AT&T adds an activation fee for new Next subscribers

A new $15 fee will apply to AT&T's contract-free plans on August 1, and on-contract activations are getting pricier as well.

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Joining AT&T is about to get more expensive, thanks to a new fee on the carrier’s contract-free plans.

Starting August 1, new subscribers to AT&T Next will have to pay a $15 activation fee, regardless of whether they buy a phone from the carrier or bring their own. If you sign up for a new line of service with Next, you pay the fee.

For now, existing Next subscribers won’t face any new fees, The Verge reports, and AT&T has yet to add any fees when upgrading to a new phone on the Next plan. However, AT&T’s website no longer specifically says that upgrade fees don’t apply, as it has in the past.

With AT&T Next, subscribers are not locked into a contract and pay a lower monthly price for wireless service, but must pay full price for the phone itself. AT&T once advertised the lack of activation fees as a selling point—subscribers could walk out of an AT&T store with a phone for no money down—but apparently AT&T would rather just have that money now.

Subscribers with one- or two-year contracts are also getting hit with higher activation and upgrade fees. Starting August 1, the cost to set up a new on-contract phone with AT&T will rise from $40 to $45, making for the highest activation and upgrade fee among all the major carriers.

Why this matters: Even if you don’t subscribe to AT&T, the new fees are probably bad news, because wireless carriers—and especially AT&T and Verizon—tend to copy each other as they invent new ways to extract money from customers. Case in point: AT&T hiked its on-contract activation fee from $35 to $40 last year, and Verizon followed six months later. Don’t be surprised if Verizon Edge quietly gains its own activation fee before long.

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