Have A "Cheap" iPhone 3G Plan? Don't Expect A "Cheap" iPhone 3G S Upgrade.

cheap-trick-surrenderSo, after a tidal wave of criticism from the iPhone early adopters, AT&T is doing the right thing — kind of. Today, AT&T issued an update to its policy regarding the iPhone 3G S upgrade price. Previously, only those existing customers who were eligible for a new phone subsidy (typically those within a few months of their two year contract expiring) would get the best price for the device. That meant no current iPhone 3G owners were getting it because that device is only 11 months old. But now, AT&T will offer the best price to some iPhone 3G owners — but which ones? Basically, it looks like those with the most expensive contracts.

“We’re now pleased to offer our iPhone 3G customers who are upgrade eligible in July, August or September 2009 our best upgrade pricing, beginning Thursday, June 18,” AT&T writes. But don’t be fooled, that’s far from everyone.

If you read a few lines above you’ll see “For example, iPhone customers who spend more than $99 a month per line with us generally are eligible for an upgrade between 12 and 18 months into their contract.” As an iPhone 3G AT&T customer, I decided to check my eligibility using “check eligibility” tool on Apple’s website. The date I’m eligible for the upgrade according to that site is December 12, 2009 — well outside the July, August or September rule. I bought the iPhone 3G on day one, so why am I not eligible? Because I’m not paying enough — by 33 cents, apparently.

My monthly bill is $98.67.

attAs someone with the 450 anytime minute plan (the lowest), I would venture to guess that I’m in the same boat as most of you out there with iPhone 3Gs. I opted to get 1500 text messages tacked on to my plan for $15 a month mostly because I hate AT&T’s (and all other carrier’s) ridiculous text messaging pricing. So I saved myself $5, which would have gotten me unlimited texts, but more importantly, would have put me over the $99 a month threshold.

But look at the wording from AT&T again. If those paying more than $99 a month are eligible for upgrades after between 12 and 18 months, I would assume those paying $100 are towards the 18 month part of that window, while those much paying much more are closer to the 12 month line.

So this is just a guess, but if my $98.67 isn’t eligible until December under the old rules, I would imagine you’ll have to have a monthly bill in something like the $120 or above range to hit the September window needed to trigger the fully subsidized iPhone 3G S price.

The new upgrade prices will go into effect tomorrow on AT&T’s eligibility tool, so we’ll know for sure then. But when that happens I fully suspect I’ll see my iPhone 3G S offer to be the same $399 or $499 as it is today. And if you’re on the lowest iPhone 3G plan, you can expect the same.

I completely understand why I wasn’t originally eligible for the subsidy (that’s how it works, AT&T subsidized my phone last year over the course of a two year deal), but I don’t like this new arbitrary pricing cut-off at customers with $99 a month contracts or higher. All AT&T iPhone plans are expensive — to the point where AT&T is trying to find a way to bring them down a bit.

I thought that it would be in AT&T’s best interest to offer all iPhone 3G early adopters a fully subsidized iPhone 3G S simply because it would lock us in for another 2 years of expensive monthly service. That’s something AT&T shouldn’t pass up given the rumors swirling about the company losing its iPhone exclusivity after next year. But now, for many users still not eligible for the iPhone 3G S full subsidy, who likely won’t upgrade, they’ll be free to do as they wish next year. Including leave AT&T.