AT&T’s GigaPower plans turn privacy into a luxury that few would choose

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If you sign up for AT&T’s GigaPower fiber-to-the-home internet service in Austin, Texas, you can expect to pay more than twice the advertised rate on plans that include video to keep your privacy and web surfing history intact.

AT&T’s GigaPower service, which currently delivers 300 Mbps to homes and will eventually get upgraded to a gigabit, launched last December in Austin. It did so with two different pricing plans, one that cost $99 a month for typical service, and another that cost $70 a month provided users agreed to let AT&T monitor their packets to see where on the web the user has been. In turn, AT&T would sell ads targeted to that customer based on his or her habits.

But the $29 more a month to keep your privacy isn’t actually $29 a month. As you add video service, the price differential between choosing privacy and letting AT&T snoop rose to $62 a month for an equivalent package and included a $49 one-time fee (see the screenshot below). Keeping your web history out of Ma Bell’s hands would have cost almost $800 the first year you signed up at the high-end and $531 at the low-end of ordering only internet (there’s a $99 activation fee and a $7 monthly gateway box fee).

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AT&T is making wireline broadband plans more consumer unfriendly

At the time the pricing plans launched, I hated the idea and wrote extensively about how AT&T’s plans corrupt the way wireline broadband is offered today, adding another layer of charges for something that used to be free. And given AT&T’s complicity in handing over user information to government agencies its deeper knowledge of your web visits is unsettling. It does say it “will not collect information from secure (https) or otherwise encrypted sites,” which may be worth more if plans to make the web mostly https ever come about.

But for such a seemingly bad deal for consumers (charging you $29 a month for something you had formerly gotten for free), I discovered that an overwhelming majority of AT&T customers signing up for a GigaPower plan choose the so-called “Premier” option that strips users of their privacy. (I’ve heard that at least two-thirds and at least three-fourths at different points in time). It seemed so bizarre to me, especially that many of these users didn’t seem to even recognize their privacy was being stolen from them.

So I went through the sign up process myself online. Initially a customer looking for a triple play bundle sees the below as the default screen. For any of the bundle options, the default page offers only the “Premier” privacy-invading pricing, even if all you want is broadband. Incidentally, if you sign up for the Premier service you do so under a one-year contract and if you cancel before your year is up, AT&T charges you $348; or the $29 extra you would pay if you wanted privacy under the “Standard” plan.

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If you click on the circled segment, you get a chance to see the first screenshot where you can calculate the true cost of keeping your surfing to yourself. Even if you don’t click on that and make it through the sign up, AT&T does tell you one more time that you have just given it permission to monitor your surfing habits. It was at this point that Steve Watt, a tech executive and new GigaPower subscriber in Cedar Park, realized he had signed away his privacy. He tweeted his dismay and I shared our article from the launch.

Choosing “the snooping plan.”

Realizing he had a choice in the matter, he went back through the process and found the option to check out the alternative plan. But in seeing the difference between the $120 broadband and video bundle he was after and the additional $62 in fees (plus that $49 activation fee) he decided that he could live with what he called “the snooping plan.”

“I understood the bundle and what I was getting with the bundle, but at first I didn’t understand there was another option that didn’t include snooping,” Watt said. “In their defense I should have probably read the fine print on the page so there it is. I signed up for [the snooping plan] anyway, but I hope Google Fiber comes to Cedar Park.”

Plenty of Austin residents and those in areas surrounding Austin are in agreement. In the meantime, AT&T has shifted the pricing for broadband in an anti-consumer direction while also misleading people about the costs of keeping Ma Bell out of your surfing history.

So it’s clear that while Google Fiber and other gigabit networks are pressuring AT&T to upgrade, it will not go gentle into that dumb pipe.

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