AT&T's account site crumbles under iPhone owner load

Early eligibility offer for iPhone 4 upgrade swamps site

AT&T's account management site went dark Monday after Apple announced that its U.S. partner would waive contract requirements to allow more customers to upgrade to the new iPhone 4 this month.

The site came back online at about 5 p.m. ET.

Earlier attempts by Computerworld to reach the wireless account management section of AT&T's Web site were stymied shortly after Apple CEO Steve Jobs wrapped up his presentation of the new iPhone.

The resulting messages ranged from a cryptic "No backend server available for connection: timed out after 100 seconds or idempotent set to OFF" to the more understandable "Maintenance In Progress" and "Due to a system upgrade the site is temporarily unavailable."

During the keynote at Apple's annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), Jobs said that AT&T was relaxing the usual requirement that bars customers from purchasing a new smartphone at a subsidized price until their contract has expired, or has almost expired. Instead, AT&T will offer the iPhone 4 for $199 or $299 to all customers who would have been eligible for a subsidized phone anytime this year.

"Any existing iPhone customer eligible for an upgrade between today and the end of this year will be eligible for our best pricing for iPhone 4, $199 and $299, with a two-year term commitment," AT&T said in a statement issued shortly after Jobs left the WWDC stage.

AT&T urged customers to check their revised upgrade eligibility on the company's Web site or by dialing *639# (star-639-pound) from their iPhone.

"We know that people are eager to get iPhone 4, which is why we moved up the upgrade eligibility date for current iPhone customers by up to six months," Ralph de la Vega, CEO of AT&T Mobility, said in a statement Monday. "This move, combined with the new wireless data plans we announced last week, will make it more affordable for more people to purchase an iPhone and enjoy the benefits of the mobile Internet."

Starting today, AT&T dumped its three-year-old $30 per month unlimited data plan for new iPhone subscribers. Instead, it is offering two new capped-data plans, a $15 deal that comes with a 200MB monthly data allowance, and a $25 plan that includes 2GB of data usage each month. The carrier announced the change last week.

Current subscribers can retain the $30 unlimited data plan indefinitely, AT&T has promised, as long as they don't add tethering to their service.

Customers ineligible for a subsidized iPhone can purchase an iPhone 4 for $200 extra: $399 for a 16GB model, $499 for 32GB. To buy an iPhone 4 without a contract commitment, consumers must pay $599 for a 16GB phone or $699 for the beefier 32GB device.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld . Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is .

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