Verizon's New 'Unlimited' Data Plans Still Have Very Real, Problematic Limits

from the terrible-precedent dept

Back in 2007, 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. Twelve years later and it’s not clear the company has learned much of anything.

The latest case in point: Verizon this week once again revamped the company’s not really “unlimited” data plans, and they once again come with some very real limits. For example the company’s entry level “unlimited” plan still bans HD video entirely, throttling everything to 480p, then forcing you to pay extra should you want to view a video stream as its originator intended. But all of the company’s plans feature some kind of limits with the goal (always) of upselling you to a more expensive plan should you, you know, actually want unfettered access to the internet and use your device as intended (say as a mobile hotspot):

Verizon has added a new wrinkle to the mix by banning 4K video streaming entirely unless you subscribe to a new Verizon 5G plan (still barely available in most areas) for another additional $10 per month. And again, all of these plans have limits that result in your “unlimited” connection being throttled should you, you know, actually use it. This throttling occurs after 25 GB/mo on Play More Unlimited, 50 GB/mo on Do More Unlimited and 75 GB/mo on Get More Unlimited.

Other mobile carriers like Sprint have similarly experimented with throttling games, video, and music, then charging you more money if you want to bypass these arbitrary restrictions. Again, the entire function of this model is to upsell wireless data customers (who already pay some of the highest prices for mobile data in the developed world) to even more expensive plans if they just want their damn connection to work. Customers who don’t know what a gigabyte is or what these restrictions mean will usually migrate to the more expensive plan “to be safe.” It’s a pricing funnel designed to scare consumers into paying more.

It’s fairly impressive that twelve years after Verizon was dinged for not understanding the definition of unlimited — and after fifteen years of net neutrality debates — some people still don’t see the terrible precedent these kinds of pricing plans set. Letting ISPs impose arbitrary restrictions, then charge you more money to get around them, isn’t a model that’s going to be great for innovators over the longer haul. And with the triple punch of regulatory capture at the FCC, the death of net neutrality, and looming consolidation/competition erosion courtesy of the Sprint T-Mobile merger, there’s a whole lot more of this sort of thing over the horizon.

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Companies: verizon

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Comments on “Verizon's New 'Unlimited' Data Plans Still Have Very Real, Problematic Limits”

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35 Comments
Gary (profile) says:

Re: Converting Streams to 480p

I don’t think it actually alters the stream, what they do is throttle the stream to the point where 480p is all that can get thru. This causes the source to either change the rez or get choked. Not 100% sure there may be other technical measures I’m not familiar with, but trans-coding it on the fly seems like it would be impossible for Verizon, especially with HTTPS.

Anonymous Coward says:

Letting ISPs impose arbitrary restrictions, then charge you more money to get around them, isn’t a model that’s going to be great for innovators over the longer haul.

These restrictions aren’t entirely arbitrary. Bandwidth is a finite resource that costs a lot of money to expand. ISPs and mobile providers have always had to do /something/ to limit use of their available bandwidth so that everyone can have the bandwidth they want/need. Tiers of access at different price points seems to solve this problem pretty well while still allowing them to oversell said bandwidth. If everyone actually used the bandwidth they pay for the whole system would come crashing down and they would have to change their pricing to a cartoon version of their current pricing.

We do, however, need to stop supporting these companies with public funds that never achieve the intended results. Let them succeed or fail on their own merit.

TFG says:

Re: Re:

There are two problems with these statements.

A) Look at the pricing and data available in other countries as opposed to the US, and you’ll see that they pay far less for far more. Ergo, while network management may be needed, what we get isn’t network management, it’s price gouging due to a captive consumer base and lack of effective protective regulation.

B) They’re using the word "unlimited" for dramatically limited plans. Even if the plans had a valid reason behind them, they should not be labeled unlimited.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Data caps do almost nothing to relieve bandwidth pressure, as the first is a monthly limit, while the latter varies second by second. Network congestion has much more to do with when people want bandwidth, than how much data they use in a month.

Forcing video to lower resolutions does save bandwidth, but when they say pay us more to enable higher video resolution, and even more money to up your data cap to benefit from the higher resolution, then it looks like a means of extracting more money from their customers that having a role in congestion management.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Also C) a monthly data cap doesn’t help. You can still get all your customers trying to stream an HD movie at the same time even if they have monthly data caps, so if total bandwidth availability is the problem, this is the wrong tool to try to solve it. Which indicates that either Verizon is really dumb, or that isn’t actually the problem they’re trying to solve.

tom (profile) says:

Love the fine print where it says rates are only good for auto pay with direct access to bank account(no credit cards allowed) and with paperless billing. They want to suck the money directly out of your bank while making it as difficult as possible to get a breakout of your bill.

As far as Congress critters in the lobbyists pockets, just list all 535 of them. Its the only way to be sure.

urza9814 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I dunno about wireless, but I’ve got the same kind of deal with Verizon FiOS, and it takes literally one click once I’m logged in to their website to get a breakdown of my bill.

They don’t want to pay credit card processing fees, they don’t want to be paying for service of people who issue chargebacks or whose cards end up declined, they don’t want to be paying postage every month to send out a bill. Seems like a reasonable enough condition for giving discounts, and they certainly aren’t the only company that does it that way. Hell, when I moved up here I couldn’t find anyone who would give me internet billed to a credit card, they all required direct debit as a condition for getting any plan at all.

Verizon Wireless is, IME, a pretty scummy company…but that particular part seems perfectly reasonable.

a sentient cat (profile) says:

Verizon sucks

I have a tangentially related story:

Recently I decided to upgrade my phone because 32GB internal space just wasn’t cutting it any more. I decided on the Pixel 3 with 128GB, so I went to the Verizon website and got connected with a support person in the in-browser chat window. I said "I want to upgrade to the 128GB Pixel 3" and they said "okay I’ll set that up and you can pick it up tonight at your local Verizon location".

Then like an idiot, I assumed everything was on the up-and-up, and didn’t actually check to see if I’d been given the correct phone–it said Google Pixel 3 in large letters on the box, but the small print on the side label said 64GB.

Could have been an honest mistake, sure. But then, since I’m still on the family plan, my mom decided to upgrade to the Pixel 3 as well, and she’d get the 128GB model, and we’d swap devices. So she went online and arranged to get it sent to her local store, and right before actually handing over credit card info, she said "just to be sure, Pixel 3 128GB, right?" and the support person said "oh sorry I put that through as 64GB; let me fix it".

So I think Verizon is doing dishonest and creatively incompetent things behind the scenes. Because once is an accident, twice is suspicious.

Anonymous Coward says:

Disclaimer: I don’t work for Verizon nor do I work in the mobile industry.

Once again, Karl writes an article which lacks integrity, fueling an unlimited amount of bias attacking a company which, despite the data cap restrictions, actually lowered its prices across the board.

For Karl, he’ll no doubt ignore the use of "unlimited" in its proper context in the above sentence, instead falsely providing information to readers this is actually something which exists in communications.

It simply isn’t true. Furthermore, Karl should be articulating the use of the word "Unlimited" is actually the real problem, because as we clearly see, it does confuse people.

Communications have a finite limit to them and the more users there are, the more these limitations are experienced.

Anyone who has tried to use a phone during a natural emergency (or worse, terrorist attack) will understand the problem. There’s just only so much people can use a time.

While I certainly don’t agree with the insanely low data caps of these plan offerings, I can understand the reasoning behind throttling 4K videos over a spectrum which cannot handle it.

"4G" data cap is 100MB/sec. This is a specification of the communication signal. It cannot be altered. This may seem fast, when say downloading a song of about 2MB could be obtain in less than a second.

But we all know reality is we cannot achieve this incredible download speed. Other factors, such as data transfer integrity checks, server loads, and other factors delay this transfer.

A 4K video is an excessive amount of data to transfer to a device whose screen is barely capable of rendering the 4K in a manner as to be appreciated. Most screens, 6", would appear no different had the video been 1080p, and some would argue 480p would also be acceptable on a screen this size.

Yet, the way Karl makes it sound, everyone should experience 4K just because it’s there.

Nonsense. I’ve stated this multiple times, so it bears repeating: WIRELESS IS NOT THE SAME THING AS BROADBAND.

You can rag on Verizon about its pricing all you want.

Please stop using the term "unlimited". It was never true, and it will never be true.

I live near the Indianapolis area, and around 12pm, you can clearly tell when people are on their lunch break simply by looking at a phone.

I can’t imagine this is faring any better in major cities, so perhaps Verizon isn’t trying to screw customers over, but trying to undo their own mistake by using the word "unlimited" in the first place.

Something to think about.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

We will throttle video streams to 480p when the network gets congested is bandwidth management. We will throttle them to 480p unless you pay extra to get 720p is nickel and dimeing customers just because they can, and has nothing to do with bandwidth management, because if the network becomes congested because even those who paid extra will see some bandwidth limitations.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Anyone who has tried to use a phone during a natural emergency (or worse, terrorist attack) will understand the problem. There’s just only so much people can use a time.

Which has nothing to do with monthly data caps.

While I certainly don’t agree with the insanely low data caps of these plan offerings

So you see the problem with describing this as "unlimited", right?

"4G" data cap is 100MB/sec. This is a specification of the communication signal.

I’m not sure if you meant MB or Mb, but either way:

"setting peak speed requirements for 4G service at 100 megabits per second (Mbit/s)(=12.5 megabytes per second) for high mobility communication (such as from trains and cars) and 1 gigabit per second (Gbit/s) for low mobility communication (such as pedestrians and stationary users)."

So we should have been getting 1 Gbps from our "4G" phones while not moving this whole time. Anybody actually get that? I didn’t think so.

Please stop using the term "unlimited". It was never true, and it will never be true.

Tell that to Verizon.

Anonymous Coward says:

Wahhh, I need someone to subsidize my business so I can bank

I need a government subsidized monopoly that I can bilk for billions of dollars while I don’t really provide the service I’m selling, but the service I want to be in (I’m a dumb pipe, but trying to claim I’m more…)

Must be a telecom calling from the 80’s, that’s so been done before, amirite?

That One Guy (profile) says:

On the contrary, they learned far too much

Back in 2007, 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. Twelve years later and it’s not clear the company has learned much of anything.

Sure they have, they learned that is you’re going to use grossly dishonest language you need to word the conditions and how you define the word in such a way that technically you’re telling the truth if you squint hard enough and look at it in just the right way. They also learned that if you’re big enough even when you get caught you’ll still face a slap on the wrist at worse that won’t even come remotely close to matching the amount your dishonesty got you.

The problem isn’t that they didn’t learn anything, the problem is that they did.

Anonymous Coward says:

"Unlimited" Competition

When I go to a restaurant that offers free refills, they either offer unlimited (during your visit) or some arbitrary limit. I’ve never been to one that has tiers of ‘unlimited’ (unless you count cup size as a tier).
If they were to start offering different ranges of ‘unlimited’ refills, I would simply stop going there and visit another establishment…
… and that would be great except for the choices I have are rather limited when it comes to internet… … or perhaps I should start using unlimited in the same way as Verizon.
Damn my ‘unlimited’ choices of broadband providers!

Donald Brown says:

Cell Phone Unlimited Plans

it is t
All cell phone carriers have unlimited data plans, and yes they’re actually unlimited. You can use as much data as you want witout any fear of being charged more because you’re paying a set amount per month. However, the fee that you pay is actually for the limited LTE data that your plan covers. For example, Verizon’s Get More Unlimited plan offers you a whopping 75GB of premium data speed, but once that limit has been reached, your speed may drop down.

Now for people who listen to music, this might not be much of an issue, but for video enthusiasts, that is a real issue. At $90 per month, Verizon’s Get More Unlimited plan is their most expensive plan. It is only recommended for those who are true streamers and who don’t mind paying a bit more for data. I am one of those streamers who streams a lot of music, but more importantly, I want to stream my music at its highest quality possible.

However, what you also have to take note of is the quality of service that you get with your carrier. Verizon being the top dog has the most towers, the highest speed connections, and of course, the most expensive plans of any cell carrier on the planet, but as they say, you get what you pay for. You’re going to pay more for the top dog, but that’s to be expected. The question is however, how much data do you really need and use? Again, with heavy streamers such as myself, I would need a lot of LTE data to play with.

I am a music enthusiast, so I feel justified in purchasing Verizon’s more expensive plan just for that reason. I want the better sound quality, and I don’t want any issues with streaming. Now from what I heard, your data is never really capped on Verizon, but it may slow down due to congestion. Other cell carriers may actually cap the data speed at the point when you have used up your alotted LTE data. I believe that at some point in the near future, data and speed capping will be a thing of the past due to the fact that technology is getting cheaper by the day.

Take for example the many music services that are now available. You just pay a measly $10 per month and have access to millions of songs that you can play at any time day or night without having to purchase a single CD. And back when CDs were big, the average CD would cost anywhere from $15 to $16 per disc which contained at least 10 songs give or take a few more. That was quite expensive back then, but now, for just roughly that same amount, you can get access to millions of songs for the price of one disc. It just goes to show how technology is making things that were once very expensive very cheap. It also shows that the Internet is no longer in its infancy and has grown up quite a bit over theyears.

5G is supposed to be the introduction of the Internet of things, so we’ll have to wait and see where cell carriers go when it is fully released to everyone on the planet.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Cell Phone Unlimited Plans

I believe that at some point in the near future, data and speed capping will be a thing of the past due to the fact that technology is getting cheaper by the day.

One of the main problems with mobile data is backhaul, and I don’t think digging trenches and laying cables is getting much cheaper.

5G is supposed to be the introduction of the Internet of things

Internet of things predates 5G. IoT devices could in theory use 5G, but they could also use 4G in exactly the same way. It doesn’t change anything unless you have an extremely bandwidth intensive IoT application and 1) I’ve never heard of such a thing, which is not to say it doesn’t exist and 2) that would probably be better served by wifi.

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