AT&T generated a lot of buzz when it announced Wednesday that it is instituting a new pricing model virtually immediately. By Monday, June 7, one will not be able to purchase the unlimited data plan for $30 per month or for any price. Many iPhone users were shocked. But imagine the shock of the 3G iPad users who just bought their iPads in the last weeks based on the advertised data plan. For the "indefinite" future, AT&T will allow existing users to keep their unlimited data plans. I've already talked to two people who are rushing off to get an iPhone 3GS from Walmart for $97 this weekend. They are available elsewhere for $99. Their theory is to grab the unlimited plan now and they can always downgrade later. They had been waiting for the release of the new iPhone later this summer, but the 3GS is a pretty good phone and they can upgrade to the new phone later.
This article summarizes most commonly asked questions. I do not dispute that many will pay less under the new arrangement. Many do not use their data plans frequently. But for my money, I'd rather have unlimited for $30 and never have to check my data use, than pay $25 for 2GB and $10 for each additional gigabyte each month. Most lawyers should be learning more about things they can do with their smart phone instead of worrying if they will get the $10.00 penalty.
I do think AT&T does want to lower the minimum monthly fee for an iPhone to expand their market. But the PR push that they are allowing tethering (see link for explanation) is only technically true. If they wanted to allow tethering AT&T could have just let it happen with the soon-to-be released iPhone which enables tethering. That would have been a great deal — $30 monthly for unlimited data plan on my iPhone and a wireless modem for my laptop. Instead, insiders say that AT&T is making a huge investment to block the ability to tether under their current unlimited plans. To legally tether, you have to downgrade to the $25 2GB plan and then pay an extra $20 per month for the ability to tether, even if you don't use it that month. If you do tether, any data you use goes against your 2GB limit. Laptops will use the GB's more quickly than the phones. I predict many additional charges for those who do tether. Now if you are staying several days in a hotel that charges $14 per night for Internet access, it may be a good deal. But generally it is a rip-off.
As noted there have been lots of reactions. Some rush to buy new phones before Monday. Others vow to quit as soon as they can. Personally I think the capabilities of the iPad and soon-to-be-released iPhone scared AT&T.The iPad can be used just like a computer and might be used online just as much. If the new iPhone will allow tethering and, as many think, will allow hand-held video conferencing, then data usage could increase. I don't believe that one's current data plan use fairly predicts what one's future use will be.
AT&T had better be careful. Most AT&T users are not happy with their service. (I've had 5 dropped calls this week. How about you?) If a competitor offers an unlimited data plan allowing tethering, there could be a rush of defections. Of course the rush of big data users might bring the same complaints about dropped calls and weak signals to the new carrier.
Overall this is not a huge deal for most users. Many will pay less and $10 here and there won't destroy the lives of most.
But you have to ask yourself, when and how will AT&T suddenly decide to change the rules next time?