As they had previously hinted
, starting June 7th, AT&T's new smartphone customers will no longer be able to opt for the $30 unlimited data plan that was previously offered
. Instead, two plans will be offered, both with monthly usage caps: $15 for 200MB or $25 for 2GB. Additionally, tethering is now available for an additional $20 a month. However, tethering is only available with one of the new capped plans. Those who already have the old $30 unlimited plan will be able to keep it... but won't be able to tether. So, existing power users have to decide between $30 a month for unlimited internet data without tethering, or $45 a month for 2GB of data with tethering -- of course, with tethering, data usage would likely go up... even as the amount of data you can use goes way down.
AT&T's motive behind this switch (beyond the obvious of boosting profits) is to attempt to address the network capacity issues that it has been experiencing, of late. As anyone on AT&T can attest, performance of the AT&T data network is far from stellar. The adoption of smartphones like the iPhone have made the internet a truly useful part of the mobile experience, and as such, data use on the AT&T network has risen dramatically as a result. Clearly, AT&T was not able to properly plan to handle the increased demand on its network, and as a result, is claiming it needed to respond by throttling the usage. Of course, one might argue an alternative would be to invest more in capacity
, but that gets in the way of that boosting profits thing.
Amusingly (but not surprisingly), AT&T is trying to play this whole thing up as a big benefit to consumers
"Some customers, up until now, have been hesitant to sign up for a $30 monthly data plan" for unlimited access, says Ralph de la Vega
Fair enough, but just because some people have been hesitant to sign up for the unlimited data plan doesn't mean you should do away with it altogether.
That said, there are actually a few things that AT&T has done right with this announcement. It's surprising that they are actually offering a cheaper tier for limited data -- something that they had not offered before. Also, with the limited plans, they have introduced a system of alerts that will notify users when they are near their caps. And, existing users with unlimited plans can continue as long as they want, without the tethering option, of course.
Even so, throttling usage could put a damper on the explosive growth of smartphone usage that we have seen in the past few years. There is an added cognitive transaction cost
whenever a limit exists, so, by introducing these limits, AT&T has effectively made the iPhone less appealing. Recently, when asked about AT&T's capacity issues, Steve Jobs said "things, when you start to fix them, get worse before they get better. That's what I'm told. And if you believe that, things should start getting a lot better soon." It sounds like Jobs knew what was coming.