'Unlimited' Data Plans With Very Obvious Limits Are Only Getting More Confusing

from the this-is-not-the-future-I-was-promised 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 industry has learned much of anything.

After their efforts to strictly monetize usage didn't go well with consumers, wireless carriers around 2012 or so returned to offering unlimited data plans. But much like the unlimited data plans of old, these plans have all manner of bizarre restrictions. Verizon, for example, bans users from even watching videos in HD unless they sign up for more expensive plans. Carriers also throttle usage after you reach a certain amount of data for the remainder of your billing cycle. There are also limitations on how frequently you can use your phone as a tethered modem or hotspot.

AT&T's latest updates to its "unlimited" wireless data plans are no exception, and require an industry-lingo decoder ring and a few hours of fine print reading to actually understand. Here, for example, is how CNET framed the changes:

"Those looking for a mobile hotspot will need to jump to AT&T's Unlimted Extra Plan, which runs $40 per line, per month for a family of four. This plan adds 15GB of mobile hotspot per line and you won't have your data slowed until you've already used 50GB in a month and are in "congested" areas like a stadium (the Starter plan will slow down data if you're in a congested area and have passed 22GB).

There is no HD streaming on the Extra plan or Watch TV. While the Extra plan is $5 cheaper per line than Verizon's recently updated Play More and Do More unlimited plans, AT&T still does not offer the ability to choose individual plans for each line. Instead, if you want mobile hotspot for one line all of your lines will need to have the Unlimited Extra plan. Verizon's Play More plan also includes Apple Music and HD streaming.

The idea that a busy family looks at these caveats and actually has any real understanding of what they're buying is fairly hard to believe.

Granted wireless carriers implement this level of annoying complexity intentionally; they want to confuse users so they'll sign up for costlier plans they might not need in a bid to avoid the annoyances that have been intentionally created (upselling). Such annoyingly confusing caveats also make direct comparisons between wireless carrier pricing all but impossible. And, as usual, it makes it all but impossible to know what you'll actually pay for service until you get your bill, letting companies falsely advertise a lower rate.

And it's a problem that's going to get worse in light of the telecom sector's successful bid to have the FCC effectively self immolate at industry's behest. Killing net neutrality rules didn't just kill net neutrality rules. It weakened the FCC's authority over telecom entirely, and obliterated transparency requirements mandating that ISPs be very clear about what kind of connection you're buying. Anybody who thinks telecom's response won't be even more elaborate and bizarre nickel-and-diming restrictions hasn't been paying attention.

Filed Under: customer confusion, fcc, ftc, limits, truth in advertising, unlimited
Companies: at&t, verizon


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Nov 2019 @ 7:16am

    Just like the cable companies driving people to streaming by overcharging for their services, the phone companies will drive people back to dumb phones. It's nice and all to have TV and internet on my phone, but I don't really NEED it, and neither does the rest of my family. I need my phone to call and txt... that's pretty much it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 Nov 2019 @ 7:42am

      Re:

      What about the increasing number of people in the US whose communications and Internet choices are mobile or nothing because telcos are abandoning copper, and will not install fibre in their area?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      nasch (profile), 13 Nov 2019 @ 7:41am

      Re:

      the phone companies will drive people back to dumb phones.

      Never going to happen. There's way too much useful stuff to do with a smartphone besides video streaming and tethering, which are the main ways you would have a problem with a data cap on mobile.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 13 Nov 2019 @ 9:37am

        Re: Re:

        "Never going to happen."

        I'm going to have to disagree with you. Quick search on google produced plenty of articles about "flip phones" gaining in popularity due to "technology saturation".

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          nasch (profile), 13 Nov 2019 @ 10:14am

          Re: Re: Re:

          plenty of articles about "flip phones" gaining in popularity due to "technology saturation".

          "Technology saturation" has nothing to do with the topic at hand. I didn't say nobody would ever switch back to a dumb phone for any reason, I said maneuvers such as the limited "unlimited" plans won't do it. Smart phone plans being way more expensive than dumb phone plans might though. Still only for a small number of customers - smart phones are just too useful to give up for most people, and there will probably always be some MVNO or smaller provider who provides service for smart phones at a reasonable price for the more price sensitive.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      me, 13 Nov 2019 @ 10:07pm

      Re:

      I am the complete opposite. I only have a phone for the internet. I hate it when people call and never answer and I ignore most text. Still kinda shocked anyone wants to share that much information with the government.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Nov 2019 @ 7:21am

    🙊🙉🙈

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 12 Nov 2019 @ 7:34am

    Well now we know

    The unlimited part they are peddling is confusion.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Nov 2019 @ 8:35am

    Also, "lines"?

    $40 per line, per month

    I guess by "line" they mean "device". But this, of course, is wireless service, meaning there are no lines. Modern wireless services are not circuit-switched and this seems like intentional misdirection to make it look like they're doing work when they aren't. It's little different from an ISP charging you separately for each device connected to a wifi router. But of course if they had to run and maintain a "line" it would be understandable.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Me, 12 Nov 2019 @ 2:13pm

    Karl insufferable as usual. Let's have some fun. Let's say they pass a law that unlimited plans have to be that unlimited. No throttling to deprioritization of any kind. Hotspot has to be unlimited too so you can use 2 TB a month if you want. The day this law come into affect unlimited plans will disappear and we will back to the days of tiered data with overages. That is better? Because until 5G is fully fleshed out( which is YEARS away ) there is not a single carrier that can offer that kind of unlimited data plan over 4G. Either get the plan or don't, but move on. The "Unlimited is not Unlimited" rant is OLD.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      nasch (profile), 13 Nov 2019 @ 7:43am

      Re:

      The day this law come into affect unlimited plans will disappear and we will back to the days of tiered data with overages.

      Or the plans will still be there but they will no longer be called "unlimited", because they're limited.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 13 Nov 2019 @ 6:38pm

        Re: Re:

        It's honestly funny to see John Smith arguing that killing Section 230 would kill off false advertising.

        Come to think of it, once you take away the bells and whistles, smoke and mirrors, how much of advertising isn't false?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Personanongrata, 12 Nov 2019 @ 2:48pm

    They Make their Money the Old Fashioned Way - they Steal it!

    'Unlimited' Data Plans With Very Obvious Limits Are Only Getting More Confusing

    More Confusing simply means More opportunity for unscrupulous businesses to exploit their marks (ie customers) and extract payment (eg cramming) for services that were never authorized.

    https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0183-mystery-phone-charges

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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