What Mobile Carriers Are Really Saying in Their Ads

March 2nd, 2015

The mobile phone world is a murky place. There’s the barrage of monthly charges, a baffling array of conditions, and techy terms that are truly confusing. For example, do you know the difference between a line and a phone? Because there is one.

In the spirit of National Consumer Protection Week, we thought we’d try to help sort it all out by breaking down some recent ads from the top four mobile carriers and detailing their teeny tiny fine print that you may or may not catch as it rolls by in nanoseconds in the commercials. Our analysis is two-fold: What the ad says and the reality of that message.

SPRINT

What the ad says: Verizon and AT&T customers can switch to Sprint and their new mobile carrier will “cut your bill in half.”

The reality: Sprint will only cut your rate plan in half, which is the service costs of the bill. Additionally, the deal does not include the cost of actual phones that you must lease or buy from Sprint. Even Sprint’s CFO Joe Enteneuer admitted its savings promise amounts to “… probably getting a 20 percent sort of net discount.”

AT&T

What the ad says: “Now, get three lines for $120 a month with rollover data to share.”

The reality: In short, you will end up paying more than $120 a month. That’s because lines are not phones but rather access to a plan and the $120 does not include the monthly device payments you must make for each phone on the plan. So be ready to tack on that additional cost to your monthly bill.

VERIZON

What the ad says: “2 lines with 6GB for $100 monthly access”

The reality: Disclosing the cost for monthly line access while burying in the fine print that you will have to pay for phones to get that price — where have we seen this before? Just like with AT&T, Verizon makes you purchase phones through a monthly payment program in order to get the advertised line access rate. And what does that do? Say it with us: It increases your monthly bill.

T-MOBILE

What the ad says: “Keep your unused data up to a year.”

The reality: “Data Stash” is only available to T-Mobile customers who purchase 3GB or more of 4G LTE data. That’s what “Qualifying plan req’d” means. So smartphone users who don’t use much data reap no reward.

Click here for more of our coverage on smartphones.

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