, based on another case she had worked earlier in the week. Other research I quickly did indicates there is an AT&T formula that states that over 50% of data usage must be on AT&T's network; anything less would be considered excessive roaming. I haven't found anything that says that officially, or defines over what period of time the percentage is calculated.

    This is all okay in my case, because I'll be in that "gray" area only a week. I feel, though, that people like the OP have a legitimate gripe with AT&T. They bought an iPhone in good faith based on available data, yet could end up having their contracts terminated because, through no fault of their own, their iPhones won't stay reliably on AT&T towers. Doesn't seem right.
  8. -aggie- macrumors P6


    Jun 19, 2009
    Where bunnies are welcome.
    Turn data roaming off. There was a thread on here about that not protecting you totally, but I don't know for sure IIRC.

    The number is 24 MB according to the TOS.
  9. imgonephishin thread starter macrumors regular

    Jan 3, 2003
    Thanks for the tip, but unfortunately, data roaming doesn't apply to this. I've had data roaming turned off from day 1 and the ATT reps confirmed that the data roaming switch only prevents international roaming, and not domestic "off-network" roaming. Crazy, I know.
  10. Colonel Badger macrumors 6502

    Jun 30, 2008
    Surely this needs to be reported to who ever regulates Wireless communications. It's a cheap trick for AT&T to claim more coverage than they actually have by renting space off other carriers and then hitting the user with warnings and threatening to disconnect them when they use that off-network carrier. Especially as the user has no way of knowing when/if that is happening. That's just INSANE!!!!

    How do we get this elevated to the right people??!!??
  11. imgonephishin thread starter macrumors regular

    Jan 3, 2003
    I would love to know the answer to that question myself. :)

    Update for everyone, I just got off the phone with the first knowledgeable CS rep I've spoken to at AT&T (note: they've all been courteous, but most seem completely ignorant).

    This rep looked up my location and told me that a new cell tower near my office from one of their partner providers just went live yesterday and that since I had spotty AT&T service at best before, my phone's defaulting to that tower. And that fits with the fact that my phone just started saying "Off-network." She said that accounts get flagged for off-network data usage "if you're using a partner cell network more than AT&T's network, whether it's voice or data" (but she said they're more sensitive to data--didn't have hard details of the amounts). She said that "basically, if a majority of the traffic's coming through the partner network, we'll issue a warning and then be forced to suspend your account."

    This is my favorite part, though: her solutions? "Sir, here I think you have two possible solutions: 1) Turn off your phone when you go to work everyday so as to avoid using the partner network as your majority network (hah!). 2) Or, return your phone back to AT&T and switch to a different provider; we'll waive all activiation and early termination fees, but you have to return the phone."

    My jaw dropped. Seriously, their best solution to my issue is to either not use my phone or switch to a different provider?!?! Aren't cell companies desperate right now to keep customers and here they are telling me basically to leave (because their coverage sucks in the first place).

    So, AT&T advertises the partner networks in the coverage map. They advertise unlimited iPhone data plans. And then they double-screw you.

  12. rjohnstone macrumors 68040


    Dec 28, 2007
    PHX, AZ.
    According to the TOS that you agreed to when you signed the contract, you do not get dinged for using a partner network for voice calls.

    Data is clearly spelled out in the TOS. You did't get "screwed" by AT&T.

    The interesting part is 17k should not have raised a flag on your account.

    I got a similar email earlier this month when I was up in the mountains. I knew I was roaming, but my phone never once displayed "Off Network".
  13. merriego macrumors newbie

    Jul 30, 2009
    Yep and I'm going to have to find a new provider

    After having been with cingular then AT&T when they bought cingular...ending an almost 10 year relationship. I have an original iPhone, then a year after that, bought a house out in the boonies. I also got a wireless air card for my internet access in the boonies as I didn't want to deal with a satellite (and the wireless aircard was purchased over the phone, using my new home address. They knew full well where I was!). After over a year in my new home and never ONCE getting an off network message or any warning, I got a letter in the mail yesterday, that it was my 'final warning' and as of August 16th I would be restricted to AT&T areas only. I immediately called and was told that they had sent me a text message and an email. Never got ANYTHING before this letter. They also told me that since my iphone data usage had been flagged, my wireless aircard and VOICE usage was also flagged. As of September 1st, I will no longer be able to use my phone (voice or data) or wireless aircard off the AT&T network. The sad thing is the last month is the first time I'd used the iphone data at my home, I always used my wireless aircard..but my son and his wife had a new baby and were sending me photos at all hours and it was just easier to pull up my email on my phone rather than booting up my computer. I don't understand a company ending a 10 year relationship like this,. They wouldn't even offer me the option of paying for the extra usage.

    After talking to them today, now the off network message is scrolling across the top of my phone. Never did that before.
  14. pdpfilms macrumors 68020


    Jun 29, 2004
    Just received my text today, and I'll be making multiple calls to ATT later tonight.

    The "Off-Network" message appears after your first warning. This is all detailed in the email below:

  15. ntharvey macrumors newbie

    Aug 26, 2009
    Problems with off network usage

    ATT has really figured out a way to aggravate their customers. I have been a customer since 1998 and every couple of years, they come up with something new. In my case, I got the dreaded text message a couple of weeks ago. Not knowing what it was all about, I called ATT and talked to no less than three people, including managers, that gave me a variety of different information around the theme "You need to stop using you phone off network." There was no consistency as to how much I was allowed, what qualified as "off network" or even if this related to data only, or both data and phone. After hours on the phone, I was very frustrated, and requested that I talk to somebody in some department somewhere that knows the rules and policies, including a look at the mysterious contract that they said that I had read and signed (they could/can not produce any such contract!)

    Yesterday I got a call back from ATT from somebody that said that they would connect me to the department that "handles excessive off network data usage." After waiting 10 minutes on the phone (remember they called me!) I finally was connected to "Steve" who was nice enough but did not know a KB from a GB and 'memory' from 'throughput'. I kept insisting that they show me where the contract was that said that I was responsible and/or limited for off netowrk data and how I could even monitor this if I am indeed responsible. Finally, after several times of putting me on hold he came back to the phone happy because he had "found my signed contract" and I could access it from my account. So, here are the Directions:

    Log into your ATT account on your computer. Once login is complete, click on "My Profile" in the second bar from the top. Then click in the "USER INFORMATION" tab that is provided. About mid way down the screen it says Contract Information. In that section there is a blue hyperlink titled "Customer Service Summary". Click on this and a pdf file with your account profile will be downloaded. About midway down on the left side of page one, it will likely state, as mine does:

    DATA PLAN FOR iPhone $30.00
    An eligible data plan for iPhone is required
    Includes Unlimited Data (email & web) and Visual Voicemail
    - within the U.S.
    20¢ per text message if no text plan is selected

    OK, now that this is established as my contract, and it clearly says nothing about off network vs. on network or any special charges or "if you use too much we will restrict your plan" or any of that mumbo jumbo, it seemed to me that since the ATT rep directed me to this page, it would be simple from here on. But no, he denied that it says what it says, and muttered, and says that if I get the message that I am using too much data, then it does not matter what the contract says. I demanded to talk to his manager then.

    His manager was competent, polite, and the last name was Green. We went the rounds on this document for another hour, with him basically telling me that this was NOT my contract (despite Steve telling me that it was, is, and will be) and that no matter what it says, I am responsible. I demanded that he show me where it was written that I was responsible, and he said he would mail it to me. I demanded that he show it to me right then. After some trouble finding it himself, he directed me to the section on their website titled "2) WIRELESS DATA SERVICE TERMS AND CONDITIONS (applies to all customers)" In this there is a subsection titled "Roaming" that stated:

    Roaming charges for wireless data or voice service may be charged with some plans when outside AT&T's wireless network. Display on your device will not indicate whether you will incur roaming charges. Services originated or received while outside your plan's included coverage area are subject to roaming charges. Use of Services when roaming is dependent upon roaming carrier's support of applicable network technology and functionality. Check with roaming carriers individually for support and coverage details. Billing for domestic and international roaming usage may be delayed up to three billing cycles due to reporting between carriers. If your usage of the Services on other carriers' wireless networks ("offnet usage") during any month exceeds your offnet usage allowance, AT&T may at its option terminate your wireless service or access to data Services, deny your continued use of other carriers' coverage, or change your plan to one imposing usage charges for offnet usage. Your offnet usage allowance is equal to the lesser of 24 megabytes or 20% of the kilobytes included with your plan and for messaging plans the lesser of 3000 messages or 50% of the messages included with your plan. AT&T will provide notice that it intends to take any of the above actions and you may terminate your agreement. You may be required to (1) use a device programmed with AT&T's preferred roaming database; and (2) have a mailing address and live in the United States, Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands.

    OK, so now we have a contract that I have never seen, without my name on it, that states with some conciseness what none of the people at ATT that I spoke with had never even read, seen, or knew specifically what it says. My final contention is first) The Customer Service Agreement quoted above trumps this agreement, and second) ATT/Apple has not provided me with a way to monitor my off network data usage (I know when I am off network, but now how much I have used) so how could I ever hold myself responsible to meet such rules when I am roaming between ATT and non-ATT towers?

    Their people don't know the rules.
    Their people to obey their own rules (ref. Customer Service Agreement.)
    Nobody that we would talk to when we contact them has the authority to admit when they are wrong or fix the problem.

    This really flames me!
    Any good lawyers out there that want to file a class action lawsuit related to this?????
  16. -aggie- macrumors P6


    Jun 19, 2009
    Where bunnies are welcome.
  17. PhightinPhils26 macrumors 6502a


    Sep 12, 2007
    To those of you receiving the "Excessive off network" message... Do you travel a lot? And if so did you receive it after a long trip or a trip where you used more data than usual?
  18. Clete2 macrumors 65816


    Sep 20, 2008
    I am beyond angry with AT&T!!!! I'm sick of describing my story, but here's a draft of a letter I will be sending them. It doesn't even explain my story completely! I have been in this area for three years total (one on the iPhone and two of them having some sort of small data plan) and I haven't ever had a problem until yesterday!!!!

  19. pdpfilms macrumors 68020


    Jun 29, 2004
    It may be prudent of you to mention that they're making you buy a $30/mo data add-on and simultaneously telling you not to use it.

    If it's reasonable for you, you can always leave without an ETF and bring your phone over to another carrier. Chances are you'll save money in the long run by doing so, as ATT's rates are exorbitantly high when compared to other networks.
  20. Clete2 macrumors 65816


    Sep 20, 2008
    Unfortunately, I can't do that. I have had AT&T for a long time. I doubt they will waive the ETF. I had a similar problem with Sprint and even though we were promised an ETF waiver, we still had to pay $300 to them. Anyways, I will be out of this area in two years. I just want AT&T to pull it together and tell me why it never happened before, but it is happening now.

    I will mention that; thanks.
  21. pdpfilms macrumors 68020


    Jun 29, 2004
    While it's definitely a grey area and ATT's "position" will vary from representative to representative, leaving after an excessive usage message without an ETF is most certainly possible. IMO, your length of time with ATT has nothing to do with your eligibility for a waived ETF.
  22. Clete2 macrumors 65816


    Sep 20, 2008
    I know it doesn't, but here's the thing:

    I am on a family plan. The rest of my family has wonderful 3G service and all of the places I routinely travel to have great 3G service. Here, I would have to switch to Verizon, as TMobile has no service. If I switched to TMobile, I wouldn't have 3G service anywhere. I'm not going to give that up. I just want AT&T to fix their mistake (obviously, they made one if I've been here for so long and it hasn't happened until yesterday).

    Edit: Not switching to Verizon either; want to keep my iPhone.
  23. HedonicSoft macrumors newbie

    Sep 11, 2009
    or just count traffic you consume

    You can also track a traffic you consume in the "own" ATT networks and in their partner networks - e.g. using the Download Meter for iphone tool.
  24. chwhale macrumors member

    Nov 13, 2007
    I'm having a somewhat similar issue. However, AT&T tells me that I've been using INTERNATIONAL roaming from the Island of Turks and Caicos. I have no idea where that is. I live in Kansas. Now, I've somehow managed to rack up 30-40 mb of data from there. The furthest away that I've been recently is Orlando, FL.

    The kicker is that the AT&T email that I got from a rep said that the charges are valid. This is even after I told them I never left the country.

    Data roaming has never been turned on.

    Any ideas how to deal with them?
  25. Road-Warrior macrumors newbie

    Sep 23, 2009
    I am having a similar issue. Here is exactly what I posted on AT&T forums.

    I recently got this text message from at&t on my phone.

    Important AT&T FREE MSG: Your off-network wireless data usage is violating the terms of your contract. Please contact us at 800-331-0500 for details.

    I figured I was going to run into some problems with this. I travel for a living and am in a new town every week. The sales person who sold me the phone was not very knowledgeable and assured my I wouldn't have any problems even though I addressed this specific issue with him. I later read at&t terms and conditions on the website and figure he was probably wrong, but I was still a little fuzzy on the details. Here is an exact conversation I had with an at&t customer service representative online. Keep in mind I was trying to establish this information while I was still on my 30 day trial so I could cancel my account if I wasn't going to have data service everywhere. I have now had the phone for almost six months, and am probably stuck with it because at&t is either not knowledgeable of what they sell or they are dishonest.

    Please wait for a representative to respond.

    Chat InformationWelcome to AT&T Data Support Chat. My name is 'Stephanie Lynch' and I’ll be happy to assist you today.

    Stephanie Lynch: Hello Mr. Anderson. I will be happy to help you learn about your data limitations in partner areas.

    Jason Anderson: thank you

    Stephanie Lynch: Thanks for giving me this opportunity to help you with this question about your Fuze and PDA plan.

    Stephanie Lynch: In order to better assist you today, I will need to access your account. Will this be ok?

    Jason Anderson: yes

    Stephanie Lynch: This is a secure channel. Please provide the following information:

    1-The wireless phone number you are inquiring about, area code first.
    2-The first and last name as listed on the account.
    3-Your full name.
    4-The last four digits of the Social Security # or password listed on the account.

    Please bear with me while I access your account. Once I have the information it may take me 1-2 minutes to complete this.
    Thank you.

    Stephanie Lynch: Thanks so much. So I want to make sure that I understand your question. You are in a partner area. You want to know if you will be charged for data while on a partner roaming network. Is that correct?

    Jason Anderson: I want to know how much data I am able to use without being charged. I just need clarification on the whole 20% or 6MB.

    Stephanie Lynch: Are you asking about tethering your Fuze or just accessing data on your Fuze, Mr. Anderson?

    Jason Anderson: just accessing data on the fuze.

    Stephanie Lynch: Your PDA plan is unlimited data. If you can connect to the data network, you are not being charged for that usage on that partner network. Does that help?

    Jason Anderson: To a point, but the way the contract seems to read is that if I use more than 6 MB, you might not charge me, but you might just cancel my service all together.

    Stephanie Lynch: Mr. Anderson, there is a limit on the tethering portion but that would be using your device as a modem only and not for data on the phone. That is for the tethering portion only.

    Stephanie Lynch: Data on the phone itself is unlimited.

    Jason Anderson: ok, thank you. It's kind of hard to understand that in the terms of service agreement.

    Stephanie Lynch: I do understand that. Big words and little print can be confusing. That is why we are here for you.

    Stephanie Lynch: To recap, you had questions about your data usage while on partner networks. I have confirmed that your usage on the phone is unlimited and that any tethering does have a usage cap. Do you have any other questions for me?

    Jason Anderson: no just if there is a way for you to email this conversation to me, or some way I can save a copy of it.

    Stephanie Lynch: Absolutely. You will have an option when you close to email yourself a copy of this chat or I am happy to send it to you.

    Stephanie Lynch: By the way, did you know that by going to and selecting your device in the drop down list, you can access the online guide for your device? It is just one of the many AT&T Advantages! We want you to get the most out of your device.

    Jason Anderson: ok thank you, I should be able to do it from my end.

    Stephanie Lynch: Very good. Is there anything else I can help you with?

    Jason Anderson: no that should be all. I appreciate all your help.

    Stephanie Lynch: Thanks so much for giving me this opportunity to help you. I appreciate that. Have a great night, Mr. Anderson.

    Stephanie Lynch: We realize that you have a choice in Wireless providers and Thank you for giving us the opportunity to assist you today. We appreciate your business and thank you for visiting the AT&T Live Support Chat.
    Please click the button to end your session.

    A customer satisfaction survey will automatically appear and we appreciate your feedback.

    I would be interested in feedback from anyone who has an opinion about this, or has had similar experiences. Also after I got that text message at&t changed my phone software to tell me when I'm in a off-network area. If they were an honest company the phone would tell you that when you bought it, and they would explain the data limit when you buy the phone. As I say I have had the phone for six months now. Not even sure if I can get all my money back.

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