All AT&T wireless plans subject to new fee - Is it a subsidy for prepaid users?

AT&T is now charging all postpaid customers a "Mobility Administrative Fee," a new "below the line" charge that will appear on monthly statements right next to state, federal and regulatory fees. The new fee first began appearing on AT&T bills May 1.

The fee is relatively modest, at $0.61 each month, totaling $7.32 annually for AT&T subscribers. However, with its 70-million strong user base, the new fee should net nearly a half billion dollars for the carrier. In addition to targeting individual subscribers, the "Mobility Administrative Fee" applies to IRU business contracts, which are business accounts that are paid for by the end user.

AT&T told The Verge that the new fee is intended to "help cover certain expenses, such as interconnection and cell site rents and maintenance" and that it is "consistent with similar fees charged by other carriers." While the assertion will probably do little to allay subscriber complaints, it does appear to be true for the most part. Verizon and Sprint indeed charge higher administrative fees.

The revelation of new and ambiguous fees being tacked onto AT&T bills comes amid news that AT&T GoPhone customers (that's AT&T's prepaid option) will be granted access to the carrier's LTE network at no additional cost. Is it possible that AT&T intends to subsidize prepaid LTE data usage with fees derived from customers under contract? It's doubtful the carrier would ever admit to such a tactic even if it was true, but the timing certainly seems curious.      

It's also worth noting that AT&T doesn't currently sell any LTE-capable prepaid phones, but the company has stated it intends to in the future and in the meantime, subscribers can still use their own LTE-ready devices.

Though AT&T has the right to modify user agreements, The TechBlock reports that it is required to notify customers one bill cycle in advance if it intends to do so, which didn't happen in this case. Consequently, customers may be able to ditch their contracts without having to pay an early termination fee, but likely not without some serious arguing with AT&T customer service reps.  

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