Mobile's Future without Unlimited Data Plans

Friday, June 11, 2010


AT&T announced this week that new customers will no longer be able to sign up for unlimited data plans for their cellphones. Verizon has hinted that it too is moving away from unlimited data. Jeff Jarvis, blogger at Buzz Machine, says this may lower cellphone bills in the short run but ruin the mobile revolution in the long run.

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Comments [20]

AT&T Did it to me as well from MO

I have been on an unlimited data plan with AT&T since October 2007. I have allways been told as long as I don't cancel my plan, I am grandfathered in for unlimited usage. Today I received an email stating otherwise. Right after the email, my Internet connection was severed. I called AT&T and they stated I had to go to a mandatory 5GB plan; period! There was no other option for me. The 5GB plan was still the same $59.99 a month price that I had been paying for unlimited usage. Below is the email AT&T sent to me 30 minutes prior to my Inrternet connectivity being suspended.

Your Data Service Has Been Suspended.
AT&T has recently attempted to contact you via text message and email regarding your data plan usage. Our systems indicate you are using a substantial amount of data and have exceeded 5GB. Therefore, we have temporarily suspended your service. This is to give you an opportunity to contact us to discuss your options, including being billed $.05/per MB for any usage that exceeds 5 GB. You also have the option to terminate service without penalty.
Please contact us at 800-551-0300 or 611 from your wireless phone, so that we may assist you in understanding your options and to have your data service restored.
We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you.
Thank you,

Oct. 18 2010 01:00 PM
Crusader from Palm Springs, CA

In 2007, I signed up for AT&T's so-called $60 Unlimited Laptop Connect data plan (or whatever they were calling it at the time).

Then about a year later, they appeared to say it was now a 5GB capped plan, but "Don't worry, you are grandfathered in, we don't care if you go over." I only went over 5GB a few times in 3 years.

On July 9, 2010, I got a rude awakening when my data usage went to 5.2 GB. AT&T suspended my data plan. I called and they said as a courtesy they will turn my data plan back on and not charge for the overage this billing cycle. They said I have to keep under 5GB per month OR purchase one of their new plans.

I filed a complaint against them with the FCC and several tech columnists for national newspapers since I feel AT&T is going back on their word. They consistently told me over the years, "Don't worry, you are grandfathered in."

Bottom line appears to be that AT&T is NOT grandfathering in longtime unlimited data plan customers and will now be strong-arming them to purchase the newer data plans. This sucks and is unfair!

Jul. 10 2010 10:32 AM
JoeTaxpayer from Massachusetts

The new limits 200MB/2GB aren't so much on an iPad.

When I first got mine, I took a brief trip to NYC with family, 36 hrs round trip. We used 400MB and this included time I spent at Starbucks when the connection automatically went to WiFi. We streamed no video during this time.

Just like the debate over internet usage, it's tough to gauge what normal is. I plan to keep my unlimited service for the extra $5 ($30/mo) at least until the end of the summer so I can judge over a period of time.

Even flipping through the app version of the New York Times and other papers seems to suck a lot of bytes.

Funny thing - I can stream Netflix at 250MB/hr or so, but couldn't download the OTM podcast at 47MB or so for the hour of listening. Have to download podcasts from WiFi connection.

As I said, I have unlimited, but I feel AT&T did a bait and switch. I wasn't through the first month of service and the options changed on me.

Jun. 21 2010 08:52 PM
Zach from San Diego

Brooke: "How much data is 2 gigabytes?"
Jarvis: "Not much."
Brooke: [next question]

Way to hold his feet to the fire. According to AT&T's stats, 2% of smartphone users use more than 2GB/mo. This isn't buried in some obscure vault, it was in the press release announcing the change.

2GB is hardly anything on your home internet connection, yes. But that's not an apples-to-apples comparison; usage at home is different than usage on a cell connection. Most people don't download HD movies over a cell connection. And if they do, they're the problem, and the types of people AT&T is trying to discourage.

Jun. 18 2010 02:12 PM
Mark Mc

I'm weeping - WEEPING! - for Jarvis, who by the way is either ignorant or lying about AT&T's new and previous data plans. Previously, with the exception of Apple devices, ALL DATA PLANS WERE CAPPED AT 5 GB!!!! And all 4 of the U.S. wireless carriers do the same thing. For example, the data plan on my AT&T Nokia 3G smartphone cost $30/month and was limited to 5 GB; last year I upgraded to a "tethering" plan (to use the 3G data plan with my laptop) which cost $60/month and was still limited to 5 GB (same is true for all 3G laptop data devices); there was no option for adding more data. Now with the new AT&T plan, 3G tethering costs me $45/month with a 2 GB limit; if I exceed that I'll get an additional charge that month. As long as you avoid downloading video on these 3G data plans - a purpose for which they are most definitely NOT intended - you should be OK. I'm happy.

Jun. 17 2010 04:58 AM
Petter Kolseth from Sweden

There is something very strange with the US mobile services. Swedish companies just came back to unlimited data traffic for new subscribers. Only one company stays at the max limit of 20GB - this is still TEN TIMES MORE than what you are discussing now. The problem in Sweden seems to be a very small group of subscribers that do 700-900GB...

So I suggest that Jeff Jarvis should continue his quest for "unlimited" data traffic.

Jun. 17 2010 02:24 AM
Rahul from Providence, RI

Jeff Jarvis should be banned from NPR. This is the second time in six months that I've suffered through his whining (last time was on On Point). His two good points -- data-only plans and keeping the unlimited plan as an option -- were drowned out by his whining. What qualifies him to speak for all iPhone users? Maybe the Internet would be better of with metered usage as we wouldn't have to slog through so much uploaded crap. We'd probably be safer too -- no more pedestrians crossing the street while checking their email.

Jun. 16 2010 06:22 AM
cmadler from Ypsilanti, MI

It's also worth noting that many companies have been offering "unlimited" plans with limits for quite a while. Sprint, for example, caps their "unlimited plan" at 5GB/month. Even for AT&T, only the iPhone plan was truly unlimited; the "unlimited" plans for Blackberries and all other phones caps at 5GB/month.

So, iPhone users, stop whining that your preferential treatment is coming to an end, and welcome to the data service that the rest of us have been living with.

Jun. 15 2010 04:23 PM
cmadler from Ypsilanti, MI

Alex:"He fails to address whether a 2GB cap is enough for most people, or even for himself. This is the central question, and he ignores it. (In the techiest circles I know, no one has come within 50% of that cap even once.)"

Then, Alex, your techiest circles must not be very techie. I checked my personal usage. In the 7 1/2 days since my current billing period started, I've used 858 MB. At this rate, I expect I'll end the month at about 3.33 GB, which is in line with my usage in past months. And yes, that's on a mobile phone. 2GB is just not that much.

Jun. 15 2010 04:18 PM
Robert M. Hoehn from Seattle, WA

Jarvis, and most of the other whiners, don't like to address the fact that this country's Internet infrastructure is built mainly by private enterprise. Thus, its expansion is built by profits, not government tax dollars. Especially the wireless internet, where precious spectrum is auctioned off to the highest bidder.

It may seem trite, but bandwidth is no different than water, electricity, heat, or oil: eventually the pipe gets full. Would you ever leave a faucet running, the lights on, or the heat blasting? Of course not. Yet the "unlimited camp" continues to argue that they have the right to pay one low fee to do just that.

Rob Hoehn
Seattle, WA

Jun. 15 2010 01:06 AM
geo8rge from Brooklyn

I wonder if the problem is that the bandwidth needs were manageable on small screens like iPhone, but each iPad, much bigger screen, is potentially like 4, 16 or whatever iPhones. So each iPad user uses many multiples of the bandwidth of an iPhone user.

Jun. 14 2010 02:17 PM
Anthony from NYC

I agree with Paul's comment totally. I love my iphone, but I feel like a hostage. I can never figure out my bill, I never use my minute but I always end up going 'over' and paying extra. I've adjusted my plan maybe four times and still, this persists. Plus, I get that lovely call in the middle of the month to say 'HEY YOUR BILL IS READY!' A good friend just echoed my sentiments yesterday when he said "They are about to price me out of my favorite gadget." I am inches from telling AT&T to F off on principal.

I think Alex above works for AT&T?

Jun. 13 2010 04:39 PM
Paul from New York, NY

AT&T HAS let the genie out of the bottle. Are they like that coke dealer on the corner who gives you a few free samples, gets you hooked onto unlimited internet service and then pulls the plug and ups the ante? It's all a question of rising expectations and a company that's unable to meet them. AT&T is notorious for bad service and faulty network connections. The fact that they can't handle the bandwidth demands means there needs to be a breakthrough in the scenario for providing it.
There are always going to be people who will be able to afford these limited plans and the resultant higher rates. This will further divide the haves and the have-nots. Interaction through the Internet for business purposes and for employment seeking has become ubiquitous and almost impossible to do without.

Jun. 13 2010 10:34 AM
Dan from Boston

You'd think that a show whose primary focus is critical review of the media would be able to cast that same critical eye on itself. That duty is doubly important when that guest is himself a journalist. And yet, On The Media gave precious airtime to a self-entitled whiner whose central tantrum consisted of "But the market wants me to have unlimited Internet!" I'm sorry if you feel that way, Mr. Jarvis, but reality must impose itself now and again, and universal unlimited internet simply isn't feasible with a scarce resource. Surely they teach about the tragedy of the commons at your university!

Jun. 12 2010 04:48 PM
Frank A from Toledo, Oh

As a faithful listener this was a very disappointing interview. I can only echo the preceding comments regarding the subjects lack of knowledge, semi hysteria, failure to forthrightly answer many of the question, disregard the facts, selectively answer questions and display an obvious bias. I completely agree with the poster who questions this persons academic integrity. I sincerely hope you reexamine this topic with a professional who can help the listener understand the complexity of the issues in both the short and long term.

Jun. 12 2010 04:19 PM
Bill W. from Boston

I would have been happier to hear something about the actual flow of data--like numbers, bandwidth...some details, facts. (Even though OTM is a kind of Op Ed page of the airways.)

Jun. 12 2010 01:45 PM
alex from Brooklyn

There are really strong arguments against AT&T's new data pricing, but not to be found in Mr. Jarvis's rantings.

The double billing for tethered data is a problem. It even addresses is issues of having everything connected to the internet. That would have been worthy of addressing.

Heck, he got into the requirement of voice plans (and their costs), even though that has little to do with the real topic of this piece. If iPads can do without voice plans, why not iPhones and their competitors?

It almost seems that OTM went looking for someone to complain about the end of unlimited data plans for iPhones and this was the best they could get, but ran the piece because they'd already invested the time. Poor editorial decision, OTM. (I seem to recall this happening on another anti-iPhone piece a couple years ago, too. How cliche.)

Jun. 12 2010 10:27 AM
alex from Brooklyn

That this man -- one so unconcerned with either facts or smart analysis -- *teaches* journalism says a lot about that state of journalism today.

Or at least it explains it.

Jun. 12 2010 10:21 AM
alex from Brooklyn

He ignores reports that a tiny percentage of smartphone users take up a vastly disproportionate share of the networks, and it's implication for his preferred answer (i.e. competition). If the vast majority of users will save money, even if they consume exponentially more data, what is the problem? He ignores the fact that AT&T has set the upper cap (2GB) far higher than that vast majority has ever consumed *and* at a LOWER price point that he old unlimited plan.

This change is clearly targeted at a very small fraction of smartphone users. Greater costs for them is *not* going to prevent the kind of explosion of use he envisions.

And let's be clear here. AT&T is *not* preventing anyone from consuming as much data as they want. Rather, it is telling that small fraction that they will have to pay more than they have. Others can pay half what they used to for data, if they are willing to be careful about usage and merely 17% less than they used to if they don't.

Jun. 12 2010 10:20 AM
alex from Brooklyn

Mr. Jarvis's argument is based on the following facts:

His argument is based on the following reasoning: *whine* I want *unlimited* data!!!! *whine*


His accuses AT&T of not upgrading it's network, in contradiction to the facts. He plays a clip from TDS underscoring the urgency of the situation, and then demands that AT&T *not* to everything it can remedy it.

He says that he want his car connected to the internet, as though AT&T's metering of data on his smartphone will prevent that. (Was he counting on using his phone's data plan for his car without paying for it?)

He fails to address whether a 2GB cap is enough for most people, or even for himself. This is the central question, and he ignores it. (In the techiest circles I know, no one has come within 50% of that cap even once.)

Jun. 12 2010 10:14 AM

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