Saturday, June 25, 2011

Are limited plans or quasi-unlimited plans for data a better idea?

Last year, AT&T killed their unlimited data plans, just before the release of the iPhone 4. Now, it is becoming clear that Verizon is going to kill their unlimited data plans prior to the release of the next iPhone. As a power-user of my iPhone and iPad, this has caused me considerable upset. While I am grandfathered into the unlimited plans on AT&T (for now), no other users like me can ever get this kind of plan and if I ever want to interrupt my service for any reason (i.e. hospital stay, financial hardship) there is no way for me to get it back. It seems like a use of the duopoly power that AT&T and Verizon hold over the American cellular market.

But as I fumed and thought about this, I realized that I was only looking at this at a very shallow level. The fact is no one ever offered truly unlimited plans. Like your home internet, every "unlimited" plan has a limit after which the company will throttle your traffic or cut you off entirely. Under the "unlimited" monicker, they simply won't tell you what that limit is. Instead, one day after a bout of downloading (hopefully) legal video, you'll find your internet connection cut with a message to "contact us immediately". The saving grace of the "unlimited" plan is the cap is usually flexible, so if they have a (for instance) unspoken 4 GB cap and you hit 5 GB one month and 2 GB the next, most companies are forgiving. Whereas under a "limited" plan, as soon as you hit your cap you are either cut off or double-charged.

So, I ask Mod-Bloggers, which do you prefer and why? An "unlimited" plan which is really just "limited but we won't tell you how" or a limited plan where at least you can plan your usage? Do you prefer a false sense of security or honesty? Comment here or vote in the poll to the right.

(And no, it isn't fair to answer "I don't have a data plan, so there!" Because it is likely you at least have a dial-up or broadband internet service that got you to Mod-Blog. Same issue.)


Ostern said...

As a mid-range data user, I'm sort of glad to see the "unlimited" plans go away. When they exist, regular users are effectively subsidizing the extreme users--through either higher prices or compromised performance.

It's like sharing an all you can eat buffet with a super-piggy eater. Data access isn't free. If you use a lot of data, pay for it.

And lest someone argues that marginal cost of this additional data use if effectively zero, don't carriers still need to cover the fixed costs of setting up a network that can handle a higher volume of traffic without adversely compromising everyone's experience?

quizwedge said...

I wasn't happy with the AT&T limits and as someone considering a jump to Verizon in the future I'm not happy with Verizon. When I think about it rationally though, my biggest problem is the change in value. AT&T's unlimited plan was 5 GB for $30. The new plan is 2GB for $25. (Think I got that right.) For Verizon, rumor I heard is that they're changing from a 5GB unlimited plan at $30/month to a 2GB plan at $30/month. I like the freedom of 'unlimitted" even though I probably don't go over 2GB, but the change in value bugs me even when I think about it rationally.

Ward said...

Well, while I loved the idea of the wide open and free world of limitless data...The truth is that with the technology we have it's simply not possible as the strain on the networks grow.

I mean, you don't have to think too hard to remember how bad AT&T's network was before the limit. And for many people, the service has gotten much better since then. I don't know if it was just AT&T PR or if it was true, but their claim was that 5% of their users were using something like 30% of their network with insane amounts of data usage. If that was true, then I hate to say it but it was a case of needing to protect the majority from the abusers.

As long as providers continue to set reasonable limits for home service, I don't mind too much. I mean really, how ADHD have we become that we insist on being able to download or stream movies on 3G? Take our a book or a Kindle and read or do what people used to do, and you know be social in public.