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msnbc.com
updated 6/17/2009 2:59:01 PM ET 2009-06-17T18:59:01

AT&T said today it is modifying its upgrade policy for the new iPhone after existing customers of the popular device protested the $200 price difference they would have to pay if they wanted the new iPhone 3Gs, due out Friday.

Customers who are just shy of a year into their two-year service contract may be eligible for "best upgrade pricing" of $199 for the 16-gigabyte model and $299 for the 32 GB version, AT&T said today. The change will be reflected on AT&T's Web site tomorrow.

"Since many of our iPhone 3G customers are early adopters and were literally weeks shy of being upgrade eligible due to iPhone 3G S launching 11 months after iPhone 3G, we’re extending the window of upgrade eligibility for a limited time," said David Fishman, AT&T spokesman. "This change helps them. We recognize that these customers likely camped at our stores, stood in long lines or waited for iPhone 3G inventory to arrive. We value their business — and want to keep them doing business with AT&T.

AT&T, the only carrier of the iPhone in the United States, was met with complaints from customers after it announced pricing of $399 and $499 for the new phone for those who are not quite a year into their contract. The company also set pricing of $599 and $699 for those who do not want to sign any kind of service contract with the wireless carrier.

As of Wednesday morning, more than 14,000 people on the microblogging site Twitter had signed a "twitition," — a Twitter petition — asking AT&T to "offer reasonable iPhone 3GS upgrade prices."

The change "gives customers who do not yet qualify for an upgrade — likely because they received a subsidized device within the last year or two — the opportunity to upgrade at a special price that's still below AT&T's actual cost" of the phone, the company said.

Those customers considered qualified for the cheaper pricing, in most cases, will be those who spend $99 a month per phone line, the company said. "In general, the more a customer spends with us, the less time they have to wait to get another new device," AT&T said on its Facebook site.

"Getting a new subsidized device is based on several factors, including monthly recurring charges and having an account in good financial standing," said Fishman. "iPhone customers who spend more than $99 a month per line with us generally are eligible for an upgrade between 12 and 18 months. In general, the more a customer spends with AT&T, the less time they have to wait to get another new device. That said, AT&T does offer early upgrade pricing only for iPhone for those customers who are not yet eligible and don’t want to wait."

He said customers can check their eligibility starting tomorrow at AT&T's site.

"Also starting Thursday, customers also can call *NEW# (*639#) from their AT&T handset and receive a text with information about their upgrade eligibility," as well as get informaton from AT&T company-owned stores.

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