Early 5G Plans Show Cell Carriers Haven't Learned Much About Misleading 'Unlimited' Plans
from the ill-communication dept
A little more than 12 years ago, Verizon was forced to strike an agreement with the New York State Attorney General for marketing data plans as “unlimited” when the plans had very clear limits. Carriers have received numerous subsequent wrist slaps for the practice in the decade since, but none of these lessons appear to have gotten through.
Case in point: Verizon recently launched its first ever 5G hotspot for use on the company’s barely available 5G network. To use it, you’ll need to pony up $650, which is three to four times higher than the cost most pay for a comparable 4G hotspot. From there, you’ll need to pay Verizon $85 per month for an “unlimited” 5G data plan, which is roughly $10 more per month than a comparable 4G plan. And of course, this being Verizon, the company’s “unlimited” data plan is not really unlimited:
“Verizon said hotspot-only plans “start at $85 a month (plus taxes and fees).” Verizon describes the $85-per-month hotspot plan as “unlimited” when you go through the online checkout process. But the fine print states that customers get 50GB of high-speed 5G data, and 5G speeds are reduced to 3Mbps after that. The plan treats 5G and 4G data separately; it provides 15GB of high-speed 4G data and slows users down to 600kbps after that. Verizon allows 4K video streaming on 5G, while limiting video on the 4G network to 720p.”
Oh yeah, that’s not confusing at all. And speeds of 600 kbps and 3 Mbps are a pretty far cry from what anybody would consider “next-generation” (technically they don’t even meet the FCC’s 25 Mbps standard definition of broadband).
Carriers tap dance around criticism by suggesting that the data plan is technically unlimited because your data line will always work — albeit at reduced speeds. But that long list of caveats is still very clearly “limits” by any modern understanding of the word. Carriers should have simply stopped using the word years ago, but because there was no real penalty outside of a wrist slap for misleading customers as to the limits on these connections, the behavior simply never stopped. Consumers like the simplicity of “unlimited” data. Cell carriers like to pretend they’re providing it.
With the erosion of FCC authority and elimination of net neutrality protections, it’s likely all of this is going to only get dumber should this looming lawsuit against the FCC go the industry’s way (a ruling there is expected pretty much any day now). There’s now no real penalty if an ISP wants to dramatically mislead consumers as to restrictions placed on a consumer’s line, just as long as they bury a complicated explanation somewhere deep in their TOS. And more than a decade after carriers were first criticized for marketing “unlimited” data plans with very real limits, we appear to have made little to no real progress.