I think there are two elements that are meaningful:
- the license, and
- the pricing plan
Others have already made the point that, if the license says you can't tether, then it's wrong to tether. I wouldn't call it "stealing", but you're still violating a contract you agreed to (whether you chose to read it or not). In a sense, it's like buying software, agreeing to a license that says you can only use the software on one computer, and then installing it on multiple computers (and even using it concurrently on multiple). Is that stealing? I don't know...
The stronger argument goes to the pricing plan. If you are paying for an "all you can eat" plan (I know... Techdirt has done a great job of calling out the lies within most carrier's "all you can eat" - but at least one carrier (Sprint) truly does have unlimited on their handset plans...), the price on that plan is based on how much the carrier reasonable expects you to eat.
It's like an all you can eat buffet. If you go to an all you can eat buffet, they typically will have at least four prices: children under 2, children under 10, adults, and seniors. Why do they have different prices? Because they know adults eat the most, children under 10 and seniors eat less, and children under 2 eat almost nothing.
If you walk in, as an 18 year old young man (that's probably the age where I had the greatest capacity to eat) and claim to be 9 years old, demanding the children's price, but then eat like a 21 year old, are you stealing? I think it's a fair argument to say you are...
The old feature phones of old on 2G networks ate about like a 3 year old. Newer feature phones on 3G networks eat like a 9 year old. Smartphones eat like a 40 year old. Laptops eat like a horde of teenagers. If you sign up for a feature phone, or even a smartphone (and get the unlimited price that goes with it), and then connect a laptop, you are driving real costs onto the carrier that greatly exceed what you're paying. Why are you surprised when they don't want you to keep doing that?
Now, if you're on a metered plan, like the water analogy that's been so popular in this discussion, then it's a different story...
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