AT&T's New Data Plans: The Backlash

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AT&T triggered plenty of debate on Wednesday when the carrier unveiled its new tiered data plans for smartphone users and discontinued the unlimited data option for new customers. New smartphone (and iPhone) owners will have to choose between two plans: 200MB of data at $15 per month or 2GB at $25 per month.

AT&T says that 200MB of data is enough to send and receive 1,000 e-mails (no attachments) and 150 e-mails with attachments, view 400 Web pages, post 50 photos on social media sites, and watch 20 minutes of streaming video.

If you go over your data limit, AT&T will charge you another $15 for 200MB or $10 dollars for 1GB of data, depending on your data plan. AT&T will also offer a tethering option later this summer for an extra $20--tethering turns your iPhone into a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot. AT&T's tethering comes almost a year after Apple added tethering functionality to the iPhone OS, but AT&T's extra tethering charge will not come with any extra GB of data only the right to tether your phone.

AT&T's new data plans come just days before Apple is expected to announce a new iPhone model on June 7 at the company's annual Worldwide Developers Conference. AT&T's new iPhone data plans will also go into effect on June 7.

Mixed Reactions

The response from bloggers and blog commenters to AT&T's news varied from those who were supportive of the changes, to those who were completely outraged.

Here are some of the highlights.

PCWorld Editor Ed Albro noted on his Twitter feed that AT&T's new tiered data plan would have saved him $75 over the past seven months; however, PCWorld's commenters took a different point of view. "I was thinking of going to att for the dell streak, now i think att can suck it," said sroach23.

Meanwhile, RWolfShipon is taking some serious action in response to AT&T's new policy, "I filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. False advertising. A bait-and-switch. Steve Jobs should never have promised us an unlimited plan only for AT&T to change the game a month after the iPad 3G was released." It should be noted that current iPhone owners can keep their unlimited data plans; AT&T says you will not be forced into its new tiered system unless you want to add the tethering service.

Over at Mobile Crunch, Nicholas Deleon wrote a sardonic post entitled "Be thankful that AT&T is looking out for our best interests." Deleon went on to thank AT&T for lifting "the burden of unlimited data plans for smartphones." Mobile Crunch commenter james agreed with Deleon's take on AT&T, writing "AT&T makes billions of dollars and instead of bettering their network so it can keep up with demand they'd rather screw the consumer."

Tar and tethering

Daring Fireball blogger John Gruber was unimpressed with AT&T's tethering plan, arguing that the company was charging its customers for nothing. "It's one thing to charge extra for tethering on an "unlimited" data plan, but it's outrageous to charge $20 when the bandwidth is already capped," Gruber wrote. Others around the Web agreed with Gruber's assessment including MacRumors commenter wickywahwah who wrote, "$20 for tethering is BS, but i guess there is always the jailbreak option."

However, over on Macworld some people offered a different view, including mkeikha who said, "Tethering is a luxury, for which users should pay a premium."

On GigaOm, Mark Collins, AT&T's senior vice president in charge of mobility products responded to the charge that AT&T's new tethering option was just a convenience charge. "That capability [tethering] is enabling something you can't do today," Collins said. "You're going to use more data so the price is based on the value that will be delivered."

My Take

While AT&T's tiered data pricing may be unsettling to some users, you might be surprised to discover how little data you actually use. For example, on my iPhone 3GS I have used about 1.42GB of data in the last three months, and I use my phone for GPS navigation, push e-mail, Web browsing, YouTube, and some live video streaming. That works out to about 484MB of data per month, which means I would need AT&T's 2GB per month plan. The downside is that I'd end up paying for an amount of data I would probably never use; however, since AT&T's current data plan is $30 per month I'd still save five dollars every month on data fees.

Perhaps an improvement to AT&T's tiered plan would be to offer a 500MB monthly option, and cut the extra tethering charge.

Check out Macworld's FAQ for more information about AT&T's new data plan.

Connect with Ian on Twitter (@ianpaul).

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