from the pay-me-more-to-avoid-my-nonsense dept
For years, US wireless carriers have had a… somewhat nebulous relationship with the dictionary definition of “unlimited.” As in, for the better part of two decades they’ve sold wireless data plans professing to be “unlimited,” then included all manner of heavy handed limitations, often buried in mouse print. Verizon received wrist slaps for this way back in 2007. AT&T recently settled accusations that it lied to consumers about the throttling limitations in the company’s “unlimited” plans (impacted consumers got all of $22 for participating in the class action).
None of these penalties were meaningful enough to really change industry behavior. AT&T and Verizon for example now charge more for “unlimited” plans that don’t throttle 4K or HD video. And you need to pay more if you want to use your phone and “unlimited data plan” as a mobile hotspot. Sprint at one point even tried throttling all games, music, and movies unless users paid more.
Somehow we normalized paying wireless providers more money just to avoid arbitrary restrictions, then celebrate when they ease off even modestly. For example this week, AT&T announced that users that buy the company’s most expensive wireless plan ($85-per-month “Unlimited Elite) will no longer see their connection throttled after a set amount of usage. In short, if you want AT&T to get close to adhering to the dictionary definition of “unlimited,” you’ll need to pay more:
“AT&T is adding a few more benefits to its $85-per-month top-tier unlimited plan at no added cost. Unlimited Elite subscribers will now truly have access to unlimited high-speed data and will no longer be subject to deprioritization after hitting 100GB of data per month. Customers will also get a bump from 30GB of monthly hotspot data up to 40GB as well as up to 4K video streaming ? boosted from a maximum of 1080p. The new plan features will be added automatically for all current subscribers starting this week.”
Network management technologies have evolved to the point where well-built modern networks can detect, adapt, and avoid congestion bottlenecks by deprioritizing select traffic with virtually no detection by the end users. So there’s no real reason for many of these kinds of arbitrary restrictions to exist, outside of creating a sort of pricing funnel that shovels you to the most expensive plan if you’d simply like your connection to work normally. Yet the press has normalized this sort of thing to the point where outlets applaud a company for charging you more to avoid bizarre restrictions.
AT&T only made this modest concession because a similar plan by T-Mobile pressured it to (read: competition). But as investors inevitably force AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile to exploit the reduced competition from the Sprint/T-Mobile merger over the next few years, you’ll see more and more nickel-and-diming, less real price competition, and fewer and fewer meaningful concessions. Especially if the government can’t be bothered to restore net neutrality or the FCC’s authority over telecom providers.