The Problem with AT&T’s New Data Plans

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AT&T Data Usage

Like a lot of people, I reacted to the news that AT&T was dropping its unlimited data plans with alarm.

You could see this coming from a mile away, of course. AT&T’s brand has been so massively damaged by its ongoing network issues – I was dropped five times during a single phone call from Denver this week – that it’s actually worth asking whether the iPhone exclusivity has been a good or bad thing for the carrier. All of which helps explain why I, like Rafe, had no problem in principal with the decision to stratify data plans.

I had even less problem with it when I discovered that the plan actually wouldn’t impact me, at least in the short term. I was shocked, frankly, when I discovered just how little data I actually consumed. Even with the assistance of MLB At Bat and its gameday streaming audio and on demand video highlights, I haven’t managed to crack even the 1 GB plateau in the past six months. So the 2 GB plan, which is actually cheaper than my current unlimited plan, would theoretically work for me.

But for how long? I’m quite happy, the above discovery notwithstanding, that I locked in my unlimited data plan days before the plan’s expiration. Why? Because AT&T’s pricing works for what I’m using now. It’s far less likely to be reasonable for what I want to use in future.

It was a bit ironic, in fact, that news of the demise of unlimited data plans predated the announcement of NetFlix for the iPhone by mere days. I’m not aware of the bitrates for what they’re going to pipe down to handsets, but I can’t imagine that streaming movies and TV isn’t going to dramatically increase some customers data consumption. For those of us on Android, meanwhile, there’s the forthcoming FroYo feature allowing handsets to stream music from a home library. Which DropBox, incidentally, has already launched support for. And what would happen if MLB ever got around to fixing its asinine TV broadcast blackout rules, and legions of MLB At Bat users began watching the games, daily, on their handsets?

The simple fact is that AT&T is removing the unlimited data plans just as they’re actually going to become useful for mainstream users. Which is their prerogative, because their network is so awful they clearly had to do something. But it can’t really be defended as a positive development for customers, because even if they don’t need unlimited today, they are likely to soon.


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