The end of AT&T's Consumer's Choice plans

What happened?

In a letter to customers, AT&T announced that the Consumer’s Choice plans, Illinois’ best local phone deals, will be eliminated on Nov. 17, 2017. The letters indicate that Consumer’s Choice customers will be automatically switched to identical offers that are more expensive.

Why is this happening?

In July, the Illinois General Assembly passed a rewrite of the state Telecommunications Act, and AT&T successfully lobbied to end the Act’s requirement that it offer the three Consumer’s Choice plans: Basic, Extra and Plus.

The plans were originally created by CUB in a legal settlement with AT&T about a decade ago, and their prices—all less than $20—were under a legislatively mandated price feeze. They were the best local phone deals in Illinois, if not the country.

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 1-800-288-2020 by Nov. 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.

Have questions for AT&T? Call 1-800-288-2020.

So what are my choices?

Consumer’s Choice customers who take no action will be automatically 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. 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!
The chart below summarizes the new plans.

Click for an enlarged image.

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 interrupt my service?

AT&T says no.

Does AT&T’s letter impact local toll or long-distance calls?

No. The Consumer’s Choice plans are local phone deals, for calls to places within 15 miles from your home (what AT&T labels “Band A” and “Band B” calls). Calls beyond that—local toll (15-40 miles away) and long-distance (40+ miles away)—are not affected by the changes.

Does this mean I'm losing my landline on Nov. 17?

In addition to eliminating the Consumer’s Choice plans in the Illinois Telecom Act, AT&T also successfully lobbied the General Assembly to eliminate the requirement that it offer traditional landline service in its Illinois territory.

However, that does not mean you are losing your landline immediately. AT&T still must get final approval from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to eliminate 1.2 million traditional landlines for businesses and households in Illinois.

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.”

CUB will go before the FCC to fight to protect landline service as long as it can. Visit SaveOurPhoneService.com to send a message to Washington.

What are my choices beyond landlines?

AT&T 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.”