Yet another wireless carrier will no longer sell you all the mobile-broadband service that your phone can eat. And it could be a good thing in principle — but in practice it doesn't look so appealing.
On Thursday, Verizon Wireless followed the example set by AT&T last summer and T-Mobile this spring when it retired its unlimited-data offering. Instead of not imposing any quota (outside of fine-print restrictions on "abuse") on its $30/month option, Verizon will ask new subscribers — not current customers, even if they buy new phones — to choose between paying $30 for 2 gigabytes of use, $50 for 5 GB or $80 for 10 GB.
Going over your plan will cost $10 for each extra gig. The only budget-priced option is a $10 option for 75 megabytes of use on "basic phones" — the non-smart kind, on which you may not want to spend much time online.
Tune out the exact numbers for a second, though: Is it necessarily wrong to charge people by their use?
That's natural in many markets. We're pay for electricity, water, food and a great many other things by how much of them we consume.
Metered Internet access lost out in the late 1990s, when Internet providers like America Online or CompuServe charged by the hour. But wireless carriers argue that now things are different. They say they must bill by the bit to account for the limited capacity of their networks and the excesses of a minority of customers–and that, furthermore, most users won't even notice their limits.
Indeed, AT&T users found that when they checked their usage, many were below the 250-megabyte threshold of its new, $15 "DataPlus" plan, while few used more than the 2 GB covered by its $25 "DataPro" option.
And yet: There are reasons to be skeptical about this trend.
One is the precedent set. Once you put a limit on something you once didn't bother to meter, it's easier to tighten the boundaries in the future.
A second is the risk that metered rates won't save customers any money — as is the case for new Verizon smartphone subscribers.
A third is the ease of going over the limit. Verizon, to its credit, says it will send text messages to its users when they hit 50, 75, 90 and 100 percent of their limits — but monitoring your own usage requires extra steps. (iPhones track your data usage for you, but you have to check yourself: Open the Settings app, tap the General category and tap Usage. On Android, try the free NetCounter app.)
But the carriers have provided the largest reason to doubt this new direction: their apparent inability to describe their services clearly.
T-Mobile laundered its policy change in a press release touting "new unlimited rate plans" that, halfway through the second paragraph, clarified that they only allot a limited amount of "high-speed data" use before your connection gets throttled back to slower speeds. Verizon outdid that move by not even announcing the change on its site–although it did kick out a release about its new account-management tools.
At least AT&T was comparatively straightforward when it introduced its data limits.
Sprint, meanwhile, still doesn't impose a quota and has even begun advertising that fact. But it's dwarfed by AT&T and Verizon–and will be even smaller if the government approves of AT&T's proposed purchase of T-Mobile. So maybe we are okay with this trend after all.
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