This is being heralded as some amazing new idea but it's not. The idea of keeping people inside your network as been around for a long time. Everytime a telephone call crosses over to a competitor's network is costs money. These charges are invisible to the customer but not to the corporation.
After doing some very basic Google searching I found a few web sites that talk about the old MCI Friends and Family plan.
Around 1990, shortly after the dawn of equal access long distance service, MCI pulled what appeared to be a marketing coup with the introduction of the Friends & Family calling program. In marketing terms, this was known as a loyalty program, because it encouraged people to remain MCI customers even when a better deal might be available from the competition.
Customers of the original Friends & Family program received a lower rate for calls made to customers that they had included in their calling circle, which could contain up to 20 MCI customers. Customers who decided to switch to a competitor would have to explain to their friends that calling them would now cost more, thus resulting in a degree of reluctance to change long distance companies.
source: Demise of MCI Friends & Family Program
Some folks even report a bit of humor was generated about this time between MCI and AT&T
AT&T : "If you join MCI's Friends and Family program you are automatically added to the calling circle of a really boring guy named 'Gus' who will call you sometime between three and five a.m. every morning to discuss his fears about dental floss."
MCI : "AT&T -- Their chief executives write obscene graffiti all over municipal transportation systems throughout the country; their staff are arrogant, indolent morons. We hate them, and so should you."
source: MCI vs. AT&T : The Battle Turns Ugly...
The basis of the MCI Friends and Family plan was very simple. If you called another MCI residential customer the call was discounted in price. When you called someone 'outside' the network it costs you more money to place the call.
MCI's competitors jumped on this with a string of comercials showing familys pressuring reluctant family members into switching to MCI so everyone could save a few dollars. Why some people in the family were forgotten at holidays because they just wouldn't switch over to MCI.
Poor old Uncle Frank, if only he would switch to MCI we could call him...
Eventually low per minute calling plans became the norm and this plan went out of style. MCI went ka-blooie in 2002 and was acquired on Feb 14, 2005 by Verizon.
If you go to AT&T's page on the Unity program you can read some interesting information.
For example, there is a very interesting page that you can use to see if your "friends and family" are on the plan. Sound familiar?
Taking a quick look at the FAQ page we see this:
Q. I have AT&T Long Distance but not AT&T local service. Can I subscribe to an AT&T Unity rate plan?
A. No. AT&T Unity rate plans are only available to combined billed customers of both a qualifying AT&T local services company and Cingular.
Did you see that? Not only do you have to have an AT&T land line but you also have to have an AT&T (Cingular) cell phone.
Q. What price options are available for AT&T Unity plans?
A. AT&T Unity rate plans start at $59.99 per month and include individual or FamilyTalk options. AT&T Unity plans also include unlimited Mobile to Mobile, unlimited Nights and Weekends and no roaming or long distance charges.
The base plan will cost you $60 over and above your basic cell phone and land line charges. Do you spend more than $60 on long distance calls per month? I don't. Perhaps I'm just a local yocal who doesn't understand the 'value' in paying $60 per month in extra charges.
I do use AT&T for my local phone line and I have two cell phones. One phone is with Cingular and the other is through Sprint. This insures that wherever I go, one of those phones is likely to have service.
The more I think about it the more this plan reminds me of the old MCI one with the added bit being that most people will probably not need it! Calling is already cheap enough. Most cell phone contracts provide for unlimitted night and weekend calling, how often do you, as a residential customer, use your phone outside of nights and weekends to make long distance calls?
I'm going to stay far away from this Unity plan.